Bitterlemons (Interview)
January 8, 2008 - 6:14pm

bitterlemons: Are you optimistic about US President George W. Bush's visit?

Jarbawi: Palestinians are not optimistic. We always hear a lot of talk and promises but on the ground we see the opposite. Settlements are expanding, Israeli army incursions continue unabated, there are arrests, and land is confiscated. All these Israeli policies continue and we hear only promises. We need action rather than words.

bitterlemons: What exactly do you see Washington's role as being?

Jarbawi: We have to wait and see the level of real involvement. The US is talking about moving ahead with the peace process and how crucial the year 2008 is, but up to now we haven't seen much. We have to see if Washington is committed not only in words but in reality.

bitterlemons: But the mere fact that the American president is coming...

Jarbawi: It could be for public relations, it could have to do with other US problems in the region, and it could have to do with the election campaign in the US. We want to see what Bush will deliver. A visit alone is good but not sufficient.

bitterlemons: What do you make of criticism that the US is acting primarily as a divider of Palestinians, something we hear from Hamas?

Jarbawi: It all depends on the political horizon. If there is a real political horizon and a real commitment on behalf of the US administration to move ahead, if we see commitment from Bush and his administration, I think talk of dividing Palestinians will be minimized. This means the administration has to put pressure on Israel. What the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is asking for is the minimum acceptable to Palestinians, so the pressure has to be on Israel. But if we get only talk and no pressure, then talk of dividing Palestinians may gain momentum.

bitterlemons: Is Washington able to apply this pressure?

Jarbawi: There is a difference between ability and intention. The US is able, but doesn't have the intention. This is because of domestic politics, because of the pro-Israel lobby and also because Arab countries are not exerting enough effort to this end.

Actually, I think the Americans and Israelis should understand that if they miss this opportunity--which is not for Palestinians, it is for Israelis and Americans to have a two-state solution--what they will have in the near future is not a two-state solution but a growing demand from Palestinians for a one-state solution, which Israel really doesn't want.

bitterlemons: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems to have said as much recently. But if Olmert's coalition is weak can we expect anything from him in the coming months?

Jarbawi: We can expect movement in negotiations. Just meeting here and there is simply not enough. There has to be substance. We have been on a negotiations track for almost 15 years and it has yielded nothing. We need commitment. Americans need this process not because they necessarily want to reach a settlement but because of external factors in the region, Iraq, Lebanon, etc.

Nor should we overestimate the weakness of Olmert's coalition, because this is used to undermine the Palestinian position, to lower Palestinian expectations and demands. The Israelis should understand that either they talk about a two-state solution in which minimum Palestinian demands are met or otherwise they will have a one-state solution on their hands in which the demographic factor they so fear will become a real possibility.

bitterlemons: How long can Abbas continue insisting on negotiations when every time there is a major event, Annapolis or Paris, Israel appears to act to undermine him with settlement building or incursions?

Jarbawi: Israel will continue to do so. Palestinian strategy should differentiate between continuing the negotiations track to reach a settlement that satisfies the minimum demands of the Palestinians and working on the ground to prepare the people for disappointment and improve their steadfastness. The Palestinian side should insist on negotiations, but should not believe that this will yield the desired result. Israel is simply not forthcoming.

We have internal problems--corruption, the division between the West Bank and Gaza--that we should also prioritize in order to find a unified strategy. And that strategy cannot simply be negotiations and nothing but.

bitterlemons: Do you think that there is an understanding in the White House that the situation is critical?

Jarbawi: No. This is partly because as Palestinians and Arabs we are not making this point clear. We have to tell the Israelis and Americans as clearly as possible that we are going to give only this chance--and Bush himself talks about 2008--this year. If, after 2008, the minimum Palestinian demands are not met then we will not continue negotiating forever. We will end our aspirations for a two-state solution and start pursuing a one-state solution. The Palestinian side right now is pursuing a two-state solution but Israel isn't. We cannot accept that a Palestinian state becomes a state of the leftovers of whatever Israel doesn't want. The two-state solution is based on the 1967 borders. If Israel wants more than that, then this is not a two-state solution and this we cannot accept.- Published 7/1/2008 ©


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