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Azmi Bishara: US proposal for Palestine state meaningless

Azmi Bishara: US wants resumption of Arab-Israeli normalisation  – not a Palestinian state
9 min read
20 February, 2024
Dr Azmi Bishara said that US talk of a Palestinian "state" with no defined borders and without the precondition of ending the occupation was meaningless.
Dr Azmi Bishara warned that current US discussions about a Palestinian state were meaningless [Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]

US plans to recognise a vague and undefined Palestinian state are meaningless, said Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies Dr Azmi Bishara in a new interview, because Washington's goal is the resumption of Arab-Israeli normalisation - which the 7 October operation halted - not the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The US has replaced the concept of the establishment of a Palestinian state on the June 1967 borders with the mere recognition of "a state" with no defined borders or form, he added, and without even referring to the Israeli occupation, the heart of the issue.

Regarding the looming Israeli invasion of Rafah, Bishara said Israel won't stop its assault on Gaza until it can say "we have put our feet in every part" of the Strip. He expressed pessimism over the proposal by Tel Aviv's government that Gazans return to central and northern Gaza, as "this aims to empty Rafah".

Bishara stressed the need for the Fatah Movement to distinguish itself from the Palestinian Authority (PA) and join hands with the resistance factions to establish a united Palestinian leadership to confront what is planned for the Palestinians in terms of plans for "the day after", which are being proposed by Israeli and American officials.

Recognizing a Palestinian state that doesn't exist

Bishara ruled out the idea that there would have been a written American plan prior to what was said in the Washington Post last week concerning the recognition of a Palestinian state after the war on Gaza was over, in exchange for the resumption of Arab-Israeli normalisation (which had been halted by 7 October and the war).

Bishara thinks these are American ideas suggested to the White House by National Security Council staff, rather than a well-developed plan, and their concern is Israeli-Arab normalisation in the region.

"They know [normalization] has become impossible without returning to resolving the Palestinian issue, so they are talking about a "Palestinian state" in an indefinite, meaningless form without any mention of ending the occupation," he said.

Bishara described talk of recognising a "Palestinian state" as meaningless: "The concept of establishing a Palestinian state on the borders of June 4 has been replaced by so-called recognition of a Palestinian state".

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In his view, the Arabs must expose this "instead of colluding with it, so that the discussion becomes instead about the establishment of a Palestinian state, rather than recognition of a non-existent state".

On the Israeli government's rejection of even this weak proposal, Bishara answered that the Israelis' rationale is based on the fact that the Palestinians have been left on their own [without support], which explained Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's recent statement that everything in the Israeli Palestinian negotiations must be agreed on "without preconditions", i.e. that the stronger party (Israel) impose what it wants; while the essential precondition for any negotiations should be the removal of the occupation, according to Bishara.  

He said that if the discussion was about establishing a Palestinian state on the borders of June 4, as has been the case since George W. Bush's road map of 2002, and the US presidents who had followed, this could have signified a development - because the PA would take the status of a state in the UN.

This could give it better tools in the international institutions in its guise as a state under occupation, "however what is being proposed bears no relation to this" he said.

Relying on Fatah to distinguish itself from the PA

Responding to a question about the performance of the Palestinian people and their political forces, Bishara said that what the Palestinian people had given was "enormous" and they had shown a "a tremendous ability to be patient, to endure adversity, and to bear the consequences of actions for which they weren’t consulted, and for which the occupation is responsible."

As for the political forces, their performance is still limited according to Bishara. Militarily, the performance of the resistance forces "has stunned the entire world and Israel is still very shocked by it" according to Bishara.

"However, what remains most important is the establishment of a united framework for the Palestinian people".

He elaborated on how the Palestinian Authority (PA) had eliminated the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO); the previously unifying framework for the Palestinian people in Palestine and the diaspora.

Bishara asserted that establishing a unified leadership today in light of the war of extermination has become an existential necessity.

He pointed out that distinguishing between the PA and the Fatah movement is necessary, "and [the distinction] must be deepened, otherwise what is proposed is a repeat of the Oslo experience and replicating the experience of the Ramallah Authority in Gaza."

He expressed his regret that there is competition among some PA circles for a return to governing the Gaza Strip, and he warned that this could create a network of those who would benefit [from this situation], which could see the Palestinian people made to accept a new reality while the national cause became secondary.

Regarding the project of unifying the Palestinian leadership within an inclusive framework, which could be the PLO or something else, Bishara emphasised that there was no issue with the PA remaining.

However, it should only administer people's daily affairs and have no political role, which it was incapable of performing because it was linked, in line with the Oslo Accords, to the task of protecting Israeli security.

He summed his answer up on the topic with the question: "Will Fatah join hands with the resistance to re-unite the Palestinian leadership, completely separate to the PA?"

Hostage deal is not progressing

Regarding the course of the aggression against Gaza and the negotiations on an agreement to release the hostages and a ceasefire, Bishara revealed that the negotiations weren't progressing because Israel rejects a cease-fire and withdrawal from Gaza, as Israel "wishes to maintain its presence in Gaza in the manner of [its presence in] the West Bank after the war".

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Bishara explained that the Israelis have become "more lenient in the question of aid and are now ready to let 500 trucks arrive daily in the Strip and to reach the north".

However, he warned that "a new and suspicious" development "is that they are suddenly proposing the possibility of Palestinians returning to central and northern Gaza and the aim of this is to empty Rafah in preparation to invade it" and they won't stop until they can say "we have put our feet in every place in Gaza".

He expects them to enter Rafah, "and even the president of the PA (Mahmoud Abbas) is participating in pressuring the resistance when he demands that Hamas make concessions".

On the reasons for Netanyahu's intransigence to this extent Bishara answered that he wants a tangible achievement - which is that Hamas will not be able to maintain its military apparatus and won't be able to govern Gaza in the future.

He added that the longer the war lasts, the more his popular and electoral standing improves, so he is currently presenting himself as the most hardline [figure], and as someone capable of challenging the US and rejecting a Palestinian state.

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Bishara described the statements of international officials warning Israel against violating international laws as lies and deception, in that the same figures support Israel in all circumstances.

Internal pressure on Netanyahu

Regarding the current domestic pressure on Netanyahu and the calls for his resignation, Bishara reminded viewers that none of this pressure relates to Israeli support for the war, as polls still indicate that the overwhelming majority backs continuing the war and preventing Hamas from running Gaza, and wants to prevent humanitarian relief from reaching Gaza.

He summarised the situation inside Israel by saying that the atmosphere of war trumps everything else, and activity in Israel in terms of the unions and Netanyahu's opponents won’t constitute sufficient pressure on him because he is able to maintain the war cabinet intact and under his control.

In Bishara's assessment, the Israelis are still "in shock and [feeling] the desire for revenge to restore the [power] balance and the prestige of deterrence, and they are still behaving like a tribe whose members are misled and possessed by war hysteria."

Regarding Netanyahu's approval of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir's proposal to restrict the entry of even the 1948 Palestinians (Palestinian citizens of Israel) from inside Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, along with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Bishara said he was confident that people would reject these decisions and there would be ramifications.

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He pointed out that the Israelis "won't be able to punish millions of human beings if all the Palestinians challenge the occupation peacefully and rationally".

Have the Arabs missed chances for peace?

A part of the conversation with Bishara dealt with a frequently repeated saying – which amounts to that idea the Arabs have missed many opportunities for peace with Israel.

He ridiculed this statement as historical examples showed it was not the case, and what Arabs have actually missed was the opportunity to fight Israel in 1967, rather than concluding a peace deal with it.

He recalled the announcement of the partition decision (1947) and how immediately after the decision was issued, the Israeli army began the war against the Palestinians to displace them before the Arab armies had [even] entered Palestine.

Then, he referred to the fact that later, the Arabs had never rejected any peace initiative: from the Rogers Plan to the rest of the American initiatives up until George Bush Junior's Roadmap for Peace (which Sharon made 14 objections to and Yasser Arafat accepted in full; the one who accepted it got killed and the one who rejected it remained in power), and the Arab Peace Initiative, whereas Israel had rejected all of them without exception.

Moreover, Bishara recalled that Israel had never proposed a single peace initiative, whereas the Arabs had put forward the Beirut Summit Arab Initiative of 2002. Later they had abandoned all their demands and entered normalisation with nothing in return, he added.

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He described the current position of the Arab countries as one of waiting, "because their choice is peace without the Palestinian issue."

In response to a question about Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry's statement in the Munich Security Conference about "Hamas being outside the Palestinian consensus", Bishara answered that a Palestinian consensus is impossible without Hamas, and scorned the idea of a "consensus" being one formed solely by the authoritarian Arab regimes excluding the opinion of the Arab people. Moreover, he described Shoukry's words as incorrect and offensive.

In a related context, Bishara said that the move from the name the "Arab-Israeli conflict" to the "Palestinian-Israeli conflict" was the result of the desire of the Arab regimes to rid themselves of what they saw as a headache, pointing out [that conflict wasn't the right term anyway as] this is a national cause for national liberation rather than a conflict between two sides (as though they are fighting with each other over land they both have the same right to).

Here, he explained that Gaza has proven that the term "conflict" is incorrect as it creates a false impression of symmetry; and today the whole world is preoccupied with Palestine.

He expressed his satisfaction that perseverance has started to establish itself within the global solidarity movement with Palestine, and in some ways, this recalls the global movement against the apartheid regime in South Africa, in his view.

Bishara suggested that, in addition to the Palestinian flag, the flags of the countries whose nationalities the demonstrators hold be raised during international demonstrations.