RAMALLAH, West Bank — Maj. Gen. Jibril Rajoub, the deputy secretary of Fatah’s Central Committee, said in an interview with Al-Monitor that the level of conflict with Israel has reached a point of no return. He described the ongoing violent clashes in the Palestinian territories as a popular struggle facing state as well as non-state terrorism by the Israeli army and settlers, with most of the victims of the clashes being children and civilians.
The full text of the interview with the former head of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank and former national security adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas follows:
Al-Monitor: Israel is being accused of working to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque in time and area between Muslims and Jews, as it did with the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994. What is your position regarding the issue of division? And what can the Palestinian Authority and the Fatah movement do to thwart the attempt? Do you expect the outbreak of a third intifada in the West Bank and East Jerusalem because of developments in Al-Aqsa and the closed political horizon for the Palestinians and the deteriorating economic conditions? Will it be peaceful or armed?
Rajoub: The Al-Aqsa issue will lead to an explosion of the situation and a regional war. These are Islamic sanctities, which Israel must not come near or touch. But this Israeli government is racist and fascist. The Palestinians are offering their blood in defense of Al-Aqsa. The PA is moving politically and diplomatically. Everything is being reconsidered now.
There is nothing called a third or fourth intifada. I reject this Israeli expression. If what’s meant is the degree of contradiction between us and the occupation, then this is present every day and in all aspects of life. There is a contradiction and a clash, and these are two constant elements. But today, the pace has heated up because of the intensification of aggression, whether on the subject of the holy sites, the killings and attacks on citizens or the expansion of settlements. The clash with the occupation has become the rule, and it may turn violent because of Israeli violence, since the one initiating and escalating the violence is the Israeli side.
Al-Monitor: What are the possible means that can be used to deter the violent attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank? Does Fatah support the formation of armed or unarmed popular protection committees?
Rajoub: It is the Israelis’ responsibility [to rein in the attackers]. But it is clear that support and financing [for the attackers] are happening through the Israeli army and the government. We have decided to form and monitor “guard committees” and to have guard teams in each isolated and remote area to confront [the attackers]. But I assert that the settlers will not terrorize us and we will not leave the country because of abuse or killing. All the victims so far have been children and innocent people.
Al-Monitor: Do you think that we will see before the end of 2015 the implementation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's decision to halt all kinds of security cooperation with Israel?
Rajoub: A decision was taken by the PLO’s Central Council to review the bilateral relationship with Israel as the Oslo Accord has security, political, economic and legal ramifications and the Israeli side did not commit to any of those agreements. So the Central Council has decided to review them. This review may take place in one or two months. But we have decided to review the bilateral relationship in all its security and non-security aspects with Israel.
Al-Monitor: After the passage of 22 years since the signing of the Oslo Accord, some assert that it has failed. President Abbas said in a recent speech before the United Nations General Assembly that the Palestinian side is considering not implementing the terms of the agreement, saying, “We cannot continue to be bound by these agreements signed with Israel.” Do you think that [the agreement] has failed? What are the reasons for the failure of the first and second Oslo Accords? What are the implications of the failure of the agreement on the ground?
Rajoub: First, the core of the Oslo Accord for Palestinians is that it provides international and Israeli recognition for the existence of a Palestinian national political entity, and this is still in effect. The Israeli side, especially the right wing, is to blame for what happened because it is the one able to [give or withhold concessions]. By assassinating [Prime Minister] Yitzhak Rabin, [the right wing] intended to end the accord and the reconciliation process between Palestinians and Israelis. The subsequent behavior — expanding the settlements, imposing geographic and demographic facts on the ground and strangling the Palestinians — is the reason why 22 years later there’s still no historic reconciliation between the two peoples based on two states for two peoples, mutual recognition and normal relations based on the 1967 borders, as well as security arrangements.
Rabin’s assassination has been a source of horror for the policies and performance of all subsequent Israeli governments, even if some of them intended to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
The failure of the Oslo Accord means nothing. We Palestinians have nothing to lose. All we have is this country. It is the Israelis who must think and realize that their future and the future of their country is in danger, and that there is an international consensus that they are criminals and racists, and that there is a great degree of contradiction between their behavior on one hand and their interests and the world’s interests and values on the other. Israel has become isolated and it must worry. We Palestinians have nothing to lose except the occupation and the suffering, and in my opinion this is not a loss.
Al-Monitor: The current Israeli government considers President Abbas a partner in security coordination but not in any future peace negotiations. Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Abbas’ speech at the UN by saying that President Abbas has no intention of reaching a peace agreement. What is your opinion in this regard?
Rajoub: President Abbas is not a partner in security coordination nor in the destruction of the peace process. He is the Palestinian leader with a consistent and clear position. Oslo is the progeny of President Abbas. He believes in peaceful resistance and is against the use of violence. Therefore, it is the Israelis who are not a partner, especially this government that mostly consists of settlers, wants a united Jerusalem, wants to have settlements on the entire West Bank and does not recognize the existence of a Palestinian political entity in their programs and in their behavior on the ground. So they can complain about Abbas as much as they please. The current Israeli government is trying to politically assassinate President Abbas through absurd claims against him.
Al-Monitor: What are the expected scenarios if President Abbas resigns before a presidential election? Do you favor appointing a deputy as president of the state of Palestine or his deputy as the president of Fatah or the PLO?
Rajoub: According to the Fatah movement’s bylaws, the Central Committee has elected a deputy to Fatah’s current president and will elect a deputy to Fatah’s president in any future elections. Regarding the appointment of a deputy chairman to the PLO and PA, this has to do with the Palestinian Constitution.
Al-Monitor: Will the elections of the seventh Fatah congress happen on schedule on Nov. 29, 2015? And if that takes place, what do you expect from them? Will President Abbas himself run again in those elections? And how will the election of a new Fatah leadership be reflected on the movement, which is experiencing weakness and decline on the Palestinian street?
Rajoub: As of now, we’re heading toward holding elections in Fatah. I don’t know whether President Abbas will run in the elections. But I believe that President Abbas’ presence is still a Palestinian, regional and international interest and necessity. The Fatah elections will produce a leadership within the power balance and circumstances we live in. The elected leadership will prepare a work program.
Al-Monitor: What qualities should the next Palestinian presidential candidate have? Do you intend to nominate yourself for the job if a presidential election takes place?
Rajoub: From my perspective, I wish that the next president of the state of Palestine would come from the Fatah movement, that he’s convincing to the street, is capable of leading Palestine toward independence and the establishment of a Palestinian state, that his personality is acceptable to all Palestinians and that he constitutes a common denominator to all the political forces. I’m not a candidate for any office. And my ambition is to witness the independence of my people and their liberation from occupation.
Al-Monitor: What are the implications of the declining status of the Palestinian issue on the Arab and international agenda, and how does it impact your plans for steadfastness, survival and freedom from Israeli occupation?
Rajoub: The Palestinian cause will remain the key to regional stability and world peace. It might be in a period of decline here and there, but it remains the largest urgent problem that needs to be resolved. Resolving it would be the beginning of achieving regional stability because confronting all manifestations of extremism is linked to Palestine. The Arabs have not abandoned us. Palestine continues to be a central cause even though some Arab states are passing through internal crises and challenges.
Al-Monitor: Why has Fatah so far failed to achieve reconciliation with Hamas? Are you afraid that Hamas would increase its presence and strength in the West Bank at the expense of the declining power and popularity of the Fatah movement?
Rajoub: Fatah did not fail in achieving reconciliation; Hamas does not want reconciliation. If reconciliation takes place through democratic elections, then Fatah has no problem with Hamas or others. But we will not allow Hamas to carry out a coup in the West Bank. If Hamas’ popularity in the West Bank is translated through the ballot box, then Fatah has no problem with that because we consider Hamas a part of the Palestinian national fabric. We wish for Hamas to cut its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and to think and act as a Palestinian movement.
Al-Monitor: President Abbas sent a Palestinian official to visit Iran months before resuming relations with it. What is the purpose of the rapprochement with Iran, which has supported your rivals, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, militarily, financially and politically? Has Tehran responded to your requests for improved relations?
Rajoub: We consider Iran to be a major regional player. After the nuclear deal, Iran became a regional superpower and we should have a relationship with it. We are interested in developing our relationship.
Al-Monitor: What are your political readings and expectations regarding the Palestinian situation in the next six months? What are you most worried about?
Rajoub: The Palestinian situation is very difficult, but we have no choice but to stand fast and face the challenge. We don’t have a homeland other than this country, which we will not leave. I hope that the Israelis review [their positions] and understand that they pose a threat to regional stability and world peace with their aggressive and racist policies against the Palestinian people. What worries me more is the continuation of the division between Fatah and Hamas. National unity with a political program based on a unified command, nation and cause would encircle Israel amid this regional and international climate rejecting Israeli policies.