This week Palestine Report Online interviews Saleh Abdel Jawad, professor of political science at Birzeit University, on the Sharm Al Sheikh summit.
PR: Do we now have peace and is everything back on track?
Abdel Jawad: Peace? We have perhaps a serious ceasefire. I’m not sure if we have peace. There is an attempt. I think the Americans have pushed hard to arrive at a certain situation. If peace will come, or if a political process will go further, this is another story.
PR: But things appear to have moved very fast since President Mahmoud Abbas was elected president. Do you attribute this only to American pressure?
Abdel Jawad: Not, of course, only. Abbas is serious, he is committed to what he says, and I think the ball is now mainly in the Israeli court. Abbas is still obliged to do certain things on the Palestinian side: he has to apply the ceasefire fully and control the situation. The Israelis have to get to, at least, the pre-September 28, 2000 situation. Then we can maybe move on the roadmap.
PR: Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have announced that they do not feel themselves bound by the ceasefire announcement at Sharm Al Sheikh. What do you think their position is?
Abdel Jawad: If I understand what they said correctly, they are going to wait and see from Abbas when he returns. I hope they will respect the ceasefire. With all respect for the resistance, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad played an important part in this, they should respect the election of Abbas as president and give him time.
Some have already complained that [the Israelis] haven’t freed the prisoners. I don’t think the Israelis will free all the prisoners immediately. We have to enter a process where each side takes confidence-building measures. On the other hand, I am not very optimistic the Israelis are serious on this issue. They are talking about freeing 900 prisoners, but in the last month alone they imprisoned about that number. Why? Only to free them today? What we also need is for them to end the assassination policy and for us to have real sovereignty in the Palestinian territories and not just in the cities. They say they are withdrawing from the cities, but the cities they are talking about they are not in anyway.
I hope Hamas understands the position of Abbas. I don’t think Abbas will try to destroy what the Israelis call the “terror infrastructure”. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are part of the Palestinian resistance and Abbas knows this.
PR: There is some suggestion that with its recent success in local elections, and poised to enter PLC elections, Hamas has an interest in a ceasefire. What do you think?
Abdel Jawad: I think, despite its recent political gains in local elections in Gaza, Hamas is also facing difficult questions. Their crisis is not less than the Authority’s. They understand if they continue now [armed actions] they will be seen to have destroyed the agreement in Sharm Al Sheikh and as not having given enough time for Abbas to be successful - again, I emphasize, I’m not optimistic Israel will allow him to be successful - but Hamas needs to take care not to be perceived to be the cause.
Hamas also understands that any violence could lead to a general Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. This is not in their interests. I think they have learned the lessons of 2002 and the Israeli invasions of the cities of the West Bank, which to a large extent damaged their infrastructure and their ability to wage any kind of serious military operation.
I also think Hamas, like the PLO in the 1970s, is facing up to reality and has drawn certain conclusions. The leadership has displayed a great amount of patience in their militancy and their struggle, but today they have to carefully read, more than four or five years ago, the international situation, the regional situation and the fact that in both Palestinian and Israeli societies people are tired from the continuation of the violence.
PR: People have been talking about a new era, but we still have Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Has he been transformed from a man of war to a man of peace?
Abdel Jawad: No, no, no! This is why Abbas is walking in a minefield. The Israelis and the Americans want Abbas to destroy the resistance, maybe to get into a civil war. I don’t think Sharon has changed, but I sense some American pressure. My assumption is that whenever Sharon feels American pressure, he tends at least temporarily to yield.
But, Sharon also needs some time of quiet on the Palestinian front. Still, I really don’t trust him at all. What we are seeing on the ground, and as we are seeing with the issue of prisoners, is an indication that the Israelis are not really serious. But we can’t say, “they are not serious and so we will not engage”. We have to take our chances and still be vigilant and aware of the situation as it develops.
PR: How important is the prisoner issue, and what will show that the Israelis are serious?
Abdel Jawad: They can’t come and take hundreds of prisoners just before a summit and then say they are going to release them or others who only have a few months to run on their sentences. We know there are thousands of Palestinian prisoners. What we need is to have prisoners released who have been in prison since the 1970s. It doesn’t matter that the Israelis define them as having “blood on their hands”. All Israeli leaders have Palestinian blood on their hands, especially Sharon, from Battalion 101 in 1948 and the tens of massacres in Nahalin Qibe, Qalqiliya, against Egyptian prisoners in 1956 and 1967, in the Gaza Strip in the 1970s and up through Sabra and Shatila. What we need is a humanistic approach from both sides, to try to forget the blood and revenge and to see the prisoners in the context of a national struggle. The issue of the prisoners will mobilize thousands, even tens of thousands in favor of the peace process.
If Sharon wants peace we have an historical opportunity. If Sharon only wants a ceasefire, this is another question.
This article was originally published 9 February 2005, by Palestine Report, found at www.palestinereport.org. Also in this week’s edition: PR reports on Jerusalemites’ fears for their properties and reports on public demands for a crackdown on crime in Nablus.