Full transcript of Al Arabiya’s interview with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke with Al Arabiya last week, where he said he was against armed military resistance with Israel, but that he could “change his mind” about that at any given moment.

Full transcript:

AA: Mr. President, welcome. Allow me to begin with your speech at the United Nations. The tone was a bit harsh. Forceful even. You mentioned a few points. And I want to address the first one regarding the 1993 [Oslo] Accords which you said were no longer valid. Are they now defunct?

MA: For us, it is assumed that the agreements with Israel are still in place. We cannot back down on or abandon the agreements. However, due to their practices over the past six or seven years, they’ve been undermining and reneging on everything that was agreed upon. Therefore, they’re doing the opposite of everything that was stipulated in these accords. Faced with this situation, we cannot afford to continue to adhere to and abide by these accords. Therefore, at any moment, we may withdraw from all of it.

AA: You mentioned Resolution 181, i.e. the decision to partition Palestine. Meaning going back to Acre and Nazareth. You also mentioned Resolution 194, and demanded the implementation of this resolution, or otherwise, for Israel to be punished and its membership suspended. This is considered an alternative to the Oslo Accords. Is it not?

MA: The resolutions passed by the United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Human Rights Council drove me to go back to demanding the implementation of those resolutions. Let us remember that with regard to the Palestinian cause, 754 resolutions were passed by the General Assembly, none of which have been implemented. And 94 resolutions were issued by the Security Council, but none of them were implemented. The same goes for the Human Rights Council. So, I chose Resolution 181 and Resolution 194. Resolution 181 talks about partitioning Palestine, which has not been implemented. But there is a very important point here, namely that when Israel requested to become a member of the United Nations, the condition at that time was for them to accept and implement Resolutions 181 and 194. Otherwise, they would not become a member of the United Nations. Moshe Sharett was the Israeli foreign minister at the time. He pledged in writing to the United Nations to abide by and implement these two resolutions. Based on that, Israel’s membership in the United Nations was approved. To date, however, these resolutions have not been implemented. I am now calling for these two resolutions to be implemented.

AA: Is it, in other words, a formal request?

MA: I submitted a formal request to the Secretary-General of the United Nations to put the issue of the implementation of these two resolutions on his agenda to implement them. In other words, first to implement them with regard to our right in Palestine, with regard to the right of refugees, and with regard to Israel’s membership, which is illegal. Israel, since its admission to the United Nations, has neither been a formal nor a legal member based on these two resolutions, which they neither implemented nor abided by.

AA: Okay, but when you submitted this request, Mr. President, did you intend for it to be a card that you could play now at this sensitive juncture, or are there actual mechanisms to achieve this? I mean, do you have hope?

MA: I submitted it on the basis that it would be enforced, and on the basis that the Secretary-General of the United Nations will perform his duty in the General Assembly. For our part, we will submit to the General Assembly a request to implement them. That is, we will not leave the matter solely in the hands of the Secretary-General. Rather, we, as observer members, have the right to submit a request for the implementation of these two resolutions. These are not empty words. We will demand the implementation of the two resolutions.

AA: Are you optimistic?

MA: No, of course not. The reason is... that those who have wronged us for 74 years will not do right by us now. The other thing, frankly, is that the one hurdle in the way of the implementation of resolutions, especially Security Council resolutions, is America. America is the main supporter, is now the only supporter for Israel in their refusal to abide by these resolutions. I will continue to pressure America and the United Nations. I will demand both sides [to implement them]. We talk about these issues every time we sit down with the Americans. We hope that a time will come when the American position will change. Then and only then will we get [justice].

AA: Okay, you mentioned regarding the relationship with Israel that Israel used to be a partner but now it is being treated as an occupying power. This is what we understood from the speech. Tell us about the nature of these relations. How are they different now?

MA: We’ve submitted a request to the International Court of Justice asking them to describe the nature of this occupation. We are under occupation. Is it settler occupation? Is it colonial occupation? Or is it apartheid? We made this request recently. It’s now on its way to be voted on within days. Hopefully, we will get at least a ruling from the International Court of Justice. It’s true that the rulings of the International Court of Justice are advisory and non-binding but I think many of the world’s countries will reflect upon any ruling passed down by the International Court, and I expect the Court to rule that it’s an apartheid, and they will treat Israel accordingly. This is what I care about, for the international public opinion to change. What matters to me is for the Palestinian narrative to prevail. To this day, the Zionist narrative is the dominant one with regard to the Palestinian cause. We are now trying everything we can, by persuading people, by research and history, and by talking to everyone. Things are beginning to move forward, especially in American society. I mean, now in American society, there are good changes taking place. I won’t say huge or massive changes, still, changes are taking place in the acknowledgment and understanding of the Palestinian narrative.

When they understand this, that is, that we were oppressed and persecuted, that we did not leave our country willingly, that we were massacred, and that a large number of our villages, 500 villages, were wiped out, and that is what led us to leave. That is one important thing. Along with other facts that oppose or contradict the Zionist narrative.

And when I say the Zionist narrative, I mean the Western Zionism. Because Zionism is not limited to Jews, Zionism also includes Americans, many of whom are Zionists. as well as the British and European countries. In a nutshell, I’m referring to colonial Zionism that created the State of Israel.

AA: A question regarding the Palestinian narrative. Is the prevalence of the Zionist narrative due to the weakness of the Palestinian side. with regard to promulgating its narrative? Where did we go wrong as Palestinians?

MA: It’s caused by being side-lined. We were side-lined. When Herzl came to Palestine, he visited Palestine in the year 1900, he saw that there were people in Palestine. It wasn’t empty. What did he say? He said, "We have to work to erase the Palestinians from Palestine In order for Palestine to become a land without a people for a people without a land." [Then] the PLO was established and became a legitimate representative, we achieved international legitimacy in 1988 and we began to speak and our voice began to be heard. At first no one could hear us, no one knew who we were. In the past, you’d say "Palestine" and they’d reply, "Palestine? I only know Israel." Many of the world’s people, if you talk to them about the Palestinian people, they would say, "Where is this people? I only know Israel." This is the reason for the absence of our Palestinian narrative. And this is the main motivation for us to do everything within our power in order to instil the Palestinian narrative in the minds of Westerners and in the minds of peoples.

AA: One last question about your speech. You said, "I’ll speak up, and let the Americans kill me."

MA: Yes.

AA: Are you afraid for your life? Is your life threatened?

MA: I don’t fear for my life. First of all, life is in the hands of God. I am subject to be killed at any moment. Even when I’m in Palestine, me getting killed is not unlikely. Whether by the Israelis or others. That is not important. This isn’t about me personally. If I go, someone will come to replace me. But there is a people. There is the Palestinian people. Now in historical Palestine... We have a population of 7 million Palestinians. In historical Palestine, about which they used to say, "a land without a people for a people without a land." They were saying "We have to wipe out the Palestinians." Now the Palestinians in Palestine, as the Israeli narrative itself attests, outnumber them by 200,000 people.

AA: Mr. President, we return to you to talk about a point that you mentioned in the first segment of the interview where you said we were committed to the accords we signed. But more than once you threatened the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority and also halting the security coordination.

MA: That we dissolve the Palestinian Authority? Of course not. We would never do that. We built the Palestinian Authority with our effort, our struggle, and our martyrs. The Palestinian Authority will remain, and the Palestinian state exists. Nobody can force us to do that. The Israeli occupation may take measures to dissolve the Palestinian Authority. But the Palestinian Authority will remain, and it will persist.

AA: So, you never put that as an option on the table?

MA: You mean the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority? Never! With regard to the agreements between us and them, the most important agreement is the Oslo Accords. If we go back to the Oslo Accords, we find that Israel has nullified everything that was stated in it.

AA: And that accord gave birth to the Palestinian Authority. So, if it is not implemented...

MA: If it is not implemented, we will remain in order to confirm the existence of the Palestinian people to ultimately reach a state without occupation. We are now, frankly, in Palestine, a fully-fledged state. It has all the elements of a state. We only lack one thing, which is an end to the occupation. And then we will be a fully-fledged state that has all the elements of a country. We only need to get rid of the occupation.

AA: But isn’t that the main problem? So, what are the options?

MA: It has not been implemented, so we must continue to strive to implement it. How? By trying first with the world... Our Arab brothers are of course with us, but I’m talking about the rest of the world. To try to convince the world of the Palestinian narrative so they would understand that there is a Palestinian people and get them to understand that this people has rights and that it has existed since the dawn of time. We have been around since the days of the Canaanites.

AA: So, relying on the nations of the world rather than relying on any trump card in the Palestinian Authority’s deck. And here, we may bring up the issue of the security coordination. Because this coordination faces a lot of criticism.

MA: Security coordination was part of the accords. As for security coordination, we operate based on a theory, to fight terrorism wherever it is; wherever it is. Now, it is worth pointing out something important that perhaps no one knows. We’ve signed agreements to combat terrorism and violence with 85 countries worldwide led by the United States of America, Canada, Britain, Russia and Japan. And today, we signed our latest agreement with Cyprus. So, we’re against terrorism and violence in principle. We’re also against terrorism and violence when it comes to Israel. But if IsraeI’s transgressions continue, what would motivate me to commit to the security agreement and abide by it? I will terminate my commitment to the security agreement if Israel continues to disregard all the humanitarian and political issues we share.

AA: As for threatening to stop security coordination; some call for that, saying that [this coordination] is against the Palestinian interest, while others disagree, saying that this coordination is the only way Palestinians can breathe!

MA: Not at all. We can breathe just fine, don’t worry. We can breathe with it and without it. We did so even before it existed. Our people are here and they’re fighting the occupation. They used to fight back with the force of arms. Whereas now we fight back with the force of the peaceful popular resistance which is as [powerful] as arms. Now the popular resistance is all over Palestine and it has influences and outcomes that are tangible to the Israelis themselves.

AA: But there’s also armed resistance that has begun to emerge recently, on a wider scale. It is said that the number of operations carried out by them exceeds those of 2015.

MA: There are operations... The people, frankly, are oppressed and they keep getting oppressed until they explode. Palestinian youth get killed on a daily basis.

AA: Your main slogan is "peaceful resistance."

MA: Peaceful. Yes.

AA: It’s very important to me to discuss this point because I think it might cause you embarrassment at least in international forums. Does it cause you embarrassment?

MA: I’m describing a situation. But as for the military resistance, I haven’t adopted it now.

AA: Now? [as in] yet? So, you might change your mind?

MA: I might change my mind at any given moment, of course! Maybe tomorrow or the day after or anytime. Everything can change. Otherwise, how did the Palestinian Authority come to being? I’m one of those who established it. We grew up with armed military resistance; armed struggle. This continued until 1988. In 1988, we decided to become part of the international forum. In 1993, the Oslo Accords took place. Okay, but the peaceful popular resistance is real. But when push comes to shove, the people will do anything. But I keep issuing warnings against making the Palestinian people get to this stage and lose their patience.

AA: Why don’t the security forces in Palestine prevent the Israelis from entering given that they did it in Hebron?

MA: They do whatever they can and what is within their capacity. I do not want things to reach the point of armed conflict.

AA: But Netanyahu is coming. What are you expecting?

MA: Netanyahu is a reality we have been facing for 27 years.

AA: But the government in its current form is different as it is being said. Or are all Israeli governments on the same level in dealing with this? Or do they differ...

MA: My opinion is that all Israeli governments, even before the establishment of the State of Israel, have been like this. In 1948, didn’t they start establishing a state? They committed 51 massacres. 51 massacres. And now some of them began to disclose those transgressions. There is a movie now being broadcast here. It is a Jewish film produced by an Israeli called “Tantura” about one of the massacres they committed in 1948.

AA: Those who committed it themselves are confessing, right...

MA: They confessed tat they entered the village and shot the people there for no reason. From 1948 to the present day, the
situation has not changed unfortunately.

AA: So, how are you going to deal with Netanyahu and with Ben Gvir?

MA: I will deal with him without compromising any of my constants. That is, I will meet with him, and I will tell him that I want an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem along the 1967 borders.

AA: But he already knows that.

MA: And if he refuses, then I would tell him. Okay, so there’s no dialogue. But it is my duty to speak with him. If he was to ask me now to speak with him, I would. But I cannot give up any of my rights in his favor, not even slightly. The right that the international community granted us in 1967 and which [was granted after we made] many concessions...

AA: Safad was lost…

MA: We’ve lost Safad and many other cities including Acre and Haifa. This is what we were offered in 1967 and we settled for that. But as the saying goes, "We settled for less, but even that didn’t work.” We accepted [establishing a state] along the 1967 borders, even though this grants us only 22 percent of the area of Palestine. Yet they refuse. So what is the solution? I want my right. I’m staying in my country. And I want my right. And as I told you, there’s now 7 million of us inside.

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AA: Your Excellency, with regard to normalization, there are those who criticize the Authority for its positions, and what they described as double [standards] in dealing with the term “normalization.” In the sense that some countries get criticized, whereas others don’t. Is there good and bad normalization?

MA: No. We support the decision of the Arab Summit which was held in 2002 in which late King Abdullah, God rest his soul, presented his proposal called the "Arab Peace Initiative." The Arab Peace Initiative literally states. We support normalization, on condition that it starts with Palestine. So, the Palestinians must first receive what’s rightfully theirs and then the rest can normalize relations.

AA: They say that you blessed Morocco’s normalization and the same goes for Turkey, where you visited...

MA: It is none of my business. Some countries have normalized relations. I am against normalization in principle. Because I am against violating the Arab Summit resolution. But what can I do more than this?

AA: Some say that the Palestinians are already normalizing through the meetings that you hold.

MA: I don’t normalize relations. We haven’t normalized relations. I am under occupation.

AA: You hold security meetings and political meetings. That all takes place. You offer condolences. Is this within...

MA: I’m talking about 2002. Don’t forget that Jordan and Egypt normalized relations before that. And we signed the Oslo Accords. King Abdullah [made a proposal], and all Arabs agreed, based on [the condition] that the State of Palestine first obtains its legitimate rights. Then we will have no objection to all Arabs and Muslims normalizing relations. This is my stance. Period.

AA: This applies to all countries.

MA: To all countries. But there is a difference between being opposed to and between having ties with... I would not sever ties with the Arab countries.

AA: What about the relationship with the Syrian regime, especially that Hamas [resumed ties] with the regime?

MA: We are against Hamas entering Syria. And I think Syria itself knows what happened between it and Hamas. But we also enjoy a good relationship with the Syrian regime, and that relationship has not changed. Our embassy is present there and communication channels are open. There are delegations and officials that go to Syria. The relationship between us and them is normal.

AA: Where do you see Palestine in five years?

MA: I see Palestine in the next five years as an independent state.

AA: Thank you very much for this interview.

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