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Palestinians Trust the US to Oversee Negotiations

 By Elad Dunayevsky, Geneva Initiative

18.8.2010

The following is a transcript of a short interview with Dr. Samih Shabib, Philosophy and Cultural Studies lecturer at the Bir Zeit University and column contributor in Al-Ayyam daily. The interview was conducted in Arabic and translated into English.

Elad Dunayevsky: Do you think that the status of Mahmoud Abbas will suffer if negotiations resume without a settlement freeze?

Dr. Samih Shabib: If negotiations resume without halting settlement construction, President Abbas will be weakened, and that is because he linked the launching of negotiations with the freezing of building in the settlements. Mahmoud Abbas will be presented as one who surrendered to the Israeli government, a thing that will be understood in terms of a political defeat for him specifically and for the Palestinian Authority in general.

ED: Will negotiations without a settlement freeze strengthen Hamas in the West Bank?

SS: Yes, Hamas will become stronger than it is today. Its political message will be presented as credible and trustworthy. Hamas worked diligently on presenting the Palestinian Authority as if it belongs to the Israelis and as if it serves them. Therefore, a situation in which negotiations begin without a settlement freeze will give legitimization to Hamas and contribute to its status in the Palestinian street.

ED: Do you think that given the absence of negotiations the Palestinian public opinion is tending to support the outbreak of a new Intifada?

SS: It is unlikely that a third Intifada will break out, because the second Intifada failed, and its consequences for the Palestinian street were devastating. The situation isn't inviting a third Intifada. A situation of political stagnation and lack of negotiations will be a suitable circumstance for the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, and its role and justification will vanish.

ED: If a new Intifada breaks out, will it be violent or not?

SS: There are existing suitable conditions for a widening and spreading of peaceful civil resistance. Its value became a phenomenon which is known to all, and there are those who adopt it in structures of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.

ED:: To which extent do the residents of the West Bank follow what is going on in the Gaza strip? Are they concerned with what happens there?

SS: Yes, There is a following of what happens in Gaza, and there is pain due to the existing Geo-political split. There are very strong concerns that the right for self determination of the Palestinian people will not be achieved under the shadow of that split.

ED: To which extent is the Palestinian peace camp’s presence being felt? 

SS: The Palestinian peace camp plays a prominent role and the camp is grasped as credible. However, the activities of the peace camp appear to be decreasing ata  time when the need for such activities is certainly increasing.

ED: Do you think that there is a real threat for dismantling the Palestinian Authority in case the negotiations fail?

SS: In a case in which negotiations fail, there will be a threat to the political role of the Palestinian Authority, and it will undergo an internal evaluation. The Palestinian Authority cannot announce its own dismantling, but its surrounding environment can limit it and threaten it with a comprehensive collapse. 

ED: If the Palestinian Authority is dismantled, what will the situation in the West Bank be like?

SS: In a case of the Palestinian Authority's collapse the ground will be fertile for the emergence of militias that will rule the villages and towns while conspiring with the occupation forces. We can refer to such a state phenomena as "town lords".

ED: Will the Palestinians agree to leave the Jerusalem issue to the end of negotiations?

SS: The Jerusalem issue is one of the permanent status agreement issues and it cannot be bypassed. It is probably the most conspicuous issue of the failure of the Camp David 2000 negotiations. It is possible to delay the discussion over Jerusalem, but it's impossible to bypass it because of political, religious or ideological reasons.  

ED: Regarding a permanent status agreement, why aren't the Palestinians agreeing to a state in temporary borders as a step in the road to a permanent status agreement?

SS: There is a Palestinian–Israeli agreement which was signed in 1994. In that agreement the Palestinians gave up their maximum, and can't offer further concessions. There is a fear that the temporary borders will become final ones, and that will be the cancellation of the Palestinian–Israeli agreement. 

ED: In your opinion, do the Palestinians trust the American mediation between the Israelis and them?

SS: Yes, they trust the US as the strongest country in the world, which is capable of supervising the negotiations. They don't see any other international interlocutor which can fill this important role.

ED: What are the main obstacles on the road to reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas?

SS: There are many obstacles however most prominent is the political one. The Fatah platform is the PLO platform drafted as a result of all the Palestinian National Council Assemblies since 1964. As for Hamas's platform: it is derived from The Muslim Brothers’ platform which is totally different from the PLO one. The two do not have a single common point whether it is the stand towards Israel or the legitimacy of international decisions. The Palestinian Independence Declaration from 1988 is a secular platform, whereas Hamas's platform is a Muslim religious platform.