Azmi Bishara: US talk of Palestinian statehood is doublespeak to encourage normalisation

Azmi Bishara: US talk of Palestinian statehood is doublespeak to encourage normalisation
Dr. Azmi Bishara said US talks about Palestinian statehood were a ruse to encourage a return to normalisation talks.
11 min read
23 January, 2024
Dr Azmi Bishara warned Arab states against trusting the US when it talks about a Palestinian state in exchange for normalisation [Getty]

The US lip service to the idea of Palestinian statehood can be understood as a mere ploy to justify its push for Arab states to return to normalisation talks, Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Dr Azmi Bishara, said in a new interview.

While he said he believes that the US sees Hamas as an obstacle to its plans for the region, he summarised American proposals today regarding a Palestinian state, as basically the current Palestinian Authority (PA) getting to call itself a "state" without having any of the specifications of an actual state.

Bishara denied there was anything new in discussions on the release of hostages in Gaza and a ceasefire. He said he feared "we could end up with a worse reality for the Palestinians [than before 7 October]" if radical changes do not occur - namely unifying the Palestinian position, and seeing a radical shift in the stance of the Arabs who have so far been bystanders.

In this context, he indicated that the enormous Palestinian sacrifices could have been translated into a political achievement only if there had been an Arab state with the clout to take up the mantle.

Hamas and US plans for the region

Bishara said in he interview interview with Alaraby TV on the 107th day of the war, that there were some changes in the nature of Israel's war, the most important factor in in which was that Israel's objective is taking much longer than the Americans and Israelis had anticipated. Instead, the sole Israeli objective achieved was the destruction of the Gaza Strip and having rendered it uninhabitable.

He said this reality has forced Israel to transition to a new phase in the war, based on targeted special operations rather than blanket bombardment. This was mainly due to military necessity, as Israel had exhausted its capacity to keep up that level of bombing, which hadn't resulted in the killing of Hamas' leaders.

He confirmed that the US still supported Israel's war and its main objective – destroying Hamas' military capacity. The main reason for this, said Bishara, is that President Biden considers Hamas an obstacle hindering US plans for the region.

Moreover, Bishara recalled that Biden had said previously that the US had been drawing close to achieving Saudi-Israel normalisation, and that Hamas, with the 7 October Operation, had thwarted that.

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Here, Bishara noted that Biden had not concluded this failure that it would be impossible to achieve normalisation without resolving the Palestinian issue. Instead, he had concluded that the solution was to eradicate Hamas.

A Palestinian state in name only in exchange for normalisation

Regarding repeated US talk about a Palestinian state, Bishara warned the Arabs against accepting any American promises or empty Israeli pledges that they would accept the establishment of a Palestinian state as sufficient grounds for normalisation. He said this "would be the greatest waste of all of the Palestinian sacrifices".

Moreover, he urged Arab officials to remember that all the unprecedented disasters - which were destroying the Palestinians and their cause - occurred after the wave of normalisations (the Abraham Accords of 2020).

Bishara expressed his confidence that the sacrifices of the Palestinian people and the resistance could be translated into a huge political achievement if there were an Arab party with sufficient clout to live up to the challenge of supporting the Palestinians and defying US pressures.

In the meantime, Bishara pointed out that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hadn't embarked on his latest tour in the region to discuss ending the war, "but to discuss the phase after the end of the war", or "the day after". He added that this shows the US minister "assumes Israel will achieve its goal of eliminating Hamas - and this means the Arab parties participating in the discussion are in fact [also] discussing what will happen after Hamas is eliminated".

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Bishara emphasised that Arab citizens have the right to know what their rulers, for example, say to Blinken when he tells them about the arrangements he is proposing for Gaza and Palestine. As for these "arrangements", Bishara summarised what is being proposed today as that "the current Palestinian Authority, if it is permitted to extend into Gaza, will be able to call itself a state while having none of the essential qualities of a state".

Bishara paused on the well-known position of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: that the land west of the River Jordan (all of historic Palestine) must be Israeli land. This is being put into practice in his serious efforts to annex Area C (most of the West Bank) and in Bishara's opinion, this is ultimately what will happen.

However, he asserted that this "doesn’t stop him accepting a Palestinian authority he doesn't respect, in the form which exists currently, whereas his extremist partners see no need for even this kind of authority and its security roles to exist".

Regarding the incoherence of US officials' statements today about a potentially demilitarised Palestinian state, Bishara recalls Netanyahu's old stance in 2009, when he announced his agreement to the creation of a Palestinian state with conditions attached which would have undermined the very idea of statehood.

Bishara reminded viewers how former US president Barack Obama, at that time, had withdrawn any input on the subject to avoid pressuring Israel, and had understood it was out of the question that Israel would accept an actual Palestinian state.

Likewise, he recalled how then-US Secretary of State, John Kerry, had accused Israel of thwarting the Palestinian state. Bishara warned against accepting a US promise that a Palestinian state would be established in exchange for normalisation with Israel.

He also said some Arab officials, when they reward Israel for its wars and extremism with normalisation, confirm the Zionist claim that Arabs understand nothing except the language of force. He also warned them that in the long run, their weight and regional standing would be zero – for as long as they were unable to even bring relief to a people being slaughtered and starved.

He advised officials from Arab states that they might benefit from their alliance with the US if it was an alliance of equals where they could set conditions, as was the case between the US and Israel. However, if they continued in their current behaviour as individuals, governed by their quarrels, narrow interests, and selfish concerns, then they would bring about their own destruction.

Hamas document and the Palestinian narrative

Regarding the 18-page document Hamas published on Sunday, presenting its narrative of the 7 October Operation, the reasons behind it and its objectives, as well as presenting a political definition for itself as an organisation, Bishara said it was a good development even if late.

He expounded on the positives of the the document in focusing on the civilians, the motives behind the 7 October operation and its goal, and also the fact that the movement described itself as not being anti-Jewish, but as a centrist Islamic national liberation and resistance movement.

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Bishara expressed his regret over that fact that politically speaking "if only there were a Palestinian party on the other side, aside from [the PA] currently in Ramallah, then there would have been engagement with the document, as it is a big step, upon which something bigger than Palestinian-Palestinian dialogue could be built".

Bishara added: "We blame the Americans and the Westerners and the Arabs for their stances, but what about the Palestinian side for adopting the stance of an onlooker, instead of unifying a stance with Hamas, to challenge what is being planned for [them]?"

He reiterated the need for the Palestinian political leadership to be unified, and to lay out what is acceptable to it and confront what is unacceptable. This begins, in his opinion, with Hamas joining the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), as the Palestinian liberation movement, says Bishara, "is not the only one in the world to be accused of terrorism, after which they sat down with it and negotiated with it, even if they were forced". 

He warned that "even reconstruction efforts if there is no strong and organised Palestinian player, will struggle for a long time before being accomplished."

Questioned whether the fate of the Palestinian cause could be worse than today, Bishara said: "After what we saw in Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Libya, nothing is impossible, and if the battle is not directed with wisdom and determination, and if the parties do not desist from their selfish approaches, we could end up with something even worse […] for the Palestinians, that is, occupation on top of all the disasters generated by the assault and tragedies it has inflicted".

The Israeli consensus

While talking about the war, the Israeli consensus on it and what has been leaked, truthfully or misleadingly, about ceasefire negotiations and the release of hostages in the Gaza Strip, Bishara revealed there was nothing seriously new regarding the negotiations, as Israel still refuses to discuss a ceasefire except in terms of [a temporary one] to get the hostages out of Gaza, not to end the war.

On the Wall Street Journal's leaks about a Qatari-American-Egyptian project for a phased truce which would end with a permanent ceasefire and the hostages' release, Bishara explained that the Qatari proposal originally stipulated 3 truces in stages extending over three months, but Israel rejected it and agreed only to a one-month truce.

He added that the negotiations are still at a dead end, because Tel Aviv absolutely refuses any ceasefire, while Hamas insists on a ceasefire. He cautioned against [believing] Israeli falsehoods which had been spread so that Israel could act as though negotiations were still ongoing to pander to its domestic public opinion.

Regarding disagreements within the Israeli government, specifically within the war cabinet, Bishara explained that "these divisions are not over the war, but rather over the best methods for freeing their prisoners in the Gaza Strip."

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Bishara noted that an ignorance of Israeli policy among some in Arab countries had resulted in confusion when talking about internal disputes among Tel Aviv's rulers. He explained that there were many "pre-war disputes in the Israeli scene regarding the main founding constitutional tenets of the state, and all those involved in this dispute are currently members of the war cabinet."

He acknowledged the major personal divisions between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, warning at the same time against over-estimating their importance. Likewise, Bishara gave details on the argument over who bore responsibility for the failures on October 7, the army or the politicians, but asserted that both Netanyahu and Gallant were agreed on continuing the war.

Regarding Netanyahu's crisis with the "newcomers" to the war cabinet, like Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot and others, Bishara explained that these people had started realizing that the Israeli street was hugely concerned with the hostage issue, and were going along with with public opinion on this, to the point that one of them (Eisenkot) had said the liberation of the hostages would only happen through negotiation. He said the dispute had not yet led these figures to exit the war cabinet, however, "they may be waiting for the chance to do that".

Bishara expected that soon, real popular pressure would begin in Israel, and slogans about the hostages and demands for Netanyahu's personal departure would be mixed together, as well as with slogans on stopping the war.

However, Bishara ruled out an imminent change in the Israeli consensus on continuing the aggression, because the loss of life, and economic damage are currently becoming factors that are increasing public insistence on continuing the war to achieve the main goal.

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The result, as Bishara summarizes, is that two-thirds of Israeli society still support this approach to destroying Hamas' military capacity, and the US supports that. As for the post-war period, Bishara expects that stark differences will appear within Israel over the character of Israel and the occupied territories and their administration.

Bishara said his greatest concern was that some Arab officials would gift Israel with further normalization efforts, "because some Arab officials are waiting for the elimination of the resistance in order to normalise" their relations with Tel Aviv.

On US-Israeli differences, Bishara indicated that in their private sessions, some American officials may express regret over the huge number of Palestinians killed, and say Israel should have conducted the war in a different manner, "however even these humanitarian sentiments, they don't say them openly" and nor do they translate into action either  in domestic US institutions, or in the Security Council, or in their diplomatic platforms. From here, Bishara asserts that "there is no US pressure on Israel to stop this crime".

The Arab League…and Iran

Bishara described the Arab League meeting arranged for Monday as being a waste of time so long as the goal was not to stand behind the Palestinian people, support them and acknowledge that the decision is up to them, and that "there will be no return on the back of an Israeli tank."

And he reiterated that he considered the official Arab stance to be "pitiful" after officials had been freed from popular pressure, which had subsided after it had emerged in the initial days of the assault.

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Bishara concluded: "It will be impossible for the region to enjoy stability before the Palestinian issue is resolved justly, not only because of Israel, but also because of the existence of actors which exploit the Palestine issue, like Iran, in light of the absence of a genuine Arab [force taking up the] role of confronting it, and so we pay a price in the fissures within the Arab societies, for example with issues like sectarianism", he said.