Dr. Ghassan Khatib, lecturer of Cultural Studies and Contemporary Arab Studies at Birzeit University
Dr. Ghassan Khatib, professor of contemporary Arab studies and international studies at Birzeit University, predicts that the consecutive postponements of the “deal of the century’s” announcement including the announcement of the economic conference in Bahrain at the end of June, is a sign of the United States’ political failure given that it did not receive acceptance or reception by the Palestinians, from many of the US’s Arab friends, or from European countries.
As part of his interview with “Hosted by MIFTAH”, Khatib said the Palestinian position was solid in rejecting this deal and others, which was what encouraged Arab countries also to reject it. He called for continued rejection of this deal and of the Bahrain conference.
Following is the full text of the interview:
**What is your take on the recent political developments, whether in regards to the ‘deal of the century’ or the Bahrain conference, which is a precursor to implementing the economic aspect of the deal. Do you think this constitutes a success for the Trump administration?
I think the consecutive postponements over the past three years of the American deal and also the announcement of the Bahrain economic conference are all signs of the US’s political failure. Every time they test the waters regarding the deal they find that it is not being accepted, not only by the Palestinians but also by their Arab friends, who have expressed their discomfort with it. The Europeans also announced on more than one occasion that they would continue abiding by the principle of the two-state solution and negotiations. So, with each time, the United States has been unable to convince outside parties of its ideas and therefore postpones announcement of the plan. It is my opinion that the US will not announce its deal at the Manama conference, which will only result in failure because its topic is investment in Palestine. There are two problems in this regard. The first is that there will be no Palestinians at the conference, neither official nor from the private sector. The second problem is the [Israeli] occupation, which hinders investment in Palestine. If we look at any of the World Bank’s reports, it is undeniably clear that the restrictions imposed by the occupation hinder successful investment in Palestine. That is why the private sector and the Arab and international government sector will have no incentives to invest in our country because of the current political situation and the occupation.
**What are the possible options open to the Palestinian leadership in dealing with these developments? How can the Palestinian position regarding the ‘deal of the century” be further solidified?
The postponements are a kind of success for the Palestinians because their firm position of rejecting this or other similar deals and not engaging with the United States on this issue has encouraged Arab countries to take the same position. Hence, the fact that the US has yet to declare its deal is a kind of victory for Palestinian diplomacy. I think the Palestinians need to continue to reject this deal, but there must be more interaction between the public sector and the people. By this I mean the government and the leadership with the people and the private sector so there is a popular and official consensus over this position. Even if the deal is officially announced, I think the Palestinians must continue to unequivocally reject it and not get involved in any discussions with the US administration over it.
**How will the continued internal division reflect on efforts to combat this deal and its repercussions? Do you think this deal could single out the Gaza Strip for example?
I think the division weakens the Palestinian position in terms of vulnerability to all forms of confrontation, challenges and dangers. However, in regards to the ‘deal of the century”, the Palestinians are in unison. The PA, Hamas, the private sector, the public and all factions and parties are never in consensus over anything except for this, their rejection of the ‘deal of the century”. Perhaps this is because the impact of the division on this matter is limited to only the possibility that part of this plan could involve the Gaza Strip including attempts to single it out by taking advantage of the poor circumstances and the poor leadership there. This is the only real concern but it still demands efforts to achieve reconciliation so this chapter can be closed and we can confront the ‘deal of the century’ and other challenges in unison.
There is a risk that the difficult circumstances in the Gaza Strip and the Hamas leadership’s underestimation of the two-state solution could be an opening for the US administration and Israel under the guise of humanitarian needs. That is, they will try to improve conditions there and gradually start dealing with Gaza as the nucleus of the Palestinian state, which will exempt Israel before the international community of its responsibility for derailing the principle of the two-state solution. If you ask me, that is the main concern in this regard and it is a real and serious one at that.
**What about the regional developments, especially regarding the Iranian file and the threat of a military confrontation? Will these developments impact the Palestinian cause?
The American-Israeli effort to link these two subjects on the premise of a mutual threat and therefore encouraging Israel and some Arab countries to coordinate, cooperate and normalize, has not worked in my opinion. If it has succeeded, this success has been very limited and is not concerning. Arab countries are concerned with Iranian policy but they do not feel they need Israel’s support; there is no correlation between this danger and between establishing relations with Israel. The Saudi position on this was very clear. Saudi Arabia is like the big brother of the countries in this region. While it is true there are some smaller countries not part of this consensus, these countries have very little weight. In any case, having few insignificant Arab states outside of the Arab consensus is nothing new. I think the Arab position is more or less cohesive in rejecting Israel’s attempts at normalization on the pretext of the Iranian threat without ending its occupation. It is also clear that majority of the Arab countries are still adherent to the Arab Peace Initiative, which conditions the end of the occupation before any relations or laxity with Israel are established. I think this will continue as long as the ‘deal of the century’ gives sovereignty over Jerusalem to Israel. Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the Islamic nation, cannot go along with a plan that makes Jerusalem part of Israel. The same applies to Jordan (the custodian of the holy sites of Jerusalem) , which is why I think the Arab position will remain somewhat coherent in confronting Israeli/American attempts to blackmail Gulf countries under the guise of the Iranian threat.
What is your take on the recent Israeli elections? What does this mean for us given the rise of the extreme right?
I think these elections coincided with the overall shift in Israeli public opinion and the positions of the Israeli political. Each election there produces a more stringent government further away from the mentality of negotiations than the one before it. This new government will take Israel one step further away from the two-state solution and in the direction of cementing Israeli control over the occupied territories. With these elections, Israel has removed itself from the realm of the two-state solution and from any negotiated solution and has cemented the strategy of devouring the West Bank which it began over 50 years ago. Today, it is in the process of completing this by settlement expansion, which will only increase since there is an American administration in place that supports this approach. Moreover, the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem’s annexation will encourage Israel to complete annexation of settlement blocs. In this way, they settle the land and then later annex these settlements and expand them into other areas.
**What options does the international community have in terms of the negotiations process between Palestinians and Israelis?
The international community is expected to continue to adopt the same declared positions even though the United States is outside of the international consensus, which is a dangerous departure because it breaks with the international consensus on the two-state solution and on a solution based on international legitimacy. However, this consensus will not end. I think Europe in particular will continue to adopt the same position along with Russia and China, which are major global blocs. Any change in the American position is harmful to Palestinian interests but it will also prompt positions from other countries because American relations with the rest of the world are getting worse. In turn, this will affect the United States’ ability to convince other countries to take the same path as its new administration.
**Do you see a change in the positions of some European countries vis-à-vis Palestinian rights, especially the Germans? How can we garner more political support for our people?
The only change is the legislation passed in the German parliament regarding the BDS campaign. However nothing has changed in terms of the German position towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; they are still committed to the same principles. I am not underestimating the gravity of the vote on the boycott but I think this will stay contained within Germany and the United States. The Jewish lobby and Israel’s friends blackmailed Germany because of its historic exclusivity. They twisted Germany’s arm because they know it is in a delicate position that does not allow it to say no to Jewish demands regarding anti-Semitism. Perhaps Germany is not convinced of what is happening but it has to meet such demands regarding anti-Semitism because of the exclusivity of Germany and its relationship with Jews. That is why I don’t expect what happened in Germany to spread to other European countries. There are some European countries that adopt the US position almost mechanically, especially the former socialist countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria. I don’t know what might happen there but I highly doubt that this position will be adopted outside of Germany.
**How can we invest in the international support for Palestinian rights, which we saw particularly during the Eurovision song contest recently held in Tel Aviv?
I think we are seeing broad horizons in regards to so-called popular diplomacy, one form of which is the BDS movement. I also think that at the level of global public opinion and particularly in western countries that have historically been friendly with Israel, we have a chance I do not seem to understand the previous three lines, can we remove them?. There should be harmony between official Palestinian diplomacy and popular diplomacy because in the past, these two diplomacies have clashed. Therefore, I call for a holistic approach between these two strategies whereby official strategic diplomacy achieves progress at the level of international institutions on the basis of international law, and popular diplomacy achieves progress at the popular level in universities, student councils, unions, churches, etc. That is, in popular, nongovernmental circles. There is potential for this diplomacy to make strides in our favor. Perhaps Eurovision is one example of such achievements. While it is true that the contest was still held, it was weak. And even those groups that came to Israel could not ignore Palestine. That is why we saw Madonna including the Palestinian flag in her performance. This is a big thing and is very symbolic. With this event, Israel tried to ignore the Palestinians’ existence and thought the groups that came were in agreement with them, Madonna included. So, even this event, which included staunch supporters of Israel and was held in the middle of Tel Aviv, could not ignore the existence of the Palestinians.
**What do you think about the new government under Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayeh? What are the main tasks of his 100-day plan?
I think changing the government and mandating Mohammad Shtayah to head it was a move in the right direction because I think it is time Fatah figures head the government. It was not wise for Fatah to continue hiding behind independent figures. I believe it is necessary to benefit from technocrats but at the same time I think the post of prime minister should be a political one. In this regard, I believe Mohammad Shtayeh is much more suitable than others for the job and everything we have heard from him so far points in the right direction. Unfortunately, however, the space available to the government over the previous years has dwindled in that some of the government’s tasks seem to have become the tasks of the ‘muqata’ [presidential headquarters] and the security establishment. This means the maneuvering space for the government is limited. Still, it is important that there is an effective tool within this space no matter how narrow or small. However, there will never be effective action and development of Palestinian political performance overall without elections that pump in new blood, renew the leadership and restore unity among the people, government and leadership. The absence of elections in PLO and PA institutions and in most factions and parties and even in union and civil society institutions has led to the stagnation of Palestinian public institutions. It has also resulted in a growing chasm and mistrust between these institutions and the people over their inability to perform their duties. It is my hope that this new government will push things forward after so many setbacks.
**Do you think the political pressure on the PA and the financial crisis could result in its collapse?
I don’t think so. Still, even though no one is interested in the collapse of the PA, Israel wants to weaken it. Israel’s battle with the PA is that it wants its mandate to be confined to services and administrative tasks and to have no political role. The PA, meanwhile, insists on this dual role – the administrative government role and political role. Still, the entire world, including Israel, is keen on the preservation of the PA as a matter of principle. It’s true that in its efforts to weaken the PA, Israel could go as far as causing its collapse, but this is not a likely possibility, at least at this stage.