30 November 2012, 18:18

‘It’s not correct to say all Palestinians wanted to achieve what Mahmoud Abbas has achieved’- Russian expert

‘It’s not correct to say all Palestinians wanted to achieve what Mahmoud Abbas has achieved’- Russian expert

The UN General Assembly has granted Palestine the status of an observer state. This is, without doubt, a landmark event in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and, probably, in modern Middle East history in general. Attitudes to the UN decision vary around the world. Today, in our studio we discuss the causes and effects of the event, which took place in New York at the UN General Assembly. Our guest is Alexander Shumilin, Director of the Centre for analysis of Middle East conflicts at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

This Part 1 of the interview. Part 2

VoR: What will the Palestinians get after this event? Why have they been demanding observer nation status so persistently over several years, a status they have now, finally, received?

Shumilin: First of all let’s define what we’re talking about. There are Palestinians in the West Bank, and there are Palestinians in Gaza under different leaderships. It is not quite correct to say that all Palestinians wanted to achieve what Mahmoud Abbas has achieved. Maybe, it makes sense to talk specifically about Mahmoud Abbas, his team and those Palestinians, who support him. In this regard, we can say that Mahmoud Abbas, and that part of the West Bank Palestinian population, mostly, and perhaps some of the Gaza population, have received a symbolic recognition of their state as an observer at the United Nations. At the same time there are many complex nuances, so I apologize in advance, as there really are some factors that must be specified. In this case, we are not talking about full membership status for the state, but an observer status, within the United Nations Organization. It is a special status; in general, it equates to the current status held by the Vatican in the United Nations. But nevertheless, it is indeed, as you rightly said, a landmark event and symbolic in many ways. In practical terms, the new status allows the Palestinians to participate more actively in the work of certain United Nations bodies, and, first of all, as a rule, all analysts point to the right to take part in the work of the International Court of Justice. This is one tangible outcome from this event, which on the whole is primarily symbolic. 

VoR: That is, as far as I understand, the Palestinians, Abbas and his government, based on the West Bank of the Jordan River, have made a small step towards full recognition. This is a symbolic part of it and then, there is the practical part: they now have the right, or, more precisely, they have a legal means of pursuing Israel over accusations of violations, or crimes against the Palestinian people. 

Shumilin:Yes, quite so. But all the same, while we have not yet wandered from this critical issue, this statement is about Mahmoud Abbas, because the Gaza leadership, represented by Hamas, did not seek this recognition. They do not deny it, did not deny it recently, but at the same time they do not seek it. And the Hamas leadership’s comments on Mahmoud Abbas’s initiative were made in such a critical manner as to suggest it were just another step towards Mahmoud Abbas’s capitulation, including his surrender to Israel; just another step on the way to winding up the Palestinian problem. Hamas interprets the prospect of solving the Palestinian problem in a different way. I want to draw your attention to the fact that they foresee the prospect of eliminating the Israeli state, and they do not hide it. Abu-Marzook, the second man after Hania, or, more precisely, Mashaal’s Deputy and a very influential person in Gaza, openly said that they did not recognize this step. This means they are striving to eliminate the Israeli state and create a Palestinian one, but not within the 1967 borders, as Mahmoud Abbas announced as the main goal. 

VoR: What is generally being supported by the international community. 

Shumilin:Yes, what as well is being supported by the international community. By means of elimination of the Israeli state and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the whole territory of Palestine. Therefore, I’d like to repeat, when we talk about the Palestinians, we must distinguish them. Moreover, Hamas has revealed its strength with the help of missiles, and it continues to assert itself not in a political way, but through the use of force both inside Gaza, and in respect to Israel. This is really a very important point. And another important point, which we have not mentioned yet, is that Palestinians will be able to appeal to the International Court of Justice. However, in connection with this, we’ve heard speeches and comments from some Palestinians that they were not going to rush immediately to the International Court of Justice and create problems for Israel. That is exactly what the leaders of most countries in the world asked them not to do, in order not to transform this positive step into a negative one through creating problems in relations with Israel, exaggerating these problems, emphasizing them, thus leading the process into deadlock. For in this case, the entire world will see that the current position of Israel and the United States on this issue is absolutely correct. So, to prevent it appearing that way, the Palestinians should not hurry with appeals to the court, but should act constructively. 

VoR: Judging by your words, there are quite a lot of paradoxes in this whole situation. But nevertheless, Israel is very sensitive to decisions of this kind, and is always supported by the US. And the recent statement made, as far as I remember, by Hillary Clinton, came down to the fact that the US was rock-solidly on Israel’s side, shows the invariability of Washington's position on Israel. But still, why is Israel so sharply opposed even to such a modest and symbolic Palestinian step? What is the problem here? 

Shumilin: It’s not too difficult to explain. The Israelis are looking... Indeed, in this case, we can speak more generally about the Israelis than in the case of the Palestinians, which it was necessary to sub-divide, as there are Palestinians and other Palestinians. Israel is much more united in its negative attitude towards the step taken by Mahmoud Abbas. That is, even the more fervent supporters of a Palestinian state near Israel as well as those, who are more restrained, they are, in general, criticizing this step. By the way, among the Israelis, there are some politicians, and not just left wing ones, who have positive attitudes towards this issue. For instance, Olmert, the former Israeli Prime Minister, released from legal proceedings, which recently made him famous; his attitude is positive, though he considers himself a centrist. But this is rather the exception, than the rule. So, what is the essence of the Israelis’ negative attitude? Firstly, the Palestinians will gain international legitimacy, thus undermining (and, for sure; there are no questions about whether it is formally or legally) the basis of the bilateral peace process. It boils down to the Oslo documents, which state that neither party can make any strategic decisions without the prior consent of the other. 

VoR: That means, as far as I understand, the Israelis say: first, reach an agreement with us, and then go and talk to the UN? 

Shumilin:Exactly so, for it is a long time (maybe, the new generation of the UN personnel have forgotten), since the previous generation of United Nations’ leaders came to the conclusion that the organization may not impose solutions on anybody. Decisions have to be reached by the two or more parties to a conflict, and the UN can only complete those formalities. Here we see a step back, in the opposite direction. 

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