Azmi Bishara has emerged as the Arab world’s leading political analyst. A few years ago he anticipated that Tunisia would be the first Arab dictatorship to face a democratic revolution. His nightly coverage of the Arab uprisings on al-Jazeera has not only been intelligent and accurate, it has also affected the course of the revolutions in Egypt, in Libya, and in Syria. When Bishara speaks people pay attention and, I imagine, the remaining dictators tremble. I know Bishara personally and was not a big fan of his when he was a politician. But there is no better Arab political pundit. He has emerged as the intellectual of the Arab revolution.
In this post I will (quickly, sometimes roughly) translate Azmi Bishar’s recent interview on al-Jazeera. The video in Arabic can be found here.
Bishara combines classical Arabic and some colloquial Arabic in the interview. He talks about the Palestinian UN bid. That a two third majority is not guaranteed in the General Assembly. The need for a confrontational followup to a successful bid. The need for a change in the Palestinian leadership’s attitudes. Entertains the possibility of a third intifada as part of the general Arab uprising. Insists that the world has changed with the Arab spring. And concludes with a brief discussion of Israeli Turkish relations.
My translation of the interview is below.
Announcer: … recognition of the [Palestinian] state in the UN seems to be guaranteed … But what follows?
Bishara: I don’t think that success is guaranteed. There are American and now European pressures on some countries to withdraw their support. So the battle for the Palestinians will, to the last moment, be to guarantee a two thirds majority in the General Assembly. Mind you, there will be recognition [of Palestine] and not full membership [of the UN], which requires a decision by the Security Council where there is the [US] veto. Nevertheless, recognition of the state in itself is extremely important not because it will establish a independent state! But because the Palestinians broke away from the process of bilateral negotiations and went internationally. They have with them the Arabs. This is an escalation.
Bishara: This worries Israel because we have returned the diplomatic struggle to these international levels. While Israel had earlier mitigated, limited, and blockaded [the diplomatic arena] into a situation where two negotiators meet, with the balance of power dictating that one side negotiates [Israel] and the other needs to ask for permission to even travel to negotiate. This was not normal. That reality was extremely bad.
Bishara: Therefore now [the UN bid] is an announcement that this dynamic has failed and ended. Israel took advantage of the [power] dynamics [in bilateral negotiations] to increase settlements and Judaize Jerusalem. Further we had Barack Obama’s pledge, in September 2010, that he wants to see a Palestinian state in September 2011. Where is Obama now? The Quartet [said the same]. Where are they now? Where are they hiding now? Where have they disappeared? They said that Israel should halt the settlements, they did not stop. In fact [Israel] gave nothing in reality.
Bishara: Faced with this reality we now have [the UN bid]. But here is the problem. The Palestinian leadership has taken an important escalatory step. This opens the door for other important steps also at an international level. In the sense of turning Palestine into an occupied country rather than occupied lands. This may open the possibility of say sanctions …[on Israel]… but all of this is not important.
Bishara: What is important is the following. Will the Palestinian authorities enter this new phase [of the struggle] with their old perspective and understandings? Or will [the leadership] change the way it has been thinking?
Announcer: The [leadership] is still talking about the option of [bilateral] negotiations.
Bishara: Yes, indeed. The problem is what governs these new steps? The old thinking? … So you want to break the old dynamic but keep the old thinking and strategies? [Impossible] …. What is needed is a new Palestinian attitude: bilateral negotiations have failed; The United nations has given us recognition; Now we need to implement this recognition [on the ground].
Bishara: We must impose our sovereignty … This will lead to an end of relations with Israel such as security cooperation … Sadly, the head of the Authority [Abbas] recently in a meeting with intellectuals reaffirmed the continuation of security cooperation and [bilateral] negotiations. So the problem is the extent that the leadership has liberated itself from the past thinking.
Bishara: If we liberate ourselves from old thinking and attitudes, then this step [of going to the UN] becomes part of what is happening in the region. The Arab masses will adopt these new steps. If the Palestinians say start a new intifada or stop security cooperation or take steps towards [international] sanctions. Even if it is not armed resistance or [peaceful] intifada, just changing the dynamic into combativeness with Israel, then there is no doubt that the Arab world will adopt this change. It is an exit from the dynamic of bilateral negotiations.
Announcer: So this is a new step that moves away from the old and requires a new strategy? A confrontationist strategy? What does that mean? A third intifada?
Bishara: Why not? During this era of the Arab Spring. Why not? Who will blame [oppose] the Palestinians in such a case? Who can say that the Palestinians did not try to make peace? Gaza, well OK. But who will blame the people of the West Bank? [Can they say that] they are extremists? Why? Why not [have an intifada]? It is a battle in any case. The [Arab masses] will accept this … [After Egypt].
Who can withstand the uprising of the Palestinian people now?[insistent voice]
Bishara: The [Arab] masses have adopted as their own the Syrian people’s uprising. [Why not the Palestinian uprising]. No one [in the world] can refuse/reject the mass movements of the [Arab] masses. [laughing] Do you think that anyone [Arabs/Muslims] will reject/refuse an uprising by the Palestinian people?
Bishara: [The world has changed] … Look at the escalation that has happened in the Turkish position. The excellent change in their position … Can Egypt maintain its cooperation [with Israel]? … Can you envisage a situation where Turkey escorts ships to Gaza and Egypt keeps the border with Gaza closed for instance? There is a new reality in the region.
Bishara: The Palestinian people are ready. They must be ready. Not like the … second (and first) intifada where they entered adventures. They must be ready. The aim must be success. It has to be organized for success. So we need a confrontational attitude [by the PA toward Israel]. At the very least, as a reaction to the Israeli escalation, which has treated the step [going to the UN] as though they are a Third World War.
Announcer: Going back to Turkey. It is seen by some that its change in attitude is a tactic aimed at making it easier for them to accept the installation of missile defenses in Turkey to protect from Iran and Russia and perhaps even Syria.
Bishara: Israel does not see it this way [as simply a tactic]. Israel perceives that there has been a decision in Turkey to change its historic frameworks. Only the military in Israel, [Ehud] Barak, the security establishment would like to side step/ignore these changes [and continue as though nothing has happened]. But the political leadership in Israel has understood that there has been an historic change in Turkey. So there is disagreement regarding this in Israel. Barak recently said, Why don’t we apologize to Turkey? He does not perceive the change as an historic change [in Turkey]. As though Turkey has been put in a corner by the behavior of Israel. The United States is trying to mend ties as an intermediary. Turkey, however, is insisting on principles. An apology from Israel will not work. If Israel apologizes, then Turkey will send more ships.