Azmi Bishara: Palestine is at a crossroads between annihilation and a just solution

Azmi Bishara: Palestine is at a crossroads between annihilation and a just solution
Azmi Bishara gave a weekly update on the situation in Gaza, on 4 February 2024, emphasizing the necessity of Palestinian unity within a framework like the PLO
10 min read
06 February, 2024
Dr Azmi Bishara warned that Palestine was at a crossroads where the outcome would either be annihilation or a just solution [Getty]

Palestine is at a crossroads  between the annihilation of the Palestinian cause and squandering the blood shed and sacrifices made, and reaching a just solution, according to Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Dr Azmi Bishara.

However, this solution will be unattainable unless there is unity between all Palestinians within one framework, which would then be able to convert the military achievements of the resistance into political results which will serve the cause.

Bishara also denied at the time of the interview on Sunday night that an agreement had been reached regarding a truce and the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

He anticipated that the response of the Palestinian resistance to the draft proposal put forward through the mediation of Qatar would be detailed and wouldn't be a "yes or no" answer.

Bishara also highlighted once more that the assault on Gaza was a form of US revenge against the resistance – not just Israel's - and described the "Palestinian state" proposal being touted by the Biden administration as being simply a plan to change the name "Palestinian Authority" to "Palestinian state".

He also asserted that the US isn't concerned about finding a solution or ending the war. Instead, its focus is on getting normalisation between Israel and Arab states back on track.

Regarding the US bombing of Iran-aligned militia sites in Iraq and Syria, Bishara described these as measured responses which wouldn't develop into a US-Iran war.

He said the same applied to the tit-for-tat strikes between Hezbollah and Israel, adding that he believed it unlikely that the land border between Lebanon and Israel would be redrawn unless and until Israel withdrew from the Shebaa Farms territory.

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Palestine at a crossroads

Bishara, during a new interview with Alaraby TV on Sunday, said that the document released by Hamas a few weeks ago on the events of 7 October was constructive and could be built upon. He said it indicated that the Islamic resistance movement wanted to be a part of a wider political movement in the region after having gained a great amount of legitimacy.

Here, Bishara said the US and certain Arab states were making arrangements for what would follow the war, and on how Gaza would be [governed] without Hamas. Here, he warned that if any part of the Palestinian leadership took part in this scheme, this would mean all the sacrifices of the Palestinian people and achievements of the resistance would have been in vain.

However, if there was a Palestinian leadership who rejected that, and realised that now is the time to unite the Palestinians, because the dangers were extending to every part of the Palestinian people - including parts of the PA - they would find that the only solution was to challenge these plans and transform the power of the resistance into political leverage - without needing to agree with Hamas on everything.

He said that the Palestinian cause was at a crossroads today: either it would be annihilated, and all the blood shed wasted, or it would reach a just solution, but this would be impossible without Palestinian unity within a unified framework like that of the PLO – which Hamas must be part of.

Bishara reiterated that Israel's war on Gaza was also a US war – with the US taking revenge on the resistance because the 7 October operation had thrown a spanner in the works of a major US plan to establish an Israeli-Arab alliance to confront Iran (which would run alongside the planned Indian-European alliance to obstruct the Chinese Silk Road project) which would have allowed the US to start prioritising southeast Asia rather than the middle east.

However, the US stance against Hamas had began softening according to Bishara for many reasons, including the pressure of American public opinion, and the approaching US elections date. Additionally, another danger to normalisation had started emerging aside from the "Hamas factor" -  which was Israel's behaviour.

In Bishara's analysis, all this had led the US to put pressure on Tel Aviv, some time ago, to enter a new phase of the war, and to define parameters for "the day after" the war.

No agreement yet on truce or exchange

Regarding his information on the Qatari draft of the ceasefire and prisoner exchange agreement, Bishara explained that Hamas hadn't sent its response to the mediators yet, but he expected its response to be detailed rather than a "yes or no" answer.

He thought Hamas might detail aspects for the three stages including ways to alleviate the suffering of the people, all the way to details like introducing ready-made housing instead of tents, starting reconstruction, field hospitals, removing the wounded, and talking about a comprehensive truce with guarantees.

Bishara revealed that the draft agreement Qatar proposed at the Paris conference included three phases. The first would include the exchange of elderly and sick Israeli hostages with Palestinian prisoners, and would last 45 days, during which negotiations on the second and third stages would take place.

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In the second stage female Israeli soldiers would be released, followed by male Israeli soldiers and remaining male civilian hostages in the third stage, in which discussion would begin on "a truce" (as the Israelis refuse to talk about a permanent ceasefire, which "stirs up political sensitivities inside the Israeli government").   

He added that in all three stages, humanitarian aid is supposed to enter the Strip. However, Bishara said there were no guarantees the truce would lead to a permanent ceasefire, especially in light of this right-wing Israeli government. This was the case even though the Americans were trying to convince the mediators and various parties that after 120 days it would be difficult for the war to resume.

What does the US really want?

In a related context, Bishara asserted there was no serious US pressure on Israel to end the war, even though Biden could impose his decision on Netanyahu if he wanted to. Bishara reminded viewers that Israel was totally dependent on the US to continue the war – not just for weapons supplies, but also for ammunition. This meant the US could pressure Israel when it wanted to, which it hadn't done yet, "and I don't know if that will happen in an election year".

He argued that the US wasn't concerned with finding a solution, nor with a ceasefire, nor with stopping the suffering, but rather with securing a return to the normalisation process between Israel and the Arab countries.

This is the context, said Bishara, in which to understand US talk about a Palestinian state "which won't change anything in reality" as it is simply "making verbal promises to the Arab states in exchange for normalisation". The US proposal was simply based on changing the term "Palestinian Authority" to "Palestinian State", he added.

Here, Bishara pointed out the fact that the late president Yasser Arafat had agreed to the American roadmap proposed in 2002, while former Israeli president Ariel Sharon had rejected it and withdrawn from Gaza in order to thwart the creation of a Palestinian state which would have comprised both the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, Sharon had set conditions on a Palestinian state that rendered it meaningless, and then assassinated Arafat in 2004.

Bishara summed up the above as: "He who kills and rejects is rewarded (Sharon) and he who agrees to the roadmap gets assassinated (Arafat).

"The situation is similar today with Biden: for him, the two-state solution is theoretical, and based on recognising the PA in the West Bank and the Strip, and maybe in the future it will recognise a demilitarised state, not on the 1967 borders - because all of this is not on the table for Biden today, as he doesn't consider Palestinian and Israeli leaders ready for such a scenario.  

Israeli media

Having been observing the violent, inflammatory and racist atmosphere dominating Israel today, Bishara focused on the condition of Israeli media, describing it as "a totalitarian media geared towards incitement to war, where [outlets strive to] outdo each other in inciting in the most racist and bloodthirsty way, with the discussions [circulating] including questions like why is food and medicine being allowed into Gaza?

"The other view, for example, that the war needs to stop, or showing the human stories of Gazans, isn't presented in Israeli media currently," he added.

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Bishara believes there is a danger this discourse could spread to cultural and academic institutions in Israel.

"There is also a sense that a lot of what is broadcast comes from the army, and is in large part lies, primitive fabrication, and conspiracy theories."

Taking the reality of Israeli media into account, Bishara concluded that it is one factor which might cause observers to rule out a truce and prisoner exchange agreement, because there is no appetite for a ceasefire in Israel.

Instead, there is incitement, militarisation, and [the desire for] escalation of the war against Gaza and Lebanon. He commented also that "Israeli society is shocked by its ignorance of Gaza and the resistance's capacity for resilience, as are the US and many Arab countries".

Buffer zone

Bishara said Israel's bulldozing of an area of about 40 sq km along Gaza's border in order to create a buffer zone, was "part of its plan for the day after, for there to be a kind of wall, and behind that an open area, after the demolition of thousands of housing units  which will allow them to succeed in their plan to control Gaza and to have permanent observation points and security supervision over the Strip, similar to what goes on in the West Bank".

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Bishara expected this issue to be addressed in Hamas' response to the Gaza agreement that had been put forward.

Regarding the course of the assault, Bishara noted that Israel's forces in Gaza right now were "mainly concentrated in Khan Younis and to the north of Wadi Gaza" (a valley that cuts across the strip in central Gaza).

He said the Israeli army was preparing to head to Rafah, "however they wouldn't be able to enter the Rafah area without displacing its residence once again to the north, therefore they might be planning to do that after the end of the ceasefire" (if that happens).

Bishara added that in Khan Younis, the bombing, destruction, and killing were greater than they had been in the north and centre of the Strip, so the resistance there had also been very fierce.

He concluded that the Israelis look at Gaza "not as an issue of a people, 80 percent of whom are refugees, but only from the perspective of the security of the coloniser".

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Regarding the management of the Philadelphia Axis in the future, Bishara expects a dispute between Egypt and Israel to arise on this issue.

The war on UNRWA

Regarding the campaign against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees (UNRWA), Bishara pointed out that Israel has never recognised UNRWA nor allowed it to work within its borders.

He commended the great role the agency had played, particularly in educating Palestinians, but said throughout its existence, Israel had tried to convince the West to stop funding it – with the goal of eradicating the Palestinian cause.

Bishara recalled how these efforts had made leaps and bounds during Donald Trump’s presidency (his administration included officials who were also Israeli settlers). However, the funding had resumed with the Biden administration.

What Bishara stressed as most striking in the case of the 12 UNRWA employees accused of involvement in the October 7 operation, was the behaviour of the US and the West in stopping the funding for UNRWA.

He described this act as a manifestation of "racist, colonial behaviour, because it is based on dealing with us (as Arabs) – not as individuals who bear responsibility for their actions, but as groups that are punished collectively".

On this note, he also questioned why countries such as China and Russia, for example, hadn't stepped in to offer significant funding to UNRWA (so as to make up the shortfall).

US strikes

In the last part of the discussion, Bishara emphasised that the US strikes on Iran-aligned armed militias' positions in Iraq and Syria in response to the deaths of the three American soldiers last week, "was still within the bounds of a calculated response, and the response would be bigger yet, but it won’t turn into an American-Iranian war because neither America nor Iran wants a direct war".

He pointed out there are unresolved issues between the two parties that are unrelated to Palestine, such as the identity of those in control of Iraq. Therefore, the basis of their conflict is not Gaza, but regional influence.

As for redrawing the land border between Lebanon and Israel, this would be "practically impossible without returning the Shebaa Farms," said Bishara, reiterating his expectation that the clashes between Hezbollah and Israel wouldn't lead to all-out war.