Last Saturday at PLO headquarters in Ramallah I caught a press conference by Nabil Sha’ath, the longtime Palestinian Authority official. Glowing from the aftermath of the United Nations bid-- "it's good to be a Palestinian for a change"-- he seemed excited by the idea that Palestinians were actually directing events, or at least aspects of events, rather than watching as things happened to them.
And he suggested that the Palestinians have more surprises up their sleeve, including the Goldstone Report. "Israel haunted Goldstone" till he reconsidered the report on the Gaza conflict, Sha'ath said. But all that Palestinians are seeking is "a court of law." This after all is the western answer, he said, not to take matters into our own hands.
We are not trying to join the Mafia or Al Qaeda, he joked, but the United Nations.
Herewith, a few of the issues that came up, and Sha'ath's responses.
--Palestinian terms for negotiation
“If Israel stops all its settlement activites, ends its siege of Gaza, comes to negotiation seriously committed to the [Quartert’s] terms of reference, we will not complain about Israel anywhere. Not to the International Court of Justice or anywhere."
--Meaningful and meaningless negotiations.
In the cases of East Timor, Sudan, Northern Ireland and Kosovo, Sha’ath said, the global community only won accords when it took a forceful role. There must be “active international involvement when there are two parties that are not of equal power. Otherwise the status quo becomes lovely. Particularly with our commitment to no violence…
“How can I believe in the Quartet, if they say nothing about 1100 [new settlement] units…. What makes negotiations succeed-- you need international involvement that is much more forceful… Without rules you cannot negotiate anything.”
Sha’ath asked us to imagine a soccer match in which there was no referee with a whistle and red card. It would quickly devolve into massacre. “We need that referee holding up the red card.”
--Abbas’s speech to the U.N.
Sha’ath said that speech was comparable only to Yassir Arafat’s famous 1974 speech to the General Assembly, his first. In that speech, “Mahmoud Darwish wrote the line do not let the olive branch drop from my hand.”
In the recent speech, Abbas quoted Darwish, the late Palestinian poet, at length. “So Mahmoud Darwish, somehow live or dead, was an important contributor to both speeches.”
--Palestinian bid is getting a smooth ride, procedurally.
Within half an hour of Palestinians seeking statehood, Sec’y General Ban Ki-moon handed the request to the Security Council. “In the Macedonian case the Secretary General kept it nine months in his drawer.” Then the Security Council met immediately and transferred the issue to the membership committee.
“It is moving very fast. And if it doesn’t we can go back to the Security Council to vote to speed up. And in the final analysis if all else fails we can go to the General Assembly.”
--The US Congress.
Sha’ath was asked about the fact that Congress is moving to freeze $200 million in aid to the Palestinians following the UN bid for statehood. What will you do? “Declare war!” Sha’ath joked. He went on to say that he would try to explain to Congress that it is being unfair. “Please don’t quote me on declaring war.”
--The Palestinian street
Sha’ath said that the large rallies supporting Abbas’s speech on Friday September 23 were genuine. People took taxis and buses from villages to Ramallah to be there. “None of them were provided buses or free rides... no one was collected from offices. Or told to leave work. It was a Friday [the weekend]. People really felt the dignity and the honor. They felt it’s good to be a Palestinian for a change. And therefore they came.”
Sha’ath said the Goldstone Report is very much alive. “Israel haunted Mr. Goldstone. It haunted his children and his grandchildren. It made his life miserable, and the man despite his courage and professionalism had to make a statement [Goldstone’s April 1 “reconsideration” of the Goldstone mission report, published in the Washington Post] it was forced up on him.”
Sha’ath pointed out that the other three commissioners have taken none of the report back, and the report is supported by two UN resolutions. So it’s not a dead letter. “We have given all our attention in the last three months to this campaign [for statehood].” The Palestinians have “several other” irons in the fire, he said, “including the Goldstone Report.”
Sha’ath laughed at the view that the Palestinians are making trouble by going to the Security Council to pursue statehood. “We’re not joining the Mafia, we’re not joining Al Qaeda,” he said. Palestinians are only seeking a legal forum for their case. “We’re going to court. We’re not taking matters into our own hands. We go to court. This is the western answer.”
--The Israel lobby
Sha’ath said that the American Jewish left has deferred power to the right wing. “The lobby has an important role but it has been made more important because of the right wing lobby. The problem with the leftwing lobby is they don’t know what to do with President Obama. … He is in trouble. I think the left wing wants to protect all the domestic programs. And so on the international issues, the right wing Israeli lobbies are taking over.”