Video: Ali Abunimah on Abbas’ UN speech, new Fatah-Hamas deal on Gaza

On Friday, I was interviewed on The Real News Network by Anton Woronczuk. The video is above and the full transcript is below.

We discussed Palestinian Authority de facto leader Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the UN General Assembly on Friday, the latest announcement of a deal between Fatah and Hamas for the Abbas-run PA to take over the government of Gaza and the long-term prospects for reconstruction.


(courtesy of The Real News Network)

Anton Woronczuk: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.

Hamas and Fatah have agreed to transfer administrative control of the Gaza Strip to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority after a couple of days of negotiations in Cairo. The decision comes about a month after a ceasefire was agreed between Gaza and Israel after the 50-day Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, in which over 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 72 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.

Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the United Nations General Assembly, where he called Operation Protective Edge a, quote, “genocidal crime” and made demands for a timeline requiring Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to the 1967 borders.

Joining us now to discuss all this is Ali Abunimah. Ali is the cofounder of the award-winning online publication The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. His latest book is titled The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

Thanks for joining us, Ali.

Ali Abunimah: Thank you, Anton.

AW: So, Ali, let’s start off by getting your response to Mahmoud Abbas’ comments to the UN General Assembly.

AA: Well, it was really a speech that was empty of any substantive content. There was some disappointment among Palestinians who expected him to announce some bold initiative, for example announcing that he would sign the International Criminal Court [ICC] treaty and try to bring to justice the Israelis who carried out the slaughter in Gaza, among other crimes.

But he did nothing of that. All that he announced was another initiative to bring forward another UN resolution to add to the hundreds of UN resolutions gathering dust. So really it was the speech of an individual who lacks legitimacy, lacks authority, and who has absolutely reached a political dead-end.

AW: Yeah, I mean, a fundamental problem with that strategy that he announced seems to be that if he brought forth a UN resolution, that the US could easily veto it, and it seems the more effective thing for him to do would be to go to the ICC to bring war crimes charges against Israel. Why wouldn’t he do that?

AA: Well, that’s, of course, the million-dollar question. And the answer is that Mahmoud Abbas is, his Palestinian Authority regime is in fact closely allied to Israel in a number of ways.

Despite his rhetoric criticizing Israel, the fact is at no point has he ever stopped the so-called security coordination between the Israeli occupation army and the Palestinian Authority. So, while families were being slaughtered in Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas’ security forces were continuing their routine cooperation with the Israeli Shin Bet security services and with the Israeli army in the West Bank.

And secondly, his authority relies on cash transfers via Israel for tax revenues. His Palestinian Authority security forces rely on Israel for the deliveries of their equipment and weapons. So he’s not in a position and nor is he inclined to challenge Israel, let alone to take its leaders to a war crimes court.

And I think his game, you know, this sort of shell game of constantly saying, we will do something, we will do something, has really reached a dead end. And all he had today was to announce that he’s going to try and get another UN resolution, as if another UN resolution, even if it passed, would lead to any change on the ground.

AW: I mean, this issue of legitimacy seems to be a major factor here in the transfer of administrative control to the Palestinian Authority, as you have tens of thousands of civil servants in Gaza who remain unpaid. And as far as I understand, no referendums or no vote was allowed to Gazans on this decision to transfer administrative control.

AA: Well, let’s be clear. The reason that Hamas has agreed nominally to transfer administrative control to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is not because the Palestinian Authority has any great legitimacy, but because it has the de facto backing of Israel and the United States and the Europeans, and, of course, the Egyptian military dictatorship, which means that all of those forces that ranked and lined up against the Palestinians, and against particularly Hamas, have insisted that any reconstruction aid, any loosening of the Egyptian-Israeli siege on Gaza, one condition for that is that the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas control the border crossings of Gaza.

So, in effect, Mahmoud Abbas and his forces would be acting as Israeli proxies to function as sort of Israel’s presence on Gaza’s borders. That’s the only reason that Hamas would agree to this. But it’s certainly not because of any greater political legitimacy that Abbas has. On the contrary, as a consequence of the resistance’s – and by resistance I mean all the factions that fought against Israel, not just Hamas – they are the ones who’ve seen sort of popularity and their popular legitimacy soar, because of their ability to withstand the brutal Israeli assault for 51 days.

AW: So if Hamas and Islamic Jihad have seen such a major surge in their popularity after Operation Protective Edge, why would they decide to this agreement? How would it be in their interest?

AA: Well, as I said, they withstood the assault. But they remain besieged in Gaza. Unfortunately, the siege has not been lifted yet, even though that was reportedly one of the promises Israel made as part of the ceasefire agreement a month ago. We’ve seen almost no change on the borders of Gaza.

So that’s also something we have to be very aware of, that previous ceasefires have broken down not because Palestinians have violated them. Palestinians, on the contrary, have been the ones that have kept to them far more strictly. It has been because Israel has never respected the terms. And once again we’re going down that path where a month later absolutely nothing has changed as the situation in Gaza remains desperate.

But it’s not just about Israel. The problem is you have the Egyptian dictatorship, you have the Palestinian Authority, which are trying to use this situation to regain leverage. Mahmoud Abbas wants to return to Gaza. He wants his Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza. So he’s very happy with anti-Palestinian forces like Israel and the Egyptians and the Europeans and others insisting that Abbas’ forces be present in Gaza.

But even if Abbas’ forces do return to control the crossings in Gaza, it’s very difficult to see it going beyond that, because I can’t see how the resistance forces in Gaza could trust Abbas’ security forces to have any more substantial presence in Gaza, given their cooperation with the Israeli occupation and the fear that by letting forces that are working with Israel into Gaza, that this would endanger the lives of people working in the resistance.

AW: Well, it also seems that cooperation with Egypt could be a further way that the Palestinian Authority would undermine its legitimacy both within the West Bank and Gaza, since Egypt has played a tremendous role in perpetuating the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza through the control of the Rafah border. And it seems –.

AA: And that’s something Mahmoud Abbas has never complained about. Again, we heard him in his UN speech praising Egypt and praising this conference which Egypt is going to host, supposedly for reconstruction aid of Gaza.

And the real danger here of letting the Palestinian Authority control the reconstruction process and letting its allies, like Norway and some of the other European countries, control the reconstruction process is that historically these forces have subordinated aid to Israel’s interest and Israel’s will.

And, of course, what we’ve seen in the West Bank in the twenty years since the Oslo accords is the development of a very corrupt neoliberal economy in which a few Palestinians at the top benefit from large construction projects, siphon off huge profits, a sort of a disaster capitalism, to use Naomi Klein’s term for it, and that the danger is that instead of reconstruction in the interests of the people of Gaza, that we get disaster capitalism.

The people who should really be in control of reconstruction in Gaza are people in Gaza, the communities that have been destroyed. The families, the villages, the refugee camps, they should be the ones who determine how reconstruction is done, and it should be done in their interests and their interests alone.

AW: But to go back to a question that I was trying to ask before is, it just seems that Hamas is making concessions – at least I’m talking in terms of its own political interests – it’s making concessions at a time in its peak popularity. And the decision to go to Cairo to engage in this kind of negotiations, I mean, it’s clear to everyone that the Sisi government in Egypt is entirely trying to crush or eliminate Hamas’s political control of the Gaza Strip. So why would Hamas agree to even having negotiations hosted in Cairo?

AA: Well, there are certainly people who question that strategy and who say that, you know, time and again we’ve seen the Egyptians really acting as proxies for Israel. And there are voices within Gaza and within Palestine more generally saying, don’t go to Cairo. I suppose that the calculation that Hamas leaders and other resistance factions have made is that the ceasefire agreement did include agreement to go back to Cairo to negotiate the terms of a long-term truce. And I suppose they think that they have to follow through with that.

But the real test of whether that strategy is the right one will be if these negotiations actually produce a lifting of the siege and the end to Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, the Europeans, and the Americans – I mean, this is the so-called international community – using Palestinian civilians in Gaza as hostages in their war against Hamas.

Will they stop using humanitarian aid, stop using reconstruction as a political weapon, and allow Palestinians in Gaza to rebuild their lives regardless of whether Hamas agrees to this or that Israeli or American or European condition?

People in Gaza should be allowed to rebuild. It’s a basic right. It shouldn’t depend on whether the Egyptian dictator or the unelected Palestinian Authority leader or the European countries are happy with the platform of this or that Palestinian political party.

AW: Alright. Ali Abunimah, cofounder of Electronic Intifada.

Thank you so much for joining us.

AA: Thank you.

AW: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.




Regarding sending Israel to the ICC: Abbas is trying everything he can before going this route, because the ICC is the "nuclear option" -- the option that is most damaging to Israel, and which would likely cause Israel to severely punish the West Bank.

Abbas has helped bring-about a higher quality of life for the West Bank than they've had in the past. Not that life there is great, but it's better. Abbas had obviously hoped that he could eventually, through patience and negotiation, procure Palestinian independence. But, since the failure of the talks in April, he has come to believe, as he has been stating publicly, that the current Israeli government is intransigent and that he will have to go through other means to achieve this goal. (The current Israeli government has been a terrible partner for negotiations.)

These "other means" have to be used effectively and in the correct order of severity -- because there aren't all that many of them. And, for each, there are corresponding levels of penalty that Israel will likely impose on the West Bank. If Abbas is going to risk having Israel treat the West Bank like Gaza, losing all of the gains he's made in the last decade, it needs to be after all other options have been attempted.

Altogether, both the West Bank and Gaza have little negotiating leverage, largely because of positions by the US and Egypt that support Israel. Abbas will need to be extraordinarily clever if he is to have any chance of achieving any progress -- because changes are already so slim.


Thanks for your comments Peter. The claim that Abbas has improved life for Palestinians in the West Bank is untrue. A small elite has a vastly improved quality of life while the vast majority of Palestinains in the West Bank are worse off than ever — a phenomenon I explore in the chapter “Neoliberal Palestine” in my book The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

Second, justice for Palestinians murdered by Israeli war criminals is not a bargaining chip owned by Abbas. Justice is a right that belongs to those individuals and neither Abbas nor anyone else has the right to bargain with it or withhold it for their own political purposes, especially when they have no legitimacy to lead whatsoever.