How Can 50 Years of Israeli Occupation be Brought to an End?
Nabil Maarouf, Palestine’s Representative in Canada, calls for sanctions, boycotts and criminal prosecutions to being an end to Israel’s system of apartheid
Dimitri L.: This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News. This is part two of our interview with Nabil Maarouf, the chief of the Delegation, the Palestinian Delegation in Canada. In the first part we talked about the relationship with the Canadian government to the Palestinian Authority and its concern for the plight of the Palestinian people. Now we’re going to talk. We’re going to focus upon recent policy positions of the Netanyahu government. Thank you very much, Excellency, for joining us.
Nabil Maarouf: [inaudible 00:00:35].
Dimitri L.: Very recently one of the world’s leading international law scholars, Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia, former special repertoire for the situation in the occupied territories of the United Nations Human Rights Council, also happens to be Jewish American, wrote a detailed, meticulously documented report in which he concluded along with another American scholar or a human rights scholar, Virginia Tilley, that effectively the Israeli government has imposed a system of apartheid on the Palestinian people.
The look not only at the occupied territories, they looked at the plight of the Palestinian people living within Israel itself and the refugees. They said the totality of the evidence points decidedly towards a system of apartheid. Does the Palestinian Authority agree fundamentally with the assessment of Professor Falk and Professor Tilley? What has been imposed upon the Palestinian people as the system of apartheid?
Nabil Maarouf: We agree totally with this idea because on the practice, practice on the ground, either in the occupied Palestinian territories. We are under occupation. This means that we don’t have any kind of rights. We are under control with Israeli Army in every single centimeter in West Bank and Gaza and Israel [inaudible 00:02:15]. Even our president, whenever he want to leave Ramallah to Jordan, he has to get the permission, and it is up to the Israelis to give him a permission or to stop giving him the permission.
This is totally discrimination. They are controlling everything. Even inside Israel the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, they are not the same rights or the same grade of citizenship as the Jewish citizens there. But this just means that they are really practicing apartheid against Palestinian people. And maybe they are practicing democracy between themselves as Jews, but with the other Jews, with the other people, with the other communities, with Palestinians origins in Israel, or with us in West Bank and Gaza, they are practicing apartheid totally.
This will bring me to talk about the peace process itself. When we started the peace process with this Yitzhak Rabin, our aim was by 1999 to establish the Palestinian state for five years after Oslo agreement. But what happens that when they realized that Yitzhak Rabin was going to do it to achieve the peace, they killed him. They assassinate him.
Now you have the two parts. You have the Palestinians and the Israelis. The Palestinian people and the Palestinian government are 100 person in favor of peace. We have some oppositions, yes, but in the other side, you have the Israeli government is against peace, and the oppositions who are in favor of peace, they became years by year as a majorities. That day somebody told me that 40,000 Israelis make a demonstrations against occupation of Israel in Tel Aviv. But I remember in ’82 400,000 Israelis demonstrate against the war, against the invasion endeavor. This means that the leftist part inside Israel between the Israeli community, between the Israeli people is reducing, and this is the problem: They became weak while the government, which is representing the right wing and whom they are against the peace process, they are in power.
This is the problem there, and this is what in way or another what John Kerry said when he said that this government by continue building settlements, they are killing the two-state solution. Killing two-state solution means killing the hope of creating or establishing peace in the area.
Dimitri L.: He also, former Secretary of State John Kerry, used the word “apartheid” to describe what would come from all of this at the end of the day.
Nabil Maarouf: Yes. When you talk about the two-state solution, if Israeli government, they continue on this way, this just means that they are pushing the whole situation in one direction, which is the one-state solution. One-state solutions means you have two ways, either to be democratic, and then [inaudible 00:06:29], as he said, will become the Prime Minister, not Netanyahu, or apartheid. If you go for apartheid, the whole world is going to be against Israel.
As John Kerry said, killing the two-state solutions, it is against Israel. This just means that the right wing in Israel, leaded by Netanyahu, they are destroying the peace process, but they are going to affect negatively the future of Israel.
Dimitri L.: The Netanyahu government has recently done something which was extraordinarily provocative not only to the Palestinian people, but to all Muslims. It seemed to effectively adopt the goal of the settler movement for the annexation of the Al-Aqsa compound, which would undoubtedly create a firestorm of controversy and violence in the Muslim world. If they actually go down that path, and they seem to be heading in that direction, how can the Palestinian Authority respond? What would it be able to do in those circumstances?
Nabil Maarouf: We Palestinians, we are fighting to achieve our freedom and right of self-determination more than 100 year. Until now, we achieve zero, but we still there. We are not going to abandon our aim of fighting for our freedom, for our independence, for our homeland. This is the main point which maybe somebody didn’t understand. Each woman have a new child. This just means she’s helping in achieving our goals in the future, staying in Palestine with all this discrimination, with all building settlements, with the continuing with occupation, but being there, still there, this just means that the future is ours.
Dimitri L.: If the Netanyahu government took this extraordinarily provocative step of annexing the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, one of the holiest sites in Islam, wouldn’t the hand of the Saudi monarchy be forced at that stage? They like to pretend, the Saudi monarchy, that they care about the plight of the Palestinian people, but in many ways, we can see this now with the isolation of Qatar and the drumbeat of war against Iran and so forth that in many ways Saudi Arabia and Israel cooperate. But if they actually, if Netanyahu actually annexed the compound, how could Saudi Arabia continue to have any level of cooperation even under the surface with the Israeli government?
Nabil Maarouf: Palestine have hundred person support of all Muslims all over the world. What I mean when I say “Muslims,” the people. Maybe the governments here and there, maybe they are misbehaving here, a little bit here, a little bit there, but even that, they cannot take a confirmed stand, which allow the Israelis to do what they want. Morally, they have to be with Palestinians. Morally, it is their responsibility to protect the Islamic shrines, the Islamic shrines in Jerusalem; it’s not only Palestinians. It is related to all Muslims all over the world. I can tell you that all the Muslims are ready to defend and to fight for the Muslim shrines, Islamic shrines in Jerusalem.
Dimitri L.: Let’s talk about legal mechanisms that are available to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority has, as I understand it, asked the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel’s commission of war crimes. As a lawyer, I can say confidently that the settlements constitute a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and they meet the definition of a war crime under the Rome Statue.
This really amounts to a legal no-brainer, but the opposition of Western governments, particularly the United States government, to any prosecution by the International Criminal Court of the Israeli government officials is very intense, and they actually threatened to withdraw funding for the Palestinian Authority. Where do things currently stand with the International Criminal Court? Are you hopeful that the prosecutor will actually, at the end of the day, bring indictments against Israeli government officials for these war crimes?
Nabil Maarouf: We still in the process, and we have our [obligations/applications 00:11:57] to all international organization, and we will continue for that. But frankly speaking, in the end it depends on the international community understanding of the situation. In a foreign sense, all the Western countries, they ask us to stop joining this international organizations. In return, they promise us to achieve results in the peace process. We listened to them, but they didn’t do anything for us. Because of this, in the end we are obliged to go to the United Nation, to the General Assembly, and to the other organizations. We will continue.
Dimitri L.: Is it your sense, though, that the prosecutor of the ICC, certainly for people looking outside looking in, is under intense pressure by the super powers, certainly by the West, not to take action against those responsible. Do you think that the prosecutor ultimately will have good [crosstalk 00:13:04]?
Nabil Maarouf: We hope that we will achieve something positive in that because in the end it depends sometimes on how much the person or the judge is respecting his position, to accept to do it in a proper way or to stop doing it in a proper way, or, again, to accept it to be threatened by this country or that country. In the end, it’s not in our hand; it is in the hands of the moral of the person, the judge himself, or even the persons who are on high-level positions in these organizations. But we do need more understanding in these cases. Almost we heard about, for instance, some threatens or warnings given to this Israeli official or that about asking them or investigating with them if they pass through the city or that city in Europe, depending on a claims on that issue. This just means that there is a hope of getting something through this.
Dimitri L.: Certainly there is some precedent for this at the level of international organizations or institutions. In 2004 the International Court of Justice in an advisory opinion unanimously held that the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and parts of the separation wall. Unfortunately, that didn’t actually change the situation on the ground. The settlements continue to be built.
In 2005 dozens of Palestinian organizations called for the application or the use of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions to deter Israel from its human rights abuses. What is the position of the Palestinian Authority with respect to the BDS movement? I think there’s some confusion about that in the West. A lot of people seem to think that the Palestinian Authority is opposed to BDS. Is that accurate?
Nabil Maarouf: First of all, we recognized the existence of the state of Israel when we became part of the peace process. Of course all our supporters, they are in the international community. They accept us also after we accept to be part of the international understanding about the solution in the Middle East. Now what’s happening in Palestine? You have West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. It is an occupied territories. Through Fourth Geneva Convention, the occupying power is not allowed to change, neither geographically or demographically the situation in the occupied territories.
All the settlements which have been built on the West Bank territories, it’s illegal. It is violating of the international law. So we start talking about boycotting the products of these settlements. You have universities in the settlements. You have factories in the settlements. Whenever you produce anything in these settlement, they market that it is made in Israel.
What we are asking outside, to boycott the products which have been produced outside the borders of the state of Israel because it is illegal. The occupation is illegal. The existence of this factory in Nablus, for instance, is illegal. The existence of the factory is illegal, so the products of this factory is illegal. If you hare in favor of peace, please boycott these produced items coming from the settlements. It is not coming from Israel; it is coming from the settlement.
This BDS, this boycotting these things means that you are making sanctions, or at least you are not helping these illegal factories to continue existing in the occupied territories. This is the thing: What we are asking for is to boycott the products of the settlements because it is not an Israeli products.
Dimitri L.: I’d like to explore with you a little bit the limits of the principle that you’re articulating, the principle being boycott products, companies that are operating illegally within the occupied territories. Let’s take the example of an arms manufacturer within Israel itself. Let’s suppose that it’s producing white phosphorous, and the Israeli military, it doesn’t have any operations in the West Bank or Gaza; it’s entirely producing the products within Israel. The Israeli military takes that white phosphorous and uses it against Palestinian civilians, which it appears to have done in its assault on Gaza at least once. Why would the Palestinian Authority not support a boycott of that arms manufacturer? As I understand, the principle you’re articulating, if it’s not producing the white phosphorous in the West Bank you’ve been-
Nabil Maarouf: We are supporting the boycott of anything happened or anything produced in our territories in West Bank. Either it is used by the Israelis or it is used in Europe.
Dimitri L.: In an example I’ve given you, the production of the white phosphorous is occurring within Israel itself.
Nabil Maarouf: They have no right. We are against because they don’t have the right to exist, to be there, so we are against, but we are not delegitimizing the state of Israel. This is the issue, because, frankly speaking, we became part of the peace process after recognizing the international resolutions, the international legitimacy about that. We have to be committed to that. So in a foreign sense here, when in Canada when the motion happened about the BDS, it is …
Dimitri L.: You’re talking about the motion in Parliament …
Nabil Maarouf: In the Parliament.
Dimitri L.: … to condemn the BDS [crosstalk 00:20:58]?
Nabil Maarouf: It’s go in two direction, either the free of speech or the delegitimatizing Israel. But nobody talks about what’s happening in the settlements. We are not asking for delegitimatizing Israel, but we are asking to stop producing things inside West Bank because it’s an occupied territory. We ask the international community in helping us, don’t buy these products because we don’t want this factories to be strengthened.
Dimitri L.: I see. The last thing I’d like to talk to you about is the future of the Palestinian Authority. It’s been over 10 years, I believe. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it’s been over 10 years since the presidential or Parliamentary elections have been held.
Nabil Maarouf: 2006.
Dimitri L.: Right. Some would argue that this creates a question about the democratic legitimacy of President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. What’s the Palestinian Authority’s view about that? Is there a belief within the leadership of the Palestinian Authority that it’s time for elections, and that really to ensure that the democratic choice of the Palestinian people is respected, this needs to be done relatively quickly?
Nabil Maarouf: President Abbas is always asking for an election, presidential and Parliamentarian election, but you know the problem of the separation of Gaza. We can do this election in West Bank, but also this means that you are separating Gaza and West Bank, which we don’t want. The problem which we have, it is an internal problem of the separation. I think this is related in one way or another to the policy of the Israelis because we have to know that the separation of Gaza, the taking over of Hamas and Gaza cannot never, ever can be done without approval of Israelis. They facilitate for Hamas to take over Gaza because they don’t want the Palestinians to be united, and if President Abbas reach an agreement with them, they will tell him and ask him, “You are ruling whom? Okay, West Bank. What about Gaza?” So this just means they to block the solution.
For us, President Abbas is always asking for the election, the presidential and the Parliamentarian. Nowadays I can tell you that the period of the Legislative Council is finished, and also the period of the president is finished. But because we don’t have the power to do the election in both West Bank and Gaza, the same system is continuing. But we would like to have this election take place.
Dimitri L.: I think you very much. I understand you’ve been fasting during Ramadan.
Nabil Maarouf: Thank you.
Dimitri L.: I can’t express my appreciation enough for you agreeing to be interviewed during Ramadan. We will definitely be following your work here in Canada. Hopefully this interminable 50-year occupation will soon come to an end.
Nabil Maarouf: [inaudible 00:24:59].
Dimitri L.: This is Dimitri Lascaris with the Real News.