Israel is Trying to Legitimate Apartheid
We’re dealing with a state that is definitely founded on apartheid. You’ve seen the separate highways for Palestinians and Israelis, the ‘cages’ through which we pass while moving through checkpoints, on the ground the situation is clear. Israel is trying to legitimate the existing situation of apartheid and to call it a peace process. Of course, they don’t want to control areas that are heavily populated with Palestinians. Their settlements now dominate strategic points throughout the West Bank; they control the water reservoirs, the walls…
- Interview by Jerko Bakotin -
Qais Abdel-Karim – better known as Abu Laila – has for the past 40 years been in the leadership of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), which, after Fatah, is one of the most important factions in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Since the 2006 elections, he has also been a member of the Palestinian parliament. The DFLP is known as an exceptional leftist faction within the PLO, though with the passage of years it has gotten the reputation of being a ‘moderate’ party that has frequently mediated in intra-Palestinian disputes. Furthermore, the ‘two-state solution’ of the 60-year Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes from this faction, which has been calling for negotiations with Israel since the early ‘70s. At the same time, the DFLP has never given up the armed struggle and has in fact significantly participated in it. During the elections in 2006, the leftist coalition that stood behind Abu Laila received an additional representative in Parliament. The DFLP – through its actions and for historical reasons – has maintained a strong influence within the PLO, which is important from the perspective of Palestinian politics. The Israeli-Palestinian and Palestinian-Palestinian negotiations, the chance of establishing a Palestinian state, the one-state and two-state solutions, the problem of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the positions of the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships, the future of Palestinians living in Israel if an independent Palestinian state is established, and the chances of new rounds of violence are all themes that Abu Laila touches upon in this conversation, that took place at the beginning of September in his Ramallah office.
What is the current situation in terms of the peace process between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership? Is there a chance for the creation of a Palestinian state soon?
- Since the end of [Israeli] Prime Minister Olmert’s mandate and the beginning of the election campaign, the peace process has been totally suspended. At the same time, US President George Bush’s mandate also ran-out, while the process that began at the Annapolis conference stalled, without any advances being made. With the election of the new Israeli right-wing government everything stopped; we’re talking about an ultra-nationalist coalition that is comprised of parties that are explicitly opposed to the ‘two-state solution.’ We’re mostly talking about the representatives of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. On the other hand, the Obama administration has started with the position that for the peace process to be sustainable all sides need to keep to their commitments under the ‘road-map.’ The Palestinian side has implemented more than 98% of its obligations – for the most part of a security or institutional nature – while the Israeli side hasn’t fulfilled its main obligation under the ‘road map.’ Israel hasn’t suspended the further building of settlements, including a freeze on construction related to what they call ‘natural growth.’ This was also clearly agreed upon; so there can be no alternate interpretations.
In the best case, autonomy
What has been happening since the installation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government?
Netanyahu’s government isn’t ready to halt settlement construction, nor is it seriously working towards a two-state solution. This is why they’re talking about a ‘disarmed Palestinian state,’ which in practice means a Palestinian state that would be totally controlled by Israel, without a single attribute of sovereignty. Their goal is to maintain the current situation in the West Bank, which means they don’t care if this entity is called a ‘Palestinian state’ or not. In reality, such an entity would only be autonomous, but definitely not an independent state. For the past nine months the Americans have insisted that everyone must respect what has already been agreed upon, but now that they’ve met all these Israeli rejections, they are now unofficially beginning to think of new approaches. Netanyahu’s government is saying that it is ready to continue negotiations but insists that the questions of Jerusalem and the refugees will not be ‘on the table,’ which means undermining what was agreed upon in Oslo. There it was stated that the final agreement would encompass six questions: borders, settlements, water, security, refugees and Jerusalem. The position of the Palestinian leadership is that there can be no continuation of negotiations while Israel is failing to carry out its obligations, specifically the need to totally halt settlement construction. One gets the impression that Israel is negotiating only to buy time. Meanwhile, as it continues to build settlements, it is simultaneously creating ‘facts on the ground,’ which in five to ten years would make the establishment of a Palestinian state impossible since the entirety of Palestinian territory would be included in the area under their control.
What would happen in that case?
- We’re already talking about a state that is definitely founded on apartheid. You’ve seen the separate highways for Palestinians and Israelis, the ‘cages’ through which we pass while moving through checkpoints; on the ground the situation is clear. Israel is trying to legitimate the existing situation of apartheid and to call it a peace process. Of course, they don’t want to control areas that are heavily populated by Palestinians. Their settlements now dominate strategic points throughout the West Bank; they control the water reservoirs, the walls… In the case of any agreement, they would like to join these parts with Israel, which includes controlling a ‘security/buffer zone’ of some 20-25 km in the Jordan valley, which is to say practically the whole valley.
The halt of Palestinian-Palestinian and Palestinian-Israeli negotiations
During the elections in 2006 a dialogue began between the five largest Palestinian parties, including Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front, the Democratic Front and Islamic Jihad. A joint platform was agreed upon, though the document did not talk about the division of governance between these factions, which is in the end what brought about intra-Palestinian fragmentation. This is why you have a West Bank ruled by Fatah and a Gaza Strip where power is held by Hamas. There are currently negotiations underway about re-establishing a joint position, and a government of national unity could be created. However, the immediate question is whether these talks will produce any results. There are deep divisions because Hamas is imposing conditions, like the release of their people that Fatah has arrested, as well as an electoral composition that would favour Hamas. Soon there should be new elections, but it’s not known how they will be held. So, we have a halt in Palestinian-Palestinian and Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.
The bi-national state
As a result, the Palestinian state would essentially consist of Bantustans, like those created for the Black population in South Africa. That state would not have territorial continuity; there would be a zone in the north, a zone in the south, and a few enclaves in Gaza. We’re talking about an entity that would control its water and its borders; it would be without ties to any other state, since the Jordan Valley would be joined to Israel. Of course, the refugees would also lose their status. In this way, Israel would control the land, but wouldn’t be responsible for the people, and wouldn’t have any responsibilities towards them. People would be formally citizens of an illusory Palestinian state that in reality wouldn’t exist, while they would not have the right to vote in Israel. Israel would, in reality, still control the whole space between the Jordan River and the sea. That is to say, with such an agreement apartheid and Bantustans would be legitimated. There is not a single Palestinian that would sign that.
Is there a chance that official Palestinian policies would in that case return to the ‘one-state solution’? As we’ve noticed, the people are really disillusioned with the negotiations being carried out by the current leadership?
- It’s clear why that’s the case: nothing has been accomplished, which is something even our leadership openly admits. Particularly discredited is the current that is committed to negotiations as the only way of solving this conflict, since it seems like they’re heading nowhere. So, we’re talking about a normal reaction by the population. However, I don’t think the ‘one state solution’ is an option. Since, the Israelis have a hard time even accepting the idea of leaving the territories they occupied in 1967. I don’t think it’s impossible, but I think it will take a very long time. The logic of those who advocate a ‘one state solution’ is that the situation that Israel has created with settlements in the West Bank is irreversible. However, by the same logic, it’s clear that the one-state solution is also impossible. If you want one joint state – and not the one founded on apartheid, which already exists – than that’s an even more unrealistic solution. It presupposes the dissolution of Israel and the foundation of a bi-national state, which is something the Israelis can’t accept. The two-state solution is supported also by the international community, which believes that the occupation that exists since 1967 is illegal, as are the settlements constructed since then. That is not the case with the state of Israel itself, which has total international support for its right to exist. The two-state solution is blocked by settlements, but it is the only solution imaginable in the near future.
Corruption in Fatah and Hamas
If the one-state solution is impossible, and the two-state solution is blocked, is there a chance that a new eruption of violence or a new Palestinian uprising will take place? How does your organization view this possibility?
- It’s really possible, and seemingly there will be new rounds of violence, even though it might not be called a new intifada. We in the Democratic Front believe that an armed struggle that is based on attacks against military targets inside the occupied territories is a legitimate part of the emergence and establishment of a state, and we’ve always participated in such struggles. However, we believe that attacks on Israeli civilians are completely unacceptable, especially suicide-bomber attacks – these should not be allowed to take place. The DFLP was among the first to call for negotiations with Israel. The two-state solution is actually our idea, which later became the program of the whole PLO. We’ve often criticized Fatah for the way that it leads the PLO and the types of agreements it has signed, although we’ve always done this only within the framework of the PLO because we’ve always insisted on Palestinian unity.
What’s the situation when we’re talking about intra-Palestinian conflicts? In what phase are the negotiations between the PLO, that is to say Fatah as its biggest faction, and Hamas?
- The victory of Hamas in the elections placed them before a large challenge – they could have tried to form a government that would function; however, they missed their chance. Of course, this was also because of the American and international blockade and the Israeli position of not recognizing them. However, if you have a system that you govern, you need to do everything you can while also taking into consideration your own surroundings. Hamas wasn’t ready to take responsibility, the government of national unity fell apart and they began a bloody struggle for power with Fatah, which had already over the preceding ten years become cemented within the structures of Palestinian self-rule. During the last elections many turned to Hamas because of the deep corruption of Fatah. However, Hamas hasn’t proven that it is less corrupt; in Gaza people don’t even know who rules or which laws govern.