Interview with Mr. Ibrahim Sharqieh, Director of the Doha Brookings Center, Beirut.
In the background of this, the US and Israel have expressed great concern about the upgrade of status to Palestine in the United Nations with Both US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu saying that an upgrade in the UN status of Palestine would be a set back to a peace agreement and not have any impact on the ground.
Press TV has interviewed Mr. Ibrahim Sharqieh, Director of the Doha Brookings Center, Beirut about the issue of the Palestinian upgrade in status at the United Nations. The following is an approximate transcription of the interview.
Press TV: This Palestinian bid for statehood, what will it achieve for the Palestinians because many people are saying it is actually a symbolic move - Where are the fruits of it?
Sharqieh: There is as you said the symbolic part of this UN bid that for once at least the Palestinians will address the United Nations and more recognition of a Palestinian state rather than as it was in the past being invited just for a talk.
So here we are talking about more of a symbolic victory for the Palestinian leadership and for the approach of dealing with Palestine at this time and dealing with the international community.
In addition to the symbolic part there is some advancement that the Palestinian leadership can do for the Palestinian cause by upgrading the status at the United Nations.
And as you know one of the major benefits, we’ve been talking about it for some time, is membership in international organizations. We have seen a full Palestinian membership at UNESCO and in the United Nations if this becomes a reality after the voting then this will allow Palestine membership in other organizations as well.
Press TV: How can it change the situation on the ground because we all know that Israel is shifting further to the right. We saw the preliminary elections in Israel and President Obama doesn’t appear to have the will or the capability to put pressure on the Israelis.
In the end these expansive settlements policies continue etc so how will it change the facts on the ground?
Sharqieh: Here we have to recognize the opportunities that comes with this upgrade and the limits - so we have to recognize both.
In terms of opportunity this takes actually the fight with Israel to a whole different level rather than be exclusively in-Palestine and the Palestinians against the Israelis, this opens the door for more of a legal international battle because Israel can be held legally under international law to be more responsible about its practices in the Palestinians territories.
So, it’s about taking the conflict and struggle against Israeli oppression to a more international legal level by this upgrade.
And if Palestine becomes a state in the United Nations it will as we said before it will become of an opportunity to enroll in other international organizations.
We have to recognize just one thing on the limits - we should not exaggerate the impact of this membership because at the end of the day there are facts on the ground - The settlement expansion has been legally denied by the international community, but nevertheless Israelis is continuing.
So there is a limit to this upgrade that the Palestinian leadership should understand and not just exaggerate the impact of it.
Press TV: Regarding the American stance, even in this step Mahmoud Abbas is considered the Palestinian ally of President Obama, but even here Obama has chosen to back Netanyahu. Why is it that even in such a mild step the Americans are still pursuing the same old pro-Israeli track?
Sharqieh: That’s a very important question, but before I answer this let me add one more thing on the membership issue because though I don’t want it to seem that it is all about the membership in the ICC, it is important to have access to the ICC especially to keep in mind that we are talking about the very serious investigation about the death of Arafat.
And we are expecting in a couple of months that this thing of Arafat’s death is to appear and to see how this is going to be handled. So, a membership with the ICC would allow the Palestinians to pursue this case in the ICC, if this becomes a reality and becomes a member at the United Nations and the ICC. So that is how that is important.
Now, for the US I believe the relationship between the US and Israel is much deeper than about a resolution or voting or not voting in the United Nations. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has allied itself with Israeli interests in the first term under Obama and it was justified and explained by many in the first term that Obama is allying with Israel because he needs the Jewish vote in the United States and all of that.
But now we are seeing again that Obama in the second term is no different from Obama in the first term. This was very clear and disappointing in the first couple of days of the war on Gaza when Obama made the very clear statement allying itself with one part of the conflict with Israel at the expense of the US image in the region and its role in the region of allying.
So this has actually disappointed the US allies and I think US allies in particular Mahmoud Abbas - I think here what the Obama administration is doing is having a trade-off between allies, which is a very wrong approach because if you an ally then you have to support your ally here in the region.
And Mahmoud Abbas has shown the highest level more than any leadership in the Palestinian history I would imagine could go more liberal or more moderate than the current Palestinian leadership - Mahmoud Abbas.
And here is the outcome, here is what he is getting from the Obama administration is to continue to ally with Israel and not supporting the Palestinian membership. This in fact is causing instability in the region for the US interests and for the Palestinian interests.
I remind that the only beneficiary of these kinds of motions is Israel simply because with the Palestinians seeing the most liberal Mahmoud Abbas is not being supported by his allies the Obama administration, this is going to radicalize more of the Palestinians rather than if it would be in US interests to support the moderate approach, but that has not happened.
Press TV: About that issue of the US standing with Israel, many people also say that this support for Israel is backfiring against US interests; that there’s no logical explanation for going this far in supporting these extreme Israeli policies.
Sharqieh: We have definitely to recognize threats and opportunities for the US administration in this issue. As we said earlier in this show the support from the United States for Israel is beyond doubt - cannot be questioned even. This is very obvious this is very clear.
Now the question becomes to what extent the US administration can go in pressuring Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership.
And I think in my view there is a limit to what extent the US go to in pressuring Mahmoud Abbas. To answer this issue here we have to recognize that the Palestinian authority - the existence and the survival of the authority is at the core of US and Israeli interest... and the US understands this.
Israel recognizes this as well that the existence and survival of the Palestinian authority helps both and for that reason I think there is a limit to how much pressure they can apply against Mahmoud Abbas because if the pressure is too much and Mahmoud Abbas ends up resigning and the authority collapsing, trust me, this is a nightmare that for Israel and the US they don’t want to see.
And for that reason if you compare the US position this time and the last year... we can definitely at least in my view see that the US actually limited its pressure - it’s not as aggressive as it was last year.
Last year keep in mind that Obama picked up the phone and called the Presidential Council in Bosnia to prevent Bosnia - the free leaders there - from supporting the Palestinian leadership. So, the president himself invested his time and effort to prevent supporting of the Palestinian State.
This time we have seen a clear message coming from Hilary Clinton telling the Israeli government that if you pressure the Palestinian leadership too much it will collapse and if the Palestinian leadership collapses it’s a nightmare that no one wants.
Press TV: In that perspective we all heard what the Israeli Foreign Minister Abigdor Lieberman said, he said that this step might lead to Israel toppling Mahmoud Abbas.
Do you think that the US would allow Israel to do this much damage to the Palestinian Authority as a retaliation?
Sharqieh: I do not think so and I do not think even the Israeli government would allow Abigdor Lieberman to do that. I’m not sure how many actually take Abigdor Lieberman seriously even within the Israeli government.
And this was obvious in several occasions in the past when he made these aggressive statements, even Netanyahu himself in the past year we have been saying that this does not represent the Israeli government.
So, I don’t think the US takes Abigdor Lieberman seriously and if he goes there to that territory, the US knows very well how to stop him not because of the US pressure against Lieberman, but also through the Israeli government that they realize that the survival and existence of the Palestinian Authority is in the interests of everyone including the US.
And definitely the US is not interested and does not have the appetite to deal with the Palestinian issue without a moderate leadership like Mahmoud Abbas.
For that reason I think the pressure of the reaction it would be limited, it would not be as aggressive as we thought in the past - maybe we can see some tax revenue being held by Israel, but this will be compensated by other sources. Settlements... we might see some settlements expansion, but this is happening anyway so it’s not about this...
Press TV: Don’t you think supporting such a bid... you know, some people say resistance along with diplomatic efforts can go hand in hand and complete each other. So wouldn’t it be then advisable for there to be full support for this especially after Hamas and other resistance factions consider they achieved victory in the latest Gaza war?
Sharqieh: I think it was striking that we have seen this step of them supporting the bid actually because Hamas in the past did not support this and actually acted against it and undermined its importance.
So for the first time we are seeing some support and this focuses on the position of Hamas. We have a resistance faction talking in one direction and another resistance faction talking another direction. But this is important, it’s an important development and at this time especially after the war in Gaza and also the way-overdue Palestinian reconciliation.
If we see that there are more voices supporting one step - and in this case in the United Nations - would this be the way for more of a reconciliation for Palestinians? Maybe.
I think we need to see whether this is going to be something that will really address the needs of the Palestinians and the Palestinians cause or just another diplomatic move that would end up in a failure like many things have happened in the past.
I think if it fails in the future it would be a huge set back for the Palestinian reconciliation because then it would raise many questions about which direction this is going.[presstv]