Sputnik: Palestinian health officials say dozens of people have been killed by Israeli fire during recent protests at the Gaza border. The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court raised concerns earlier that Israel and Hamas may have committed war crimes during the current escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip. How would you comment on the ICC prosecutor's remarks that the actions of both sides may constitute war crimes? Are you ready to work with the ICC to launch an investigation into the matter?
Riyad Maliki: It is very clear that the international community has labeled what has been done at the border as an excessive use of force by Israel. This really requires an investigation into and condemnation [of the situation]. The ICC prosecutor wanted to balance her statement politically so she mentioned Hamas but we cannot see any real violence on the side of the Palestinians.
It was a first time she (the prosecutor) spoke about war crimes and this is very important, and it is very important for her to continue looking into this matter and for the UN Secretary-General to continue calling for an investigation into this. We have tried to issue a statement within the Security Council — the United States has blocked it in attempt to protect the Israeli side.
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We have been in contact with the ICC for a long time since becoming a member.
We provide the ICC and the prosecutor's office with a monthly report on attacks, crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians, including on what is happening in Gaza. This is being included in our reports. For the prosecutor to come out and openly issue this statement shows that she is considering this matter and that she is initiating a process of her own to look into this issue. Of course, we will be more than ready to provide her with any information or documentation that she might need.
Our ambassador in The Hague and our ambassador to the ICC are in a direct contact with the prosecutor's office. We are trying to understand what steps the prosecutor will undertake next in order to translate such a statement into concrete actions.
We are not afraid of any investigation that might pinpoint any kind of violence being committed by the Palestinians — I doubt this [is happening].
Sputnik: The ceremony marking the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem is scheduled for May 14. In an interview yesterday, the Minister for Jerusalem affairs told me that Israel expected Hamas to exploit this event in order to organize protests along the Gaza border and possibly some within Israel. He also added that the PNA would likely organize some protests in Judea and Samaria. Do you have such plans?
Riyad Maliki: On the 15th of May Israel celebrates its Independence Day but it also marks a disaster for the Palestinians — every year, they celebrate the creation of their state and we mark our tragedy. This year is not going to be different from the previous years. We will mark this.
What is happening in Gaza in terms of peaceful protests — they will continue on May 14 and beyond. Are they going to continue as nonviolent and peaceful? Absolutely!
40 dead, 5,511 wounded (UN): the Palestinian toll during Gaza border protests as Israel seems to flout the law allowing lethal force only as a last response to an imminent lethal threat. https://t.co/NzgCgiI2Sw— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) April 26, 2018
This is a condition for such mass protests to be peaceful because we are not going to give Israel any excuse to [continue using] firearms against the Palestinians. Are we going to organize protests in the West Bank? Absolutely! This is really something that we have been doing every year so why would we refrain from doing so this year? Yes, they should expect from us demonstrations and we will make sure that these demonstrations will be in the West Bank as well as in Gaza.
Sputnik: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was saying that his cabinet was in contact with at least a dozen countries thinking of moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Do you know which countries may be considering the move, aside from the United States?
Riyad Maliki: None! Netanyahu wants himself to believe that there are some. He says a lie and then he believes in it. He tries to convince himself that dozens and dozens of countries will follow. Since Trump announced the move on December 6, more than 4 months have passed and they were promising us dozens and dozens of states.
I looked at countries that voted in favor of Israel and the United States in the General Assembly. There were 8 countries plus the United States, including Guatemala and Honduras, and Togo in Africa; the rest were a few of small islands in the Pacific region. That was it!
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Concerning Romania, there is right now a constitutional dispute between the President and the Prime Minister and the head of parliament. Just an hour ago I have received a phone call from the foreign minister saying that nothing would happen. The constitutional dispute will continue but no action will be taken in Romania.
When it comes to Honduras, the President has said ‘yes’ he might move [the embassy] and later he retracted [his statement] saying that some internal consultations were still needed. He knows that there are 100,000 Hondurans of the Palestinian origin living there and they have a huge influence — he cannot just ignore that.
When it comes to Guatemala, the President of Guatemala is evangelical. He believes that he has to support Israel from a religious perspective. Secondly, he has been accused of corruption, and his brother and son are in prison. There is right now a constitutional case against him as well. On Sunday, there will be a huge demonstration in Guatemala City against his decision to move the embassy so we will see how things will move when it comes to Guatemala. Beyond that, there are no dozens of countries! It is the wishful thinking of Netanyahu! Let him dream!
Sputnik: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation into the deaths of Palestinians that happened during a recent mass protest in the Gaza Strip. You announced earlier that the PA’s next move at the United Nations would be to request Guterres to push forward his proposal for the formation of an investigative commission on the Gaza border clashes. If it failed to do so, the PA would submit a draft resolution to the Security Council to establish such a commission. Has this commission been formed? What measures are being taken by Palestine within the United Nations?
Riyad Maliki: We will keep looking for ways of how to translate his statement into action. If it could not be done by the UN Security Council because of certain US veto, then we might go to the General Assembly and ask them to vote for that resolution to establish a commission of inquiry. If we will not get that, despite the fact that we know we might get it because we enjoy the majority in the General Assembly for any resolution, we can go to the Human Rights Council and ask for it also. We have different options but we want to exhaust, first of all, every possibility within the UNSC before going to the General Assembly and HRC. A UNGA's vote has an equal importance to any vote by the UNSC.
Sputnik: Minister Maliki, you have announced a campaign by Arab states to block Israel’s bid for a Security Council seat. To your knowledge, how many states support this initiative? Do you have enough to secure the one-third vote necessary to veto the June 8 vote?
Riyad Maliki: We have that. We will defeat Israel in that vote in June and we will make sure that Israel will never become a non-permanent member in the SC. Israel does not deserve to become a member of the SC. Israel has violated all SC resolutions and refused to implement them.
This position is shared by many countries around the world and we have started a campaign to prevent Israel from becoming a member. We will succeed. Of course, we are not a full member of the United Nations, but we have enough influence to prevent Israel from becoming a member. We will make sure that Belgium and Germany will win in a first round.
Sputnik: The Hamas delegation was holding talks in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence services. Media reported that Egypt was trying to convince Hamas to stop protests in exchange for ending the Israeli blockade and pushing for a reconciliation deal. How would you assess the outcome of the talks?
Riyad Maliki: We were following the talks in Cairo very closely, particularly the ones with the Egyptian intelligence. We know that the Egyptians are really trying to persuade the Hamas leadership to go along with the reconciliation process by transferring the control over Gaza to the Palestinian government and incorporating Hamas into the whole system [in an orderly manner]. We know that Hamas is putting certain conditions. It wouldn't be necessary, the last meeting. The Egyptian side will try to persuade Hamas again and again.
We are in direct coordination with Egypt. We have seen President Sisi during the last summit in Saudi Arabia. We have coordinated well with them. The Fatah delegation was in Cairo at the same time and was also holding a meeting with the Egyptian intelligence.
This process has been ongoing for a long time, and any setback does not mean that this is the end of the process. It means we will see more of a renewal of efforts of the Egyptians; we are very certain that the Egyptians will persuade to go along with the reconciliation and to accept transferring full control in order for us to start preparing for the presidential and parliamentary elections.
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Sputnik: What are the inter-Palestinian or foreign policy related matters that will be discussed at the upcoming Palestinian National Council (PNC) meeting, which is expected by April 30?
Riyad Maliki: There are certain important decisions you have to undertake at certain a historic junction. If you delay or hesitate, you will lose, and we cannot right now lose or hesitate, especially when we see how the American administration is pushing us very hard and taking a pro-Israeli stance. We need to protect ourselves and our stance by renewing our leadership, and by continuing our peaceful resistance within Palestine and our diplomatic initiative globally.
At the PNC, we have to look into a very important decision when it comes to how to deal with the US administration and their decision to move their embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. We have to discuss sanctions that have been taken by the American administration against us economically and otherwise. We have to make a decision on how to protect our interests in the Palestinian occupied territory from the Israeli side that continues to build settlements. Thirdly, we have to review our leadership. The PNC is recognized by the United Nations, by the Arabs as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, so it is very important for the PNC to meet regularly to take important decisions and to renew the leadership.
Sputnik: American actress Natalie Portman has turned down an invitation to attend a film festival in Israel, where she was expected to receive an award, in protest against the ongoing Israeli violence against Palestinians. Do you think it would be a good idea to invite her to the Palestinian film festival? I know one is taking place right now in Chicago.
Riyad Maliki: She is an Israeli-American, that is [the reason for] all the fuss about it. I have seen some of her movies. I like her acting and I knew in advance that she was born and raised in Israel before moving to the United States. When she refused to accept the prize, in Israel fire was shot at her from all sides. But she came to explain that she disagrees with Netanyahu's policy not only in terms of what was happening in Gaza but in general against the Israeli settlement policy. She has a strong position against occupation and we respect that and we admire that so I take your advice. It will be a killer if she goes. I will recommend that to the people in the United States. I will let you know if it will happen.
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Sputnik: Do you have any update on the new format for the Mideast negotiations that is to be launched or an international conference that will be held?
Riyad Maliki: We are right now looking for countries which will be willing to, first of all, host the international conference and second, to be part of this collective platform. We are right now knocking doors just to feel the waters when it comes to this and what we have heard so far is very promising. What we need is within a month or so to better [cement] such an idea and to discuss it more with certain influential countries.
Sputnik: Are there any plans for President Abbas to visit Russia?
Riyad Maliki: Sure. First of all President Abbas makes sure that he sees President Putin at least twice a year for continuous discussions and consultations. We do not exclude an opportunity to go to Russia. Probably after Ramadan. Ramadan starts on May 15 so probably after that. We will speak to our ambassador in Moscow, at the same time we will be in contact with either Bogdanov or Lavrov about this possibility for Abbas's visit this summer.