The Guardian 30 November, 2005
Israeli arrogance is preventing
the establishment of lasting peace:
Interview with Palestinian Ambassador to Cuba
Navil Garcia Alfonso
ONE year after the death of their leader Yasser Arafat, the situation of the Palestinian people remains extremely complicated. While Israel is prolonging the peace process in order to cover up the weaknesses of its system, the Palestinian people are still fighting to create a sovereign state.
With his assignment to the island nearly over, Ambassador Imad Jadaía of Palestine talked with Granma International about why the Israeli occupation must end before an understanding can be reached between the two countries.
Imad Jadaía: Many thought that with Arafatís death, we Palestinians would fall into a political chaos, into a fatal disorientation that would inevitably lead to a civil war. Since our father died, we have shown unquestionable demonstrations of democracy and political firmness: we held parliamentary elections and have a new President who has offered his total disposition to apply the internationally legal agreements
But has Israelís attitude toward the Palestinians changed? Absolutely not. They keep killing our people.
Lasting peace in the region cannot be reached until an independent Palestinian state is formed, with Jerusalem as its capital, and with the borders marking the territories occupied in 1967.
Today there are no perspectives of movements in that direction because Israeli arrogance, the unconditional support of the United States, the positions taken by Arab governments, the situation created in Afghanistan and Iraq and the attempts to make Iran and Syria into new points of tension in the region are making any possible solution increasingly difficult.
A little more than two months ago, Israel began to withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip.
For us, as of now, it is not a withdrawal; it is a demobilisation of their army. They took their troops from inside the Gaza Strip and placed them outside of it, making Gaza an enclosed cage, turning the region into the largest concentration camp in the world, where 1.3 million people live without being able to cross their borders; without any mechanisms to guarantee electricity, food and medicine; and without any possibility of transporting patients who require medical attention.
What withdrawal are we talking about? Withdrawal from an occupied territory is complete withdrawal, returning sovereignty to the owners of that land. The Palestinian territory of Gaza is occupied, and will be free when Israel withdraws completely and we recover our sovereignty; when we have the right to build our port, our city, and our airport; when we have international borders administered by us.
The United States and the European Union are saying that the signing of an agreement to open the Rafah border crossing is a big step on the road to peace. What does this agreement really contribute to solving the conflict?
We were in negotiations for more than two months, and according to what they announced, it was "thanks to the efforts" of Ms Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State, who remained in the region for an extra 24 hours, that an agreement was reached on the Rafah border crossing, which connects Gaza and Egypt.
However, it is not a completely beneficial alternative, given that we Palestinians do not have any jurisdiction over our borders or customs. That authority has been taken by the European Union. Moreover, the crossing is being monitored by Israeli television cameras.
We are still expected to thank the murderer for killing with a knife instead of a gun. That is why it is an outrage to listen to Sharon during the 60th anniversary of the UN talking about the painful concessions that he offered with the Gaza "withdrawal". In reality, Israel is playing at gaining ground every day, without trying to find a solution to the Palestinian question.
Granma International: How is it, then, that Israel is managing to conceal the real contradictions in its "benevolent" policy toward Palestine?
I J: What Israel is trying to do is hide its deep, internal political and social conflicts. On the one hand, there are the contradictions between the Labor and Likud parties. Since 1995, the year that Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin was assassinated, the Laborites have lacked any leadership whatsoever. Just a few weeks ago, Amir Pťretz was elected Secretary General of that party and is already talking about reaching an agreement with Sharon for the elections of February or March of 2006.
This could mean the rise of a new government in Israel, with new tendencies, but it could also give Sharon a pretext for halting negotiations and continuing to drag out this situation for three or more months.
On the other hand, there is ethnic polarisation in Israel that is becoming deeper. The conflict between Orthodox Jews who want to build a Biblical state, according to the Bible of 5,000 years ago, and the modern sector, who want to live in the 21st century.
We also have to think about Israelís concern about the Palestinian demographic bomb. There is a growing Palestinian sector in Israel: Arab, Christian, Muslim. The people of Israel are a very diverse mosaic of ethnic groups.
This has kept the Israeli Government, until now, from drafting a Constitution, making it the only country in the world that has not presented a copy of its Constitution or its political map to the UN, a normal requirement for being a UN member.
The Israeli Government has traditionally claimed that Palestinians are incapable of negotiating peace.
During Arafatís time, Sharon used to say that he did not recognise a Palestinian counterpart in our leadership for negotiations. Now that we have a new government that is following in Arafatís footsteps, Israel is maintaining its position against the Palestinian people. The reality is that there is no true representative of the Israeli people working seriously toward peace.
They do not have a political leader with sufficient courage to face the people and say "these are Israelís borders". On our side, the National Palestinian Authority is demonstrating every day how to defend the right to integrity and freedom.
G I: Are the Palestinian people maintaining the grassroots uprisings of the Intifada?
I J: The people have given lessons in firmness, in resistance to hunger and inhumane treatment at every level, in defence of their rights. The Palestinian people proved in war that it is a people very capable of struggling militarily.
It is quite normal to see a Palestinian mother at the burial of her son saying, "I have three more on the same road". It is normal to see a man standing in front of the debris of his home, destroyed by Israeli tanks, saying, "With these scraps, I will build another home for my children".
G I: After 27 years as Pal≠estineís ambassador in Cuba, what is your assessment of relations between the two countries?
I J: Throughout these years, I have had the privilege of accumulating a large number of excellent memories that someday I hope to set down in a book, from the simplest aspects to the most significant. For example, the unconditional friendship between Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat; this existed not just because they share the ideals of liberty and justice in their respective countries, but also because they fought for equality and against exploitation in the world. This fraternity was consolidated when Father Arafat visited Cuba from the UN to participate in the 6th Summit of Non-aligned Countries in 1979.
Cuba has done a lot for the Palestinian people. More than 500 young people from my country have graduated from Cuban universities. They would come to my office and say, "Ambassador, Iíve graduated now and Iím ready to go back to my country."
Some of those young people who spent five or six years studying in Cuba formed families and took their Cuban spouses and children to our land. A Palestinian militant would arrive, but then return multiplied into a family. Many of their companions were also health professionals and are currently doctors who are healing our wounds.
We have spilled our blood in the fight for lasting peace, and as brothers, our peoples are destined to walk the same paths of freedom.