Dr. Osamah Khalil and Dr. Manal Jamal
Transcript No. 395 (15 November 2013)
15 November 2013
The Palestine Center
Mr. George Hishmeh: Thank you very much. I was very impressed with the two panelists we have with us right now They both have extensive media background, and have just suggested to our president and to members of the board that we should really have a panel, a seminar, on the media. How media in the U.S. functions, and whether or not they are telling the leaders our stories correctly, and more importantly what we can do, or the Arab community at large, or the Arab diplomatic community. We have a hundred of Arab and Muslim diplomats in America, 50 in Washington, 50 in the UN. I have yet to see an op-ed from one of them. I will tell you that my necktie has a dragon on it, that’s why I speak loudly, I am not afraid to speak my opinion. So read my column in the Washington Report on the Middle East. I want to ask the panelists one question before we start. Actually, let me introduce the panelists right now.
Before we start, I am deviating from the question that has been prepared for me to ask. I always do that. Manal, are you hopeful? Are you more hopeful last year than this year? About the Palestinian question? Just in one sentences, two sentences.
Dr. Manal Jamal: Not necessarily, no. Not yet.
Mr. Hishmeh: Not yet?
Dr. Jamal: I am hopeful, possibly hopeful long term. Not very hopeful short term.
Mr. Hishmeh: What about you, Osamah?
Dr. Osamah Khalil: Let me just say a couple things. First, I want to thank the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center for having me. I am a great admirer of the work done by the Jerusalem Fund. I want to thank Samirah, and Yousef, and of course, Dr. Subhi. And just a quick word, I am the co-founder of Al-Shabaka. We have a number of great policy members and advisors, and if you don’t know our website, please check us out. One of our board members, Grace Said, is here, and a co-founder, there were several co-founders. Much like Manal, I am hopeful for the long term, but very very discouraged for the short term. One of the things I hope we discuss today, or at least try to, on aA-Shabaka, is what can we do in the short term, to make the long term possible as well for the Palestinians. And I have a great fear that if we don’t do these things, that the longer term will be negative, the consequences will be far more negative, then they have been so far.
Mr. Hishmeh: Thank you. It has been said that Palestine sits at the center at the Arab people’s hearts and their minds. Today, in a region that is facing many challenges, from Egypt to the Levant, and the Gulf, Palestine sits in the middle of a region that is more turbulent than ever. Our panel today explores the effects of regional events on politics and future of Palestine. I am going to ask the first question, and panelists, you can respond, as you like. Throughout the years, Palestinian factions have depended on Arab state actors for support. How has this changed in recent years, and can Palestinian strategy becomes less dependent? Manal, you want to start first?
Dr. Jamal: I can. Palestinians have been highly dependent on state actors for various reasons and natural reasons. First, for safe haven…the PLO needed a safe haven, first in Jordan, Lebanon, later Tunisia. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, they have also been highly dependent on state donors for obvious reasons. Hamas has been very dependent on other state actors, from Syria and Iran, and now, more so, Qatar. Ideally, yes, it would be very nice if they would be less dependent. But the reality of the situation—it’s a very difficult situation—becoming less dependent is very complex, and I don’t imagine that it will be happening anytime soon. So I will start with that.
Mr. Hishmeh: What about you?
Dr. Jamal: Obviously, I would agree that. One of the things that is important to remember, and some of this, of course, predates even the Nakba in 1948, is the role that Palestine plays in a boarder regional sense, and also how the different Arab governments and the Arab countries, as well as the boarder, including Britain, France, and the United States, and the Zionist Movement itself, has attempted to influence, and play a part, in Palestine and Palestinian politics. But there are also roles that the Palestinians have played. And I think that we can’t ignore that, that often Palestinians have allowed themselves to be used by different government, or offered themselves to be used by different governments. To whether it was, if we look back in the 1970s, the somewhat passive alliance between, let’s say, Fatah, and Egypt versus the PFLP, which is taking money from sometimes Iraq, or from Libya; Fatah itself, which used to take money from, at times, Libya. So they often allowed themselves to be played, and play that game themselves. It was easier, during the heyday of the PLO and the height of the Cold War, when there was a superpower conflict, to play this game. That has gotten much more difficult. And it has gotten much more difficult in part of the founding of the Palestinian Authority, in the sense that instead of a broadly regional and pan-Arab movement, it has become localized. And I would argue that there had been some exhaustions from the Arab states in the continuous support for the Palestinian movement. Part of that is the result of Oslo, and the obvious dismantling of the PLO, which was an international organization, but one which itself was played upon by the different Arab states, deliberately sometimes, by the Arab states or by the PLO factions themselves.
Mr. Hishmeh: For a moment, I think, I should explain that we have the PLO—the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and we have the Palestinian Authority. The PLO is the political arm of the Palestinians. The one doing negotiations with Israel right now is the PLO, not the Palestinian Authority. Abbas is the head of both organizations. So people who work for the PA necessarily work for the PLO, and vice versa.
Interestingly, let’s look at the first question. Gaza, now under the control of Hamas, has a border with an “Arab Spring state,” Egypt, and has been more affected by these changes than the West Bank. What real changes have been observed at the borders during and after Muslim Brotherhood bring through in Egypt? How is this likely to play out in the future?
Dr. Jamal: I can start. Just in terms of background, as you know, Hamas was operating approximately 1200 tunnels between Gaza Strip and Egypt, and the tunnels were used to bring in everything that relates to Gaza’s livelihood, from construction materials, to food, to luxury items were being brought in through these tunnels. Approximately 1,200 as of 2010. Even under the Brotherhood, when Morsi was in power, they began closing down on many of these tunnels, and so hundreds of these tunnels were closed down. We tend to think that the relationship between Hamas and the Brotherhood was quite rosy. In actuality, the relationship was not as rosy as many anticipated. Because in Egypt, the security apparatus, the security structure… I mean the regime as a whole wasn’t changed fundamentally. So things were okay, but there was not this drastic improvement between the Palestinians, Hamas, and Egypt. More recently, however, after the removal of Morsi, things have deteriorated, and most of the tunnels have been closed. And we will likely see this deterioration in the short term. But in the long term, once things are stabilized, and I don’t know when is that going to happen in Egypt, that does bode well, not only for Hamas, not only for the Gaza Strip, but for the Palestinians in general in the long term, not yet.
Mr. Hishmeh: Osamah, let me just explain to the audience. You know, throughout the years, the Palestinian factions have depended on Arab state actors for support. But this has changed in recent years. And should the Palestinians become less dependent on state control?
Dr. Khalil: Let me answer in two parts to that question. Should it be dependent less on Arab state control? Yes. Will it? Not likely. Palestinians have no state actors, we have no state, in spite of whatever that has been achieved in the UN in the past year, the UN observer role that they have. And part of this, as I mentioned it before, has been a deliberate strategy. The PLO, when it existed, it no longer exists, was relying on bigger states, in particular the Arab states, and in some cases, the Soviet Union. But some of the key states they relied on were Egypt and Algeria, to a lesser extent, Syria. And as part of that alliance, many of these factions ended being dragged into these local affairs. So, for instance, the fight between Iraq and Syria, the PLO ended up playing a role in that fight. The Civil War in Lebanon, the PLO ended up playing a role in that fight. Even with Egypt, after Egypt was kicked out of the Arab League after 78 Camp David Accords, Egypt had played a fundamental role in its involvement with the PLO and Fatah.
So it is very difficult to suggest now that they should somehow develop an independent strategy when their entire strategy all along the way has been to rely on the Arab states. This has become compounded, as I was saying earlier, by the Oslo Accords, in which you have an authority that is created, that is dependent on money from the United States and the European Union, tax revenues from Israel, and, of course, diplomatic support from the different Arab states. It makes it very, very difficult to become an independent, viable national movement. On top of that, the PLO, when it existed, and the PA has also rely often on Jordan, when it was King Hussein, now King Abdullah, for additional diplomatic support, and of course, they share a border with Jordan that they do not control. It makes it very difficult. We see this also in Gaza. For instance, it is no secret, as Manal was mentioning, the role of the Egyptian authorities in maintaining the siege of Gaza. It is not a mystery, and it is not a mystery under Mubarak, it is not a mystery that Mubarak’s chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, was one of the key gatekeepers of the siege on Gaza; and the corruption to get into Gaza was a well-known secret among every single NGO that operates in Gaza, that you had to pay bribes to the Egyptian authorities to get into Gaza to do your work. More to the point, there is nobody who believes that tunnel trades do not exist without the tacit acknowledgement of the Egyptian military, and bribes that were paid to make sure that the tunnel traffics are allowed to continue.
So, let’s be clear, yes, the Palestinians have been forced to rely on the Arab states, but the Arab states have not often been the great supporters of the Palestinians that we would like to pretend them to be, and there are a number of reasons for that that I will get into. But I want to come back to this point, this separation between the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. Let’s be clear, the PLO was dismantled after the Oslo Accords. It no longer exists; it exists on paper. Mahmoud Abbas’ title of Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO is an empty title. That organization does not exist. What exists of the PLO, liberation had been pulled out of the Palestine Liberation Organization. That’s gone. What we have instead is a Palestinian Negotiation Authority. Their goal is to negotiate with the Israelis and to receive revenues from the United States in return for their participation in the peace process, as we talked about this morning, and what we have is an authority that collaborates with Israel, and, to a larger extent, even the United States, in its participation of the peace process.
Mr. Hishmeh: But in theory it still does exist.
Dr. Khalil: How?
Mr. Hishmeh: I mean, on paper. People have an organization.
Dr. Khalil: Remember, what are the key structures of the PLO? What are the key structures? The parliament-in-exile, the Palestinian National Council, has not met since 1996, and even then, that meeting, as we all know, as everybody in this room knows, that meeting was not a legitimate meeting. So it hasn’t held a meeting since before the Oslo Accords. That is the key structure of the PLO. The Palestinian Executive Committee, which is the executive body governing the PLO, initially under Arafat, and then under Mahmoud Abbas, all of its members have either been appointed by Arafat or Abbas. They have not been appointed using the legal structures of the PLO. PLO no longer exists. It does not exist, and so I think we have to be honest with ourselves and the Palestinians about that fact, and be honest about what the Palestinian Authority is, and what it is not.
Mr. Hishmeh: Thank you for your deliberation. I just want to point out that the negotiations right now between Israel and the Palestinians is at which level? The PA or the PLO?
Dr. Khalil: Let’s be clear, the signatory to the Oslo Accords is the Palestine Liberation Organization. However, after the accords were signed, and when they were implemented in 1994, Yasser Arafat, in a very deliberate manner, dismantled the PLO.
Mr. Hishmeh: Officially?
Dr. Khalil: All of us who are old enough to remember what the PLO was in the 1970s and the 80s can tell the difference between that and this today. Now I just pointed that the two key structures of the PLO. Now the reason why this façade on paper called the Palestinian Liberation Organization exists on paper is because they are the signatory of the Oslo Accords. The Palestinian National Authority was created to implement the accords. But all of the key funding, all the key individuals, everything was moved from the PLO office in Tunis, that itself was dismantled, brought initially to Gaza, and then to Ramallah. Anything else that’s left, for instance, Farouk Kaddoumi, still holds the title and sits in Amman, and occasionally someone will listen to him. He will hold a press conference and occasionally some will pay attention to him. The PLO no longer exists. We have to be honest about that, and what does exist, the liberation aspect of the PLO, has been stripped away. What we have is a Palestinian negotiation authority, that’s its goal, that’s its job, that’s all that it does.
Mr. Hishmeh: My next question: the Palestinian refugees in Syria are once again seeking refuge from conflict. What was the official Palestinian response towards the events in Syria, and how has the presence of refugees complicated this? What assistance by official Palestinian entities have been offered to Palestinian refugees in Syria?
Dr. Jamal: I feel uncomfortable just discussing Palestinian refugees in Syria given the magnitude of the crisis. As of right now we have approximately six million refugees. In Syria alone, there are approximate 460,000 Palestinian refugees. Of those 460,000 refugees, about 65,000 have left, and most of them right now are in Lebanon. I think it numbers around 42,000 last I checked. The official Palestinian position, i.e PLO, Mahmoud Abbas said was that the Palestinians would be neutral. They would not side with either side, they are against intervention, and that he has asked Palestinians, wherever they may be, in Lebanon or Syria, not to intervene. So that’s the official PLO/PA position. Hamas has been a bit less clear, and so, you know, as what often happens, you heard different voices. So Mahmoud Zahar’s position has been more about neutrality, whereas Haniyeh and Meshaal are much more anti-regime, and that’s one of the reasons why they have to leave. But as for the refugees, Abbas initially wanted to appeal to Ban Ki-Moon to facilitate for the moving of Palestinian refugees from Syria to the Palestinian Territories, namely to the West Bank. That was his initial request, and for this happen, there has to be Israeli approval, and so my understanding is that Israel has requested that whoever comes waive their right of return, and because of this, Abbas has basically refused.
So this is where things are at right now. In terms of what should be done, obviously all the refugees need our support, but we need to keep in mind that at this moment, UNRWA has about a daily worth of $48 million dollars deficit. So resources are already very slim. It makes sense at this point to ask refugees what exactly do they want, and to facilitate, if possible, their move elsewhere, if West Bank is going to be an option. But that’s what I believe what should be done at this point.
Mr. Hishmeh: Osamah, what about you?
Dr. Khalil: I think I just want to add to Manal’s point, which I think it’s very well taken, and, you know, this is a personal issue for me as well. My wife’s family is split between Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon; her uncle in Syria has essentially, from the Yarmouk Camp, living in a hotel for about a year. When he tries to go back to his home in Yarmouk, there are squatters there. It’s no longer his home. And so, there is a lot of focus on refugees, and rightfully so, who have fled Syria. But there is also a massive internally displaced group. This, of course, itself, and when you look at the tragedy of the Syria refugees, has been part of a broader tragedy. Anybody, for instance, many of the original Syrian refugees, when they went to Lebanon, and to places like Shatila camp were shocked by the conditions of Shatila camp, and went home, and now try to return, and are being impeded from returning into Lebanon by the Lebanese authorities. This should not shock anybody. Anyone who spends time in Lebanon, who has interacted with the Lebanese authorities and the way they treat Palestinians, this should not be a shock to anybody. Should Palestinians be asked what they want? Absolutely. Will that happen? Unlikely.
The other thing I want to point out is that in the drum beat for war, beating for an U.S. attack on Syria, occurred at a time when the UNHCR campaign for the Syrian refugees had yet to meet even the 30 percent mark of fulfillment, and when you think about the amount of money that was going to be spent on this limited, surgical strike, as we were told, and how much that cost per hour, per day, how much would that fund the UNHCR campaign for Syrian refugees. But that has completely been pushed off aside of the pages. Ever since the strike is gone, and Obama is no longer going to hit Syria, and the chemical weapons are being dismantled, there is no more discussions of Syria or Syrian refugees in the press. So one, I think this is, as Manal said, part of the broader issue related to the Palestinian refuges and let’s be clear, and I want to make this point clear, this issue of the refugees as part of the peace process that has been ongoing, which has been talked a lot this morning by Dr. Quandt and by Ali Abu-Nimah, one of the key things is this: the PLO, and the Palestinian negotiating authority, as I called them earlier, made a very deliberate policy, which was the issue of refugees, the right of return, would be pushed aside, and this was a negotiating point. It was something that they negotiated over. So no longer was the right of return the standard position of the negotiators. In fact, it was “we’re going to trade,” even at Camp David in 2000. The negotiations have failed. At one point, when Arafat realized that there was not going to be a deal, he told Nabil Shaath, put away your files, we are going to negotiate, basically, the amount of the compensation fund, which at one point was estimated at 50 billion dollars, versus the number that will be allowed to return. The Israelis were demanding that those who would be allowed to return are only going to be the elderly. So basically you could return, and you could die. But we are not going to allow the young to come in, we’re not going to allow them to reproduce, and any young who do come in will only be allowed in for a few years.
That’s your right of return. Your right of return is a round-trip ticket: come in, go back. Now I want to add this, and I am sure you’re going to ask a question about the peace process, and I want to build on this morning’s panels: does anybody really believe, considering the fight that have gone on in the congress over healthcare legislation et cetera, does anybody really believes that the United States will underwrite a 50 billion dollar campaign to reimburse compensation to the Palestinian refugees? Those days are gone. The chance that could have happened in 1999 and 2000 is now gone, that’s not going to happen. Secondly, does anybody really trust Nabil Shaath or anybody in the Palestinian negotiating authority with a $50 billion fund?
Mr. Hishmeh: Okay, we will shift now to the American role. Secretary Kerry has stated his commitment to the peace process. At the same time, he is leading a delegation in negotiations with Iran, and dialogue with the Russians on Syria. How high on the priority list can Palestine be? Is there a reason to believe, with all the challenges in the region, the U.S. would aggressively pursue any steps to find a solution before the end of Obama administration? Manal?
Dr. Jamal: What’s the point about this point is that we do see a disconnect between the priorities of Obama and Kerry, which is quite interesting; because from last spring, or more so in the summer, Obama has in many ways entrenched his foreign policy in the region, and decided to be less involved in terms of less democracy promotion, no involvement in terms of what’s happening with the civil war, definitely overall restricting U.S. interests or involvement in the region to very carefully chosen issues. That is different than what we see in terms of Kerry’s agenda. I think he is sincere, there is no doubt he is sincere, otherwise he wouldn’t be investing in this type of energy. That doesn’t mean he is going to get very far. Because fundamentally, what the peace process is going to take, if there is going to be any movement on that front, is a fundamental shift in Israel, a willingness to even move forward, in that sense, and I don’t think Israel is prepared for that.
Mr. Hishmeh: Let me just make one point. Interestingly, the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, I guess they resumed, are supposed to end next April. And also, the Iran, American, and the European negotiations also are supposed to end that month. You think the Obama administration is able to take all this weight, in April?
Dr. Jamal: No, definitely not, and I think they know that they are not going to.
Mr. Hishmeh: What do you say, Osamah?
Osamah: Yeah, I want to pick up at Manal’s point, which I think is a good one. You know, at this morning’s panels on the peace process, one of the things that was discussed was that there was no possibility for American pressure, and in relations to Iran. I wrote briefly on Al-Shabaka about two years ago really unpacking this myth of American pressure, and looking at all these supposed points in history when United States was supposed to be applying pressure to Israel, and underneath what you see is that in each case when the U.S. is pressuring Israel, there is a concession that Israel received, which was to the detriment of the Palestinians. In each case, including the 1991 case that everybody knows, the pressure on the settlements. One of the things that was mentioned this morning was the possibility of the U.S. pressuring, or the U.S. putting forth a compromised proposal that could be discussed. When you talked to the American officials, off the record, what they will tell you is the following: we see right-wing Israeli government in power in the next decade, and we don’t see any political willingness in the U.S. to challenge, or pressure, real consistent pressure on those right wing governments.
So instead, what we are doing is conflict management. Now, the fear this morning was that this is going to happen in the future, conflict management. Let’s be clear, conflict management, not conflict resolution, has been the standard U.S. policy during the Bush administration, and has been continued under the Obama administration. This is not about resolving the conflict. This is now about managing the conflict until “both parties are ready for peace.” So what does that mean? What that means is when the Palestinians are willing to provide enough concessions, basically take whatever Israel is willing to offer, and agree to it. As Ali mentioned this morning, and I think he is right, Mahmoud Abbas is almost willing to sign unto anything. The problem is, there is no offer. There is no firm offer from the other side, and there is no offer that is going to come that any government in Israel is going to sign unto. Does anybody really believe that there is any kind of an agreement that Palestinians could actually sign off on that would pass through in Israeli government? One led by Benjamin Netanyahu or any of his allies? No, it’s not going to happen.
A great example of this was in 2008, when there was this big Annapolis push, supposedly this great offer was made to Mahmoud Abbas, the second great offer. We had a great offer from Camp David from Ehud Barak and now we have Olmert’s offer. Well, it turns out there was no offer. There was a lot of discussion about what an offer could look like, and what’s very revealing is that in a recent book published by Elliot Abrams, who was a national security staff member for Bush, who was the back channel between Sharon, Olmert, and the Bush administration, came out and literally, both he and Bush, advised Mahmoud Abbas, “don’t signed what’s offered by Olmert because we don’t think his government will survive. It won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.” This should be fairly shocking, right? Here they were, pushing for peace, and what they even want to discuss was not even a permanent deal. Sign the deal, and we are going to put it on a shelf. It will be implemented in the future somewhere. So we have gone from Oslo, which was suppose to be a five-year interim agreement that has now lasted 20 to sign an agreement, we will put it on a shelve, and we will implement it sometime, in the future, when as Condie Rice used to call it, “when the political horizon improves.” Whatever that phrase means, think about that peace on the horizon, that setting sun. So when we think about what this means, vis-à-vis, the negotiations over Iran, you can almost guarantee that whatever pressure the U.S. applies to Israel to sign off on this deal, or to kind of nod and approve this deal, there will be a concession vis-à-vis the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Particularly if goal is conflict management, not conflict resolution, and there is no reason to believe that conflict resolution is what John Kerry is planning or what they will implement in the near future.
Mr. Hishmeh: You know last week, there was a letter from President Obama sent to the American Task Force on Palestine. He repeated the same position he declared a while ago on illegitimate expansion, the border should be on the ‘67 line, all these traditional positions. Settlements are illegitimate and illegal. It seems that the U.S. is still harping on this point, and we have to understand to see how you can make advantage of this. I was surprised that this letter was not published anywhere on the American press, and this is something I hope The Palestine Center will hold a conference, very shortly, on the media, how American media treats with the issues of Middle East. A few of us can participate again in that. So, how do you explain that?
They are repeating that, probably just for the record, and they are not doing anything about it. They are still sticking to the same points that are published by Obama when he came into the office.
Dr. Khalil: I think what should be clear to everybody is that there is a public rhetoric, okay, and private action. Not everything that the administration says publicly is acted upon privately. It’s not just this administration, but any administration; and we know that particularly in the Middle East. So for instance, the coup in Egypt, what was the involvement of the Obama administration with the coup in Egypt? I don’t think there is anybody in the room who believes that the Egyptian military would do anything without at least some kind of nod from Washington. At the same time, Obama administration offers mixed signal. On one hand, you have John Kerry saying that they are destroying democracy; he went to Cairo recently and said that they are on the path to restoring democracy. You have President Obama who has kind of grumbled, but has not objected to the coup openly and, in fact, won’t even call it a coup, and has decided that we don’t have to make that determination. So there is a big difference between public rhetoric, particularly when it is aimed at the American public, and private action. There is a big difference between an open engagement in Syria, then what they are leaking to the Washington Post and New York Times, that the CIA is leading covert ops and covert trainings at bases in Jordan; and the Saudis are in open alliance with them, and the Saudis, in effect, now we are told in an article in the Washington Post, the Saudis are trying to put pressure on the United States to allow for anti-tank weapon and anti-aircraft weapons to be distributed to some of the rebels they are training. So there is a big difference between public rhetoric, and private action.
Mr. Hishmeh: I think it is up to us to expose this position publicly somehow. I hope American academics can do that in the media. That’s a suggestion. Let me just proceed ahead. It seems that U.S.-Iranian relations are showing signs of improvement, as we saw this week. There are reports that some Gulf states are beginning to see common security interests with Israel, which is alarming. How will this evolving relation affects Palestine and the struggle for Palestinian rights?
Dr. Jamal: You go first.
Dr. Khalil: Well this isn’t new, obviously. This is not new, right? And in effect, some of this gets back to, well, if you think about what we have in panels earlier on sectarianism, this discussion of the role of the Gulf States and the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, and U.S. support of the Muslim Brotherhood during the Cold War, as a counter balance to Nasserism. So members of the Muslim Brotherhood, some fled to Saudi Arabia, some were brought to the United States. This is not new. The Eisenhower Doctrine itself in the 1950s was all about containing Gamal Abdel Nasser’s popularity and influence in the region, and part of that was about looking for conservative allies in the region who would be a bulwark. We see it again with the rise of, the creation of the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council in the early 1980s. So the Gulf Cooperation Council emerges after the Iranian Revolution, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This is all about building up this “bulwark” against both Iranian and Soviet influence. But really what it is, is an opportunity for the United States to sell mass quantities of weapons to rich Gulf nations where they can be based.
In an article I wrote recently and Toby Jones, who’s here and will be on the next panel to talk more about it and focuses on the Gulf can also talk about this, this is not new. What is become more apparent is because of the fear of these rich Gulf Arab nations, fear of their own Shia minorities, and fear of Iran’s influence, are now being more open about the way they oppress their minorities or, in the case of Bahrain, their majority, and their open alliance with Israel. And some of this can be traced back to Oslo Accords, which made it okay to now do business with Israel. So Qatar has relations with Israel, the UAE has relations with Israel, this should not be shocking to anyone. At the same time, it should also not be shocking to anyone that the Palestinians have played on this. So the very notorious Mohammed Dahlan, the strongman of Gaza, is now one of the key advisors in the UAE and has his own business where he is now a security consultant. You can imagine what kind of security consulting work. Again, this should not be a mystery to anyone who is following it. It should not be a shock. There are, and there had been. If you looked at the Saudi role in the Middle East, they will do, much like what they did with Nasser, they will do a very public face of embracing Nasser, and privately working with the U.S. and other forces to undermine him, and they are doing the same exact thing today.
Mr. Hishmeh: At present, relations with Egypt’s General al-Sisi, the new powerhouse in Cairo, and the Gulf states will be quick to provide financial support to the Egyptian government, provided that they keep the Muslim Brotherhood at bay. But despite these pledges over the years, support for the Palestinian Authority itself, an opponent of Hamas, Gulf financial support has been lacking. Why do you think that is? Is it likely to change now there is a clear pressure on Hamas? Before you answer, Manal, I would tell you we have one more question, and we would go openly to the floor for questions.
Dr. Jamal: Alright, in particular, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates have now come to Sisi’s rescue, and I think their latest contribution was 12 billion dollars, something in the area of 12 billion dollars, which is quite generous. But before that, they were receiving some money. They received a good, substantial amount also from Qatar, for Morsi. As for the Palestinians, its important to keep in mind that despite what Osamah did mentioned, Saudi Arabia has provided quite a bit, along with other Gulf states too, in terms of budget support. In the early years after Oslo, it was usually up to 200-300 million dollars a year. And even now, with the very tense relationship, it’s about an area of $100 million a year. So they do provide some budget support, but it’s nothing compare to what they are giving elsewhere. Most recently, they very begrudgingly gave 12 million dollars, compared to their billions to Egypt, $12 billion, to UNRWA. Keeping that in mind, I mean, the answer is pretty obvious. Saudi Arabia, Palestine, whether it is the PA or Hamas, is not in any way, shape, or form, a priority for Saudi Arabia. So we are not going to see any increase in assistance there, and their interests right now do not align with them. I mean, what happened in Egypt is much more important for Kuwait, or for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates than the West Bank or Gaza.
Mr. Hishmeh: What about you, Osamah?
Dr. Khalil: I would add the following, and Manal is right to point out that in many cases, the Gulf states did deliver funds to the Palestinian Authority. In a lot of cases, particularly in the last decade and a half, the amount delivered was far less than what was pledged. So even if you think about that $12 million dollars, I mean, this is a joke, right? I mean this is nothing, this is barely the amount the Saudi princes spent in London on a weekend. I mean, it’s not even there. So when we think about the role, and part of this is because of exhaustion, they are exhausted by the continued support to the Palestinian Authority, and to fund money to the Palestinian Authority, and really, effectively, underwriting the occupation. We have to be really honest about that, that what the EU is doing, what the United States is doing, and what the Palestinian Authority itself does, is creates this façade for the occupation. So the façade that there is two states, and that there are two governments and two presidents, or two prime ministers even; this façade that there are two states at war with each other, that this is a conflict rather than an occupation and settler colonialism, and in particular when you look at Jerusalem. So there has been a lot of difficulties for a number of Palestinian NGOs that operate in Jerusalem have been attempting to raise money, trying to save parts of Jerusalem, and are finding very little response to this in the Gulf. And why?
Because they believe either the PA has already sold out on Jerusalem, or that the United States is not going to put any consistent pressure to save what’s left of Jerusalem. So I think there is a lot of exhaustion that they have, and also kind of their broader geo-strategic thinking. But when you look at the amount they are actually delivering is a mouse point and you think about the vast wealth that comes into these states, it’s pretty staggering. It’s quite a joke. Particularly if you think about pledges and what’s actually delivered.
Mr. Hishmeh: You say that the Palestinians are giving up Jerusalem. Do you really mean that? How do you do that? How could they do that?
Dr. Khalil: I don’t think when you look at the negotiations, and when you look at how this has played out…it’s very difficult to believe that this negotiating team is going to be able to achieve very much of anything. When you look at the Palestine Papers, and Manal and I were talking about this on the side…when you look at not just the Palestine Papers, which are very consistent with other leaked documents, interviews with the negotiators and you look at what they were debating over, where they are coming down on the percentages, all these is a very consistent pattern. If they are willing to give up on the right of return….
Mr.Hishmeh: I read recently on the press here, that the American Jewish communities, at least one-fifth of it, has given up on the question of Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Is that a positive sign that we should applaud?
Dr. Jamal: They’ve given up in what sense?
Mr. Hishmeh: They no longer want to be involved with this, they don’t care about it, they just abandoned it.
Dr. Jamal: I mean, I would be interested in seeing this article, but I think apathy is…
Mr. Hishmeh: It’s the young generation, they are talking about the young generation. Strangely, this week, PBS, Huffington Post, and other newspapers have been critical of Israel and its policy in negotiations, and the pressure they are trying to apply to Congress on the question of Iran. The Israeli Lobby. There is a change in the American Jewish community here.
Dr. Jamal: Perhaps, but I think what matters at the end of the day really is change in Israel, and we don’t see that right now, and we are probably not going to see it in the foreseeable future.
Dr. Khalil: I would add to that to say that I think what’s really matter is on the Palestinian side. And it’s really important, I think, that Palestinians begin to recognize, they need to revisit what their national movement looks like in the 21st century. What does it mean to have a national movement in the 21st century? And what does it mean if we are correct in what we are thinking about in this panel, and you can hear the pessimism between Manal and I in this panel. If there is no two-state solution, what does that mean for the Palestinian national movement, if there will be no Palestine? How do we rethink, how do we re-strategize where we go next? So we can sit back, and wonder what these polls about the American Jewish community and whether they still have an alliance with Israel, Palestinians have to take care of their house first. We have enough on our table that we need to resolve, including how do you develop a formidable strategy for the future, and that includes being really honest about our past. Very honest about our past, and the PLO, what its role was, what its failings were, its many, many failings. The failings of its leadership, some of which are still in power today, are the same guys who were there in the 70s. These are important questions that the Palestinians have to begin asking themselves. One of the things that we do at Al-Shabaka is not only to create a space for Palestinians to debate and discuss these things, but to offer alternative strategies. And so, I would recommend that if you haven’t been to the website before, www.al-shabaka.org, we have a number of policy briefs, including this discussion on the PLO, its history, its future. Those are the kind of things that the Palestinians need to be asking themselves, particularly when these negotiations fail, it’s not if these negotiations fail, when these negotiations fail. And when you have a Palestinian Authority that continues to stay in power, in part because it is serving other means rather than serving its people.
Dr. Jamal: Just to add to that, I agree with Osamah, but one of the main issues, and Sammi, you’re going to disagree with me, is even the space for debate is limited. The space for debate is when people agree, but when there is serious disagreement, these spaces become, and I am talking about among the Palestinians, become very confined, number one. Number two, you can’t have, you know, people talking in the U.S., Palestinian activists talking in the U.S., the strategies and tactics that they are discussing are completely disconnected from what’s happening in the Palestinian Territories. And that’s what we have right now, it’s this disconnection.
Dr. Khalil: But I think this is important. One of the things that Al-Shabaka does is that we try to connect Palestinians everywhere, and that includes a number of our policy advisors and members is ever growing, has more policy members and advisors from outside North America than inside North America. We publish everything in Arabic and English, because we want to appeal. And our second largest audience, and no other websites can claim this, our second largest audience is in Palestine. Nobody else can claim this. So we publish everything in Arabic and English, and we actively pursue Palestinians who are in Palestine, historic Palestine, for them to participate, and in the diaspora. Because we want that discussion to be going. Yes, we may disagree, and of course there’s going to be disagreement, but let’s not pretend that this is new. If you think about the history of the PLO, and this is not new. So Fatah were the moderates, actively promoted themselves are the moderates, and you have a rejectionist camp, and this was open, and they just to trade these really nasty bayans back and forth, one accusing another with terrible things. This was common in the 70s. That doesn’t mean that they are united, but this disagreement isn’t new. Now you have a similar dynamic, not the same dynamic, right, between Fatah, again the moderates, and Hamas, the extremists, terrorists, etc. And, of course, the Palestinian left is gone. It doesn’t exist anymore. What’s left of it is on some college campuses and there are very small percentage that you find more them kind of in the diaspora than you do, let’s say the West Bank and Gaza.
Mr. Hishmeh: So what course do you recommend now? What’s next, if that’s the case?
Dr. Khalil: First of all, this is where we might also disagree, in terms of transform the overall strategy sometimes is beyond our control. I think it’s also important to recognize the immediate crisis we are dealing with. I am not saying to ignore the overall picture, but we have a situation right now where there is confirmation of a political assassination of a national leader. Now love Arafat, hate Arafat, I haven’t heard any calls for an international investigation yet. Gaza is suffocating in terms of, as Ali was saying in the morning, they’re drowning in sewage! There is nothing concretely done to deal with the blockade on Gaza in terms of the closures on Palestinian Territories. Ten years ago, we would have never imagined that if you are in Ramallah, you cannot get to Jerusalem, that it’s easier to get to Amman than to Jerusalem. The economy is basically strangled. Because of the closures, the economic lost is about 3.4 billion dollars a year! That’s a third of the Palestinian GDP. So there is no discussion of even development when it’s basically survival. We have all these crisis going on, and when people want to organize the next step, it’s like, “okay, how do we look at the overall picture,” or, “no, let’s basically discuss one-state, two-state solutions” when that big picture is beyond our hands, but we have these immediate crisis that we need to address. I don’t know if any of you have seen, the latest petition circulating, which received at least 3,000 signatures…you think it’s funny, but I think it’s a sign of the magnitude of the crisis we are dealing with, is about Great Britain rescinding the Balfour Declaration. There is a serious problem here that needs to be addressed.
I should say that Manal and I have known each other for a long time, and she knows how much, you know can tell how much we respect each other.
Dr. Jamal: We agree more than we disagree.
Dr. Khalil: We are from neighboring villages in Palestine, so that’s even, that adds to it. You know, the other thing I want to throw out is this, that we have been living with these short term crisis for a long time, the Palestinians, right? You want to work on two-tracks. So one, how do you resolve these short-term crisis? Not look away from longer term goals. Part of that is beginning that discussion among Palestinians, also recognizing some of the limitations there are. As long as you have a leadership, which is not beholden to its people, but to itself, and I think this has to be clear. You know, this morning, there was this discussion about the peace process benefiting the United States and Israel. The peace process has also benefitted the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, in particular Fatah. So, I want to be clear about this, and they admit it, this dates back to 1970s. So, for instance, if any of you have insomnia, and I am not a physician, I’m a Ph.D., if any of you have insomnia, I recommend you to read Mahmoud Abbas’s book, and Ahmed Qurai’s book. Those books will put you to sleep in a second, but they have important information, one of which is the way the Fatah leadership uses its position and its majority within the PLO to push for its plan of “moderation.” That was deliberately stressed to the United States in the 1970s and the 1980s. Now Quandt in the morning knows this because he was in the National Security Council when these recommendations were being sent. And so part of that was “we are moderates, we will cut a deal, we will work with you. And we will accept two states, and we will even accept a truncated state.” At one point, in 1976, Arafat sends a message through the UN that if Israel withdraws only a few kilometers from Gaza, we will recognize a state there.
Dr. Jamal: But that was not only Fatah’s position. Even the radical left, it wasn’t only Fatah.
Dr. Khalil: No, no, no. Remember, there was a separation. The deal was this, because the PFLP leaves…
Dr. Jamal: What about in 1988?
Dr. Khalil: I’m getting to that. But the PFLP says, alright, that any entity that recognizes Israel is not one we will be a party of.
Dr. Jamal: What year?
Dr. Khalil: This was during, this is in the ten-point plan of the PNC. If you look at the 10 point plan of the PNC, it is yes…
Dr. Jamal: But what happened in 1988?
Dr. Khalil: Let me, okay, we will set up, we will set up a Palestinian authority on any liberated land. But we will not recognize any entity, or any Palestinian “authority” that recognizes Israel, right? So what the Fatah leadership did, so there was a great moment, for instance, the PFLP, the Rejectionist Front does not agree with what Fatah was during, and they leave. Fatah tries to bring them back in in ‘77, this was a great moment, preparing for the PNC meeting, and the PFLP was demanding that no negotiations, alright, that no negotiations are part of the agreed plan, and the Fatah members tell them you have a better chance of reaching the moon than you do than getting that in the plank. So that’s 1977. By 1988, it’s clear that the PFLP is weakened, alright…everyone else is, but Fatah’s not, right? Remember, 1988 is very different, the Cold War is almost over, it’s going to be over in just a few months, alright?
Dr. Jamal: They didn’t know that.
Dr. Khalil: Of course they didn’t know that, but the funding is already drying up, right? PFLP has constant issue with funding. The Rejectionist Front in 1988 is not what it was in 1977, and even then it wasn’t that strong, right? They agree to two-state, but that’s a majority decision. And remember, the PFLP is going to have a list of reservations of all these decisions, More to the point, if you don’t mind me bringing this up, let’s be clear who has dominated the Palestinian Authority since Oslo Accords in 1993. Let’s be clear who has benefited from it. You know, in the morning there was a question about whether or not they are treasonous. Ahmed Qurai’, it is known, to have sold cement to the wall and the settlements, and he is still a key decision maker in Fatah. So you want an investigation of who killed Abu Ammar, I want an investigation on Ahmed Qurai’, and all the shady business deals. I want an investigation on Mohammed Dahlan, and all his shady business deal. I want an investigation of every single member of the Palestinian Authority leadership, all of their shady business deals and all the cards they are tied to. So eventually, someday, we will get to who killed Abu Ammar, although it’s pretty clear, right? But in the mean time, you know, and you and I discussed, when are we going to have an investigation on who killed the Goldstone Report? Who leaked the Palestine Paper? All these investigations that Abu Mazen was supposed to launch and of course, lead right back to him. So who is investigating the investigators?
Mr. Hishmeh: I will ask one last question and then we can go to questions from the audience. What if Iran and the West make a deal? How will that affect us? Many people think, include some of the speakers earlier today that it would be a great plus for the Palestinian cause. Do you guys agree? Manal?
Dr. Jamal: To be honest, I have to think about it more, but I don’t think it will make a big difference in the long term.
Dr. Khalil: As I mentioned before, whatever that deal is, you can guarantee that in order to gain Israeli acceptance, it’s going to be bad for the Palestinians. There is going to be a concession on the West Bank, and likely on Gaza. But I want to add this as well, let’s be clear, in going forward, Fatah and Hamas are organic to the Palestinian body politics. Both parties need to reform themselves. There is very little chance that Fatah is going to reform itself. Particularly if it thinks it’s going to “win” against Hamas. You have these two locked in a struggle in which neither side is willing to compromise, and everything we think—they had, and they have negotiating—think about this, they have been negotiating since 2006, 2007 on the unity agreement….
Dr. Jamal: But the problems are not only between them, but also because of external actors won’t let them have the unity agreement.
Dr. Khalil: How do we start this…about who’s relying on…? But let me finish this point. The Oslo Accords was supposed to be five years, it went on for 20. If Palestinians who had been negotiating between sides for seven years cannot agree on negotiating on an unity government, what chances are there for a broader peace? So we have a number of things that we have to get to first internally. We can think about the broader geo-political issue with Iran, and its implication on the Palestinian national movement. But let me be clear, these movements will not reform themselves on their own without significant pressure from Palestinians both in Palestine and in diaspora. Anyone who thinks that Fatah is just going to wake up one morning and reform itself is dreaming.
Osamah Khalil is professor of U.S. and Middle East History at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is also co-founder of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. He has been a frequent media commentator at such outlets as the Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Huff Post Live, Al Jazeera English and the Real News Network.
Manal Jamal is assistant professor of Political Science at James Madison University. During the late 1990’s, she was based in the Palestinian territories. She worked as journalist and researcher at the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, and consulted for the United Nations Special Coordinators Office in the Occupied Territories, then Alternative Information Center / Badil-Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. She currently serves as a member of the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee for Academic Freedom, and a member of the transitional board of directors of the Association for Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Studies, and is completing a book manuscript, “Democracy Promotion in Troubled Times: the Limits of Western Donor Assistance to Civil Society”, which examines the impact of donor assistance to civil society in the Palestinian territories and El Salvador.
This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.