Allow me at the outset to thank the Chatham house for the invitation and the selection of an unusual and compelling title for this conversation: the Future of Palestine.
2 days ago, the Palestinian people commemorated the 71st anniversary of the Nakba, and while their dispossession continues, one can not but reflect on this long journey of a nation that refused to die or disappear and continues to strive for its rightful place in history and geography among all the nations of the world.
Throughout those decades, Israeli policies aimed to displace and replace the Palestinian people, and ensured confinement of the Palestinians and expansion of Israeli settlers, with as objective the acquisition of maximum land with minimum Palestinians. We are in the final phases of this masterplan that Israel is no longer even trying to hide and which can only be qualified as colonialism under the disguise of occupation.
Over the years, a dual system of discrimination, domination and segregation was also put in place, and found its ultimate expression in the Jewish nation state law. Such a system is reminiscent of Apartheid.
I know that some may be uncomfortable to hear the words colonialism and Apartheid associated with Israel, but they are what we experience on a daily basis and what is visible to the naked eye.
This is the future Palestine Israel is trying to draw with its colonial policies: Bantustans and open air prisons.
What future does the US plan offer to the Palestinian people? Well a very similar one since all indicates this administration is preparing to give its stamp of approval to Israel’s colonial policies. The US administration has shown nothing but disregard for Palestinian rights and for Palestinian lives, for international law and the internationally recognized terms of reference, and for common sense and decency.
The op-ed published by Pompeo and Friedman in the Wall Street Journal to explain that international law backs their illegal recognition of Golan as an Israeli territory shows to what extent they have espoused the narrative of the Israeli extreme right-wing. They are trying to bend the law to accommodate violations instead of ending violations to uphold the law.
We are grateful to the international community for having stood up against the Jerusalem move by the US administration and in defense of UNRWA, but when it comes to taking the lead on peace efforts, the world left the steering wheel in the hands of a reckless driver. We disagree with the view that we should wait till he goes over a cliff or runs over the Palestinian people to do something about it.
The US deal of the century is in fact the consecration of our century old ordeal: no independence, no sovereignty, no freedom, no justice. And if they do not think that this situation will have an impact on the future of Israel and the region, one way or the other, they are the ones that are delusional, not us.
This can not be the future of Palestine. Our people have not struggled for so long and endured so much to simply change the size of their chains. They want freedom, not conditional liberty, they want sovereignty not limited autonomy, they want peace and coexistence, not domination and subjugation.
There are two ways to end a conflict, a peace accord or capitulation, meaning a surrender act. We continue to stand ready to negotiate a peace accord, based on the internationally-recognized terms of reference and the pre-1967 borders, under international monitoring holding accountable the parties and within a determined and binding timeframe. We will never be ready to sign a surrender act. If people struggling against oppression across history surrendered to the odds, they will all be in chains today. We have defied the odds many times before and we will again.
But defeating colonialism and Apartheid can not be our responsibility alone. Achieving peace can not be our purpose alone. The freedom of the Palestinian people and peace for all the peoples of the region is a worthy objective that deserves much more from everyone.
I am afraid that if you believe in this objective, you can no longer delay decisive action. Regardless of your circumstances, regardless of the international context. This is a defining moment. If you think action is too costly, just think of the alternative, and of the path it would set us on for decades to come.
We need, more than ever, a coalition of the willing, champions of the internationally recognized terms of reference and the two-State solution, ready to examine and adopt concrete action to salvage Palestine and peace. Such action should include linking the level of their relations with the parties to the level of their commitment to international law and peace, as well as making sure that the cost of having ties with the settlements and their associated regime far outweighs the benefits, for both officials and other individuals, and for entities, companies and governments.
We need to ensure that what prevails are UN Security Council resolutions not illegal settlements, the International Court of Justice not the illegal wall, the Geneva Conventions not targeting of civilians and collective punishment, human rights not discrimination and oppression, the Rome Statute not war crimes. This is decisive for the Palestinian people, but also for the peoples of the world.
If you are searching for the future of Palestine, look at Gaza, where young people who have virtually known nothing but blockade, military assaults and a humanitarian disaster continue to demonstrate their resilience, their creativity, their ability. Look at Jerusalem, where Israel has launched a war against Palestinian presence, neighbouhood by neighbourhood, house by house, a war that despite the asymmetry power the Palestinians have no intention to lose. Look at the refugee camps in Palestine and in the region, where kids strive for excellence. Look at generations of Palestinians in the diaspora that remain committed to their cause and their country. There are more than 13 million Palestinians in the world, they will not be silenced and they will not be subdued. And the same applies to all those who stand in solidarity with them. No one should be apologetic for standing against colonialism and Apartheid, and in defense of freedom and justice.
At the same time, the persistence of the Israeli occupation has transformed in depth the Israeli society, with extremist and racist views taking center stage, with a Knesset that adopts discriminatory and oppressive laws, with a judiciary complicit of violations of international law, and with a government where prevails a competition to know who has the worst and most inhumane positions against the Palestinians. Netanyahu is betting that the world will look the other way and embrace Israel regardless of its attitude towards the Palestinians. Prove him wrong.
As for us, we remain committed to international law and non-violence. This is the only way forward. But that does not mean choosing inaction. We will take all decisions needed to advance our independence and to respond to Israel’s masterplan to entrench and render permanent its occupation. The PLO Central Council will meet in the coming weeks to take concrete decisions in this regard.
We will also intensify our diplomatic efforts to explain our positions and garner support for the rights of our people, especially in the coming weeks as the US administration prepares to release its plan. And we will continue to explore every avenue to seek justice and redress for our people, including the available legal avenues.
We are also conscious that our division has undermined our ability to confront Israeli policies, as well as undermined our democracy and our institutions. The Palestinian people demand reconciliation and we continue to call on Hamas to allow the government to perform its duties in the Gaza Strip as the only way forward. The Gaza Strip has suffered from a horrible Israeli blockade for over a decade and repeated assaults, and is on the verge of collapse. We continue to do our utmost to respond to the needs of our people in Gaza, but the situation requires much more and we all must display a great sense of responsibility to spare our people unnecessary suffering and to confront together the blockade and the occupation, and all attempts at a bargain at the expense of our national rights.
We will continue to honour our obligations towards those who suffer most from the occupation. There was a lot of talk about our prisoners and martyrs in recent months, with some assuming that if Israel arrested and killed them, it must have had good reasons. Well, let us look at the facts. Since 1967, Israel has conducted a policy of mass arbitrary arrest to assert its control over the population. Hundreds of thousands were arrested, the equivalent of 40% of our male population. The conviction rate in Israeli military courts has reached over 99%. While the conviction rate of Israelis who have committed crimes against the Palestinians remains close to 0. There is no serious claim that these Israeli military courts are legitimate and they have proven time and time again that they are instruments at the service of the occupation, upholding decisions violating international law, from the annexation wall to shielding the settlement enterprise and war criminals.
In its different assaults against the Palestinian people, Israel targeted civilians or conducted indiscriminate attacks against them. In recent years alone, one commission of inquiry after the other demonstrated this disregard for Palestinian life, and that those killed were overwhelmingly defenseless civilians.
So those who think that the Israeli courts or Israeli snipers, tanks and F16 are in a position to determine who are the terrorists, they should think again. As for Israel’s decision to withhold the money we provide to the families of those who suffer most from the occupation, let us just say that Israel is not well placed to make a determination regarding how others spend their money given how it spends its own.
And you should ask why did Israel raise this issue a couple of years ago. We have been supporting families of those who suffer most from the occupation since the establishment of the PLO and we have continued doing so when the Palestinian Authority was established. By the way, former prisoners play a key role in our leadership, institutions and security services, and in our negotiating teams, similar to the experience of all liberation movements. Israel’s objective is to criminalize our struggle and justify the theft of our money, while distracting you from its violations. And if we had accepted to receive the rest of the money as some were pleading, we would be endorsing this policy and sustaining it.
As a former Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom once said, we are unreasonably reasonable. And unfortunately, this responsible attitude has not been met with reciprocity and has not been rewarded. But we pursue it in the hope to mobilise the international community for the fulfilment of our people’s inalienable rights and peace. Prove us right.
Multilateralism to overcome unilateralism. Accountability to end violations. Freedom to allow for coexistence. This is the way forward. For Palestine. For the region. And beyond.