Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is seen in a 2018 file photo. [EPA]
Recent developments in the United States, including the Trump administration’s decision to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the recent agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize relations, have pushed the prospect of a Palestinian state further away.
However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas insists that the only way for a just and lasting peace in the region is through a two-state solution, although he categorically rejects any discussion of the Trump administration’s “deal of the century” that was unveiled in January 2020.
In an interview conducted by email, the Palestinian leader calls for an international peace conference in the first quarter of 2021 (after the US elections) and the recognition of the state of Palestine by the Greek government, and expresses his expectations from the participation of the Palestinians in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which was formed by Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
Starting with the Madrid Conference of 1991, and the 1993 Oslo Accords, you have dedicated three decades of your life to achieving a lasting peace with Israel. After President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and Israel’s continued annexation of the West Bank, isn’t it justified to assume that the two-state solution is no longer on the table?
As you said, I have dedicated all my life to achieving a just and lasting peace for my people. The key to reaching a two-state solution is to end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967.
We recognized Israel in 1993, and since then we have been working and trying to establish an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem its capital, and we have entered into many negotiations through which we aimed to achieve the two-state solution, a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem its capital.
The two-state solution is the only solution that will create peace in our region, not anything else. But unfortunately, the Israeli government is taking many measures that undermine this option towards creating an apartheid regime that will not achieve peace in any way.
In addition to that, in 2012, Palestine was granted Observer State status in the UN and since then we joined tens of international organizations and conventions. Palestine chaired the G77 plus China for the year 2019, which came as an appreciation for the role of Palestinian good work with 134 countries around the world.
Unfortunately, however, the current US administration has taken several decisions that contravene international legitimacy, and the Israeli government’s continued settlement measures and annexation of Palestinian lands are nothing but attempts to prevent the establishment of any Palestinian state.
And here we must reiterate our position; we are willing to enter into negotiations based on international legitimacy and resolutions under the auspices of the International Quartet, and other countries, that can lead to reaching the two-state solution based on 1967 borders. We are committed to building our institutions based on international law and our strong commitment to combat terrorism around the world is one of our principals.
In my speech this year to the General Assembly of the UN in September, I called on the secretary-general of the UN to organize an international peace conference at the beginning of 2021.
There is still a chance to achieve a just peace in our region, but the American administration and the Israeli government must stop taking measures that undermine it.
By the end of January, the Palestinian Authority under your leadership decided to cut off all diplomatic ties with the United States and Israel in response to President Trump’s “deal of the century.” A very strong response, but what was the benefit for the Palestinians?
We, in the PLO, the government of the state of Palestine have frozen all our relations with the current US administration after its decision to recognize the unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its country’s embassy there. And until this moment, we have no relations with the American administration, except for our contacts with the US Congress and its members that support peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
As for the Israelis, we stopped the security coordination between us and them after the Israeli government announced its intention to annex Palestinian lands, which constitute 33% of the lands that were occupied in 1967, a step that would have ended any horizon for reaching a comprehensive political solution.
These decisions have been difficult for our people, especially economically. The Americans stopped their aid to many Palestinian sectors, including the hospitals in Jerusalem, and the Israeli government used this excuse to further violate all the signed agreements including the piracy of our tax money and illegally deducting tens of millions of dollars a month of the Palestinian tax funds.
But despite all the difficulties and injustice that our people are experiencing, we will not be a subject of political or economic blackmail.
Do you think that Joe Biden will make a difference, if he is to prevail in the US elections of November 3?
Our position is very simple; the US administration whether it is headed by Mr Trump or Mr Biden should retract from their illegal decisions that violate international legitimacy and resolutions. Once this is achieved, we are ready to re-engage with any administration.
On October 10 you met with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder in Ramallah. Lauder is calling for a revival of the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians and was present at the September 15 signing ceremony between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain at the White House. What was the focus of your meeting?
I explained to Mr Lauder our position and our readiness to engage in direct negotiations with Israel based on international legitimacy and that we will not accept the US peace plan on the table. We also welcome any efforts towards an International Peace Conference in the first quarter of 2021.
The Palestinian leadership has used very harsh words characterizing the UAE’s and Bahrain’s decisions to normalize their relations with Israel as “betrayal” and a “complete sellout.” Doesn’t this attitude leave you isolated from most influential Arab countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia?
The deal between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel is a breach of the Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted by all Arab states at the Arab Summit of 2002.
The Arab Peace Initiative calls for the realization of a just and comprehensive peace, and Israel’s withdrawal from all Arab lands, in exchange for full normalization of relations with Israel. This is the order that the Arab Peace Initiative stipulated; full withdrawal from all occupied lands and only after that can normalization of relations be realized.
The sole purpose of these agreements is political and electoral. We do not believe that such agreements will help reach a just and lasting solution. Peace and normalization of relations comes only after achieving the aspirations of the Palestinian people for freedom and independence.
We are not isolated from our Arab world, and what some countries have done does not represent the rest of the Arab countries, which still believe in the Arab Peace Initiative.
At a time of existential threats, the Palestinian nation remains divided between the West Bank and Gaza. Last month, representatives of Fatah and Hamas agreed to take steps toward national reconciliation, including legislative and presidential elections in 2021. It is not the first time we have heard such announcements. Are you optimistic that this time it could work?
We are determined to end the Palestinian division and reunite the West Bank and Gaza. This is one of the most important goals for us.
The leaders of all Palestinian factions met last month and it was agreed to move towards ending the division, and to work together to face the challenges of our national cause.
We still believe in the possibility of holding legislative and presidential elections in Palestine in the very near future. There are some challenges that need to be addressed, such as holding the elections in East Jerusalem. There are many questions that still need to be answered, but we are moving towards the right direction.
A team from the Fatah leadership has shuttled to a number of Arab and regional capitals during the past two weeks and this team held discussions with many leaders of Palestinian factions that are based abroad.
We are determined to achieve these elections which will serve the interest of the whole Palestinian nation.
‘Deeply rooted’ relations with Greece
Last month, the state of Palestine, along with Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Greece and Cyprus, participated in the EastMed Gas Forum’s charter. What do you expect from this initiative?
Palestine is a co-founding country of the EastMed Gas Forum. We aspire that such agreements will help develop national capabilities and our natural resources and will help Palestine demarcation of its economic sea zone (EEZ) in the Mediterranean, specially between Palestine and Israel. We do hope that this initiative will create a regional market for gas, offer competitive prices, better services, in addition to improving the economy of its member-states.
How do you view relations between Greece and Palestine? What do you expect from our country and the European Union at this stage in your struggle?
Palestinian-Greek relations are deeply rooted and our ambassador in Athens, Marwan Toubassi, is in constant cooperation with Greek officials and the Greek people. Greece and its friendly people have always stood by the Palestinian people throughout the years of conflict. The state of Palestine has an embassy in Athens, and Greece has a consulate general in Jerusalem.
I have visited Greece several times, and many Greek leaders have visited Ramallah. And I remember visiting the Greek Parliament in 2015, where a unanimous parliamentary resolution was voted calling upon the Greek government to proceed to the recognition of the state of Palestine.
In this regard, we must thank the government, the political parties and all the people of Greece for the solidarity, aid and support they provide to the Palestinian people.
In this context we call on the Greek government to recognize the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem its capital and to help in preserving and protecting the identity of Jerusalem and the Orthodox Church properties from looting along with securing the freedom of movement for worshippers to reach Muslim or Christian holy places. This matter will help achieve peace and support the rights of the Palestinian people. We trust that Greece as an EU state-member will also help to upgrade the EU-Palestinian dialogue into a permanent partnership which will serve equally our interests and common values.