Palestinians Need to See Full Abbas Interview

Talal Awkal discusses the controversy surrounding Palestinian president's recent interview, which some interpret as denying the Palestinian right of return. He says if it is true that Abbas' statements were distorted and edited by the Israeli press, the Palestinian Authority should release the full, unedited version.

al-monitor Hamas supporters attend a rally against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip November 3. 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Mohammed Salem.

Topics covered

right, peace, palestinian

Nov 6, 2012

More on this topic: Israel Must Respond to Abbas

The statements made by President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday [Nov. 2] during an interview broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 television were met with a wide range of reactions from the Palestinian arena. Abbas’ recent statements were capable of changing the public mood and altering people’s views of him, which were shaped following his previous speeches at the United Nations.

The statements made by Abbas during this interview were very clear and did not require any explanation intended to mitigate or ease their impact on all Palestinians, whether at home and in the diaspora.

It is important to emphasize that Palestinian officials should not ignore the sensitivity of Palestinian citizens or their level of understanding. The Palestinian people have shown that they have the experience and awareness to recognize what is taking place around them.

People had a number of reservations regarding the interview. In principle, the president did not have to do an interview conducted by an Israeli channel on the 95th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

While his message could be strictly symbolic, it becomes a problematic issue when we start assessing the content of the interview. No Palestinian should adopt the rhetoric adopted by Abbas, especially not on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which resulted in the success of the Zionist-imperialist project in Palestine.

Abbas’ rhetoric should have affirmed his condemnation and rejection of the declaration and its outcome, while upholding the historical rights of the Palestinian people.

Furthermore, he should have pressed the colonial powers — which were responsible for the Balfour Declaration, facilitated its implementation and success and continue to do so — to admit that they were responsible for the injustice that is still being done to the Palestinian people. He should have pressed them to take the proper measures to recognize that.

The worst part was the statements analyzing and defending the interview. These statements focused on the personal dimensions of his interview, claiming that Abbas was addressing the Israeli public and intended to reject the notion of a Palestinian state with temporary borders.

Abbas is the president of the Palestinian people and was elected through the ballot boxes; therefore, he represents all Palestinians — including the ones who did not elect him. That said, it is impossible to separate his personal stances from his official ones, which are supposed to represent his people. The people elected Abbas to protect their rights and to strive to achieve their goals.

During his interview, Abbas went against the political program he adopted when he was running in the elections. Palestinian citizens are aware of the president’s political vision. They know that he is deeply convinced of this vision, for he is committed to peace through negotiations, rejects the use of violence and is dedicated to the right of return, the right of self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the borders of Jun. 4, 1976, with Jerusalem as its capital.

However, his statements during this interview offered unjustified and free concessions. It is very unlikely that his statements could impact Israeli political parties or Israeli citizens in general, especially since any rhetoric directed at the Israelis is pointless.

The Israeli public does not care about his statements, and Israeli political parties competing in the upcoming elections are not concerned about the peace process or their relationship with the Palestinians.

In my opinion, the key problems in the president’s interview with Israeli TV started when he discussed the issue of the refugees and the right of return. Abbas said that he would like to visit Safed, but not to live there. If we interpret his words without any ill intentions, we conclude that the representative of the Palestinian people has just waived their right of return.

We realize that Abbas is old and does not have many years left to return and reside in Safed, especially since Palestinians have not yet received what they are entitled to, nor have refugees attained their right of return. However, his statements cannot be interpreted as a reflection of his personal opinion, but rather signal a willingness to waive the right of return.

He even waived what was mentioned in the Arab Peace initiative, which underlined the need for a consensus regarding a solution. The right of return was placed outside the agenda and the framework of the negotiations before they even started — that is, if they are even resumed.

This explanation can be coupled with the statements made by the president in which he said that the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem make up all of Palestine. These territories make up the Palestine of 1967, and evidently the Palestine that Abbas sees the Palestinian people returning to.

Most importantly, all Palestinians should hold on to the fact that historical Palestinian land belongs to the Palestinian people, and the colonial forces committed a crime against the people when they facilitated the establishment of the State of Israel. However, as Palestinians, we will accept a peace process that will help us retrieve some of our rights, for many different reasons.

Mr. President, we reject your statements. Historical Palestine extends from the Mediterranean sea in the west to the Jordan River in the east. It extends from al-Aqaba in the south to al-Naqoura in the north. Even though the Palestinian people accept transitional solutions — due to current realities and the balance of power — I do not believe that there is a single Palestinian who does not dream of retrieving all of Palestinians’ historical rights.

Moreover, what was mentioned about acceptable and unacceptable forms of struggle also constitute flaws in this interview. The president rejects a third intifada and the use of violence, which he considers a form of terrorism.

On the other hand, he encourages struggle through diplomacy and peaceful popular resistance. We are required to embrace peaceful forms of struggle based on our understanding of their effectiveness and set goals at a specific period in time.

At the same time, no official should undermine the right of the people residing in occupied lands to resist the occupation by all means offered by international law.

You can sum up these efforts as part of a peaceful popular struggle, alongside a diplomatic struggle consisting of heading to the UN and requesting to become a non-member state. Even though it was too late, the president announced that he did affirm the right of return; however, his statements were distorted and edited.

But at the same time, the interviews of the president are usually recorded by official Palestinian media outlets and could have been aired on Palestinian media portals after it was aired by the Israeli channel. Publishing the complete interview is the only way to alleviate the anger he has caused among the Palestinian people.

More from  Talal Awkal