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Palestinian official denies Abbas resignation rumors

In an interview with Al-Monitor, senior Palestinian official Mohammad Shtayyeh said the Palestinian leadership is focused on establishing a "healthy relationship" with Iran and denied the rumors surrounding the resignation of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
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In an interview with Al-Monitor, Mohammad Shtayyeh, president of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, said that the Palestinians' current political strategy is focused on making Israel pay a price for the occupation of Palestinian lands, while at the same time finding ways to disengage from it economically and at the security level. In response to the Israeli government's refusal to consider a political horizon, he said, “We will work with various international institutions, such as the United Nations Security Council, as well as world parliaments with the aim of reaching a time-based, end of occupation agreement.”

Shtayyeh, who had been a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid peace talks in October 1991, said that special efforts are being made in Europe to lead Israel to change course politically. He stated, “We are asking European countries to ask dual national settlers to leave the occupied territories, since they are living on stolen, occupied land.”

The senior Palestinian official expressed support for the Iran nuclear deal with the international community and called for a similar agreement to open Israeli nuclear facilities to inspection. He predicted that Iran will have a positive political role in the region, asserting, “The Iran deal is causing changes to Iranian policy; some of these changes are on the Palestinian front, and we want a healthy relationship with Iran.” According to Shtayyeh, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to visit Iran in the next few months to stress the need for Tehran to support the Palestinian cause, not just one faction.

Also a senior member of Fatah, Shtayyeh told Al-Monitor that the movement's seventh congress will be held Nov. 29, 2015, in Ramallah. He further stated, “This congress will be unique, and we are working on the political platform to be presented to the members for approval.” Shtayyeh is considered a possible contender to assume the top spot in Palestinian politics, but he declined to speak in depth about the issue of succession to the 80-year-old Abbas. He said the subject is only being discussed in the media, asserting, “Rumors about his resignation are not true.”

The text of the interview follows:

Al-Monitor:  In light of the absence of a political horizon, where do you see the Palestinian cause going?

Shtayyeh:  First, I think there are many reasons for the blockage of the political horizon. The US has been extremely involved in negotiating the Iran deal. Second, it has been unable to force [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to live up to his own commitments. And third, there is a right-wing government in Israel that does not want a political horizon to exist for Palestinians.

Israel is relaxed because of the Arabs' bloody quagmire and is obstinate toward any serious political ideas. Israel wants to maintain the status quo, but this is unsustainable. Based on that, the Palestinian leadership has decided to internationalize the conflict — the best way to respond to this blocked political horizon.

Al-Monitor:  You were a participant in the Madrid talks and the Washington negotiations that followed. Are we about to witness a return to that kind of international multilateralism in order to find the coveted breakthrough?

Shtayyeh:  The Palestinian leadership will tackle this issue on three fronts. We will work with various international institutions, such as the United Nations Security Council, as well as world parliaments with the aim of reaching a time-based, end of occupation agreement and recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and with Jerusalem as its capital. On the political front, we are asking the world not to cooperate with settlements and not to allow settlers to enter Europe. We are asking European countries to ask dual national settlers to leave the occupied territories, since they are living on stolen, occupied areas. Third is the legal aspect. We have joined the International Criminal Court, and we have submitted three cases to them regarding settlements, prisoners and the war on Gaza. Our effort on all these fronts is aimed at making Israel pay the price for its occupation.

Al-Monitor:  But what is the more direct Palestinian strategy?

Shtayyeh:  We are working on three different gateways in our strategy. The Palestine gateway has the aim of supporting a genuine civilian popular resistance in all areas by all Palestinians. We call for the ideas espoused by the Palestinian nonviolent activist Mubarak Awad, and we want all Palestinians to adopt these tactics for liberation. Second, we are dealing with the Israel gateway. We want Israelis to raise their voice against occupation and be part of the campaign to make it pay the price for occupation. Third, on the International gateway, we feel that we can cooperate internationally to make the occupation costly through support for various boycott movements aimed at ending the occupation.

Al-Monitor:  What do you expect from the French [UN Security Council] resolution amid all this effort?

Shtayyeh:  Come September, after all the summer holidays are over, we are coordinating with the government of France and with the support of the [Arab League] Follow-Up Committee to push for a UN Security Council resolution that calls for a time [horizon] for the end of the Israeli occupation.

Al-Monitor:  How does the current visit of a Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] delegation to Tehran and relations in general with the Islamic Republic after the nuclear agreement fit in the Palestinian political strategy?

Shtayyeh:  We are very happy with the Iranian international agreement and want the same type of agreement in the Middle East in which the Israeli nuclear facilities would be open to inspections. The Iran deal is causing changes to Iranian policy, some of these changes are on the Palestinian front, and we want a healthy relationship with Iran based on support for Palestine and its cause and not support for one party. We want to open a new page with Iran. We are now preparing a visit for President Abbas to Tehran, which I expect will happen in the next few months. I believe the US agreement with Iran [on the deal] is much bigger than the nuclear agreement, and I think we will be seeing new changes in the region, and we want to be part of it. If we were part of the problem in the past, we want now to be part of the future stability that everyone is seeking.

Al-Monitor:  How does the visit fit in with the efforts at reconciliation with Hamas?

Shtayyeh:  We have been extremely supportive of genuine reconciliation with Hamas and national forces in Palestine. We are truly open to a national reconciliation on goals and means for reaching them. No side should be allowed to start a war or sign a peace deal. This, however, is still largely theoretical, as Hamas has refused to accept these principles. Hamas was forced to come to the reconciliation table but has since backed away. Hamas has fallen for Israel’s sweeteners aimed at a long-term truce by waving a few carrots, such as a water route between Gaza and Cyprus, in return for a long-term cease-fire. Turkish and Qatari negotiators have been involved in this deal. Also, Hamas is under pressure to keep Gaza part of the sphere of the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood to cause trouble for Egypt.

Al-Monitor:  The younger generation of Palestinian leaders like yourself have been waiting to take power after the older generation. How are the renewal efforts going?

Shtayyeh:  There is no generational struggle. Palestinian institutions are getting older, and we need the PLO to continue to be the lead organization, because it represents the right of return, represents all Palestinians and has international legitimacy. The Palestinian Authority is losing its authority and is used by Israel as a scarecrow, which we refuse to do. Based on that, we are calling for the Palestinian National Council to meet, hold elections and revive the PLO.

Al-Monitor:  Why is the Palestinian leadership rather shy about supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement efforts internationally?

Shtayyeh:  This is totally untrue. We clearly call for an international boycott of the occupation, and we are using all means to legally and politically make Israel pay a price for its occupation of our lands. We do have a problem, however, when it comes to our relations with the State of Israel, which we have a political agreement with. But since Israel doesn’t implement signed agreements and works to kill the possibility of Palestinian statehood through its settlement activities, we have had to revisit this issue. We have studied all the issues in our relationship with Israel, which we now consider an enemy that continues to occupy our land. Our efforts to disengage have led us to carry out a full review of our political, economic and security agreements with Israel. We have a committee that is studying the Paris Protocol and another studying the joint security protocol. On the political level, as I mentioned, the horizon has been blocked by Israel.

Al-Monitor:  Fatah was supposed to hold its seventh congress last year or earlier this year, but no congress has been held. What is the reason? Is Gaza again the reason for the delay?

Shtayyeh:  Fatah will hold its seventh congress on Nov. 29, 2015, which will take place in Ramallah. This congress will be unique, and we are working on the political platform to be presented to members for approval.

Al-Monitor:  ​What is happening on the succession front in regard to who will take the place of President Abbas?

Shtayyeh:  Nothing is happening on this front. It is not discussed. It is only discussed in the media. Abu Mazen [Abbas] was duly elected and represents Palestinian legitimacy. All institutions can take care of their responsibility if the president decides to change course. Rumors about his resignation are not true. We want elections, and President Abbas wants an electoral process in the West Bank and Gaza that can give life to democratic legitimization. We want to have elections as soon as possible.

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