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Noura Erakat: Deal is a sign of weakness for both organizations, but Palestinians welcome

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. On Wednesday in Cairo, Fatah and Hamas announced a reconciliation. In a season of a lot of surprises in the Middle East, this was one, I think, most analysts were not expecting. What this means for the future of negotiations with Israel is yet to be seen, but Fatah and Hamas apparently have made a deal. Now joining us to discuss and analyze the significance of these events is Noura Erakat. She’s a Palestinian attorney and activist. She’s the legal advocacy coordinator at the Badil Center for Palestinian and Refugee and Residency Rights in Bethlehem, and she teaches in Washington. Thanks for joining us.

NOURA ERAKAT, HUMAN RIGHTS ATTORNEY, BADIL: Thank you for having me, Paul.

JAY: So, first of all, did you see this coming? And it seems to me most people didn’t.

ERAKAT: It seems to be a surprise to everyone that this actually happened. It’s something that many Palestinians have rallied for and called for globally, especially in the aftermath of triumphant victories in Egypt and Tunis. But nothing that we saw would come, would happen, in any short-term time frame, especially as quick as it happened–apparently, it was the outcome of little more than two weeks. And this comes on the heels of a similar, failed attempt, just in September. So while I’m very surprised that it happened, there are many reasons to explain the dramatic shift between the failed attempt in September and this now successful one in [incompr.]

JAY: So, well, go ahead. So go ahead. What do you think are the main factors that led to this?

ERAKAT: Well, pretty much it’s the obvious: the fact that somebody as entrenched as Hosni Mubarak, a 30-year dictator who has been supported by the US, was able to be taken out nonviolently in a protest of 18 days. And not to [incompr.] qualification, of course. It has been very violent, especially against the Egyptian protesters. And similar events, of course, that were catalysts for Egypt that took place in Tunis sparked protests in Palestine that are unique in nature, whereas most protests had hitherto been targeting Israeli occupation, US intervention, Israeli apartheid. For the first time [incompr.] it became a matter of consensus building amongst the Palestinians, within the territories and the diaspora, to focus their efforts and their calls for reform and change on Palestinians themselves. And it was a call for an end to corruption, it was a call for unity, it was a call for greater representation, and one that was made not just within the territories, but globally, in that the call was for Palestinians to be recognized as a diaspora population. Self-determination is not limited to the establishment of a state in the occupied territory, but it is–also extends to the return of refugees, as well as the equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel. This is quite, quite phenomenal. It’s unprecedented in recent years, especially since the advent of the peace process in the early ’90s. And because of that, it provided a catalyst for both Fatah and Hamas, who have interests and who are currently both very weak to compromise on their longstanding entrenched positions to actually come to a resolution to actually establish a unity government in the lead-up to the declaration of statehood in September 2011.

JAY: So let’s talk a little bit about the factors in both the West Bank and in Gaza. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority led by Fatah had been very discredited. The Palestinian papers through WikiLeaks had shown that they [are] willing to give away just about anything in the negotiations. The idea that there be a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state presented by Fatah and the PA at the United Nations in September, the people we’ve been talking to in the West Bank were practically put to sleep by the idea. They thought it was just such rhetoric. Now–and then in Gaza, Hamas was getting pushed from the other side. You had more rockets firing than in quite a while, the Israelis shelling back with quite a bit of intensity, and then the killing of the Italian activist by what seems to be a kind of extreme Islamist faction, perhaps, that was even in Hamas. Put all this stuff together for us. How does this lead to reconciliation?

ERAKAT: This reconciliation and the lack of reconciliation preceding it is all based on political interests as opposed to a unified national interest defined by a Palestinian body. There are currently no existing transnational Palestinian governing bodies that would define a national interest, let alone a platform, let alone a political strategy, in order to achieve those goals. And so all we have ever had to deal with has been the discrete political interests of both Hamas and Fatah. Hamas, to its credit, has been less chastised by the Palestinian community globally because of its maintenance of a resistance platform to Israeli colonization and apartheid, its refusal to enter into a farce peace process. And so although its actions, its oppression of its own population have not been forgiven, they haven’t been as heavily criticized as has been Fatah, which has basically put its faith in a US-brokered solution. That US-brokered solution played out the rest of–the end of its life when, at the UN, the US vetoed a Security Council resolution on settlements that mirrored precisely US foreign policy on settlements. There was no divergence whatsoever, and the US basically made its stance perfectly known that as far as it’s concerned, the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would happen simply in bilateral negotiations. Any type of multilateral approach that was based on human rights norms or international law would not be entertained. And, therefore, if the Palestinians and Israelis couldn’t come to an agreement in behind closed doors, then there was going to be no agreement. It became obvious to Fatah that the solution that it had been pursuing, to put its faith in the US, which also influenced it to rescind the Goldstone Report in 2009, which also made it a very weak party that was evidenced in the Palestine Papers because it was ready to make all these concessions in the faith that at the end of the day the US would deliver on its promises of statehood, made Fatah realize that there is nothing to come from the US at this point. And its horizon, the farthest that Fatah has seen its horizon is in plans for a statehood and the declaration of statehood in September 2011, which will only come to fruition through a Security Council resolution. And the US is likely to veto that as well. So the statehood plan has never been very palatable to the Palestinian [incompr.] The fact that Fatah was even proposing to present a resolution for statehood when it only had jurisdiction over truncated pieces of the West Bank made it look absolutely nonsensical and ridiculous. Now that it’s extended its hand to include Gaza, it makes one less obstacle to the plan for statehood. But even with the West Bank and Gaza seemingly unified, there still remains open questions about the standing issues of the annexation wall, the lack of jurisdiction over East Jerusalem, the continuation of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem. And still the lack of representations of a Palestinian diaspora, a Palestinian national body globally, means that even if there were to be an announcement of the state, is that necessarily–or the push for an announcement of the state, is that necessarily the political strategy that we need? Or is the strategy that we need one that’s rights-based, that responds both to the conditions on the ground as well as to the state of the Palestinian national body that now exists, which is fragmented throughout the world? And so for most Palestinians on the ground who see the situation deteriorating steadily, it’s quite obvious that even if there were a declaration of statehood, the conditions wouldn’t change, and it wouldn’t create more pressure upon Israel to end its colonization and to dismantle its apartheid policies, similar to the continuation of occupation in the Gaza strip, despite unilateral withdrawal in 2005.

JAY: What’s an example of the strategy you’re talking about?

ERAKAT: Such strategies include legal strategies in the form of universal jurisdiction to hold Israeli officials to account abroad for alleged war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead. The most fundamental strategy that the Palestinian civil society has asked solidarity communities to join it [in] is in the call and the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions. Another strategy is to continue to fight for human rights within the human rights bodies, the [incompr.] making bodies in Geneva who have the wherewithal to be able to [incompr.] or to have concluding observations that find Israel’s in violation. Yet another strategy is to actually enforce the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in 2004. It called upon the high-contracting parties of the Geneva Convention an order not to deal with any company or any Israeli endeavor that extended the route of the annexation wall as part of its obligations under the Geneva Conventions. These are all [incompr.] of possible pressure points. And the Palestinian leadership would benefit from actually leading that movement, as opposed to watching civil society lead it and be resentful of a Palestinian leadership that is, one, way behind it, and at best counterproductive to its strategies and intentions.

JAY: So, Noura, so what expectations do you think people have for this process now?

ERAKAT: What’s interesting is that the civil society call amongst Palestinians, the demands upon their leadership for greater representation that have emerged in the US, in the UK, in Gaza and the West Bank, within Israel, in Lebanon, and throughout Europe, the calls have not just been limited to unity government. From research that I’ve done and from conversations that I’ve had, that call, that narrow call for unity, has emerged primarily from the Gaza Strip. But from the world over, the calls are much broader and the demands have actually been for an election for the Palestinian National Council that would create a more robust and representative Palestinian leadership that included all Palestinians in the diaspora and not just those governing administrative bodies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the US, the calls have gone even further, to call for the termination of Oslo altogether, annulment of all security arrangements, primarily in the form of the Dayton forces with the US in the West Bank. And so there’s–the movement is not likely to cease at this point. Hamas and Fatah were clearly responding to their street that was protesting along with their Arab brothers and sisters throughout the Arab world. But the calls–the Palestinian street is a global one and is not limited to the territories. And so it’s likely that this pressure will continue, and hopefully, the leadership will be responsive to those continuing calls.

JAY: Okay. Thanks for joining us, Noura.

ERAKAT: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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