SOFIA, BM, ($1=1.61 BGN) – The Palestinian state has turned to international law, where the roots of the conflict with Israel are to seek responsibility for the events of the latest escalation and end the Palestinian territories’ occupation. This was said in an interview with Dnevnik by its ambassador Ahmed al-Madbouh. He asked Dnevnik to exercise his right of reply after a publication based on a briefing by the Israeli ambassador and a representative of the country’s foreign ministry on the 11-day exchange of strikes between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Dnevnik spoke with al-Madbouh about the conflict and its expectations for Israel, Hamas missiles, and the future of the UN-backed solution by creating two states – Israeli and Palestinian.
Mr. Ambassador, you have requested the right to reply to a Dnevnik article, which was partly about the forthcoming international investigation by the UN Human Rights Council into crimes during the Israeli-Gaza conflict. What do you expect from him?
Let me fix this first. The conflict was between Israel and Palestine, not between Israel and Gaza. Gaza is part of Palestine.
And was the Palestinian Authority part of the conflict, and in what way?
The Gaza Strip is part of the occupied territories of the State of Palestine, so we want to call the conflict that. Moreover, when the last escalation began, it did not start in Gaza, but in the events in occupied East Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine (Palestinians want East Jerusalem recognized as the capital). It began with Israel restricting the access of Muslim worshipers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan (better known in Bulgaria as the Turkish name Ramadan); by forbidding them to gather at the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. Attempts by Israeli authorities to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarah district of East Jerusalem then began. This process had continued unabated since 1967 when Israel occupied East Jerusalem.
These factors caused the latest escalation and prompted the Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip (controlled by Hamas, short for Islamic Movement) to launch missiles at Tel Aviv. However, before the rockets were fired, the world did nothing to force Israel to lift the restrictions it imposed on the Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. Moreover, before firing the missiles, Hamas officially warned Israel to stop these attacks, or Hamas will fire rockets.
And how can aggression against the Palestinians be stopped with Gaza missiles? The so-called Iron Dome intercepted a large part of these missiles, and some fell back into Gaza. So what was the purpose, and why was it necessary to launch them at all, knowing what Israel’s response would be?
First, you should address this issue to the Resistance Squads (the military wing of Hamas fired most of the missiles – ed. Note); they have their views and ways to respond to Israeli violations.
We say that Israel must not continue indefinitely for more than 54 years of occupation of the Palestinian territories and that it must end. Therefore, when there are violations of international law, the world must investigate them. Thus, when we submitted the draft resolution to the UN Human Rights Council, the main point was forming an international commission to investigate the violations committed by Israel since the beginning of this escalation. The resolution calls for an investigation into any violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel. In our view, all countries that say they are concerned about human rights and international law should support the formation of such a commission because if there is no accountability, Israel will continue.
Are you optimistic? I ask you because, in Bulgaria, we say: “If you don’t want something to be done, make a commission.”
We have that too. But we turned to international law and international institutions because the roots of the conflict have to do with international law and the resolution of Palestine’s partition. International law once divided our country and allowed Israel to exist as a state. We now turn to him to end the occupation of our part of this country so that our form can exist.
Did you talk about this resolution with Bulgarian representatives? Bulgaria voted against the investigation.
As soon as the escalation started, we requested an urgent meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs on behalf of the Arab ambassadors to clarify what is happening on the ground. We also ordered a meeting with the caretaker Prime Minister. But, unfortunately, it was only today (last Thursday) that we received a call that the Foreign Minister would receive us on Monday. In the note sent during ongoing military operations, we had requested an emergency meeting. But we have another talk: better late than never.
We had a meeting with the Prime Minister last Wednesday and asked for support for the ‘yes’ vote on the Palestinian draft resolution. We also got acquainted with the president’s opinion. They both said that a military solution was impossible, that it was necessary to proceed with immediate de-escalation, and that it is essential to sit down at the negotiating table. But the next day, we were amazed that Bulgaria voted “against” the Human Rights Council.
How do you explain the discrepancy in the position?
We will address the question to the Foreign Minister on Monday.
As a representative of the Palestinian Authority, you are diplomatically active. Still, in the exchange of attacks between Israel and Gaza, the main non-Israeli actor was the “resistance groups” in question, such as Hamas in Gaza, right?
By the way, the groups of the people’s resistance are just as active and no less influential than in the Gaza Strip. For example, two years ago, the occupation tried to install metal barriers and surveillance cameras to restrict access to the Al Aqsa Mosque area. Thanks to the activity of the people’s resistance, we removed these enclosures and cameras. Similarly, in recent events, restrictive measures have been lifted.
You talk about resistance with peace, and I keep bringing you back to the missiles. Does the Palestinian Authority or not support the launch of rockets to resolve the conflict? Critics on both sides say the aggression comes from both Israeli bombings and Gaza missiles. We call on Israel to end its occupation, to sit at the negotiating table, and not to use any weapons for that.
Are you calling for Hamas? The organization still controls part of the Palestinian territories.
Gaza is an occupied territory, and everything that our compatriots do in Gaza, whether active or passive, fits into the concept of “resistance against occupation,” established by international law, as the right of every occupied people. International law allows any occupied people to use everything they have to liberate themselves. However, we prefer this to be done peacefully.
I want to ask you why Bulgaria fought for liberation. Did it use weapons, or did it prefer to sit still? Can the Bulgarian resistance be accused of terrorism then, as the Palestinian resistance compares today?
Let’s not compare two very different historical cases. We are talking about Palestine.
Occupation is occupation, despite everything.
Let’s go back to the Palestinians. Was there any helpful move by the Palestinian Authority to prevent escalation, even from the tensions in East Jerusalem and the ensuing riots in Al Aqsa?
Several years ago, President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) came out with his peace initiative. In 2002, the Arab League proposed the so-called Arab Peace Initiative to withdraw Israel from all Arab territories occupied by it in 1967, against which full, full recognition of the state of Israel and coexistence in the region were equal with all other countries.
The President demanded the immediate convening of a conference under international auspices to implement international resolutions and implement the principle of resolving the conflict through two states. This decision thwarts the Israeli government, which continues to confiscate land in the occupied territories, building settlement colonies illegal under international law. All this is heating the conflict and giving the impression that Israel does not want this peace. If the Israeli government sincerely wanted peace, how could it allow settlers to march in occupied East Jerusalem in the latest developments, in which settlers provocatively raised slogans such as “Death to the Arabs!” and “We will kill you one by one,” “We will burn your houses,” etc.? Don’t these slogans resemble the slogans against the Jews during the Nazi era?
Radicalism is dangerous no matter what ethnicity or religion it is against. But amid the cries of far-right Palestinian settlers, “Abbas traitor,” “Down with Ramallah,” “Down with Palestinian Authority” chanted in East Jerusalem. What is the reason for this – is the problem in your desire to seek dialogue with Israel? Perhaps the Palestinians are also turning to a more radical approach to resolving the situation?
We could qualify this as an expression of Palestinian democracy – some people are “for” the President or “against” him. There are them in every society – enslaved, liberated, open to the world. However, the Palestine Liberation Organization remains the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Its plan is clear: the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories since 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital and a solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. And all this – based on international resolutions.
Do you think that the latest escalation would have looked different if the Palestinian elections had taken place?
We were determined to hold the Palestinian elections. For us, however, Jerusalem is the cornerstone.
If we had agreed to hold elections without East Jerusalem, it would have meant acknowledging that East Jerusalem is not ours and would betray the Palestinian cause. No Palestinian leader can afford that. The election was thwarted by Israel’s refusal to hold elections there.
For your information, the Palestinian President had established contact with European leaders who had agreed to his request that pressure is put on Israel not to impede the elections in East Jerusalem. In effect, Israel has begun disbanding pre-election rallies in East Jerusalem.
Some European countries later told us that elections could be organized by postal voting or by voting at the consulates of some foreign countries in East Jerusalem.
We need to clarify to readers that Israel allowed residents to vote as long as almost everyone did so outside the city.
No, Israel has completely banned the election campaign by nominating citizens in East Jerusalem in sections.
Israel said that under a previous agreement, anyone who wanted to vote could vote in East Jerusalem.
This information is not accurate because, in 2006, the elections were held in East Jerusalem itself, including the pre-election meetings and the voting.
Critics of both Hamas, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority are currently saying: there were no elections, and in fact, Hamas rode the protests in East Jerusalem to gain popularity, including in the West Bank.
All political forces that want to participate in an election use everything for their political campaign. The Palestinian President had announced that as long as Israel did not obstruct the Palestinian elections, a decree would be issued the next day.
Relations between Israel and the Palestinians are going through a difficult period. Still, there are factors for change, such as forming the first government without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 12 years. Do you expect a difference in your communication with Israel?
We can say that they are all on both sides of the same coin. Neither – (future prime ministers) Naftali Bennett and Jair Lapid – has so far stated that he supports the two-state settlement principle, and Netanyahu has completely abandoned it in recent years. As a result, Israeli society is moving towards increasing fanaticism.
The settlers are gaining more and more influence in Israeli politics because no international responsibility is sought. When the settlers not only set fire to plantations and crops but burned houses and arbitrarily seized land and no one held them accountable, they became even more aggressive.
No one punishes them or imposes sanctions on them.
You fully support the two-state solution, don’t you?
Lapid expressed support for the decision with two states, Bennett – for the decision with one. But what do Palestinians think? According to the Palestinian Center for Political and Security Policy, 57% of West Bank and Gaza residents reject the decision with two countries, and 40 support it. What is the reason for this, and will you continue to support the decision with both countries?
If, at the moment, the solution through two countries is complicated, do you think that the answer with one is more straightforward?
As Israeli leaders envision it, the one-state solution is a state of apartheid, in which the Palestinians will be in concentration centers, and the rest of the territory will be with the Jews. This place is not a country where all citizens will have equal rights.
In 1947, when the UN adopted a resolution on the partition of Palestine, an All-Palestinian Government was established, proposing a democratic state of Palestine with equal rights for all citizens, Arabs, and Jews. Then the Jews do not accept this; do you think they will take it now? But, of course, this would be the best solution for all – a single democracy with equal rights for all its citizens.
Is that what that 57% of Palestinians who reject the two-state solution want?
This is what the entire Palestinian people want if it is put into practice and implemented.
Do you believe that it is possible to reach a lasting solution, either with one or two countries, in the coming years?
I am sure that we will resolve this conflict, and I will return to Haifa, where my parents were born. This place is my historical and legal right, which no one can take away from me. If this does not happen in my time, I will leave a testament to my son to return to keep this right.
The United States, under President Joe Biden, has shown that it wants to restore relations with the Palestinians. Do you expect them to be a factor in resolving the conflict?
For now, the United States is taking timid steps. For example, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in Israel that the US consulate in East Jerusalem would be reopened, which means in political terms that the United States does not recognize East Jerusalem as part of Israel. Mr. Biden also restored support for the United Nations Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA) and material support for the Palestinian Authority. However, there are still many steps that the US administration should take if it is serious about resolving this conflict.
At least two countries have recently offered mediation between Israel and the Palestinians – China and the United Arab Emirates. What do you think of the idea?
We welcome all the efforts that the countries of the world are making to resolve the conflict. This step means ending the 1967 occupation and resolving the remaining open issues. The International Quartet for the Middle East (Russia, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations) currently exists as a format. We would even welcome the enlargement of the Quartet to include Arab countries – Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for example.
Is there anything else important about this conflict that you want to tell Bulgarian readers?
Before assessing current events, you should address the roots of the conflict. World War II ended a long time ago. Until now, the Palestinian people continue to suffer from its consequences as a result of the policies pursued by European countries until the Holocaust against the Jews, then the emigration of Jews from Europe and immigration when we greeted them with bread and salt because we sympathize with the oppressed and the newcomer’s ships from Europe, for example at the port of Haifa. Then, unfortunately, there was the idea of Zionism that the land of our ancestors should be seized. Then came the partition of Palestine. We are currently fighting for 22% of our country’s historical territory – the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
Unfortunately, some of the descendants of Holocaust survivors are doing to us what Nazism once did to their ancestors. But this injustice must stop. That is why I think we should not count one, two, or three missiles fired from Gaza, but we should see the roots of the current situation.
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