‘US needs to push Israel to stop Palestine occupation’
RT:The day after Islamic State published a video of the group beheading American journalist James Foley, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a message on Twitter saying, "Hamas is ISIS. ISIS is Hamas. They're enemies of peace." Why did he draw this parallel?
Saeb Erekat: Netanyahu is being Netanyahu. He wanted to exploit situation and perhaps try to reach as wide an audience as possible, especially in the US. At a time when Israel was being questioned at its tactics and killing of thousands of Palestinians. So he tried to land it together. Funny you mentioned that because on that very day I went to the State Department and I asked whether actually the US - that has Hamas on the terror list - is concerned the same. And they said absolutely not, they don’t, because they have different paradigm, different environment, different geography and different purpose.
While ISIS has a global outreach and a global reach as a matter of fact, Hamas is basically fighting the occupation, it is under their yoke of occupation. So the similarities are different, it was a cheap shot by the Israeli Prime Minister that didn’t really gain any traction.
RT:Netanyahu is essentially saying that the US and Israel have a common enemy. Is this an attempt to justify Israel's heavy-handed actions in Gaza this summer?
SE: Absolutely. He is always trying to land together any kind of Palestinian effort to free themselves from the yoke of occupation. He always tried to cast that as terror action, whether it was a peaceful intifada in 1980s or whether it was a militant intifada 10 years ago. Whatever effort - when the Palestinians throw stones in the West Bank that they are met with the heavy-handed Israeli occupation. So he is trying to cast some sort of illegitimacy on the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, for freedom from occupation, and he will go to any length basically to besmirch the Palestinians.
He is always trying to see himself as a part of a wider struggle, that ISIS and Hamas are basically the same sort, so no support should go with the Palestinians, especially in the lead-up to the General Assembly. So this is the time for him to propagate news propaganda and twisted tools and spin that heavy-hand that Israel has used in a brutal hand. I mean killing 2,200 people -mainly women and children - maybe a few dozen fighters - destroying 15,000 homes and rendering 200,000 Palestinians, refugees, completely homeless, destroying the infrastructure. Netanyahu is in a state of facing up to criminal charges, [for what] the Israeli occupation has caused to the Palestinians, and he is always trying to spend his way out of the crime that they have committed.
RT:The world's attention has moved away from Gaza to Iraq and Syria. But what's the situation now in Gaza after Israel's devastating campaign there?
SE: Gaza is really in dire straits, it is very difficult. None of the crossing points that were supposed to be open as a result of the ceasefire talks were open. The talks were supposed to continue in Cairo – they have stopped. Israel seems totally disinterested to live up to its side of the commitment, so the Palestinians are under siege. Schools, for instance, started, Palestinians kids are really unable to realize their full potential because their schools are completely bombed out, they have to sit and make shift classrooms. Food is not getting in, medicine is not getting in, disease is spreading widely and winter is coming.
So all these things together - unless there is an urgent approach to Gaza, to that calamity of Gaza - we are looking into the eyes of the storm in terms of a looming disaster for the people are under the siege and occupation in the Palestinian territories, including Gaza. We understand the normative, other challenges. The challenge of the Israeli occupation that should have ended a long time ago must be faced upon directly, and to its credit. The Palestinian president yesterday spoke in New York and he said, “Come with me, we are going to submit our own proposal for peace, we are going to demand a timetable for ending the occupation.”
So all this is on the table. I don’t think the world can walk away from its responsibility towards the Palestinians. They ought to provide them protection. They have to hold Israel accountable to its crimes.
RT:Did Israel's Operation Protective Edge achieve anything?
SE: Except for more destruction and more despair for the Palestinians? Not at all. If you noticed Israel wanted to punish Hamas because of the kidnapping. Then that operation evolved and it became the rockets, then it evolved again and became the tunnel, and now they are talking about disarming Gaza. So it keeps changing, it keeps morphing. The fact that Israel keeps changing its goal for this operation tells me that it has not achieved its goals. If they measure their success by the destruction and death they have inflected upon the Palestinians, then yes, they have achieved a great deal of success. But it doesn’t bring Israel closer to peace, it doesn’t bring it closer to security. The Palestinians as long as they are under occupation and under siege, they will always find ways to fight back. That is the God-given right to anyone.
RT:A year ago, Obama in his speech at the UN said that "the US remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state." Why do you think the US stood by as Gaza was being reduced to rubble, though?
SE: Unfortunately, the US keeps saying and repeating that Israel has a right to defend itself. In my opinion and in opinion of many, this gives Israel a green light to go on and just increase its brutality, use its abilities and force disproportionally against the Palestinians. The US president has committed himself to a resolution for the Palestinian problem that would end up with two-state solution.
They basically brokered peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis that began in August 2013. And we were supposed to achieve at the end of nine months, that were specified at that time, some sort of resolution. Unfortunately, the Israeli government, and Netanyahu in particular, who is always catering to the most extreme wing of his party and his people, went on and increased the settlement activities by 15,000 additional houses in it. Settlements went on unabated, and he refused to address the issues that really need to be addressed: like border issue, final status, the Palestinians right to return, refugees, lifting the heavy-hand of the occupation. None of this happened.
The US president, the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who also committed himself to see this operation through, really must look Netanyahu in the eye and say that with every passing day the occupation goes on Israel becomes more alienated and more isolated. That’s the message that the US President needs to send home to the American people who have invested so much in the peace process, and then to Israel to say that “Your obstinance [sic] should not go on unpunished.”
RT:Do you think the UN session underway now will pay much attention to the Palestinian issue, and try to change things for the better?
SE: It’s in a way wishful thinking, but we must always be hopeful. I think that on Friday the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is going to address the General Assembly with a new plan. He is going to demand that the occupation should not be open-ended, that there ought to be a limit to this occupation.
The resolutions are already in place to end this occupation. So now we must deliver on all these promises. With that said, I believe that the Palestinian issue would continue to gnaw in the world until it is resolved with a two-state solution.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.