What are your thoughts on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
Gaza disengagement plan?
I don't consider it a plan. It looks like a unilateral, spur-of-the
moment, individual approach to try to solve some specific problems,
whether they are specific to Sharon or to Israel. Perhaps it is
meant to deflect criticism of a lack of political planning,
foresight or strategy, or accusations of corruption. It may be a
question of getting rid of a demographic and security problem by
transforming Gaza into a prison. The issue is - can this sort of
unilateral initiative succeed? The Americans and the international
community seem to have latched on to it as a way out of the current
impasse. It can only succeed if it self-negates - if it ceases to
be unilateral and becomes multilateral. Only if it ceases to be
disengagement and becomes a real withdrawal and an engagement in a
genuine and self-sustaining peace process can it succeed.
Do you feel this is what the Egyptian involvement is
I think the Egyptians are trying to work on the security issues.
They consider security to be a foundation of the plan, since either
there will be an internal breakdown or an external spillover
effect. If extremism and violence take over, it will have
implications, not just for any potential peace plan, but for the
neighborhood as a whole.
Given the fact that the Egyptians have to have control over the
so-called Philadelphi Corridor, and that they are trying to arrange
some sort of cease-fire, not exclusively Palestinian but a
Palestinian-Israeli cease-fire, means they are trying to deal with
the larger context. However, the larger context has to be via
genuine third party participation, i.e., the international
community, if such a creature exists. There has to be a substantive
process that moves rapidly forward, that deals with permanent
status issues, and quickly creates a linkage with the West Bank - a
territorial, legal and political linkage - that would hold Israel
accountable. A substantive process would evacuate settlements in
both the West Bank and Gaza, would lift the siege, and would not
give Israel any payback in the West Bank, particularly a
territorial payback in settlements, boundaries and Jerusalem.
So, the response of the international community to Israel's plan
so far does not constitute that?
Not yet. Of course there is a convergence of interests. There's the
Sharon interest, the Israeli occupation interest, the U.S.
President George Bush interest and the international community and
the Quartet interests.
Bush is in the midst of an election campaign. Not only does he want
a period of quiet in the Middle East, where things can sometimes
flare up, particularly given the disaster in Iraq that they
created, but he wants to ensure that nothing will impose itself on
the agenda during a period when he wants everything to serve his
campaign and his chances for reelection. That's paramount to his
interests. In addition, this U.S. administration has very strong
ties and contacts with Israel, with Sharon and his people, and they
want to present themselves as peacemakers, with the ability to
intervene positively, having intervened negatively in Iraq and
having elicited very negative responses to their Greater Middle
East initiative. They are trying to do some damage control, trying
to show that there is still a peace process that is connected to
the Road Map. This is the American perspective.
The [other] Quartet members have for some time now been trying to
find an opening to reenter the arena, given the fact that for some
time now the Road Map has been moribund - indeed, the Quartet was
deliberately shunted aside. Sharon's 14 reservations about the Road
Map exclude any third party participation unless it's American.
Look at what happened to the verification and monitoring
mechanisms. Of course, the Declaration of Principles and the Oslo
process were silenced, with no small amount of brutality, by
Sharon. Today, Quartet members consider this Gaza disengagement
initiative an opportunity. They did express their criticism and
disaffection with the American position, particularly after the
April 14 love fest between Bush and Sharon in Washington when
Israeli unilateralism became Israeli-U.S. bilateralism at the
expense of the Palestinians. But now they are trying to see if
something can be made out of this [Gaza initiative], to ensure a
role for the European Union (EU), for example, or the UN.
Thus, you have a convergence of all these aspects. But there is a
real flaw in the whole process. First of all, there is an attempt
to exclude the Palestinians as an effective partner. Secondly,
there is an attempt to make it a bilateral American-Israeli
agreement. And thirdly, there is no real binding timeline and
mechanisms to implement the rest of the Road Map, particularly
concerning permanent status issues.
But can the EU assume a greater role? It seems that the U.S.,
particularly under this administration, likes to do things its own
The U.S. has been known to be unilateral, particularly now given
the nature of the administration. Unilateralism is the name of the
game. And militarism is the name of the game. That's why you see an
ideological identification with people like Sharon. But it's up to
the EU to decide whether they have the political will and backbone,
not just to stand up to Israel, but to their major
ally-cum-competitor, the U.S., particularly in the context of the
peace process. They keep telling us that they want a role, and they
want the Americans on board, because the U.S. can make a
difference. They have an underlying assumption that the gatekeepers
are Israel and the U.S. And therefore they are accustomed to pay
the gatekeeper to be able to get in. I'm afraid they have always
habitually underestimated their influence and power, and they
haven't used it. They keep finding excuses - that they're not one
country, they're not monolithic, that the EU has many policies -
but I've seen them stand up to the U.S. on other issues. There is
the promise and the assumption that Israel, as the gatekeeper, can
give them an ending. This is not true. If you play the carrot and
the stick with Israel, you always end up giving more carrots.
They'll eat them and ask for more. [The EU] has never really used
the stick with Israel.
The stick being economic sanctions?
There are all sorts of sticks. The one time that Israel backed down
rapidly was when the EU started talking about suspending scientific
research agreements when Israel closed down Palestinian
But they never followed through with that...
Yes, but Israel reopened the universities. The EU has power. The
real question is whether it can use it. And, of course, whether EU
countries can get the U.S. to take them seriously. I'm being quite
blunt. Frequently the U.S. doesn't take the EU or the UN seriously
unless it's in trouble, the way it is now in Iraq where it's
desperately seeking NATO troops and UN involvement, and where,
suddenly, Bush is paying attention to UN envoys and others whom he
either ignored or censured before. He needs them now.
In this context, how important are the American
They are very important. No decision is taken in America today
unless it has an impact on the elections. This is the center of
policy, if not of gravity. That's it. Everything is measured
against its impact on Bush's chances for reelection.
How much of an effect would there be with a change in
It depends. I've seen both administrations. I've also seen some of
U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry's foreign policy
advisers in action in previous administrations. Right now, the
wisdom is that Kerry is me too-ing everything that Bush does and
says, because he's not entering into any confrontations. Strangely
enough, that echoes the European position. He may designate a
different political terrain for himself, and oppose Bush on
everything else, except on the Middle East. When it comes to that,
he tries to outdo Bush.
But this is in terms of the campaign...
That's what people are telling me. This is a campaign thing, and
we'll see what happens when Bush gets reelected, or if Kerry gets
elected. I understand political cynicism and opportunism, but how
far can it go? People who make election promises are supposed to
try to implement them. For example, Kerry once mentioned that he
would appoint a high-level envoy to the region, whether it be
(Bill) Clinton or (James) Baker or someone like that, but when he
met with opposition from the pro-Israeli lobby, he immediately
backed down, and started talking about people like Dennis Ross and
Martin Indyk. These guys have failed before. More of the same will
produce more failure. What we need is a real change, a real
political shift, in policy and in approach.
Do you see that happening?
There are some standard issues that are constants in American
policy, such as the strategic alliance with Israel, and maintaining
Israel's strategic edge over the region, in terms of military
superiority. These are standards - it doesn't matter whether it's
the Republicans or the Democrats. But what the current
administration brought to the alliance is an ideological
identification, which hadn't existed before, and a willingness to
give a priori, as well as post priori, approval for anything the
Israeli government did, to the point where they would find
justifications for things that violate American policy. And [this
administration] has also shifted American policy on refugees and
boundaries with that April 14th speech. So it has gone beyond what
any previous administration would ever consider doing, in terms of
legality, politics, policy and morality. An absolute
Will the Democrats be different? It's not a question of the Jewish
lobby, because the majority of the Jewish community votes
Democratic, and they tend to be more liberal, more open. Perhaps
there will be an impact on defining Israel's interests. The U.S. is
always trying to serve Israeli interests. People like the extreme
right-wing neo-con Christian coalition will define Israel's
interests in a way that is conducive with the most extreme
ideological right-wing factions in Israel. And people in the
Democratic Party will define Israel's interest in having a peace
agreement that would give Israel a two-state solution and a
So the key in American politics is how they assess Israel's
Exactly. You can't accuse any of them of looking at Arab interests,
or seeing that the Palestinians have been unjustly treated, that we
are the weaker party, etc.
How substantive do you think are the April statements in
Washington by Bush and Sharon, and is this the only game in town
and everyone has to jump on the bandwagon?
They did jump on the bandwagon as if it was the only game in town,
but they went beyond that. We met with [the Americans before the
meeting], and they asked us how do we make this work? And we gave
them all of our positions - no payback on the West Bank, full
withdrawal, no control, no siege, access, airports, seaports - the
whole thing. They know what is needed. And then, to turn around and
give this speech, even though we knew about it from Israeli leaks
and were trying to prevent this very serious and dangerous speech
from being made, because it's a serious and destructive shift in
American policy, a violation of international and humanitarian
They tried to cover themselves by saying that no permanent status
issues can be decided upon without the agreement of both sides. But
that's not enough. Because once you say that it's not realistic to
expect the refugees to return, and that you have to take into
account "population centers" and demographic changes, you
immediately become complicit in the occupation, you're violating
the Fourth Geneva Convention, you're giving retroactive legitimacy,
etc. So no matter how they tried to phrase it differently, the
damage has been done.
It's a very serious shift, and I don't think that any subsequent
administration can free itself entirely from such a bias. That's
why you see the pro-Israeli lobby rushing to legislate these things
into law in Congress, to make them binding. And Sharon sold it as a
major concession that he got from the U.S. So it's very serious,
and has undermined even further U.S. credibility and standing and
its ability to play any role.
Are there any other types of assistance that the international
community can provide?
Of course. There has to be a comprehensive, integrative approach.
It's not just a question of security. It's security, economics and
politics, which also will involve a redefinition of the nature of
security. I don't believe that security equals military
There has to be a full economic plan, which will integrate the West
Bank and Gaza, and there also has to be a political process. And we
need inspections on the ground. I really believe that there has to
be third party participation, with peacekeepers and monitors. We do
need monitoring and verification, and we will need troops,
peacekeepers, international, multinational, multilateral, whatever.
There are many variations on the theme connected with issues of
nation-building, such as the activation of airports, seaports,
trade issues, and of course relations with neighbors like Egypt and
Egypt seems to be stepping up its involvement. Do you think
Jordan could, or should, be doing something similar?
There are two perceptions of this. There's the Israeli perception
of breaking Palestine apart: the West Bank with Jordanian
involvement, or even oversight or a mandate, a trusteeship, without
calling it that; Gaza with Egyptian participation, oversight,
mandate, trusteeship, call it what you will; and Israel being
allowed, with U.S. collusion, to annex as much territory as
possible. This is part of Sharon's interim long-term plan. However,
there have been discussions between the Palestinians, Egyptians and
the international community to ensure that this will not happen.
The process has to take place in a multilateral context, with the
Quartet, and with the understanding that the Palestinians are the
seat of sovereignty. And, therefore, any kind of sharing is a
Palestinian decision and at Palestinian invitation, in order to
assist in nation-building and make any other possible
What about a lower level of international involvement, the
That "lower level" is crucial. When we talk about the Palestinian
diaspora (and I don't usually use the term) we may talk about 5 or
5.5 million refugees, but some of them are expatriates, some are
exiles and some are refugees. Each requires a different approach.
But in any nation-building and peacemaking process, they'll have to
play an essential part.
First of all, they are a human resource - human, economic, etc.
They can help with their expertise, know-how and capital to rebuild
Palestine. We are undergoing a period of repression, of deliberate
de-development. I think we're the only nation in the world in this
situation, as a result of the rampant destruction visited upon us.
We all know that Israel would like nothing better than to have us
as fragmented population centers under Israeli control.
Institutions, infrastructures, any type of cohesive forces have
I also think that the Palestinian exiles should be part of the
decision-making. We should have a larger framework. One talks about
the PLO, but the PLO alone is not enough. Its institutions are
obsolete, and there is competition between the PLO and the PNA,
etc. We need to put our house in order. We need to upgrade, update
and democratize the PLO, in order to function as a national
institution. We need to build the institutions of a state, and to
move rapidly forward. And the expatriate, refugee or exiled
communities should be a part of it.
At the same time, we should continue to work with the refugees on
the questions of their own rights wherever they are in their host
countries. They cannot be put on hold, and victimized again and
again because they are refugees, or because of their years in the
host countries. There's no reason to suspend their political,
human, economic and civil rights for fear of upsetting demographic
balances or because of political realities. This is a regional
question. We're talking about large populations. This is the key to
stability or instability in the region.