Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Moving the Palestinian Struggle Forward
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
November 26 2014 at 04:07pm

Today, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the PLO, begins a State visit to South Africa. Our former ambassador to Israel, Ismail Coovadia, talks to Janet Smith about the issues surrounding his stay and the reasons Abbas matters.

Janet Smith: How important is Fatah and PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas?

Ismail Coovadia: First and foremost is his importance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the PLO, and I think increasingly the PLO is taking precedence over the PA because of reunification. This is important also to the Arab world because the Arab world does a lot of financing of the Palestinian administration, and this kind of reunification of Fatah and (fellow liberation movement) Hamas, in my view, will reinforce Abbas’s importance in the eyes of many.

He may then no longer be regarded as someone who is no longer wanted by Hamas, which is vital.

I’m waiting to see if he’s going to make any statements here in South Africa that would reinforce support of those who have not supported him before. It would be important for him to make some keynote address as this is the first State visit of a Palestinian leader. Not an official visit, but a State visit. It has major significance in terms of the way the Israelis see South Africa.

Fatah is a liberation movement however one wants to look at it. Its ideology is one of social democracy and Hamas has actually gone along with this, so this becomes a policy of the PLO, and that plays a very important and crucial role in the development of its politics and the administration of those policies, those structures and what needs to be done.

This would probably work in the same way as it did with the ANC initially. At first, the ANC was just a political and liberation movement and then it formulated all sorts of structures and policies in order to move the struggle ahead.

This is how the PLO – Fatah, Hamas – will probably do it as well.

People working towards that have even been asking me how the anti-apartheid structures were set up. How did people do this work in London and other parts of the world?

The shape of the PLO is an increasingly important aspect. It’s an important organisation with all the ramifications of that process. It’s seen as a major policy-formulating body.

The reunification process between Fatah and Hamas has actually helped the whole process of bringing everything together under one roof. Hamas is now seen to be part of the PLO, and people don’t talk disparagingly either of Fatah or Hamas as two separate entities any more.

I think in South Africa, we ought to be encouraging the reunification, and different organisations and pro-Palestine support groups need to begin to also come together to assist this whole process.

JS: What is the significance of his visit?

IC: It’s of major significance that this has become a State visit because it shows the importance South Africa attaches to the Palestinian cause and struggle and the importance it attaches to the PLO.

That region is of crucial importance now with a State visit. You have a guard of honour and everything else, but the overall importance of Palestine is increased.

This is something people don’t always understand. I know there was quite a lot of discussion as to whether it would be an official or State visit, so I’m glad they were accorded such importance because the rest of the world sees that.

Also, there are a number of agreements to be signed now, and with an official visit, it wouldn’t have worked out that way. With those agreements being signed, South Africa will be providing the Palestinians with material support, and hopefully, financial support. It is also possible for South Africa now, without having to prepare another agreement, to provide opportunities for Palestinians and Palestinian Israelis, to come here to study and for South Africa to provide them with facilities.

So it opens doors. There are lots of areas which one couldn’t consider before.

Education is a very good one. Thousands of Palestinian students go to Jordan’s universities in order to study because Israeli universities don’t accept them, which is, of course, clearly seen to be apartheid.

JS: The PA’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat earlier this month said urgent steps from the international community were needed to protect the two-state solution. What in your view is the current level of threat to that solution? And how can South Africa assist in protecting it?

IC: I think the progress towards the implementation of the Oslo Accords is critical to protecting the two-state solution and the government of Israel’s diversions from this, which we’ve seen time and again. Their actions threaten the very essence of the two-state concept.

Of course, we’ve now had the question of the Palestinian Authority leadership increasing threats to move towards handing over the West Bank and Gaza to Israel to administer, and this should not be underestimated because it has been going on for quite some time. Even when I was in Israel, there was talk about it, although not so openly as it’s now being set.

The threat is very important simply because Palestinians have got to a point of frustration where they cannot see any way out because of the American influence and the American presence in one form or another within Israel. And it is that which actually enhances the position of the Israeli government.

So another kind of one-state solution is being proposed which would allow Israeli-Palestinians to be part of Israel as normal citizens rather than second-class, effectively living under the equivalent of apartheid.

To some, this may sound terrifying, but it is viable – providing a normal government is accepted where you would have everybody voting for a political party of their choice, not on the basis of whether you are Jewish or Palestinian. Then you would have a very interesting development taking place as there would no longer be a Jewish state. Under the current Jewish state, it is apartheid with two classes of people.

Basically, if you talk about one state in this form, it would allow for everybody in Israel or the West Bank, Gaza, wherever, to be citizens of Israel. But this is definitely not possible under Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s not possible for as long as the right-wing Israelis, particularly the Zionists, control the state of Israel and for as long as their lobbyists in the US have a hold over the White House and the Senate.

Now you’ve got a situation where the Republicans control both houses, and for as long as that exists, until another election, those people will control everything. So I don’t see this taking place within the foreseeable future.

JS: Please explain why the support of the about 135 nations for the statehood of Palestine remains a most powerful weapon in its freedom arsenal.

IC: It’s absolutely critical from whatever angle you look at it because support for a Palestinian state, guaranteed, would ultimately put pressure on the US, and that would influence Israel to change its course. Without that pressure on the Americans, Israel will be able to continue its oppression of the Palestinians.

South Africa’s role has been very important, but beyond diplomacy, it is very limited and the increasing importance of South Africa now goes into the area of civil society – intensifying boycott campaigns here and worldwide. This could force Israel to think again and, of course, it can work along the framework of the anti-apartheid process. Here I specifically refer to the set-up at the UN, which has the kind of global presence needed in order to do that kind of work.

That structure is absolutely vital.

JS: Tomorrow, the EU parliament takes statehood to a historic vote, following Sweden and the symbolic votes in Ireland and Britain. France takes the issue to its National Assembly on Friday. Is this a victory for Fatah’s Abbas or is it a nascent victory for all the Palestinian factions, particularly Hamas?

IC: If you’ve seen the proposed set of sanctions, boycotts, etc, that has been put out, detailing which areas need to be developed around these, you’ll know it is an extremely important list. It may not be binding, but it is vital. And so, for the EU to follow through with putting pressure on Israel would intensify the boycotts and campaigns in South Africa and worldwide.

I think their vote is going to play a very important role – and be an amazing victory for the PLO which has brought about civil society pressure. An EU vote would also assist other governments that haven’t yet made the decision, to do it.

I am hopeful. The way it comes across has been done very competently, and the EU would not have gone along with these proposals had there not been the required prior discussion. It would not have wanted to come up with proposals that would be thrown.

So, yes. It’s a victory for Abbas and for the PLO and generally for the Palestinian unification process as well.

JS: As a former diplomat to the region, would you say any progress was made during the recent nine months of shuttle diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians in and out of Washington?

IC: No, nothing that actually worked. Everything was just on paper and people were talking about it, but nothing constructive.

For as long as the American support of Israel continues, it’s going to be well-nigh impossible to get a change taking place.

There are so many handouts given to the Israelis. Americans are pumping in billions of dollars, but what the process actually means, is that the Israelis get money in terms of grants, aid, in terms of all sorts of military aid, and it’s free of interest, free of everything. Some grants have a clause saying they must be paid back by a certain time and what happens is, closer to the time, you would have American lobbyists going to Congress saying, please wipe it out. And Congress would wipe it out, so grants are paid without any costs to Israel, and this is something that is not public.

This gives Israel enormous confidence in building settlements and in demolishing Palestinian homes and killing unarmed Palestinian children, and then when you have the retaliation taking place from Palestinians, then, of course, only that aspect is publicised, but not the details of what originally caused the problem.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Star

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