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Interviewed for the Palestine-Israel Journal by Khaled Abu-Aker with Leila Dabdoub, December 2000.

Palestine-Israel Journal: An accumulation of reasons sparked the Intifada and then created a kind of momentum. In your own analysis, do you think that the peace process itself was a reason behind this Intifada?
Khalil Shikaki: There is no doubt that the people's anger and frustration with the lack of progress in the peace process has damaged the peace process and has caused it to lose its legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinians. Therefore, the accumulation of deep anger led to more support for confrontation and violence. Sharon's visit was simply the spark that lit the fuse. Without addressing the fundamental reasons for the anger, this feeling will re-emerge, and there will be no end in sight for the current confrontations.

But until this moment nobody is trying to touch upon the real reasons. Israel is trying to resume talks indirectly with the Palestinians, without dealing with the core of the problem; on the other hand, what you see on the ground is more suffering, more measures taken against the Palestinian people - where are we heading?
The way Israel responded to the confrontations has only helped to sustain the Intifada. The excessive use of force, the collective punishment, the closure, the economic sanctions, all these have contributed to the delegitimization of the peace process even more, and along with it, by the way, to the delegitimization of the Palestinian Authority (PA) itself. Because this is not just a revolt against a failed peace process, but against the outcome of the peace process, including the creation of the PA. The PA is the legitimate son of the peace process. If the peace process is delegitimized, so too will be the PA. As a result, we'll probably see more anger and frustration against the PA itself. A lot of people will, therefore, turn to other sources of legitimacy. Fateh, for example, claims to have revolutionary legitimacy. There is also the PLO as an institution that has a distinct and separate legitimacy from that of the peace process and the PA.
The Israeli measures that we described earlier are thus contributing to the downfall of the PA. The collapse of the PA could also spell disaster for future Israeli-Palestinian relationships and, perhaps, even have ramifications for the Middle East region as a whole.

Before the Intifada, there was a lot of criticism of corruption, and people were predicting that any revolt would not only be against Israel, but also against the PA. Now it is said that the PA played it well in a way and it continues controlling the street. To what extent is the Authority in control of the situation?
I have no doubt about the role of corruption and its contribution to the delegitimization of the PA. The anger directed at the PA is a factor in terms of determining how the PA is responding to the confrontations. The confrontations were not orchestrated by Arafat or the PA. They were spontaneous expressions of deep-seated anger and frustration with both the peace process and the PA itself. On the one hand, it is Israel that has not implemented half or more of its commitments under Oslo - we do not see any return of refugees; there is no second safe passage yet [between Ramallah and Gaza]; the prisoners are still in jail; economic agreements have not been revised; the third redeployment is completely forgotten, and these are some of the fundamental needs that people expected and took for granted. Since Israel has the power, its refusal to honor agreements created the embitterment on the street. On the other hand, when the PA failed to produce a clean government and deal with corruption, it contributed to this situation. So we have now reached a point where the PA feels if it tries to stop the confrontations, it is helping Israel get away with non-implementation. If Israel is responsible, it must implement its part of the deal, while Arafat and the PA must implement their part in terms of providing the people with good governance.
Arafat cannot, and probably will not, take any serious steps to put an end to the confrontations unless he is certain that Israel will, for its part, do whatever is necessary to revive the peace process. Arafat is definitely not interested in the collapse of the PA; the collapse of the peace process will automatically lead to this, and to the emergence of new legitimacies. What is helping Arafat and the PA is that they wear more than one hat - those of the PLO, the PA and Fateh. When Arafat feels that the PA is disintegrating, he can put on the hat of the PLO or Fateh, and the same is true of Jibril Rajoub and Mohammad Dahlan, for example. Both are heads of preventive security in the PA, but both are senior figures in Fateh. They can go back to their original source of legitimacy in the revolutionary legitimacy of Fateh or in the PLO. They could continue to exist even were the PA to collapse.
Such a collapse and the subsequent economic and social suffering would have very serious ramifications for future Palestinian-Israeli relationships because, if the Palestinian national movement fails to produce a satisfactory system of government, people will turn elsewhere. They may turn to fundamentalist groups - Islamists and others - which means that we would reverse all the achievements of the past seven years and put ourselves on a new course that can only lead to major violence between us and the Israelis.

Where are we heading, then, as a result?
I am afraid there is very little that can be done about this situation unless Israel shows willingness to implement its part of the deal. Events have weakened both Arafat and Barak. Their room for maneuver has been constrained, and they are now less likely to succeed than they were at Camp David or before. Both realize this is very dangerous: Barak's dilemma is that without a successful peace process he has no chance of winning the elections; and Arafat, with the PA destroyed and delegitimized, will have very little to show for his strategy of negotiations and may also be ousted. But Arafat cannot offer the Israelis more than he offered at Camp David, and perhaps he has become more hawkish in his views than before. Barak indeed needs a serious peace process, but, at the same time, whatever peace process he embarks on must satisfy his constituency. So we can very clearly see that neither Barak nor Arafat is in a position to give each other much, however negative the consequences for both.

One of the ideas you raised in recent days is the declaration of a Palestinian state. Could such a declaration be the solution? Could it unite the people behind their leadership?
In order to prevent a situation in which the PA is paralyzed and in which Fateh and Hamas claim their own legitimacy, we need to create a state. A state cannot be imposed. If it is to be given the only source of legitimacy, everybody - the PLO, Fateh, Hamas, the PA - must be willing to give up to the state whatever power they possess in terms of independent decision-making. The state would, therefore, become a sort of consensus of all the Palestinians.
They have to sit down and create a political system that is clean, democratic, and acceptable to all. The state will come about as the result of compromise among members of this coalition. It will have the legitimacy needed and the ability to prevent the collapse of the PA and the anarchy that would follow such a collapse.

The legitimacy that Fateh got is the legitimacy of over 30 years of revolution. Then Hamas started to get a similar legitimacy. Do you think that with the current situation one gained at the expense of the other?
Hamas has been weakened by the peace process. The peace process strengthened Fateh tremendously and during these confrontations made it the dominant political force in Palestinian politics. Hamas had previously been weakened by the peace process and by the Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation. Therefore, Hamas is not a real challenge. What is truly a challenge is the street itself. However, the establishment of a state will require the cooperation of Hamas, which retains its importance in Palestinian society, as well as other domestic groups.

But with Fateh leading the struggle against occupation, has Hamas's role diminished?
We have to recognize that Fateh is the dominant political group, but close to 40 percent of the public is not affiliated with any particular group, and, therefore, you have civil society as well as parties, NGOs, etc.

When we talk about the situation in general, we reach a point of no return. Can there be any returning to the situation before September 28?
There is no way that the confrontations can be stopped by focusing on security arrangements alone without fully addressing a political solution. Security can only be one component in conjunction with the political solution. There is no returning to the pre-Intifada period, only a moving forward to a new situation. If anybody thinks that security arrangements alone can calm the situation, and that we can go back to the pre-Intifada period, this person is not realistic.

When bullets are being shot at settlers, do you think that the whole way of looking at the settlements as part of Israel's security concept will change as a result of the situation?
There is no doubt that this kind of Intifada is sending a message to the settlers, but like the previous Intifada, it may not necessarily succeed in forcing the settlers or the Israeli government to reassess their position. To the contrary, during the first Intifada, settlement funding and expansion continued unabated, and even increased. The position of the Israeli government did not change. The current Intifada is sending a much stronger message to the settlers, but there is no way that shooting at settlements will fundamentally change the balance. Israeli military forces and Jewish settlers are in a much stronger position to threaten Palestinian society than the other way round. Unless the Israeli government itself decides to change its position vis-à-vis settlements, we will not see any fundamental change between Palestinians and settlers.
There is no doubt in my mind that more than one-third of the settlers would be willing to leave the settlements, but the Israeli government must make it possible for them to do so by offering them compensation and resettling them somewhere inside Israel. If that happens, then I can envisage a situation in which we can start to see an end to settlement activity. Unless there is willingness in Israel to change mentality or to evict settlements, and not only the isolated ones; unless Israel seriously considers going back to the 1967 borders - some minor adjustments here and there will be fine - then the conflict will continue for a very long period of time. A situation in which Israel would annex 10 percent of the West Bank with settlements is not realistic at all. It won't be. No Palestinian leader in his right mind will ever accept a situation in which Israel can keep its settlers happy and achieve peace. If we're talking about Israel maintaining a smaller area with some mutual exchange of territory, that's a possibility.

Should the peace process mechanism include the Europeans and the UN as well as the Americans?
What's the difference if instead of Clinton we're sitting with anybody else - the EU or the UN secretary-general? What is necessary is for Israel to change its position; everything else is cosmetic. The international community, if it wanted, could impose sanctions on Israel, but, again, this is not realistic because the U.S. would prevent it. It's essentially between Israel and the Palestinians and we have to find a way of living together. The only way we can do this is by two separate states, and the 1967 borders as a point of departure; the Palestine refugees must have a choice to satisfy their aspirations. This is the way towards a comprehensive solution, an end to the conflict, a closing of the file. The current peace process under the Oslo agreement can only buy time. Without a final comprehensive agreement, we will find ourselves a year from now again in a similar situation. Israel will never be able to live as a normal state; we will continue to suffer from the occupation. At this point, I am afraid we have both failed - Palestinians and Israelis. There is no Israeli leader at this point - not Barak, not anybody else - who is really willing to make the painful decision to do what Israel did with Egypt, with Jordan, what it is willing to do with Syria. Why all of a sudden do they think they can act otherwise towards the Palestinians, and think that they are doing the Palestinians a favor?

Messages are being sent to the Palestinian leadership that either you support us - Barak - or you will get Netanyahu back in power. Do you think the Palestinians can play a role in the upcoming Israeli elections?
Two things have happened since the last elections. First, Barak's government was a disappointment; there was really no fundamental change in Israel's views towards territorial issues, or Jerusalem, or any other peace process-related matter. This is going to have its own consequences. Second, the Palestinian Israelis voted for Barak, thinking he would show more sympathy towards their objective of equality. The events of the past two months have shown that this concept too has been dealt a very heavy blow. I think that there will be less interest on the part of the Palestinians in participating in the elections, or in voting for Barak or for any of the Zionist parties, whether left or right. This will definitely weaken the left. The only way to change this is by making serious progress on both fronts: equality and the peace process. But as I said, I don't expect any progress in the peace process. I think that this time the Arab vote is not in anybody's pocket.

When we talk about the Arab vote, we remember the way the Israeli police dealt with the Palestinian Israelis who expressed solidarity with the Intifada, with the result that 13 were killed and hundreds were injured. Some people were surprised to see such solidarity between Palestinians in Israel and in the territories. Why do you think the Palestinians in Israel reacted in this way?
I think for two reasons. There's always been sympathy for the Palestinians in the occupied territories, for their cause of independence and statehood, but in addition to that, this time the confrontation was ignited by the Haram al-Sharif, a place that is sacred to all Arabs and Muslims. Therefore, Muslims and Arabs inside Israel felt this was a provocation to them as well. They were enraged by Sharon's visit as much as any other Palestinian. Secondly, they had their own grievances, their own problems with the Barak government. The Palestinian Israelis had supported Barak with an overwhelming majority - more than 95 percent - and felt betrayed by Barak's government. Therefore, their participation in the uprising was more than just sympathy for the Palestinians with their cause of independence and statehood; even more, it reflected their own frustration concerning their own position in Israel and their demand for equality and for their rights. <

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