Sunday, 2 November 2008
American policymakers have long viewed the protection of overseas oil supplies as an essential matter of “national security”, requiring the threat and use of military force. According to one estimate, provided by the conservative National Defence Council Foundation, the “protection” of Persian Gulf oil alone costs the US Treasury $138bn per year. For Democrats and Republicans alike, spending such sums to protect foreign oil supplies is accepted as common wisdom. It is an unquestioned part of US foreign policy. Indeed, the planning of U.S. foreign policy is determined by enormous politico-strategic and (war-) industrial interests that transcend any presidential campaign. Thus, to what extent can the election of either presidential candidate challenge or influence U.S. foreign policy?
In this respect, there is no detectable difference between the candidates, and not much likelihood of change. The policies go back to World War II (and even before). For propaganda reasons, these virtual truisms of international affairs are angrily denied: they do not accord well with the doctrine of purity of goals that is an essential feature of propaganda. But at crucial moments they are recognized. One important illustration was after the fall of the Berlin wall. The Bush I administration immediately issued a new National Security Strategy report explaining that after the fall of the Soviet Union, everything would proceed much as before, but with new rhetoric. In particular, it would be necessary to maintain intervention forces aimed at the Middle East where the "threats to our interests" that have required direct military engagement "could not be laid at the Kremlin's door" – contrary to decades of fabrication, now shelved as useless. The same is happening today. As it becomes more difficult to sustain the pretexts for invading Iraq, and there is a threat that leaders might not understand the real reasons, they are being articulated more clearly. Thus the Washington Post editors admonished Obama that he was making a serious mistake by shifting the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, since “the country's strategic importance pales beside that of Iraq, which lies at the geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains some of the world's largest oil reserves.” Enough with this nonsense about WMD and democracy.
The presidential campaigns of the two candidates for the US presidency (Obama and McCain) seem to have more to do with image and spectacle that with actual political ideas and propositions. How do you comment on the commodification/fetishization of the current presidential campaign in the US?
One of the most astute comments on the election – and on modern electoral politics generally appeared in the London Financial Times, as I write (October 28): “One of the biggest beneficiaries of the Republicans' largesse was Amy the stylist. Campaign finance reports showed Amy Strozzi, on loan from the reality show So You Think You Can Dance to style Ms Palin, was paid $22,800 - almost twice as much as Randy Scheunemann, Mr McCain's foreign policy adviser.”
Elections are run by the Public Relations industry, which markets candidates much as it markets commodities in TV ads. The goal of marketing is to create uninformed consumers making irrational choices, thus to undermine the markets we are taught to revere, in which informed consumers make rational choices. The same techniques are used to undermine democracy. The McCain campaign was at least honest in announcing that issues would not be important in the campaign; only personalities. Democrats basically agree, and it is true of earlier campaigns as well, a lesson taught well by the Reaganites. There are other reasons to keep issues off the agenda: on a host of major issues, both parties – that is, both factions of the business party – are well to the right of the population, as revealed by many studies of public opinion.
Democracy has always been regarded as a threat by elite sectors, and understandably so. Democratic theorists, across the spectrum, have been quite frank about the matter.
GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS
The current -deepening- global financial crisis is the worst of its kind since the Great Depression ’29; the West World has promised to support its banks with more than one trillion dollars when tens of millions of people -in the developed world alone- are suffering poverty and hunger. Only a slight percentage of the “bail-out” amount could be used to wage an international War on Poverty. Indeed, do we not have the required political will for a global “New Deal”?
That is quite correct. And the point does not go unnoticed in more civilized parts of the world. In Bangladesh, the journal Nation observes that “It's very telling that trillions have already been spent to patch up leading world financial institutions, while out of the comparatively small sum of $12.3 billion pledged in Rome earlier this year, to offset the food crisis, only $1 billion has been delivered. The hope that at least extreme poverty can be eradicated by the end of 2015, as stipulated in the UN's Millennium Development Goals, seems as unrealistic as ever, not due to lack of resources but a lack of true concern for the world's poor.”
In fact, something similar is true at home. The media enthusiastically supported the bailout for the banks, but vociferously oppose aid to the failing auto industry. Reality is conveyed very well by economist Dean Baker, reviewing the radically different reactions: “After all, the average autoworker makes $56,650 a year. That's almost as much as Robert Rubin makes in a day. Who do these autoworkers think they are?”
Rubin is the chairman of the Executive Committee of Citigroup, and as Clinton's Secretary of the Treasury, bears substantial responsibility for the deregulation mania that was a crucial factor in the current disaster – from which, incidentally, he gained considerably when he moved from Clinton’s Treasury Department to his present position, leading international economist Tim Canova to ask why charges are not brought against him “for his obvious violations of the Ethics in Government Act.”
Will the financial crisis influence the global hegemony of the US?
It may not influence it very much. The crisis is as severe in Europe as in the US, and is expanding to the rest of the world too, though the countries that rejected the neoliberal “Washington consensus,” like China, are more insulated from the crises resulting from unregulated financial liberalization. For the present, investors seeking security are turning to the US Treasury Department, a recognition of the enormous advantages of the US in the global system. But a lot depends on whether the countries that have amassed large foreign reserves – Japan, China, Dubai, and others – will be willing to continue to accept a low return on investment by funding US debt, in order to maintain the US market on which they rely. And it is also unclear just how long an international economic order can survive in which US debt is sustained by foreign lenders.
The rhetoric devices utilised to justify the War on Terror are closely associated with a (pseudo-)humanistic discourse: “What is at stake is not just America's freedom. This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight.”[Bush, 20/09/01]. Thus, the WoT is claimed to be waged in the name of humanity itself, the denotation being that the enemy does not pertain to the human but to absolute evil. Similarly, Bin Laden and other prominent Jihadists’ rhetoric relies on an equally Manichaean prehension of the world. To what extent then, would you say, that this global war is rather a “clash of fundamentalisms/barbarities”?
The same rhetoric was used by the Reagan administration when it declared its “war on terror” 20 years earlier: it claimed to be combating state-directed international terrorism, “the plague of the modern age,” “a return to barbarism in our time,” etc. The first “war on terror” has been eliminated from history, because it quickly became a vicious terrorist war that destroyed much of Central America, southern Africa, and beyond. Jihadi terrorism is quite real, and is a serious threat, greatly enhanced by the Bush administration reaction to it. One illustration is that global terrorism increased by a factor of seven after the invasion of Iraq. More generally, the jihadi movement was highly critical of bin Laden’s adventurism and criminality after 9/11, but instead of using the opportunity to split the movement and mobilize opposition to bin Laden, Bush decided to act as his recruiting agent. The same respected clerics who were issuing fatwas against bin Laden were soon issuing them against Bush. Terrorism is a crime. The right response to crimes is to identify the perpetrators, apprehend them, and bring them to justice. A more far-reaching response, particularly significant in the case of terrorism, is to understand the grievances to which the terrorists appeal, and if they are legitimate, as is often the case, to address them. That is how terrorism was ended in Northern Ireland, to take one recent example. But such measures were never contemplated for a moment. The reasons have to do with the first question: control of global energy supplies and world dominance generally.
Ιt is often argued that the US-led “War on Terror” has not been effective in achieving its chief goal, to protect freedom. It is also argued that the real antidote to terrorism would be to combat the very structures of injustice (political, economic, social, historical) that nurture terrorism. Because “terrorism” does not consist in ahistorical Islamic fundamentalism, but -apart from religious fanaticism- it does have a political agenda. How do you commend?
The question cannot be raised, because the goal was never to protect freedom. Stalin and Hitler also claimed to be protecting freedom. Such pronouncements of leaders are predictable, and therefore carry no information. The real antidote to terrorism is exactly as you say. Furthermore, that is well known, and the advice would be followed if eradicating terrorism were a high priority. There is substantial evidence that it is not.
Note incidentally that this entire discussion is seriously misleading because we are following Western convention in restricting the concept of terrorism to THEIR terrorism against US, and excluding OUR terrorism against THEM, often far more severe. Reagan’s “war on terror” is one of innumerable illustrations.
The UN Council imposes continuous sanctions on Iran, on which it has not yet had concrete proof that it is using its nuclear technology to build a weapon. On the other hand the US has agreed to sell nuclear technology to India, a country that has not yet complied any of the nuclear international conventions. How do you comment on that?
That understates the matter. The US intelligence community, a year ago, determined with “high confidence” that Iran has not had a weapons program since 2003. The US-India agreement was a sharp attack on the non-proliferation regime, undertaken for geostrategic and commercial reasons – that latter openly acknowledged. It is another illustration of how low even human survival ranks among the priorities of leaders.
We can add that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were developed without impediment thanks to the decision of the Reagan administration to support the most brutal of Pakistan’s dictators, Zia ul-Haq, and his steps to strengthen radical Islamist forces in Pakistan. And of course nuclear weapons in the hands of Washington’s Israeli client, also not a signer of the NPT, are considered unproblematic. No less important is the fact that the Bush administration has taken substantial steps of its own to undermine the NPT and to increase the risk of nuclear war, matters that I have written about elsewhere and cannot go into here. That is why leading US strategic analysts have warned that Bush’s aggressive militarism was leading the way to “ultimate doom,” and called for a coalition of peace-loving nations to counter it – led by China! (John Steinbrunner and Nancy Gallagher, in the highly respectable journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences).
"3 TRILLION DOLLAR WAR"
Despite the deployment of up to 150,000 US troops in Iraq and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars (3 trillion according to Joseph Stiglitz), Iraq is a country in chaos and U.S.’s “civilising mission” has long proved to be an outrageous fiasco. As far as human rights and the respect for human life and dignity are concerned, is the current situation in Iraq better or worse in relation to Saddam’s regime?
The “civilizing mission” has been compared by Iraqis and knowledgeable outside observers to the Mongol invasions. It was not simply a fiasco, but also a textbook illustration of what the Nuremberg Tribunal called “the supreme international crime” of aggression, which differs from other war crimes in that it encompasses all the evil that follows – sectarian warfare, massive flight of refugees, hundreds of thousands killed, and all the other horrors. It is difficult to compare monstrosities, and pointless. If the US and its allies had been concerned to overthrow the regime of their long-time friend and ally Saddam Hussein, they would not have imposed vicious sanctions that were described as “genocidal” by the distinguished international diplomats appointed to administer them, who resigned in protest. The sanctions devastated Iraqi civilian society, strengthened the tyrant, and compelled the population to rely on him for survival, very likely saving him from the fate of Ceausescu, Suharto, Marcos, and other monsters supported strongly by the West until the last moments of their brutal regimes. These topics, incidentally, are “off the agenda” in the West.
WAR IN AFGHANISTAN
Which, to your opinion, are the main factors that lead the defeat of the US and NATO in the Afghanistan war?
It is premature to speak of a defeat. There are many reasons for the failures, as there were for the failures of the Russian invasion in the 1980s. In that connection it may be useful to pay attention to the recent report from Afghanistan by Sir Rodric Braithwaite, a specialist on Afghanistan who was UK ambassador to Moscow from 1988-92 and then chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. After a recent visit to Afghanistan, during which he interviewed a wide range of people, he concludes that most Afghans are “contemptuous of President Hamid Karzai, whom they compared to Shah Shujah, the British puppet installed during the first Afghan war. Most preferred Mohammad Najibullah, the last communist president, who attempted to reconcile the nation within an Islamic state, and was butchered by the Taliban in 1996: DVDs of his speeches are being sold on the streets. Things were, they said, better under the Soviets. Kabul was secure, women were employed, the Soviets built factories, roads, schools and hospitals, Russian children played safely in the streets. The Russian soldiers fought bravely on the ground like real warriors, instead of killing women and children from the air. Even the Taliban were not so bad: they were good Muslims, kept order, and respected women in their own way. These myths may not reflect historical reality, but they do measure a deep disillusionment with the `coalition’ and its policies.”
This important report in the London Financial Times received no mention, to my knowledge, in the United States, though the FT is of course widely read
Sunday, 7 September 2008
I would like to ask you about the coming elections, and specifically about US foreign policy: which are the real, concrete factors or agents (single or collective) that determine and set the agenda of US foreign policy? How can the election of either one of the two candidates influence the current US foreign policy?
First of all, I would say that in planning of US foreign policy there are larger strategic interests that transcend any presidential campaign (this one or anyone in recent years or decades, and that is to ensure that our policies protect and defend the United States of America, that we protect our allies and those who support and share our values or interests around the world, that we promote democratic free market systems and see where American interests can accrue to the benefit of as many countries around the world as possible. That, I think, is generally the foundation for the foreign policy of any great power –in this case the US- and then the question becomes, “When should we have those larger principles?” How can you actually follow through our knows in your policies with various countries: the allies, partners, “adversaries” or, in the worst case, actual enemies. So that’s the much larger perspectives on strategic respective on determining foreign policy. Now, as it pertains maybe to more general issues, prior to this campaign, certainly –I would say- over the past 7 years- the fact that the American homeland has been made vulnerable to attacks from radical Islamic terrorists- has transformed our thinking on foreign policy in very significant ways. An overarching goal of the US now is to see to it that the international network of Islamic extremists be defeated –in terms of their ability to strike at the US as well as other western targets, or potentially to disrupt world shipping, or the economic stability of the international order as we have come to know it. In that sense, we have much of a shared interest with our allies and partners to defeat this enemy that threatens to destabilize the international order in the years and decades to come. That is the overarching issue, and it is on that basis that the US has now revisited the issue of the Middle East, where this radical Islamism is rooted and to see how we can work with our allies and partners to promote the kind of reform in this part of the world that defeats radicalism and militant fanaticism from within and also promote improvement on the quality of life of the citizens in that part of the world so that you don’t have father the suicide terrorism and for supporting these networks. This obviously begun in Iraq, you see it played out in the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, you see it now in trying to work with the EU and the UN security council, to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capacity that we fear will greatly destabilize the Middle East and potentially disrupt oil supplies.
You have mentioned the main US enemy which is terrorism, which is also portrayed as a global menace. Nonetheless, it is oftentimes argued that the US led “War on Terror” has not been effective in achieving its chief goal, that is, to protect freedom and safety. It is also argued that the real antidote to terrorism would be to combat the very structures of injustice that nurture terrorism, such as the economic or political inequality between the East and the West. Because one mustn’t ignore the fact that “terrorism” does not only consist in Islamic fundamentalism but it also has a political agenda. How do you commend?
One of the problems that we in the secular West have is understanding the importance of religious fanaticism in shaping the ideology of these terrorist organizations. Because we try to deny the importance of religion in the West, we would like to believe that all groups and all individuals are motivated in the end by a rational balance of incentives and disincentives. I personally fear that we don’t understand the enemy very well. This enemy is, to a certain degree, able to recruit members and support because of social injustices and that is an issue that needs to be addressed, not only because there is father to terrorist activities but also because there is a moral and humanitarian basis- even if you didn’t have terrorism- for seeing to it that as many people as possible are able to enjoy the highest quality of life possible. It’s a humanistic perspective.
Nonetheless, several social liberties are being suspended within the US themselves –under the rule of the PATRIOT ACT, for example…
Well, you have a couple of things here. We forget that the problems that we are dealing with, with this number one enemy is rooted in the early part of the 20th century, with the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, that was specifically formed to combat western secularism. It is rooted in the sense that the Islamic world is falling behind the West because of a rootlessness within Islam and that it was necessary to go back to the roots of Islam of the 7th-8th century and the apostle of this ideology is Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian who came to the United States in post WWII America in the late 1940’s and was utterly horrified by what he saw as sexual promiscuity, open homosexuality, racism and the like, and said “this is the disease of the planet: Western secularism. These are facts. It was Qutb who wrote a 26 volume testament to the need to destroy western secularism and liberty as we know it. In this school of thought, there is no humanistic law, there is no constitutional law, there are no civil liberties, there is only one thing: the will of Allah. Whatever the Qur’an does not prescribe, it is not to be considered by human beings. That is the root of the enemy we face today. And then you can bring in all of the other social injustice issues which –remember- the leaders of these terrorist organizations are never concerned with. They will never send their children to commit suicide bombings. They go and get dishonored women; they get mentally disabled men, etc. So we are dealing with two issues here: firstly, we are dealing with an ideology at the top and the social injustice at the bottom that is exploited by those at the top to wage war against the West. That’s some of the aspects of the terrorism issue. On the civil liberties issue, you raise a point that is still a part of a very contentious debate in the West. You mentioned the PATRIOT ACT, but this ACT does not call for the US Government to detain individuals for up to 52 days without pressing any charges: that’s the European law. In the US it’s two days. So in Europe you have far more questionable civil liberties issues; Britain has tens of thousands of cameras that daily photograph people. We don’t have this kind of regime in the US. So there’s a very real debate about what constitutes “civil liberties issues”, very dew people in the US have had their “civil liberties” threatened or harmed in any way whatsoever. There is a sense by people that maybe their phones are being tapped; they would be if they are receiving phone calls from suspected terrorists in Pakistan. And to whatever degree this so called debate, the US Congress –Republicans and Democrats- have now voted in support of wire tapping, the Supreme Court has allowed for this kind of wire tapping for the purposes of national security, and as many people have said the constitution of civil liberties do not constitute a suicide pact. We are balancing the need to protect civil liberties as much as possible while dealing with a brand new enemy that is attacking us in ways that we have never experienced before. And the idea that you simply stick to the way that things were pre-9/11 for the sake of civil liberties that have harmed a miniscule portion of the population -and however little, they still need to be defended. By and large, most people in the US and the West are able to enjoy the greatest liberties that this planet has ever known, while our governments are working together to defeat a new enemy.
Does, therefore, the US represent the values posed by Fukuyama’s “End of History”? Does the US offer a global model of democracy and freedom, promoted by free market?
I have great regard for Dr. Fukuyama, but I think that even he would admit that he probably needs to revise the title of his noted essay and book. We all went through the 1990s, merely skipping through history, thinking that with the end of Communism everything would now be hunky dory, that the world had now come around to understanding that free-market capitalism was the only way to achieve progress and we forgot to notice that there is inciting hatred in certain parts of the world for the way the West has prospered and dominates the world. And so it’s not the End of History at all, history continues and apparently there will always be ideological wars, free market democratic capitalism has been the single most successful system in the world, but we will remain under attack –before from communism and totalitarianism, now –unfortunately- from radical Islam- and this is going to be a war that the West will have to wage cohesively and in concert with our partners around the world for probably decades to come. So history has clearly not ended.
We have noticed that both McCain and Obama asked the continental Europe for more support in the War on Terrorism. How realistic do you think this is, taking into account that continental Europe was against the waging of this War from the start?
Senator Obama did not ask for support on the general War on Terror, Will the US at some point pull out its combat troops and what will be the time line –and that will be determined by which candidate will be elected.
How does the US missile shield in Europe serve American interests?
I would say that it is not an American issue but it rather consists in NATO’s interest. The US is not putting missiles anywhere where the country doesn’t agree to have them stationed.
Why has the missile shield been chosen to be stationed in Eastern Europe, specifically in Poland and Czech Republic –two foreign soviet countries?
I don’t have a specific answer for you, but I think geography would largely dictate that question. If you put a missile defence in France, you leave all of Eastern Europe exposed. The issue is how do you defeat the missile in its trajectory as it is rising from Iranian territory, and you do that from a NATO territory that is closest to that trajectory.
How do you commend on Russia’s intense reactions to the US shield in Eastern European ground?
I think that the Russia issue transcends the missile defense issue. There are large number of issues regarding Russia –both from an American perspective and a collective European perspective- that will be critical elements of foreign policy through the years to come. There is a concern expressed by some that the US-led efforts to promote an allied defense in Europe are “provoking” Russia. What the US is clearly trying to do is to indicate to Russia that this is not an anti-Russian shield. There are other issues that are of greater concern to the US concerning Russian behavior. One is Russia’s seeming willingness to engage in close relationships with some of the most notorious human rights abusers –such as Zimbabwe, Iran, Venezuela- that it is not a constructive partner of the UN Security Council to promote the kind of liberty and freedom in the international system that the West believes the best advance is human prosperity and advancement. It is willing to sell weapons to any country –whether friendly or hostile to the West and it is now seemingly willing again to turn off the energy tabs to European countries that acted in ways that Russia doesn’t’ like. So my question is: why is the US always supposedly the moral agent of a problem in Russian relations with the West? How come no one ever asks whether Russian actions are provocative to the West? Why is America to blame if Russia feels she is surrounded or pressured? The Russians are clearly big boys on the global scene. They are making decisions that they know will be met with reaction or with disdain in the US or Europe. This is the way foreign policy works, and we won’t always agree on issues but hopefully we can work together to resolve some issues and find ways to ensure that our disagreements don’t lead to conflict.
You talked about Russia being allies with some “rogue” states that suppress human rights. Nonetheless, the US is good friends with Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest suppressors in the world.
You are absolutely right. And I think that in the weight of 9/11 and the recognition that the Wahhabist sect of Islam that has so poisoned the Muslim world and has infected the minds of radical islamists and the young people that engage in suicide attacks against fellow muslims in countries like Iraq, that we are hostage to Saudi Arabia because they control 25% of the world’s oil reserves and the deal that had been struck in 1945 between Franklin Rosevelt and the king of Saudi Arabia that we would protect Saudi Arabian oil reserves in exchange for free -or rather reliable- access to Saudi oil supplies, we thought worked 45 or 55 years until we realised that it wouldn’t protect America from her enemies. And now you see one because of the threat of radical Islam that is financed to a large degree by petrol dollars in the Persian Gulf and also now because of the environmental issues as well, there is finally a very strong US and Western push towards alternative energy that will one day end our dependence on Saudi and other regional oil supplies. And then we can deal with Saudi Arabia the way a country with such a notorious human rights abuses should be properly treated.
* John Sitilides has specialized in federal strategies, international affairs and media relations in Washington, D.C., California and New York for more than two decades. As Principal of Trilogy Advisors, a government relations company, he has leveraged his professional resources in the corporate and government sectors to craft, implement, and oversee positioning strategies on land development, wetland regulation, water infrastructure and other national issues to create maximum value for private
Sunday, 17 February 2008
Lily Habash explains that the European approach to the Palestinian problem lacks the required political will, emphasizing that what the Palestinian people primarily need to safeguard their dignity is not humanitarian aid but the creation of infrastructure, free borders and sovereignty.
How has the everyday life of Gazans changed after the recent intensification of the punitive sanctions against the Gaza Strip?
First of all, I‘d like to say that I don’t live in Gaza but in Ramallah. Nonetheless, I am fully aware of the people suffering. You can imagine 1.5 million people being blocked in a small strip of land, not being able to move, not being able to find jobs, not being able to find the right medication and the last thing was the cutting of the electricity supply and fuel from them, so it’s a major comprehensive pre-meditated collective punishment for a whole population. The feeling is very bad, I feel very bad because I feel very helpless, I am not able to do anything for them. They are becoming increasingly helpless. The recent incident at the Rafah crossing point is only an indicator of how desperate the people are, of how hungry the people have become, so that they just blew up the wall. It’s very difficult; these are people who –for the last 60 years- have been denied the right to freedom, the right to move freely from one place to the other, the right to a normal life. What is happening in Gaza is truly beyond description, and it has reached to a level where it has become so dark that words are not enough to describe it. Every day there are children who die because of the lack of medication and on top of that there are constant attacks from Israel. A couple of days ago a friend of mine told me that all his family was wounded, one of his children has remnant of bullets in his eyes and another in his skull and... You know what is happening in Gaza damages the human spirit of dignity.
How has life in the Gaza Strip changed since the de facto government dominated by Hamas in June 2007?
First of all, the Gaza Strip was already besieged before even the advent of the Hamas government. Even from before, Gazans were not able to move freely, nor enjoy several fundamental human rights. What I want to tell you is that it has already been like this, but it did intensify since the advent of the Hamas government and again 1.5 million people were punished collectively for something that the Israelis did not approve of. But let us not forget that the Hamas government came through democratic elections, whether we like it or not. Following democratic elections, Hamas came to power due to a variety of reasons, one of which refers to the people’s frustration from what is called the “peace process”, and hence for relying on something that is more metaphysical than real.
Concerning the recent massive Palestinian passage to Egypt, to which extent will it affect the Egyptian-Israeli relations?
I don’t think their relations have been affected. You know, there are fears now that there’s some kind of an agreement to open up Gaza towards Egypt rather than open up Gaza towards the West Bank and thus scattering and separating what was supposed to be the Palestinian state in Gaza and in the West Bank. The Gazans fear there is some kind of an understanding between Egypt and Israel to gradually give Gaza back to Egypt. As you understand, this is going to be very destructive to the notion of a Palestinian nation. What happened with the opening of the Rafah crossing was a result of a spontaneous revolt coming from a very desperate, hungry and helpless people. If Gazans continue to be forced into frustration and hunger, it seems that this is the only practical solution for the time being. In the long run, however, it will be highly destructive to the potential of the creation of a Palestinian state on Gaza and the West Bank, which is already very complicated because Israel is in the middle.
Which -do you think- is the main factor that obstructs the realisation of a two-state solution? Is it the state of Jerusalem, the Israeli settlements...?
It’s Israel’s unilateral action in accelerating the settlement building, especially in the West Bank. Additionally, Israel’s apartheid wall is definitely an impediment. For a State to be built you need sovereignty and identified borders. We don’t have borders, neither inside the West Bank, not between the West Bank and Israel, and the same applies to Gaza. So, the main requirements of a state do not exist. And of course we need financial resources to build our State. We cannot have a free and prosperous economy if we don’t have free borders. For the moment, we are consumers of the occupation’s products. We are forced to use the money we get as an aid from the international community and the EU to buy Israeli products. In essence, this means that we are in a way supporting Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian land. We do not have an economy of our own, we don’t have a currency of our own and people are thus becoming like beggars rather than productive people. In Gaza almost 85% of the population are living under the poverty line. Thus, these people have lost all hope for living with dignity and putting food on the table for their children. They are being constantly dehumanised and they are left with no dignity whatsoever, and this is why some of them resort to extreme options.
What are the current relations between Hamas and Fatah? To what extent, do you think, can one expect conciliation between Fatah and Hamas in the future?
As long as the split between both major parties continues, it is almost like we are cooperating with the Israeli occupation; because what we are doing is actually realising Israel’s wish not to have a strong united Palestinian entity and to have people fighting over a pseudo-state. Because Palestine is a non-existent state, it does not even have the power to make its own decisions. What is this kind of Palestinian Αuthority that people have in Gaza if their Prime Minister cannot move from his house, if the Foreign Affairs’ minister’s son is killed? They have no deterring power when Israel bombards Gaza. It doesn’t make sense to me; I think one of the greatest impediments to establish a Palestinian state is actually the maintenance of the Palestinian Authority the way it is. Because the Palestinian Authority under the Israeli occupation has become a kind of a subcontractor for Israel’s security and the donors’ community is the subcontractor for Israel’s economic aid. Because at the end of the day, all the money that we get from the donors goes to Israel, as we are consuming their products. The Israeli occupation is a very luxurious one – they have subcontracted and free security and subcontracted and free economic aid. So I think its going to be very difficult for the current Palestinian leadership –whether it concerns Fatah or Hamas- to really sit and focus and decide that this cannot go on, because the “power balance” may not necessarily be for this kind of a national unity. Because who is the main decision maker in world affairs today? It is the USA, and the US don’t want to talk to Hamas because they consider them as terrorist and they are allying with Iran and Israel wants to destroy Iran, the EU doesn’t have any political say in regional affairs – especially in our region. EU has sufficed itself; it is satisfied by just paying the bills of the Israeli occupation. It’s quite sad really, because it is aid rather than enabling the Palestinians to live freely and create infrastructure, or make trade. Indeed, we do need international aid so that we carry on living, but on the other hand, this international aid is only prolonging the conflict; instead of working towards the termination of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian land, so that we can create our own infrastructure and be self-sustained, the international community is merely sustaining the current shameful situation. It is like a vicious circle and its very sad that no-one is able to really think outside the box. Because all the actors and the players are so consumed in maintaining each one’s roles and they cannot break out of their short-sightedness. The loser at the end of the day is the Palestinian cause: that is, the fate of the Palestinian people. A people that has been denied its dignity for the past 60 years, and it doesn’t seem that this will end because of the failure of Israel to end its occupation and because of the failure of the international community to hold Israel accountable to its responsibilities, not only as a country which should have allowed the existence of the Palestinian state but also as an occupying power in terms of its responsibility under the 4th Geneva Convention for safeguarding the rights of the population under occupation. So, it’s a whole machine and it doesn’t seem like it can stop. It seems that the world’s conscience has gone into a very long nap, it is in a comma actually, and it’s very difficult to wake everybody up and say enough is enough. It doesn’t seem like many people are really interested in making change, because people are so captive to their own interests. We have a very strong case but we have never been able to make it be heard. That’s a shortage on our side, and I don’t know if we can remedy this shortage now… because the Jewish lobby machinery is so strong that its controlling world media and it’s a very huge machine. And this machine is not only about media, its about intellectuals, its about people, its about friends, its about colleagues, and it is so strong partly because Israel is comprised of people who have been so infiltrated into the Western culture. So we are talking about ideas, about people living in those cultures. If I am your friend and you only know me, you adopt my story. I cannot blame you if you‘re not able to go look for the real truth. The people who are eager to look for the objective truth of the matter comprise a very, very small minority. Even for people who come to Israel-Palestine to cover media, because Israel is a lot stronger than us in terms of providing the story, so the media correspondents don’t really bother: they simply want to write a story, send it to their editor and it all ends there. The Israeli ideological machinery is so strongly institutionalised that –like Edward Said said- not only do Palestinians not have the right to narrate their sufferings, they don’t even have the opportunity to do so. We don’t have the political means to make our story heard.
Let me return to my previous question, as it is very crucial. Do you see any potential of conciliation between Hamas and Fatah?
Not now. It is my biggest utmost wish for them to unite, because in my opinion they are fighting over something that is non-existent – which is power and sovereignty. They should unite in order to make the pre-requisites for Palestine to ever exist as a true national entity. They should try to see how they can end the Israeli occupation. This, nonetheless, is going to be very complicated because it is not only Fatah and Hamas who are playing; in our battlefield, everybody is using us as pretexts to fight their own battles. We have many external players, like Iran, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Israel… who benefit from the split between the Palestinian political leadership. It is like divide and rule and the Palestinians are so cornered now.
In regard to the Annapolis conference and consequent peace talks between Olmert and Abbas, to what extent can one hope for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Annapolis is just a worse version of Oslo. There is a lot of money but no political horizon whatsoever. It doesn’t seem that negotiations are going to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. Even if they did –theoretically speaking- what kind of a Palestinian state would that be? It would be a state that would be completely controlled by Israel and we cannot have a real state unless we have free borders. If Israel keeps controlling the passage to our land, it is not a state but a pseudo-administration that is being subcontracted by the Israeli occupation. What I want to say is that I think that the situation has become so complicated that the stake holders in the whole thing
As a President of the Palestinian Forum, what are your expectations regarding the forthcoming change of US Government? Do you hope that the new government will follow a different foreign policy regarding the Palestinian problem?
It’s going to be very difficult because U.S. foreign policy regarding the Middle East has been the same for so long. There’s a whole system behind it and you do not change it at once. It depends on the willingness of the new president, of how much time they are ready to devote. It will be very difficult, however, because the time factor works against us. I think we will be losing at least one more year, if we do not get any way forward by the end of 2008 and we wait for the new American elections, it’s going to be at least two years having people being helpless, but at the same time Israel is unilaterally changing the facts in the ground (with settlement building) and making it even more difficult. So far I am not so sure about the balance of power, I am not so sure about what will happen, or of any potential wars. In reality, it all depends on who this new American administration will bring in terms of advisors for the Middle East, and so far most of the previous governments have had Jewish advisors, Jewish generals, Jewish ambassadors who are working in the conflict. And this really weakens the neutrality or the mediation/position of the U.S.’s involvement in the conflict. At the end of the day, the all feel pro-Jewish. I don’t blame them but this is a very imbalanced situation. It also depends on how much the Arabs will be able to lobby in the U.S. but this will take many-many years and it will even depends on whether the Arabs in the U.S. will still be interested in fighting for the Palestinian issue.
* Lily Habash, a strong advocate of a modern Palestinian State, has been working with the Palestinian Authority since it was first created. Ms. Habash served as special adviser to the chief Palestinian negotiator during the Permanent Status Negotiations with Israel, and was a member of the Palestinian Technical Support Unit in economic negotiations with Israel. She has also played key roles in the PLO Negotiations Support Unit; the Palestinian Media Center; and the Office of the Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister, where she has worked on issues of internal reform. Ms. Habash has worked closely and in advisory positions with several high-ranking Palestinian leaders, including the ex-Prime Minister as well as the Minister of National Security.