What are your impressions of the current peace talks in light of the end of the settlement freeze?
First of all, there is no end for the settlement freeze. The declaration until now is ambiguous and there is a clear declaration from the side of Netanyahu that the Israeli settlers should play down or act without any announcement, and there is planning [permission] for thousands of housing units that they are just continuing with. More importantly, this is not the discussion. It is another condition – another matter Netanyahu creates in order for the Palestinians to concentrate upon and really it has nothing to do with negotiations, because the negotiations are supposed to end occupation, not to freeze occupation. To make this part of negotiations and to freeze the real negotiations which are supposed to be about dismantling settlements, Jerusalem, refugees and withdrawal from 1967 is a Netanyahu success or an Israeli success.
To what extent are the Israeli Arabs represented in these peace talks?
There are no Israeli Arabs, there are only Palestinian citizens of Israel. They are not represented in these negotiations. The Oslo agreements have excluded the Palestinians and treated them as an internal Israeli issue. The Israelis also treat them as an internal issue, while not treating them as full citizens. We say that we are part of the Palestinian people, we are part of the Arab-Israeli struggle – and should be part of the solution of course! This is part of why we should refuse and even struggle against regarding Israel as a Jewish state and consider it as very dangerous for the whole Palestinian people. Because firstly it will close the doors in front of any possibility for the right of return and secondly because you would legitimise the racism against the Palestinian citizens. The establishment of my party, the National Democratic Assembly, was actually a reaction to the Oslo agreement, which says that the Palestinians are just an occupation issue. We say that no, the Palestinian issue did not start as an occupation issue in 1967. It started as a refugee issue in 1948 and if we want to reach any just solution, the solution must take into consideration what happened in 1948.
Can these talks be seen as legitimate with the exclusion of Hamas?
No, those who negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people must represent the whole Palestinian people. Hamas was elected by the Palestinian people on the grounds of Oslo. So it is an absurd, tragic and strategic mistake to enter these negotiations without a unified - I would not say Palestinian authority but a unified PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organisation] which should represent the whole Palestinian people. As we know, until now Hamas has not recognised the PLO. However I think they now have a new attitude to being a part of the PLO and recognising the PLO as a representation of the Palestinians. So we must rebuild the PLO in a way that will represent the whole Palestinian people including Hamas. And the PLO must negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians without considering negotiations as a substitute for struggle according to our historical rights and according to international law. Negotiation must be considered as a tool among other legitimate tools and must be according to a clear Palestinian vision of ending occupation.
While we have been travelling in the West Bank we have been shocked by the number of settlements and settler-only roads that cover the entire territory now. It seems unlikely that much, if any, of this will be dismantled so do you still hope for a two-state solution?
Until now we are calling for the ending of occupation and the right of the Palestinians for a sovereign state. But the reality which has been developing over the last 8 or 10 years is blocking the chance and in fact the possibility of two states and we [are] going into a reality of a one-state solution. Whether it’s one democratic state or a binational solution. But again, our formal attitude should be not the two states of Netanyahu, not the two states of the Zionist parties, not the two states of Israelis but the democratic states which means not two states for two nations - because again, we refuse [to recognise] Israel as a Jewish state, we believe it should be a democratic state. When we say two states we must really differentiate between two possibilities: The two states of Netanyahu with [Palestinian controlled] cantons and local authorities and a Jewish state. This is the Israeli scenario of two states which we refuse.
We suggest another scenario. Not with Palestinian cantons without an army, without Jerusalem and keeping the settlements as the Israelis suggest, but a sovereign Palestinian state across the full lands of 1967, Jerusalem and the dismantlement of the settlements; and beside it, a state for all of its citizens. This is what my party, the National Democratic Assembly is calling for: a democratic state within the lands of 1948 which would not give privileges to Israeli Jews at the expense of the Palestinians. So this scenario is not the solution of two nationalist states.
Do you see the dismantlement of these settlements as a real possibility?
This is the minimum condition for peace. I cannot see a Palestinian state, a sovereign strong state, with Jewish settlements. The problem is not how difficult the solution is, but how the Israeli establishment is convinced against it. Again, this is the minimum condition for a just peace. We must remember that we are talking about 22% of historical Palestine.
Many of the people we have talked to have said that they would prefer a single state solution with equal rights and freedom of movement for all. Why is the one-state solution not discussed at a serious level? And is a single state desirable or possible?
Mahmoud Abbas entered negotiations not just without representing the Palestinians of 1948 but also without representing the Palestinians of the Gaza siege. He is not saying anything about the refugees. It is not just a matter of ‘48. But why now to stress the idea of two states? Because we must end occupation and I don’t want to enter into this route of two states or one state as a theoretical discussion.
It is neglecting and marginalising the daily suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and in the refugee camps which pushes us to placing at the head of our agenda the matter of occupation.
I am worried that we will forget even the word occupation – you realise that during the negotiation no one uses the word occupation. We forget that at the centre of negotiations should be ending occupation and not just freezing it and preserving the status quo. Year after year we are negotiating to freeze the status quo and the real negotiations which take place on the ground leads to expanding settlements. So the aim of these negotiations is just to give legitimacy to occupation instead of ending it. I am afraid that entering your discussion of one state or two states would again change the terminology, and we would again be helping Israel to deepen and expand the occupation.
To many British Arabs, the Labour Party in the UK has played a role in legitimising Israeli aggression. Why did you attend the Labour Party conference?
I attended the Labour Party conference on the invitation of Labour Friends of Palestine who, if they were to lead the Labour Party would take it to a dramatically different approach to the Palestinian issue, who agree with the Palestinian rights 100%, [sic] who oppose and define Israeli aggression as aggression and Israel as a breaker of international law and with whom I have no party differences.
But even if I was invited by the Labour Party leadership I would go because I was not invited to support the Labour Party’s policies. I have been invited to support the Palestinian struggle and to speak of my beliefs on our rights which I have expressed in this interview.
The Israeli attacks on Gaza and the flotilla, the war in Lebanon, the second intifada – there has been a gradual shift in British public opinion. There is now a gap between the British government’s position and public opinion regarding the issue of Palestine.