The political dynamic in Gaza: interview with Raji Sourani

by Feb 14, 2012Magazine

Amandla! (A!): You have said that the Palestinian bid for UN membership has brought together the divided Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah. What is the state of their relations following the unity agreement?
Raji Sourani (RS): I think the Israeli government leaves no other choice than to be united. Our differences have been ruled out and the possibly of reconciliation exists right now better than any time before. Palestinians see no difference at the political level between Hamas and Fatah; there is no reason to keep this split and the institutionalized weakness anymore. There were initial reservations following the bid for statehood by Abbas, most particularly regarding the issue of representation of refugees, as the PLO wants to represent Palestinians both outside and inside the territories. We are asking for a state, which implies a critical issue for refugees. Abbas made it clear in his speech that the PLO would take up the representation of Palestinian refugees. This means that a major obstacle and disagreement with Hamas has been overcome. It’s a very significant improvement in relations between the two factions.
Abbas is very clearly committed to a two state solution and he was one of the first who claimed for it more than forty years ago.  He recently decided that the situation is completely unacceptable and he is showing that he will not compromise anymore with the bid to statehood. That is why he initiated a real political process for a unified position. The issue wasn’t so much about a state or no state, it was a political issue of unification.
A!: Is there a political space for civil society to organize in the Palestinian territories?
RS: Civil society was born under and because of the Israeli occupation, and since its creation it has been perpetually harassed. Israel has always tried to crack down by all means on civil society. Even when the direct occupation was at its strongest, under Arafat, civil society was at its most robust and effective. Arafat himself tried to contain its efforts but he was unsuccessful. Some have tried to limit the workings of Fatah but still, civil society in the West Bank and in Gaza is very much respected and has a huge role to play. After sixty three years of the Nakba Palestinians want very basic, fundamental primitive human rights: right of life, right of movement, right of medical care, right of education and we are extremely far of achieving our right of self determination and independence.

A!: How have the Arab uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia etc impacted Palestinians?
RS: We could say that the Arab spring began in Palestine after the elections of 2006. It was one of the most wonderful democratic processes I have seen- with transparent and fair elections and the highest turnout ever. Palestinians wanted democracy and delivered it even under the occupation. Since then, Israel has tightened restrictions and started its policy of siege. When it boycotted the elected government of Hamas, it had a snowball effect: the economy of repression started, with its huge social impacts. Now we, as Palestinians, are in support of struggles that are against the occupation. We are very alert, and show great solidarity to people who are also suffering from dictatorships. Of course, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya etc. will have a very strategic and positive impact on Palestinians. All of these uprisings are in our interest and it was expressed boldly and clearly during the Arab Spring. I would expect that Palestine will benefit quite a lot from the Arab world revolution.

A!: Where did Palestinians stand in relation to the NATO attacks in Libya?
RS: It was a highly complicated situation, one that oscillated between human right commitments and politics. We have to remember what Gaddafi said: that he would destroy and kill everyone, until the very last gangster and rebel. That was his position. There was very legitimate fear that he was going to commit atrocities, and he did effectively try, so when the people of Libya, and the so-called TNC (National Transitional Council), tried to get help, the intervention was justifiable. Even if we don’t agree with the way it was given.
I do think NATO went too far and that time will soon show that they went miles beyond their mandate, which was the protection of civilians. NATO raids caused the destruction of entire military and civilian infrastructure. While there was reason for the intervention, it was highly misused. If the intention was genuine and good, it will be proven very soon as Libya’s liberation unfolds. We have to see how everyone shares the cake and ensure that the revolution isn’t captured away from the Libyan people.

A!: How do you imagine the reconstruction of infrastructure in Palestine following the socioeconomic suffocation and the Israeli onslaught?

RS: All that Palestinians really need now is the free movement of goods and individuals. Let us remember that Israel justified its siege with such things as Gilad Shalit’s arrest (an Israeli soldier who was detained in Palestine for five years). Shalit is now back with his family and enjoys his freedom. While we are very happy for our prisoners who are back home, my point is that civilians in Gaza are under constant arrest. Not only do we have more than 5 000 prisoners in Israel, we are 1.8 million individuals constantly under siege. It is time to get our freedom back. The international community has given 5 billion dollars that will be invested in the rebuilding of Gaza, and we will finally have the opportunity to shape our destiny. We need the liberty to rebuild ourselves.

A!: What scenarios will most likely bring an end to the conflict and how will Palestinian freedom be achieved (i.e. on the basis of a single state or two states)?
RS: In a few words: by stopping the de facto apartheid system and the invasion of settlements. If Israel continues with its policies as such, it will lead to very specific results and there will only be one solution: one state. But this isn’t even the Palestinian position anymore. We had to abandon the idea a long time ago, back in 1965, when Arafat was pressured by the international community. They told him: ‘If you call for one state, this will mean the destruction of the state of Israel.’ In order to get support, Palestinians had to recognise the state of Israel.
However, the two-state solution has failed, repeatedly. The deaths of Rabin and Arafat were two huge symbolic losses for peace. So we have to ask ourselves, What does the international community really want? One or two states? Us Palestinians cannot call for a one-state solution when Israel wants the purity of the Jewish state. We are against one state where we will be second-class citizens. In concept and in principle, Palestinians wanted one state, but it doesn’t seem workable anymore. 

A!: Can you explain the meaning of the Palestinian bid to self-determination? What can you say about its potential denial?
RS: The non-alienable right of Palestinian people to self-determination has been stated many times before. This is yet another legal and political attempt to see the recognition of the Palestinian state, through a UNSC resolution. There is an essential geopolitical reality we have to understand if Palestine is denied the bid, and that is that the US is a major obstacle, by its absolute support to Israel. The United Sates’ protection of Israel and the occupied territories affects international law and a whole array of influential intellectuals: this is realpolitik at its best, the rule of the jungle, not the rule of law. If people really cared, they would do something practical and ask Israel to be accountable for its war crimes and crimes against humanity, those recognised by every international human rights organisation and fact missions, NGOs, courts, etc. The lack of action against Israel encourages it to continue its occupation. The EU is as guilty when it comes to making Israel immune. More than 70% of Israeli goods are sent to Europe. This is the cheapest occupation in the world: nobody is taking real measures against Israel like they did against South Africa during apartheid and no one is even asking for sanctions.
Why is Israel part of the Eurovision? Of internationally recognised soccer teams? Why is there such a level of academic and technical cooperation with Israel? Israel has the best of relations with the US and the EU. It is obliged by no one to give up the occupation. This immunity is the real shock. The speech made by Abbas at the UN was a very positive step: the thunder of applause shows some support of the world community.

A!: For more than 30 years you have worked in Palestine as a lawyer. You have documented countless violations of human rights and other forms of domination. If Israel is an institutionalised regime of systematic domination, what are you hoping can be concretely achieved at the Russell Tribunal (RT)?

RS: RT was created to raise awareness when governments conspire. It strives to move popular consciousness in order to pressure for measures against atrocities and crimes against humanity. As I mentioned, the US and the EU serve as a real protector for Israel’s belligerent occupation, providing it full immunity, with no accountability whatsoever. Having the Russell Tribunal is quintessential in maintaining the pressure and momentum and it shows that there is a true and genuine support for the Palestinian people, and their right to self determination. There are efforts to impose real sanctions and measures against the occupation.

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