Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi (Ta'al ), served in the past as adviser to Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat, was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Wye Plantation summit in 1998 and is considered close to the Palestinian negotiating team in the direct talks.
MK Ahmed Tibi, do you think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has changed and really plans to advance negotiations with the Palestinians and take bold decisions?
Tibi. “In national conflicts there are no angels, but there are victims. The people that is under occupation is the victim.”
Photo by: Emil Salman
I don't see signs Netanyahu has changed. Therefore, the expectation for a breakthrough in the peace process doesn't exist, at least for me. There are three reasons for my pessimism: his diplomatic positions, the right-wing and very extremist composition of his government and the inaction on the part of the American administration. For this assessment to change there will have to be a drastic shift in Netanyahu and his surroundings and the United States will have to change the role it has been playing unsuccessfully for 17 years and start to use its status and influence as the world's greatest power to lead a diplomatic agreement in the Middle East. The proof is the failure of the American efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
Does the problem lie with Netanyahu's right-wing government?
When the Annapolis summit was held I also called it a nothing conference, when the whole world was spreading euphoria. Netanyahu is saying, "Give me a chance." He has already had chances in the past and the results are known. Today Netanyahu is heading a coalition that is further to the right and we will see the results when he starts discussing the future of Jerusalem. Then we will hear the position of the most extreme right-wing minister, [Interior Minister] Eli Yishai and not [Foreign Minister] Avigdor Lieberman, or when other sensitive issues arise. Netanyahu has the option of changing the makeup of his coalition but what guarantees are there that with a Netanyahu-[Tzipi] Livni team there will be a diplomatic agreement? A Kadima government alone, after all, did not reach an agreement.
Will the Palestinian Authority be able to justify its existence if the current negotiations fail?
If the negotiations don't succeed, and the (United Nations ) Security Council does not impose an arrangement in which there is recognition of the establishment of a Palestinian state, it is possible there will no longer be a need for the PA. Then the world will have to confront once again the reality of occupier and occupied, without the PA as a mediating element. I of course am telling you my opinion and not speaking for anyone else.
It is said former prime minister Ehud Olmert's proposal was generous but PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen ) was inflexible and did not accept the compromise.
The truth is that the maximum Olmert could offer in his day did not reach the minimum Abu Mazen and the Palestine Liberation Organization can accept. This applies very much more so to Netanyahu. I can't see any Palestinian leader signing a final agreement in which there isn't sovereignty in East Jerusalem including the holy places and Al Aqsa, and in which there is not a return of territory equal to 6,235 square kilometers, the total area of the West Bank. I think Netanyahu's proposal is not to end the occupation, but rather to rearrange it.
Some have called Netanyahu's address in Washington "Rabin-esque." What is your opinion?
True, this wasn't a typical [Netanyahu] speech, but 17 years after the movie began, the ending is still the same. Netanyahu can change the script and so can [U.S. President] Barack Obama. Obama must apply unprecedented pressure to the government of Israel and confront it with one single option: ending the occupation in exchange for a different future. Apart from the fact that establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel is the realization of the Palestinian people's legitimate right to self-determination, it has become crucial for everyone, including Israel. Because there are two options: the two-state option the international community supports, and there is a majority in favor of this among both peoples, and the one-state option, which at this stage is a nightmare for some Israelis. But I am beginning to hear more and more voices on the Israeli right aiming at something similar. ... It has become a sort of Israeli bon ton currently led by the Yesha settlers council and the Israeli right. However, the world isn't going to accept a status quo that means deeper apartheid in the occupied territories. This increased considerably after the war in Gaza and the crimes committed during its course, and continued during the Turkish flotilla.
You aren't directing any criticism at the Palestinian side and the Arab world in the negotiations.
The Arabs took an historic, unprecedented step toward the state of Israel in a proposal Israeli arrogance shelved: the Arab peace initiative. This is a proposal for full peace in return for full withdrawal. Could anyone have imagined that 20 years ago a proposal like this would have arisen? Either the Israelis did not consider it deeply or this is more proof of the way they relate to negotiations. They should have grabbed the Arab League proposal with both hands and looked toward a different future. They did the opposite. In national conflicts there are no angels, but there are victims. The people that is under occupation is the victim.
To what extent do the things you are saying represent the Palestinian leadership? The Palestinian negotiating team?
I am in touch with the Palestinian leadership and the various Palestinian factions. What I am describing faithfully represents the Palestinian mood. This round of talks, on which I am not pining hopes, will be the last. Failure of these talks is liable to lead to harsh results and an outbreak of violence and this worries me very much.
Why is the PA refusing to recognize the Jewish identity of the state of Israel?
The person who started with this demand was Tzipi Livni, before the Annapolis summit. It is odd that a state asks other states or personages to recognize its identity in such a specific way. Abu Mazen has told me he will never recognize this definition. I represent a different stance, whereby Israel has to become a country of all its nationalities. A country of all its citizens isn't suited to the Arab minority in Israel, because it isn't getting the collective rights of a national minority