Bitterlemons (Interview)
January 10, 2011 - 1:00am

bitterlemons: What is the importance of the string of Latin American countries that have recognized the state of Palestine within the 1967 borders?

Malki: The first recognitions of Palestine were made back in 1988, and since then we were stuck regarding recognition of the state. Some countries within Western Europe, Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and others did establish relations with the Palestinian National Authority, but did not recognize the state of Palestine. We thought that because we have reached a deadlock in the political negotiations with Israel, there was a need for us to approach most of the countries that did not yet recognize the state of Palestine and see if they are willing to do so. The hope is that such recognition might create an atmosphere that will convince Israel that it is in its interests to come forward and to reengage with us in negotiations so that we can solve all our impending issues and to reach an end to the occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state through negotiations. We believe that such recognition is a way to pressure Israel, to convince Israel and to make Israel believe that there is another way [open to us] if Israel continues to refrain from engaging Palestinians in direct negotiations.

bitterlemons: Why is this change happening in Latin America first?

Malki: We focused on Latin America for several reasons. First of all, Latin America is the continent that did not recognize the state of Palestine earlier. Most of Africa except three or four countries, most of Asia except four or five countries, and all of the Arab countries did recognize the state of Palestine. So we had a weakness in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. When you look at these countries, there are about 35 to 40 countries - almost one fourth of the whole world. And so if we want to be strong enough in our approach, we have to direct our focus to that continent. Since the beginning of my tenure, four years back, I really took advantage of so many communities of Palestinian origin that live in South and Central America. I mobilized their support in our approach. Secondly, I do speak Spanish and this made it easier for me to have direct contact with my counterparts in such countries. Also, in the last couple of years, most of these countries have changed to the left, which has made them more able and ready to respond positively to our approach.

bitterlemons: What would you say to critics who say this is merely symbolic?

Malki: Well, this is what the Israelis are trying to convince themselves in order for them to respond to their own critics about the failure of their diplomacy compared to the success of Palestinian diplomacy. From our point of view, the more recognitions there are of a Palestinian state, the stronger our position is when it comes to negotiations with Israel or when it comes to our need to go to the United Nations to gain recognition of the Palestinian state. It's true that on the ground, it doesn't make any difference, but everything is very symbolic these days. It is very important when we start to say, for example, that more countries recognize the state of Palestine than recognize the state of Israel.


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