November 22, 2000 Special Dispatch No. 155

Three Palestinian Viewpoints on the Intifada and the Future of the Palestinian State

November 22, 2000
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 155

Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic news channel, recently hosted a debate on the future of the Intifada and the Palestinian state.[1] Three Palestinian figures participated in the program, representing the three leading political viewpoints of the Palestinian public today. PA Minister of Information, Yasser Abd Rabbo represented the PA's official position, Deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, Musa Abu Marzuq represented the position of the militant Islamic movement, and Bilal Al-Hassan, an analyst with the London-based daily, Al-Hayat, represented the position of the Palestinian left.

Following are excerpts from their discussion:

Borders and Nature of the Palestinian State

The three guests support an independent Palestinian State within the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, at least as a first stage. Abu Marzuq explained that Hamas has no objection to such a state and even said, "A State within the borders of the West Bank and Gaza would be considered an achievement at the present stage." However, he promptly added, "it is clear that if a state is established within the 1967 borders, these will not be its final borders. We must further aspire for borders that will include Palestine in its entirety."

PA Minister Abd Rabbo, on the other hand, refused to elaborate on what will happen once a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders is established. "There is almost a consensus among Palestinians that the direct goal is to reach the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the June 4, 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital," he said, "[but] regarding to the future after that, it is best to leave the issue aside and not to discuss it." When asked whether Israel would still be the state of the Jews after the establishment of a Palestinian state, he said that "every attempt to establish a racist state in the region has failed in the past and will fail in the future." However, he immediately declared that "at this point I will stop, [I] do not want to elaborate on this subject."

Bilal Al-Hassan tried to clarify the disputes in Palestinian society regarding the future state, saying, "at this stage we talk about a state within the 1967 borders, but this is not the end of the story." However, he continued, "The expression 'end of the story', has different meanings in Palestinian society," and herein lies the dispute. In Al-Hassan's view, the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders is not the end of the story, "because I aspire, historically, culturally and geographically, to a unified Palestine... This unified Palestine, once the Palestinian state is established, can come about in one of two ways: through peace, or through war. It can be established through peace, if the Israelis accept the logic of a [unified] democratic Palestinian state. If they don't accept this logic, then the logic of history will lead to a confrontation."

The host, Sami Haddad, however, pointed out that the idea of a unified state, which had been brought up in the past by leftist Palestinian factions, is not realistic "because the Jewish state wants to remain Jewish." But Al-Hassan claimed that it is the idea of a Jewish state that is not realistic. "Since the first day of its existence, Israel wanted to become the state of the Jews," he explained, "but it has failed because of the Palestinian Arabs in its midst. Today, one fifth of Israelis are not Jews. The goal of a Jewish state is not realistic, and if Israel adheres to it, it will become a racist state, in the literal sense of the word. Israel must choose between becoming a state of its citizens or a racist state. To choose a Jewish state is to choose a racist state, which means that we will have to fight Israel as if we were fighting a racist state like South Africa."

Negotiations vs. Struggle

The three guests disagreed on the issue of the struggle against Israel. PA Minister Abd Rabbo objected to Hamas' claim that the Palestinian people are divided into those who support struggle and those who support negotiations. According to him, there is only one group, that conducts negotiations and the struggle simultaneously. "Thirty years of struggle," he added, "will be crowned by a settlement, and the settlement to which we aspire is the implementation of the resolutions of international legitimacy. That is, the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, and a solution to the Refugee Problem in accordance with Resolution 194."

Abd Rabbo continued "The settlement negotiation process is part of the struggle because a settlement is not a cessation of fighting, but rather a struggle to impose the terms of international legitimacy... All the peoples of the world have fought and in the end have sat at the negotiation table, and that was not an insult to their struggle. On the contrary, when you want to glean the fruits of your struggle, you must sit and negotiate..."

Hamas official Abu Marzuq insisted that negotiation contradicts struggle, because there are binding agreements that force the PA to put a stop to the struggle. Camp David, he said, proved the failure of the path of negotiation.

Bilal Al-Hassan, on the other hand, said that "in principle" he understands that there must be negotiation. He supported Abd Rabbo by saying that "there are no two separate paths, one of negotiation and another of struggle. There is one combined path: one minute you fight and the next minute you negotiate. And one minute you negotiate and the next minute you fight. This is a principle." But Al-Hassan adamantly objected to the way the negotiations have been conducted thus far. He also objected to the current contacts, such as the Peres-Arafat meeting in Gaza, Arafat's acceptance of President Clinton's invitation and Dennis Ross's visit to Gaza. He claimed that the Palestinians must "create a crisis" in the negotiation channels and declare that they are not ready to meet any Israeli or American as long as the Palestinian demands for internationalization are not met.

Abd Rabbo answered sarcastically that "Although we the Palestinians are a superpower, the US is a superpower of at least the same magnitude, and we can not say to President Clinton that we don't want to meet with him. What is important is to tell them exactly what our positions are."

Intifada Tactics

The host raised the issue of contradictory statements by senior officials in the PA and the Fatah, and asked how it was possible that while Arafat orders restraint from shooting in confrontations with the Israelis, the Fatah General Secretary in the West Bank, Marwan Barghuthi, calls for escalation of the Intifada. Abd Rabbo said that "President Arafat did not say such a thing. We said that there are people who shoot out of Palestinian population centers, and this shooting does not lead to any results. Rather, it gives the Israelis an excuse to strike back at those population centers. Therefore we should put an end to this. This statement was blown out of proportion, and it was claimed that there was a cease-fire and that the Intifada is subsiding."

Asked whether Arafat's statement means that it is permissible to shoot from areas B and C, Abd Rabbo refused to answer, saying that he had no intention "of opening a military staff meeting on television and specifying how, when, and by what means we should operate. The Intifida will determine the means and I am in no position to go into details beyond that. I think Israel understands quite well and so do our people."

Bilal Al-Hassan supported Abd Rabbo, saying that "The Palestinian people are not rookies when it comes to Intifadas; they developed methods in the previous one... In other words, if we have the means to continue the struggle over a long period of time, we mustn't exhaust them too quickly. Therefore, whether or not Abu 'Ammar [Arafat] gave the order to stop the shooting now, I see no problem with that... It is possible that in three days, or in ten days, there will be a different decision and a different order by the local command of the Intifada in Nablus or Gaza."

Only Hamas official Abu Marzuq found it difficult to deal with the limitations on using firearms. "For what purpose does the PA keep 30,000 rifles," he asked.

Abd Rabbo replied that "The methods we are using in this Intifada may change in accordance with the requirements of the struggle to end the occupation. I don't want to get into a discussion now about what methods we use today and what methods we will use tomorrow. Such a discussion contradicts the interests of the Intifada. But I can say one thing: if we use all of our means, as Abu Marzuq would like, this will surely lead to the suicide or sacrifice of the Intifada. The battle is long... We must not do stupid things that will hurt the Intifada."

Intifada Strategy

The host asked about the strategy of the Intifada. Minister Abd Rabbo answered, "The Intifada was the people's way of intervening in order to express their objection to the terms which [the US and Israel] tried to force on us in Camp David." He implied that the main goal of the PA, now, is to bring about international intervention. "A week ago we asked the UN for international protection for the Palestinian people," he said, "by international protection, I don't mean observers with cameras or even pistols. Rather, an international protection that will replace the occupying forces throughout the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. A force that will act as a buffer between us and the occupation."

The host pointed out that the French proposal currently under discussion speaks of unarmed observers, that is, "force with no teeth." Abd Rabbo declared, "This is the situation in the world we are living in. If we want to invent and fight in an alternative, imaginary world, we might as well adopt the slogans of Abu Marzuq. We are realistic. This is the world we face. The US is a superpower and we cannot ignore it. We can curse it as much as we want, but there are political considerations. This is the European position and this is the situation in the region... We did not expect, after the first meeting of the Security Council, to come back at the head of armed international battalions, straight from New York to the Homeland."

The Palestinians and Israeli Public Opinion

Minister Abd Rabbo, who believes that the Intifada should ultimately lead back to the negotiation table, claimed, "We cannot disengage completely from the Israelis or the Americans... Israeli public opinion must see that we are leaving every door open, in case these doors lead to a serious political process with guarantees ultimately for the implementation of the international legitimacy resolution."

Hamas official Abu Marzuq rejected that and stated that Hizbullah proved how to best use Israeli public opinion. "The Four Mothers movement led the Israeli army out of Lebanon. Back then, Israeli public opinion was formed in order to save Israeli soldiers from South Lebanon. When you cause the Israelis casualties, public opinion becomes effective."

Responding, Abd Rabbo demanded that Abu Marzuq "stop using Hizbullah as an example, because the Hizbullah Model is the exact opposite of Hamas... Hizbullah did not try to become an alternative to the Lebanese government, and limited its demands to the implementation of Resolution 425. After the Israeli withdrawal, the shooting stopped. Hizbullah acted flexibly and realistically until it achieved its goals. Hamas' way is completely different. This does not make me happy. I want Hamas to amend its ways, to act realistically and to understand that our battle is a thousand times more complex than that of South Lebanon."

Abu Marzuq replied that the difference between South Lebanon and Palestine is in the way the regime treats the Resistance Movement. "The Lebanese government treated Hizbullah differently than the PA treats Hamas. How many Hizbullah detainees are there in Lebanese jails?! How many Hizbullah shahids [martyrs] were killed by the Lebanese government?!"

[1] Al-Jazeera (Qatar), November 17, 2000.

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