Posted by: noticeable | December 15, 2007

I don’t trust this government

The following is reproduced from Bitterlemons:

I don’t trust this government

an interview with Ahmed Tibi (deputy speaker of the Knesset and a leader of the Arab Movement for Change)

bitterlemons: How do you assess the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process following the Annapolis summit?

Tibi: Nothing surprising has occurred. From the very beginning we knew we are only initiating final status negotiations thanks to international involvement. This is not much more than a step in the right direction. There were no negotiations in Annapolis and that’s why I believe it was a non-event. Things in the Middle East are relative and that’s why some Palestinian leaders look positively on the agreement to initiate final status negotiations, but on the ground the Palestinians’ hard life, suffering and humiliation has not been relieved.

That the international community is accompanying this process is also a positive thing. But the withdrawal of the Israeli government from Olmert’s original intent to talk seriously about core issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, borders and settlements is a negative development that reflects coalition considerations.

bitterlemons: From 1993 to 1999 you were an adviser to Yasser Arafat. Can you compare then and now in terms of the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Tibi: I took part in the Madrid conference and was a spokesman for the Palestinian delegation at Wye River. There and at Camp David we had negotiations; here we have a startup. So I’m not optimistic that we’ll settle the final status issues by the end of 2008. If [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert can’t convince his defense minister, Ehud Barak, to remove roadblocks, I’m not sure he’ll be able to convince his coalition to go forward on the core issues.

As for the comparison between Arafat and Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas], no two people are alike. Arafat was a symbol and was charismatic; Abu Mazen is chairman of the PLO and president of the PA, he is authorized to negotiate and is capable. If the vision of two states collapses, the international community will press for a bi-national state.

bitterlemons: In Arafat’s day the Palestinian citizens of Israel were perceived as a bridge to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Have they now become part of the problem rather than part of the solution?

Tibi: Nobody is dealing with us as a bridge today. The statements of Deputy PM [Avigdor] Lieberman and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, talking about the Palestinian state as the national solution for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, are creating a problem. They place question marks over the policy of this government toward the Arab minority in Israel. Those ministers behave toward us as non-citizens who can be moved about like chess pieces. We can’t accept that. We want our national identity in parallel to our citizenship, to give it real content. Meanwhile Livni is willing to tell Arab citizens, you can move if you wish to an independent Palestinian state. This is not the way a government should deal with its citizens. We are not immigrants to this county, Lieberman is. We are indigenous.

bitterlemons: The position papers and draft constitutions published during the past year by mainstream groups of Palestinian citizens of Israel, rejecting Israel‘s identity as a Jewish state, are cited as having contributed to attitudes like that expressed by Livni.

Tibi: I’m not sure this was the trigger for her position. Livni comes from the Likud; she’s originally a rightist. I’m not sure her ideology changed on the way from the Likud to Kadima. There is no trust between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority in Israel. Arabs are being treated as enemies, not as core citizens. They are marginalized. The definition of Israel as a Jewish state is perceived as deepening discrimination against non-Jews. Both the majority and minority in Israel have a responsibility to repair relations, but the majority has more tools to do this. Instead we are neglected and pushed away. Look what is going on in the Knesset with anti-Arab legislation.

bitterlemons: For Olmert to succeed in a peace process, he may need the support of some or all of the 10 members of Knesset who represent Arab parties. Would you join his coalition if the issue ever came up?

Tibi: No, we don’t support any coalition. We support a positive peace process. Here we mean my Knesset faction with its four mandates, but also in general the majority of the 10 members of Knesset. If there is any move toward withdrawal from occupied territories or a genuine peace process, we will not be an obstacle. I won’t let Lieberman bring down the coalition. If my vote becomes the deciding one, I will support a peace process.

bitterlemons: But suppose you were invited to join or officially support the coalition.

Tibi: The constellation is possible, yet I don’t trust this government as willing to go forward.

bitterlemons: Are the Arab members of Knesset trying to mediate in the dispute between Fateh and Hamas?

Tibi: We tried to do so two months ago. We met with Abu Mazen and tried to meet with Hamas in Gaza but were forbidden to enter the Gaza Strip by the [Israel] Defense Ministry. The [Hamas-Fateh] split is causing real damage to the Palestinian cause. I cannot accept the situation created by the military coup in Gaza. We should return to the status quo ante.- Published 10/12/2007 (c)

Ahmed Tibi is deputy speaker of the Knesset and a leader of the Arab Movement for Change. He has been a member of Knesset since 1999.


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