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Q&A: Maen Rashid Areikat

The Palestinian ambassador to Washington sees a role for the American Jewish community in creating a Palestinian state

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Ambassador Areikat. (H. Darr Beiser/USA Today via PLO Mission the United States)
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But nevertheless, we felt that we are being asked to pay the price for crimes that we have not committed. This, somehow, is what people who listen or read what I have to say need to understand. There was a great sense of injustice. Believe me, there is nothing worse than feeling that injustice was done to you. There is nothing worse than that. Nothing worse than the feeling when you are under a military occupation and the soldier says to you, “Sit down, you dog.” Kicks you, humiliates you, humiliates your mother, humiliates your sister. Nothing can injure your dignity and pride more than that.

Let’s talk about the negotiations. One of the things that I always notice is that the Palestinians have continuity. You have one team, it stays together,  and you see the same people decade after decade: Yasser Abd Rabbo, Saeb Erekat, Nabil Shaath. On the Israeli side they have a whole new team of people every two years with a whole new set of briefing books. Is this a problem?

For us or for them?

I would think the advantages would be on your side.

Exactly. Some of the people on our side maybe think they are indispensable. I don’t know exactly what is their mentality, but the fact that they have been at the helm has saved us a lot of time and a lot of effort. By establishing the Negotiation Support Unit, by creating all these manuals, negotiation manuals, anybody can come and just open this manual and it reflects the Palestinian position, the international position, the Israeli position, the U.N. position, etc. I remember four or five years ago when I was at the Negotiations Affairs Department and in charge of the support unit, the Israelis said, “We want to emulate and copy the unit.” I was joking with an Israeli friend, I said, “Well, whisper in the foreign minister’s ears; if they want our expertise, we are willing to provide it.”

Is it your sense that Israeli politics is very unstable?

Absolutely. The Israelis call on the Palestinians to adhere to the signed agreements, respect their obligations, which surprisingly we have done a better job of doing than the Israelis have, ever since President Abbas became the president. But the Israelis, every time there’s a new prime minister, or every time a party takes over, everyone has their own interpretation of the agreements, and it’s a major problem for us. Everybody wants to start from scratch. Nothing is documented. Nothing is written. Is that an Israeli tactic? Because as long as they haven’t accepted a written document, they aren’t obliged?

There’s an article in the New York Review of Books about Salam Fayyad by Nathan Thrall—did you read it?

I saw a copy, yes, “Our Man in Palestine”? I don’t know if I brought it with me, I wanted to read it but no, I haven’t.

It’s a very interesting and complex article. One point the author makes is that peace negotiations with Israel are deeply unpopular among Palestinians in the West Bank, and that the government of Salam Fayyad lacks any broad popular support and is forced to engage in severe repression: arrests, often without trial; breaking up public meetings; beatings and torture; and other behavior that turns people further against the government. This is a cycle that is very dangerous. And it raises the question, when you start looking at a government that doesn’t control Gaza and has become unpopular in the West Bank, and that doesn’t have an electoral mandate from its own people, what does a signed agreement of any kind with you mean? Do you think that’s a legitimate concern for people to have?

That things would turn against the government?

Any government that signed an agreement that didn’t allow hundreds of thousands of refugees back—conditions that you know that the Israelis would never allow—would be broadly unpopular, and an agreement with you would be founded on sand.

We have to present any future agreement to a referendum that all Palestinians would have a chance to vote for or against. You cannot reach a final agreement with Israel on such sensitive, important issues without having the Palestinians all over the world to have a chance to vote.

OK. So, if I do the math right, there are 6 to 6.5 million registered refugees out of 10 million Palestinians—

They all would vote against? No. Because some of the registered refugees are in better conditions than you and me. Their answer is determined by who is asking the question. If it’s somebody foreign, it’s for a survey, polls, they all want to go back. And even some passerby who is not Palestinian will tell you, “Oh, I want to go back to Palestine too!” But if you want to ask me about how pragmatic is the idea of having all refugees return, I will tell you for many reasons, it will not be the 6.5 million registered refugees.

Our job as a Palestinian leadership is threefold: One, Israel has to somehow acknowledge its responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Not in a way that could be viewed by them or by the world as an admission of historical wrongdoing that could nullify or negate the existence of Israel. The Israelis say, “How can we acknowledge and say that we are responsible for the Palestinian refugee problem?” Because that would automatically mean that the creation of the State of Israel was wrong. We tell them, “Listen, don’t look at it from that angle. Don’t look at it as a win-lose situation. Look at it as a win-win situation; it will put an end to a longstanding issue.”

Like President Abbas yesterday said in his interview with Israeli radio and I think to TV, he said, “An end to historical claims.” That means after the establishment of the Palestinian state, West Bank, Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, a just resolution of the conflict, there will be no additional claims by the Palestinians.

The Israelis don’t believe you.

They have to believe me. Because there is nothing I can give them but my word and my sincere and genuine intentions. Israel is the stronger party in the equation. Palestinians have no way of forcing Israel to accept anything. We cannot force the Israelis to lift the closure of a village in the West Bank. Do you think we would be able to force Israel to do things that they don’t want to do?

We are telling the Israelis, “You have to accept the right of return in principle. Then we will sit and discuss the implementation mechanisms.”

If someone said to you, “You must accept in principle the idea that me and my family will come and live in your house, which used to be our house, and then after you accept this basic principle, then we can discuss the specifics of our new arrangement. Maybe my whole family moves in, or maybe just my mother will come live in your kitchen,” you would say, “No thanks.”

Listen, my answer to that is very simple. It’s amazing how we Palestinians, who are under occupation, denied our basic freedom and human rights, are the ones who are urging the Israelis to think about the day after a peaceful agreement, not to think of it in the context of continued conflict and continued violence.

As a member of Fatah, you know what happened to Fatah members in Gaza after Hamas took over in their coup there, what they did to people you knew. The Israelis look at that and say, “Hey, if Hamas does these terrible things to their own brothers, surely we must build the highest wall out of iron we can, 100 feet high at least, and let them stay there, on the other side.”

You know that the issue of the rockets is really exaggerated. You know that. Israel knows that.

They’re rockets …

I’m not condoning the firing of rockets. All that I’m saying is, these rockets hurt the Palestinians more than they hurt Israel. And we as a Palestinian leadership have adopted a strategic option of non-violent resistance.

How long do you imagine the government of President Abbas would last if there was no Israeli military presence in the West Bank? In Gaza, Hamas decided, “OK, we’re going to take it”—and they took it.

Let me say this. I think the majority of the Palestinians, the mainstream Palestinians, are opposed to what Hamas is doing. But because of the fact that there is a lack of progress in the peace process, Hamas and other opposition groups are getting stronger and stronger.

The only answer to Hamas, and to other groups on both sides who are opposed to any peaceful reconciliation and resolution of the conflict, is to push this process forward to try to realize an agreement that will allow the Palestinians to establish their state and live side by side with Israel in peace and security. As long as there is no political horizon, as long as there are no prospects of peaceful resolution, the people will continue to think that resistance, violence, will pay off.

There was a phrase that many of Chairman Arafat’s close advisers used again and again, which was that Arafat’s main political goal was to continue to hold the Palestinian national decision in his hand. And in his relations with the Arab countries, with the Russians, with America, he would play them off each other, so that he would in the end be standing as the representative of Fatah and the PLO with the sole right to make decisions for the Palestinian people.

Which we call protecting the independent Palestinian decision. We came under a lot of pressure, as I alluded earlier, from our surroundings, it’s not secret. It took us a lot in order to convince the Arabs that we have to be in charge of our own destiny, even today.

President Abbas a few months ago made a very strong statement about Iranian meddling in Palestinian internal affairs through their backing of Hamas, which does not recognize the authority of President Abbas, controls Gaza, and takes orders from outside. What this means is that Iran has fractured your ability to speak for your people.

I agree with you. Strangely enough, Osama Bin Laden tried to claim ownership of the Palestinian cause. As a matter of fact, the only leader who was attacked by name by [al-Qaida leader] Ayman al-Zawahiri was President Mahmoud Abbas. By name! That tells you that as long as this conflict, this wound, is open, many extremists will try to exploit it to their advantage. Do you really believe that Iran is really planning to attack Israel because they want to protect the Palestinians and liberate Palestine? Iran is building itself up to become a strong regional power to reckon with in the Gulf.

People worry, “OK, if we open the door to a Palestinian state right now, Iran will come in through that door.”

Today, both sides have influence over their destinies. Five years down the road, with all the meddling that we are seeing from countries in the region and even outside the region, the Palestinians and the Israelis may very soon find themselves in the position that they cannot make the peace that they are aspiring for today.

Do you think the fact that America seems weaker in the region and Iran seems stronger gives motivation to both Israelis and Palestinians to make a deal? There’s a common friend and a common enemy.

I don’t look at Iran as being the common enemy of Palestinians and Israelis. I don’t personally view Iran as an enemy, to be honest with you.

Their people were throwing your people off tall buildings in Gaza City.

It’s done by Palestinians, not Iranians. I blame the Palestinians who do this, maybe despite the fact that they may be receiving funding by Iran. I blame Hamas for their excesses and for the actions they took after they took control of Gaza. But I don’t view Iran as an enemy per se. My only criticism of Iran is the fact that they are interfering in our internal affairs so that reconciliation and unity remains elusive.

Do you think the American Jewish community has tried to pressure the Obama Administration in a way that has made it harder to reach a deal?

I would like to see the American Jewish community play a different role in this whole issue. I think they should support the efforts of the administration to reach resolution between Israel and the Palestinians. They also have to play a role with Israel. I’m not saying to convince them to be more flexible, but to try to make Israel focus on the long-term issues. Because if a two-state solution is not going to be viable soon because of Israeli actions—settlements, what-have-you—and if the apartheid-like treatment of the Palestinians of the West Bank is not sustainable from a Jewish point of view, because many Jews in the world will not accept their mother state to be called an apartheid state because they have fought against apartheid, they have been subjected to discrimination themselves, what alternative is left for us? A bi-national state?

Some people in both of our communities believe that a bi-national state is the right answer.

But again, although some Palestinians are calling for that, we have to be careful, because it does not automatically mean that Israel will yield support and give the Palestinians equal rights. They could accept one state, a bi-national state, and continue to discriminate against the Palestinians. So, if it’s truly democratic, equal, with equal rights, one man one vote, fine. But I don’t think it will contribute to Israeli efforts to crystallize their identity as a homeland for Jews.

As PLO we are committed to a two-state solution because we know it’s the only way that can provide Israelis and Palestinians the opportunity to build their own national identities in a separate manner before again they can explore venues of cooperation.

I think the Jewish community in the Diaspora should start making wake-up calls to Israel. Because the current Israeli leadership is fixated on short-term objectives.

All Israeli leadership is fixated on short-term objectives.

At least this one is. They are playing tactical games about the Jewishness of the state, and the oath of loyalty, and the referendum, and they are not really looking to tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. They are not being visionary, and in that regard, they are undermining the long-term interests of the State of Israel more than anybody else in the region.

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I can’t believe Tablet actually publish this dribble. Well maybe I can.

I can’t tell whether Tablet’s editors are completely cynical in that they publish this crap so that they get web clicks or that they actually believe in destroying the Jewish state through delegitimization. It’s most likely the latter though.

Jerome says:

David,

It’s an interview. You judged the words spoken by Areikat using your critical faculties. Don’t you think other Tablet readers will also?

What’s so bad about hearing another person’s point of view? The mere fact of publishing it does not connote agreement with that view.

Perot Junke says:

PALESTINIAN AMBASSADOR? THERE IS NO PALESTINE…ONLY ERETZ YISROEL.

Marian says:

This was instructive and so depressing to read. Even language is a captive in this interview.

However, it helps me understand the subtly of recognizing Israel as a state but not a Jewish state. I don’t see how this conflict can be resolved when even recognizing that some of Jerusalem was The City of David is weighted with the knowledge that that acknowledgment may give land away.
(It is easy for me to acknowledge that my house is built on stolen Indian land because few of them are around to demand it back.) In my eyes, it does appear that disaster is coming; that Palestinian dream can’t be deferred forever. After reading this, I don’t see how it can be done. Even with a state, they will sit there and send missiles over the border.

So, Areikat wants a Palestinian state that would expel all the Jews but also believes Israel should keep all the existing Arab residents plus all the ones they call refugees. And people around the world are expected to go along with such drivel? In the 20s Haj Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem was organising the murder of Jews. In 1948, the Arab Legion expelled Jews from their homes in Jerusalem – and yet today’s Palestinians would like the world to believe that the Jews are colonialists in Israel. Between 1948 and 1960, hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from Arab lands (and their assets expropriated without compensation). These people did not spend the next 60 years as refugees and did not benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid – they just got on with their lives. It is time the Palestinians understand that they have been their own worst enemies and just get on with their lives – at peace with Israel if they genuinely want to have better lives and stop being the stooges of their corrupt politicians.

Regarding Jewish ethnicity vs. religion, this is what National Geographic has to say about my Y-DNA:

“Modern members of this haplogroup once again live in their highest concentrations near its ancestral birthplace in the Middle East, as well as in Arabia, North Africa, and Ethiopia. M267 is also seen in Mediterranean Europe, though at much lower frequencies.

The haplogroup also carries a strong cultural connection—many of its members with European ancestry are Jewish. More than half of all J1 samples in the Genographic database are Ashkenazi Jews, revealing a genetic connection to the Middle Eastern homeland of Judaism.”

There is a deal to be had, but it requires the partition of the land into 2 viable independent states, each with a minority population whose rights are protected de-jure and de-facto: A Palestinian State and a Jewish State. Not a Palestinian State and a Jewish/Palestinian State.

It is standard operating procedure for negotiators to bank wins and then go back for more. If Israel were to agree to an agreement with the Palestinians without this issue being explicitly addressed, the Palestinians will simply come back as members of the UN and signators of the ICC demanding the “right of return” which would then set in motion the undoing of The Jewish State.

Therefore, the final status agreement must include recognition of Israel as The Jewish State and renouncing any further claims or “right of return” to the Jewish state beyond whatever is negotiated in the agreement with the Palestinians.

Dani Levi says:

Great interview. I knewn this before, but it is always good to read it being said by an official . I am not surprised one little bit why the pals have such a hard time making peace.

Regarding Jewish identity. What do you want to hear from the ignorant hater of Israel if he just repeats what many “progressive” Jews are saying? First of all “Jew” is an ethnicity and only secondary (in a very limited sense)- a religion. “Jew is a person whose mother is Jewish”. Where do you see the word “religion” in this definition? It is only an ethnicity, vivid and pure, nothing else. Despite being very clear and simple definition the narrow-minded “progressive” “scholars” still cannot understand it for they continue to insist that primarily the faith and not the ethnicity defines who is a “Jew”. The biggest irony of this is that majority of those “scholars” define themselves as “secular Jews” – contradicting their own definition. (“Secular Jews” cannot exist if faith defines who is a Jew)

Blah, blah, blah–yep, we’ve heard this all before.

Diplomatic pilpul, anyone? Seems like a waste of the interviewers’ time. Surely Areikat had more pressing things on his agenda? Or not…

Wow-One of the biggest lies (of many) in this interview is his statement that the Palestinians were not involved in the Holocaust. The Mufti traveled to Nazi Germany, was photographed with Hilter and together, planned how to best slaughter the Jews.

brynababy says:

Actually, it was interesting to see this obviously intelligent and educated man still continue to spew the same distortions about Israel. I thought the interviewer did a pretty decent job of challenging him, without being disrespectful. However, I don’t understand why he failed to challenge Areikat’s statements that after the UN’ decision in 1948, “The Arabs rejected that. Israel launched war” and, regarding Camp David, “they (Israel) just, in a moment of rage because you know he (Arafat) didn’t go along with a plan that was submitted to him at Camp David, decide to make him the bad guy.” Is this man living in the real world- does he really believe these absurd statements, or is it just more of the Arab rhetoric?! Either way, how can Peace be made with such self-deceiving leaders? It’s terribly sad because it is imperative there be two States!

“I don’t look at Iran as being the common enemy of Palestinians and Israelis. I don’t personally view Iran as an enemy, to be honest with you.” Well, why should he, when the US is being derelict and not forcing him (or Fatah more generally) to choose sides?
Also: it’s quite remarkable that the ambassador to the United States of a group that’s getting US support, should feel free to give, in response to the question “Any Jew who is inside the borders of Palestine will have to leave?”, an answer that begins with “Absolutely.” Will all of Avigdor Lieberman’s fierce detractors (I’m one of them, but I try to be consistent) be equally fierce in response to this? For some reason I doubt they will be.

Dorothy Wachsstock says:

It is sickening to read this article full of lies and yet given credence by just publishing it. It won’t influence the J Street Jews supported by George Soros but imagine young teenagers taught there were no real Jews in Israel.

I think of my late father as he wrapped his arms and head with the tfilm and prayed every morning and night, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”. The only reason Arafat walked out was he and his people want all of Israel. Then the United States.

Note, give them one piece of land and then they want more or they turned the guns that Israel gave them to police themselves on the Israelis. Remember that?

Give up Gaza.there will be peace. Jewish person buys the land to help the Palestinians work the orchards and start their own economy and what happens? Hamas burns the orchards and all the homes. Whoever these peopls are that call themselves “Palestinians” roamed as Bedoins, Syrians etc they gave up the right to have a state when they refused to share in 1948 when the state of Israel was created.

Now, with Pres.Obama’s help behind the scenes, the U.N. is deciding if Israel should have been created at all.

Anti-semitism will never go away. No other country in the world wins a war after being attacked and then is told to give it back.

Until the Arabs accept Jews, which will never be as we are not the Chosen People but the people who start at the bottom and rise to the top and then we make those who do not work as hard, hate us.

I am tired of hearing people who accomplish nothing while sitting on their couch..tell us Jews, we owe them as our current Pres is telling all Americans.

There will never be peace in the Middle East as long as we Americans rely on the oil from the Arabs and not use our own resources. As long as the Saudis pay off our Congress…Jews are the reason they say but it is really the Western civilization that the Arabs hate. So, let them go back to their country.

Freedom of regligion as long as you don’t impose yours upon me

Samson says:

Maen Rashid Areikat, just another Jew hater. There will never be peace as long as the Palestinians think this way.

Jew-free Islamic Khalifa of Falastin says:

Wow! What an interview!

I hope he realizes that the new tack of the Mohammedans and their left-wing allies is to argue that every Israeli non-Mohammedan must be exterminated NOT because the Quran requires genocide (the real reason): but because that’s “Justice”.

Its kind of ironic, then, that in his concept of Justice the new Islamonazi Khalifa of Falastin will need to be Jew-free. Strange that. And I love his race obsession. You can see why Obama is such a friend of the Palestinians. They think identically.

The real problem is that while Humanity colonized Arabia and ended the Khalifa, it failed to colonize the Islamic soul. There will be no peace until Humanity not only crushes every Islamic regime (may we see it soon in our day) but Humanity also crushes every aspect of Islamic culture, society and religion. Only then can the Mohammedans be asked to rejoin civilization.

The only true path is clear: A sustained campaign to end Islamonazi culture, society and religion everywhere – including the deIslamonazification of Makkh, Medinah, Malmo, and Deerborn.

(Oh, slight correction about history. During the 1930′s and 40′s the Mohammedans in the Mandate allied with Adolph Hitler. In addition, the German Socialists explicitly modeled the holocaust on the Turkish Islamic Jihad against the Armenians. The holocaust was purely Islamic.)

Why a “2 State Solution” is deadly for Israel:

http://shomroncentral.blogspot.com/

Jehudah Ben-Israel says:

“The issue is not the settlements”.

Indeed!!!

“Settlements” did not exist in 1920 when the Muslim-Arabs initiated their war-of-attrition-through-terror against the Jewish community of the country, one that is yet to cease, and that was 28 years before Israel even came into being, before the “occupation” as a result of the Six-Day War, 1967, before “Gaza”, before the “peace process”.

“Settlements” were not the issue when five Muslim-Arab countries initiated the 1948 Middle East war aimed at the wiping of Israel off the face of earth, one day after Israel was proclaimed based on UN resolutions.

“Settlements” were not the cause of the Six-Day War, 1967, initiated by three Muslim-Arab countries against Israel, aiming to achieve what they failed to do 19 years earlier, and in 1973 when two Muslim-Arab countries set out to achieve what they failed to do in 1948 and 1967.

It is time intelligent people look at reality in the face and realize: The core issue of the Arab Israeli conflict, local and regional, is the categorical refusal by the Muslim-Arabs to accept Israel’s RIGHT to be, to exist as the independent nation-state of a people, of the Jewish people on ANY parcel of land between the River and the Sea. And until the international community, US included, doesn’t demand of the Muslim-Arabs to accept Israel’s RIGHT little can be expected in terms of peace-making.

Jehudah Ben-Israel says:

It is fascinating that neither the “ambassador” nor the US President or his Secretary of State is willing to utter the phrase “two-states for two-peoples”, attempting instead – all three of them – to hide behind the phrase “two-state solution”.

The implication of the latter phrase attempts to negate, to deny the fact that Israel is a nation-state – as it was meant to be by the Balfour Declaration, by the San Remo Conference, by the League of Nations and by the United Nations (see my previous post above) – of a people, of the Jewish people.

I can see the “ambassador” refusing to use “two-states for two-people”, but why should the Obama and Clinton team…?? Or, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised about Obama’s refusal, having exhibited only hostility towards our national home, towards Israel’s elected officials and even towards Israel’s Supreme Court and its decisions!

What can we expect from a Palestinian State?

Read this:

http://shomroncentral.blogspot.com/

My comments for Areikat respond to his demand for a Judenrein Judea (and his wish for a Judenrein Israel as well). Here’s one of many versions of this response, “Judenrein Judea Equals Arabrein Israel”…

http://www.teapartytribune.com/2011/09/16/judenrein-judea-equals-arabrein-israel/

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Daniel says:

Sorry, they were heavily responsible for the Holocaust, due to the Mufti’s relationship with Hitler and the Bosnian SS, his preventing European Jews from escaping and his encouraging of the pogroms all over the Muslim world, which called many Jews (for example the Farhud in Iraq in 1941).

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Q&A: Maen Rashid Areikat

The Palestinian ambassador to Washington sees a role for the American Jewish community in creating a Palestinian state

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