Mahmoud Abbas talks about his vision of a Palestinian state
The above video shows Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) being interviewed by the Israeli lawyer and former negotiator at the 2000 Camp David summit, Gilead Sher. It was recorded about a month ago and today (Tuesday) Sher will screen it at an important high level Israeli conference on security in Tel Aviv. Although, Abbas has made known his desire to meet with Israeli leaders in private and in public forums, the Israeli organizers chose not to invite him to the conference.
Among the participants are: Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Defense Minister, Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, Opposition Leader, Isaac “Buji” Herzog, and head of the Jewish Home Party, Naftali Bennett. I call them “The Killer B’s,” after members of the feared Miami Dolphins defense of the 80s. Although Bennett may be dropped from the team shortly, after berating Netanyahu in the press this week.
Abbas is rarely given a platform in the Western media outside of his speeches at the United Nations. To actually hear and see him speak, in an interview setting, about his vision of a two-state solution is, indeed, an uncommon opportunity. One of the reasons why we probably do not hear from Abbas as much as we did from Yasser Arafat, is that Abbas does not speak publicly in English.
In this interview, Sher’s questions are in English and Abbas responds in Arabic. The President’s answers are subtitled in English and Hebrew.
These are some of the main points Abbas made:
- Abbas talks about a three year transition period during which NATO forces can ensure that the treaty is being enforced. He bluntly states, referring to Israeli demands, “Anyone who suggests 10 or 15 years, does not want to withdraw.”
- He is willing to meet with Netanyahu and would consider inviting him to speak to the Palestinian legislature. Abbas said he would consider speaking at the Knesset if invited.
- The borders of the Palestinian state must be under the control of the Palestinians and not the Israelis.
- Jerusalem should be an open city with free access to all. East Jerusalem must be the capital of Palestine.
- The agreement would include full diplomatic relations for Israel with 57 Arab and Muslim countries.
- If there is a final status agreement with Israel, he is sure that Fatah and Hamas will sign a unity agreement. This has already been agreed upon, according to the Palestinian President.
The 7th Annual Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) Conference:
Meeting the Future: New Approaches to Political and Security Challenges
(Watch the conference live — Netanyahu schedule to speak at 2:30 PM EST today)
The interview with President Abbas was shown today at 10:00 AM (Tuesday) Israeli time as part of a panel called “The Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations: Opportunity for Change?” The panel includes Gilead Sher, who is Head of the Center for Applied Negotiations at the INSS, and two pollsters, Dr. Yehuda Ben Meir of the INSS and the only Palestinian or Arab presenter, Dr. Khalil Shikaki.
This is quite the two-day conference. Both PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Economics Minister Natali Bennet will speak today. Both have been involved in an acrimonious public verbal battle which may lead Bennet to withdraw his Jewish Home Party from the governing coalition. The possible battle of the speeches could be worth the price of admission.
Other Israeli speakers of note are: Yair Lapid, Amos Yadlin and Shimon Peres.
The American speakers include a very heavy dose of the pro-Israel lobby. They include: Robert Satloff, Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross (WINEP), Stephen Hadley, David Petraeus, David Ignatius, U.S. Amb. to Israel, Dan Shapiro, Jane Harman and Elliott Abrams.
Some Thoughts on Why Mahmoud Abbas Is Important
Despite Mahmoud Abbas’ shortcomings, ignoring his influence on the immediate future of the Palestinian people would be a serious error.
The President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Mahmoud Abbas, is a controversial figure among many Palestinians and Palestinian solidarity activists. He was elected President in 2005 and has retained that position despite his term of office having expired in 2009.
Abbas and the PA have been dogged by persistent accusations of corruption from the time that Yasser Arafat and the PLO returned to Palestine after the signing of the Oslo Accords. The great wealth accumulated by Abbas’ two sons have fueled charges of venality and dishonesty against the Palestinian leader.
Abbas has been branded a collaborator with Israel by some, due to the close and subordinate relationship of his governing authority with the Israeli occupiers. This is particularly an issue in security matters, where Abbas is often seen as using his security forces to suppress legitimate non-violent protest, as well as to crackdown with excessive force against more militant opposition such as the Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
The Palestinian President is viewed by critics as intransigent in regard to Hamas and as being an obstacle to the creation of a unity government between the two major Palestinian factions. He is also criticized for his role in the armed conflict between his Fatah party and Hamas, after the Hamas electoral victory in 2006 which resulted in the political division of the two Palestinian territories, and the economic and political isolation of Gaza.
Despite these criticisms, President Abbas has managed to maintain his governmental authority under the difficult to impossible conditions of occupation. The PA has established civilian and police authority in parts of the West Bank which has distanced the Israeli occupation from the day-to-day lives of many Palestinians. During the time of Abbas’ tenure as President there has been some economic development in the West Bank, especially among the upper middle class in the city of Ramallah.
Abbas has been a moderate in the PLO since the 70s, and in the last two decades has publicly and repeatedly renounced the Palestinian armed struggle. He presents a calm, reasoned, fatherly voice who appears much more suited to present the Palestinian case for self-determination and redress of grievances to the international community than his predecessor Yasser Arafat.
For Abbas, as for Arafat, the preferred strategy for achieving a Palestinian state is through negotiations with Israel under the auspices of the United States. That strategy in the past has been a complete failure. However, the fact that the U.S. is the world’s sole superpower and possesses the requisite power to force the Israelis into a compromise, makes the negotiation route understandably compelling, despite the U.S. history of reluctance to assert itself as an honest broker.
Like Arafat, Abbas has appealed to the world community to help the Palestinians achieve their political rights. If the current U.S.- sponsored talks fail, Abbas has said he would appeal to the United Nations, its various agencies and the international courts. He also talks about internationalizing the conflict, advocating the use of multi-state conferences, such as the present conference on Syria in Switzerland. Abbas also is seeking allies outside of the U.S. sphere. He has recently spoken about involving Russia as a mediator in the negotiations with the Israelis.
Abbas’ performance in the “peace talks” will be important. There still is a possibility, although apparently diminishing, that some type of interim arrangement could result, which would ameliorate the sufferings of the Palestinians in the West Bank. If the talks collapse, the question of which side is blamed will be at least partially the result of the positions both leaders take.
If the current talks collapse, Abbas leadership in internationalizing the conflict will be crucial to the continuation of the Palestinian struggle.