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Musa Amer Odeh Discusses Crucial Issues at the Core of the Negotiations with Israel.

5 December 2011
Palestinian Ambassador in Madrid Musa Amer Odeh

Madrid, October 15th, 2011.

The Palestinian attempt to be recognized as a state by the UN could be seen by many as a pointless bid if we take into consideration that the Security Council is the only body in the United Nation capable of granting or vetoing any initiate of this characteristics. The Palestinians knew that Israel was against such an initiative, and they were also aware that a crucial member of the Security Council, the United States, would veto such petition.

The membership application forwarded to the UN by the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas regarding a Palestinian state comprised of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with its capital in East Jerusalem is expected to fail despite the wide support that the Palestinian request has among UN members. This became clear after the UNESCO officially approved the Palestinian bid to become a full-fledged member, gaining 40 votes out of the 58 member nations of this body. This was just a symbolic step, and the petition still needs the approval of at least two thirds of the General Assembly on October 25. Not an easy task but definitely not impossible if we consider representative UNESCO’s approval.

The divisions within UNESCO are in line with the positions and ideas we heard from the Israeli’s and Palestinian leaders in the General Assembly. Mahmud Abbas’s speech highlighted the idea that peace will come after a Palestinian state is created while Netanyahu’s stated that peace should come first before any state recognition is considered.

This is the reason why I wanted to meet the Palestinian Ambassador in Spain, Mr Musa Amer Odeh to discuss the Palestinians initiative as well as other issues that at the international level could have a crucial effect on the Palestinian cause. For instance, it is quite relevant, the position adopted by the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trinidad Jimenez that had been interpreted by Israeli media as de facto recognition of the State of Israel as a Jewish State and the repercussions that the Arab spring could have on the peace negotiations with Israel.

Good Morning Mr. Ambassador. You have been living in Spain for more than six years now. How would you describe your experience in this country?

Since I arrived to Spain we have received constant support from the Spanish people and, we are thankful for this. We share a common history with the Spanish people. Spain has been and, continues to be the closest country in Europe to us, and the Spanish support for the Palestinian’s cause has become a State policy and therefore regardless of the government that is in power, the Spanish State always supports the Palestinian people. I believe it’s a reflection of the will of the Spanish people in general. Although the Israelis argue that, they (Spanish people) are only in favour of Palestine, I believe that it’s not because they are just in love with Palestine, it’s because the Palestinian cause is about justice, human rights, self- determination…etc. principles that Spain upholds and identifies with.

¿How do you think the coming Spanish elections will affect your relationship with the State? If the current opposition, the Popular Party (PP) wins the election as many polls are stating, do you think there will be any change in policy regarding Palestine?

We hope not, because we do have good relations with all political parties, and the support of the bases of all political parties, because our cause is a just cause.

Since I arrived here, I have always been dealing officially with the Socialist government. However, at the same time, when our president comes to Spain, I always arrange meetings for him not only with the current government but also with the leader of the opposition, for instance, Mr. Rajoy. This is a democratic country, so whoever is in power today may not be there tomorrow… Our interest is to have good relations with all political parties and for example, regarding our initiative [state recognition at the UN], I had the opportunity to visit all political parties and explain our initiatives, including syndicates.

And with whom did you feel more comfortable? Who do you think was more supportive of your cause?

Indeed, we have received strong support from all political parties. In July, the Spanish parliament decided to request the government to recognize Palestine, and none in the parliament opposed this.

What is your opinion about the last speech of Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Sra. Trinidad Jimenez in front of the General Assembly that for many people in Israel meant recognition of the Jewish character of Israel?

She did not, and if you go back to the speech you’ll see that Spain did not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Mrs Jimenez was referring to the past when Israel was created as a homeland for the Jews but she did not recognize Israel as a Jewish State and, in the same paragraph, she mentioned that “our commitment is to the State of Israel” not to the Jewish State of Israel. In fact, Mrs. Jiménez was the first authority in Europe to support our initiative in the United Nations.

So, it is actually the opposite?

She has supported our initiative in front of the United Nations and she said that we have the right to go to the United Nations whereas Israel was saying that it was a unilateral action.  She, on the contrary, argued that Palestine has the right to be there and she also supported the recognition of the state of Palestine. She said that this is the right time to recognize the State of Palestine and that this was not a unilateral action […]. In the forties, Israel went to the United Nations for the same reason, looking for recognition, so why not the Palestinians. The right of self-determination is a fundamental right and the Palestinian people should not be excluded from this.

We are grateful to the Spanish people for this position and we talked with the authorities at Ministry of Foreign Affairs where they told us that they are not recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, and that they are not asking us to recognise Israel as a Jewish State and finally that they have already recognized Israel as it is. And we too, the Palestinians recognize Israel as it is from 1993. It is a provocation is to ask Palestine to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This is mainly for political reasons, and it affects the rights of the one and a half million Palestinians who live in Israel, whodid not come to Israel but Israel came to them, they are the native people of Palestine. Also, they want to finish the refugee issue before we even begin the negotiations, so we refuse this, and we won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state but we recognize Israel as a country for all its citizens including for those of Palestinian origin.

However, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued in his last speech at the UN that the Palestinians are those who are cleansing the land, and they are the one that would never allow Israelis to live there. What comments do you have about this position?

It’s not true; he was referring to Ma’an Erekat, our Ambassador to the US.  What he meant was that we won’t accept any Israeli soldier in the Palestinian State. We’re ready to accept a third party to be responsible for security, in order to guaranteesecurity for both Israelis and Palestinians, but we won’t accept the presence of any Israeli soldier. We have a Palestinian community that is Jewish. The Samarians in Nablus are the first Jewish community in the world, and they are Palestinians, and we are very proud of them; they are part of our culture, so we cannot and we are against bringing religion to the conflict. It’ll complicate the conflict in a terrible way. It’ll be a catastrophe for Israel, Palestine and for the region to make this conflict a religious one. This conflict is a colonial one, not a religious conflict, and for us Judaism is a religion like any other one such as Christianity and Islam. And we used to live together in peace always, there were never clashes within the Palestinians society between Christians, Jews and Muslims, we never had a problem. The International Community has to give a lot of attention to this because all of us we’ll pay a heavy price if religion is brought into the conflict.

We’ll have a democratic state with respect to all believers from wherever they come. Any believer who comes to Palestine would be able to exercise his/her religion freely as long as he/she doesn’t infringe on the rights and freedoms of others.

Therefore, we are talking about a secular democratic state or perhaps you are closer to Islamic state?

Not at all, Palestine is the holy land, the land of Jesus Christ, we cannot hide from the reality that Christianity was born in Palestine, while Judaism and Islam came to Palestine, thus Jesus Christ was a Palestinian. Palestine is not a Jewish, Christians or Muslim country. Palestine shall be for all Palestinians regardless of their beliefs or religions.

Now, going back to the negotiation with Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned in his last speech that peace negotiations should come first before recognizing the state of Palestine. Why Palestinian cannot follow this path?

We believe in negotiations, we have negotiated with the Israelis for twenty years ago, starting in Madrid until now and we’ve got nothing. We’ve got more settlements, more settlers and the construction of a wall. Also the number of checkpoints has increased and there are more Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, more trees uprooted from our territories, and more Palestinians have paid with their lives as part of the Israeli genocide against our people. We believe in negotiations, we are ready to go back to the negotiation table but we want to change the methods, because we tried to talk with the Israelis for 20 years and, we tried to achieve a final agreement with them that would lead to the end of the suffering of the Palestinian people but we failed. Not because we don’t want peace, but because there is no people on earth that can stand an occupation for such a long time. We want to be free. The Israeli policy is violating our rights as well as international law, and UN resolutions.Israel argues that we are taking a unilateral step, but who is taking a unilateral step here? Is it the one who is going to address 193 countries or the one who is expanding the settlement activity inside the occupied Palestinian territory, which according to the 4th Geneva Convention is a war crime (i.e. to bring the citizens of the occupying powers into the territory under occupation) […]

Thus taking land by force is prohibited and not accepted, and it’s illegal. Settlement activity is illegal, and we have the right to control our natural resources, including water and gas. […]. So there is an international opinion, the International Court of Justice advisory opinion of July 2004, there are UN resolutions and there are agreements that we signed with the Israelis. In this regard, the presence of the Israeli (military) in our territory is illegal, it is an occupation, and occupation must end. We are not looking for a new confrontation with the Israelis or with the Americans, and we are not interested in this. Our interest is to have peace with the Israelis, and we accept them as a reality in the region, and we are ready to make peace with them based on equality. They have their state, we have our state with full respect from their side to us and from our side to them but we cannot have this with their continuous occupation because we want to be equal, and we are not equal now, so the arguments used by the Israelis are not true, they talk always about security, who needs security more? Is it the Palestinian side, which does not have an army or the Israelis who have the 5th biggest army in the world? Israel is a nuclear power, and it has the United State’s unlimited support. Security is not only an Israeli need, it’s a Palestinians need too, so we are ready to negotiate with the Israelis but with a third party involved, for instance, the presence of the United Nations or may be the EU too, Russia, and NATO could also play an interesting role, but not a single Israelis soldier must be in our territory.

-Also, after the UN speeches, the Vice-president and high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, called the parties and the negotiation Quarter to prepare for what she described as negotiations for peace but and yesterday we found in the news that Israel started to build again in East Jerusalem. Would you accept Catherine Asthon’s invitation to re-initiate the negotiations?

Yes, we do. We would like to go back to the Quartet because Catherine Ashton represents the EU members and for us this is very important. We want to go back to the road map that was approved by the Quartet and the International Community. Resolution 1515 talks about this and there are obligations that Palestinians and Israelis must comply with […]. From our side, although we are under occupation, we implemented all our obligations but the Israelis did nothing. The first obligation for them was to freeze settlement activity in our territories, including natural growth, but they did not. We told the Quartet that we need the Israelis to respect the will of the International Community and that this is not a condition that we have, but an obligation. […]

We are against putting conditions, the one who is putting conditions is the Israeli side, and after 20 years of negotiations with the Israelis this is our right. We want the negotiations to have clear terms of reference. Every new Israeli government rejects the agreements we have reached with the previous government and we have to begin from zero, […] so we need a reference for the negotiations and this is not a condition. The reference for us should be based on international law and UN resolutions. We need a timetable; negotiations cannot go on forever.

There is not cause in history that was negotiated for 20 years without getting any result; we need a timetable, because we need to agree within one year. We need the Israelis to recognize the Palestinian State based on its 1967 border. It is not a condition from the Palestinian side and while the International Community supports the two state solution, the Israeli side continues to swallow our territories every day with their settlement activity. Now, it’s impossible to implement the two state solution with the current policy of Israel, it is impossible.  With our step in the UN, we are trying to protect the two state solution. The Israelis did not accept a democratic state in historic Palestine where Israelis and Palestinians can live together, equally in peace. However, the International Community accepted the two state solution, so let us bring the right conditions and the right atmosphere for having two states in historic Palestine. We recognized Israel in 1993 when we signed Oslo with the borders they have, and now we want them to recognize our territory, which was occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem. It is very simple.

-Could be considered the one state solution a death option?

The Israelis are refusing this option. We put it on the table in 1968 but they refused it, and because we are practical and realistic, we looked for another option and we found that the two state solution was an option accepted by the Israelis, so we did too, but we cannot live only with their acceptance in words, we want to see something on the ground, we want to see a change of behaviour from the Israeli government, but unfortunately their behaviour is against the two state solution and they know that settlement activity is an obstacle for havingpeace. […]

It’s peace what guarantees security, why Israelis or Palestinians have to sleep in fear. There is not logic in this, only in the absence of peace. […] But if there is peace and justice, the Israelis will have the right to have business in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries. Also they have the right to go to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and we are supposed to have the same right, meaning to go to Israel and everywhere. […] Peace is the guarantee for the security of Israel and the security and stability of the region.

If we take into consideration your position that Israel is not ready to make peace what do you expect from Israel regarding the Palestinian’s petition to the UN?

The Israelis are not part of the Security Council but the United States will use their veto power and, unfortunately they will use it in the wrong place. The Security Council was created with the aim of promoting security and stability of the International Community, and in this regards, it is not helping to implement security and stability in the region. It is supporting the aggression of one nation against another nation allowing Israel the occupying power to remain above the law […].

We believe that changing the status of the Palestinian people as a people under occupation it is very important. However, we know that even if we achieve the recognition we are looking for with the support of all nations including Israel and the United States, once we go back from New York, we’ll have to go back to our people that would still be under occupation. We need to negotiate with the Israelis, we need to do so, but we need to negotiate as a state with another state, not just as a people under occupation negotiating with a state. Israel considers the Palestinian occupied territory disputed land, which is not true. In accordance with UN resolutions and the terms of International Law, they are in fact occupied –not disputed– territoryand there is a big difference between these two status.

Now, shifting our attention to other areas in the region, what are your thoughts about the recent developments in the Arab world? The so-called Arab spring, how do you think, this is could affect the negotiation between Palestine and Israel?

We are with the will of the people but we don’t intervene in the internal affairs of any other Arab countries; this is our policy since a long time. […] We are with the will of the people, peacefully, and we are against using violence against the people. They have the right to demonstrate and to demand changes based on their constitution and fundamental right. These changes will be in favour of Palestinians although many regimes in the Arab world have supported our cause in the past because it’s a just cause. Now, we believe we will receive more support because the support to our cause does not depend on the opinion of one single leader. It depends on the will of the people and the will of the people is stronger than any leader. We wish the best for all Arab countries. We are sorry for the victims and we hope that if there is going to be change it will be done peacefully […].

And, what about Palestinian’s internal affairs? The relationship with Hamas seems that have improved since the PLO reached a unity agreement recently. How do you think the relationship with Hamas will develop in the future? Will Palestine stay together?

This is our goal, to unite the Palestinian people. Division inside our community has harmed our people and image outside. This division is a dark page in our history and we hope that this kind of situation never repeats again in our or any society. As you know, we have signed a reconciliation paper with Hamas in Cairo, and we are very serious about this issue. We have suffered a lot and we’re still under occupation and therefore it is not in our interest to have this kind of division inside the Palestinian society.

We have a plural system, right, left and middle in politics, we are very proud of this.  Every one can exercise their right and express their opinion freely. All political rights are guaranteed, including Hamas’s, with whom, the Palestinian Authority, doesn’t agree onmany political and ideological positions, but they are part of our people, and they have the right to believe in whatever they think is right, as long as they respect the will of the people, and the laws and rules in Palestine.

We have agreed to form a technocrat government that would prepare for elections and torebuild Gaza, which was destroyed by Israelis, in one-year time. We have billions of dollars promised by international donors but they have refused to disburse the money to through Hamas, but they would be willing to deal with a technocrat government. This money is needed to cover the daily needs of the Palestinian people. This government is not responsible for the negotiations at all. The PLO is responsible for negotiations and Hamas is not a member of the PLO yet.

President Abbas said that we want Salam Fayat as a Prime Ministers because he is not considered to be either Hamas or Fatah. He is a professional and a technocrat and we want him to stay. Unfortunately, Hamas doesn’t want him but we want to avoid any conflict with them that would lead to a new siege on the Palestinian people. […]

We agreed with Hamas that we will have free elections, and when we say free elections, we mean it. We want the presence of international observers and whoever wins will assume power, we can guarantee this as we did before in 2006 when Hamas won the elections. We transferred the power completely for 15 months and they were not able to deliver, why, because the International Community did not accept them and soon after, we were all under siege. This is why we went to Mecca and made an agreement with them […] and within three months we had a national unity government […] I am sure that Hamas has realized that what they have done is wrong, we have realised that internal divisions are against the interest of our people. We have to look for common understanding, there are a lot of things that we can find as bases to work together though there’re issues that we find impossible to agree with but we believe in a plural system, and we hope that the International Community will accept the reconciliation between Hamas and the PLO, because if we are divided, the Israelis will use this as an excuse to reject any agreement with the Palestinians; they argue: now with whom are we going to sign an agreement with Hamas in Gaza or the PLO in Ramallah.

Now, we want to reunify the Palestinian people but Israel is saying that we are dealing with a terrorist group; so we are not accepted when we are divided and we are not accepted when we are united. This is a bad game in politics. They [Hamas] are part of our people although I don’t agree with them. […] We are very serious about the unification of our people and Salam Fayad stated that this is a priority from him. We hope that Hamas won’t oppose anymore Salam Fayad as prime ministers.  He is a professional; he has done a great job in his office. He reformed the financial and administrative system in Palestine, his work and team have satisfied us, we are grateful for this, and we want him to continue. When we have elections within a year whoever wins the elections will nominate a new prime minister. If Hamas wins, they have the right to nominate the prime minister they want but right now, we ‘re in need of Salam Fayad who has the confidence of the donors

Now, going back to the negotiation with American and Israelis, what do you think they are waiting for? What do you think they need to accept the Palestinian petition?

At the end, the Israelis need to accept us and we also need their recognition. First, there is a duty for the International Community to recognize that enough is enough […] and that the Palestinians have their rights, second, the Americans have threatened us that they will use their veto power(at the UNSC). We hope that they will not. But even if that is the case, we will try again to go to the Security Council, for a second, a third and even a fourth time if we need to because this is our right.

We shall keep working for our membership in the United Nations, this is a fundamental right, and we’re qualified to have a state. We are one of the most ancient people on earth and we have developed the highest level of education, we have a great country, and though our people have suffered a lot in the past, they can forgive and forget and look ahead for the future, […], We only want to learn about the past, but we don’t want to remain in the past. We are looking ahead for a bright promising future, we are practical and we need a prosperous future for them and for us and for the whole region but they have to end their occupation not only in our territory but also in Syria and Lebanon. Now we are in the twenty first century and they need to realize that our world has changed with the Arab spring […]

Would like to add anything?

I would like to repeat the same message that we started sending more than 2000 years ago. The (Nazareno Palestino) Jesus Christ who carried his message from Palestine, tierra santa to the world. The essence of Jesus Christ’s message is justice, peace and love for humanity at large. This is what we want and what we need but we cannot enjoy justice, peace and love under the Israeli occupation. We are prevented from these three basic things. We hope that the peaceful message of Jesus Christ will prevail in the land of Jesus Christ. What we need is justice, peace and love, the same principles of our Lord. We welcome the International Community to visit our land and we hope also to bring more attention to our cause and suffering. We determine to put an end for the suffering of our people. So we need a solid position from the International Community. We are not asking anyone to start a war against Israelis, but the International Community has a duty to end Israeli occupation and to recognized independent democratic state of Palestine.

Daniel F. Rivera.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 1 January 2012 7:54 pm

    You really make it seem really easy along with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something which I think I might by no means understand. It sort of feels too complicated and extremely broad for me. I’m having a look forward to your subsequent post, I’ll try to get the grasp of it!

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