JERUSALEM, Apr 19, 2010 (IPS) - Ziad Abuzayyad was Palestinian cabinet minister responsible for Jerusalem affairs and a member of the Palestinian Legislature. During previous rounds of peace talks with Israel he was a leading member of the Palestinian negotiating team Currently, Abuzayyad is co-editor of the ‘Palestine-Israel Journal’ which seeks to create a platform for exploring tangible ways to advance a peaceful two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. He spoke to IPS’ Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler about how the ongoing crisis in relations between the U.S. and Israel, especially over the question of Israel’s determination to go on building freely more settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem, might affect peace hopes.
Q: Are you pleased with the way President Barak Obama is pressuring Israel – he seems to be literally making Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu squirm…
A: I don’t want to enjoy anyone’s embarrassment or see anyone suffer; I want to enjoy seeing peace come about between Israelis and Palestinians, each with their own state. Also, it’s not a matter of pressure, but the results of such pressure on the Netanyahu government. The point is not what you say, but what you do.
Q: And, is the U.S. doing more than just saying?
A: People in this area are looking for deeds, not words. So far, there is a tough tone in the way the Obama administration is talking to Israel now and about Israeli policies, but it’s not enough. It could amount to just lip service, unless it is translated into real pressure for real action on the ground. What counts is what eventually shows on the ground. As long as there is no change in Netanyahu’s behaviour, and no tangible policy change by him, all this will not be helpful.
Q: Are you saying that the way President Obama has shifted, and the way he is talking to Netanyahu now, amounts merely to lip-service?
A: Listen to what I am saying; I’m not saying that this is lip-service. But, unless words are translated into action, it could indeed become just that. The point is that if Israel is truly made to feel that the U.S. administration is genuinely serious about insisting on a settlement freeze, especially in East Jerusalem, the Israelis will implement it. There is not an Israeli leader who would dare to get into such a confrontation with the U.S. They would do anything to prevent such a confrontation. Q: Even Netanyahu... A: Even Netanyahu.
Q: Were you surprised at this blow-up between Obama and Netanyahu? A: I can’t say ‘surprised’ - it’s not yet a blow-up. It’ll be a blow-up only if the U.S. really pressures Israel, and Netanyahu chooses to resist.
Q: Is the issue of the continued building in East Jerusalem settlements a litmus test of how far Obama is prepared to go? A: Let me put this way – there is a joint consensus of Israelis and Palestinians that it is in their common interest to end the conflict with two states for the two peoples. If the Obama administration makes the Israeli leadership understand that this is for Israel’s sake that will be great. If not, it will be against us Palestinians for the time being but against Israel in the long run. And in the meantime, the suffering on both sides will go on.
Q: But do you see this crisis between the U.S. and Israel as a turning point? A: Potentially, it is a turning point. We have to wait to see what practical steps the U.S. intends taking. It’s either-or.
Q: Either-or... A: Either the U.S. will do its share to make the two-state solution possible or the U.S. will have to exert more pressure – there’s simply no alternative.
Q: What should the Palestinians be doing all the while? A: The most important thing is that there is no resorting to violence again, that we should not try to militarise our conflict with Israel. What we need to do is two-fold: On one hand, expand passive resistance against the occupation and against Israeli behaviour in the occupied Palestinian lands; on the other, go on building the institutions of our future state, to show our capability to create a state in a peaceful manner.
Q: Did the Arab Summit in Libya meet Palestinian expectations? A: We have no great expectations of the Arab League. The Arab summit is not a crucial event in this process; irrespective of whether or not they endorse the American drive to get the proximity talks between us and the Israelis underway, those talks should go on. But in parallel, we have to redouble our effort on the two tracks I have noted where we are ourselves in control - more passive resistance, and continued building of the infrastructure of our state.
Q: Where does this leave President Mahmoud Abbas? A: He is very much in control but he is also aware of the mood of the people. Like everyone, he is fed up with constant Israeli manoeuvring and scheming. But he will do anything he can to make sure that there is no violence. I hope he gets the necessary support for that option. I’ll remind you that the outbreak of the Intifada uprising was spontaneous. Now, however, the general mood is to embark on peaceful resistance as we follow just how determined the U.S. is prepared finally to get serious with the Israeli government.