New Delhi: Israel intends to settle the Palestinian issue “once and for all”, Palestinian Ambassador to Denmark Manuel Hassassian told IANS from Copenhagen.
On Thursday, the diplomat, who has served in London and Budapest as ambassador in the past, added that Israel has played a “significant role in weakening” the Palestinian Authority (PA), whose government in the West Bank he works for.
Excerpts from the telephonic interview:
Q. How does the Palestinian Authority view the ongoing war, starting from Hamas’ brutal attacks on Israel on October 7 until Israeli airstrikes on and the siege of Gaza?
A. The standard that Israel is using, as well as the international community, in justifying that Israel has the right to defend itself. Let me ask: Can an occupier defend itself? The occupied defends itself and not the occupier that has war machines that supersede most armies. It is trying to eradicate (Gaza) through the mass destruction of buildings, hospitals and schools, and killing innocent civilians, the majority of whom have been women and children, and by cutting electricity, the internet, food and water supplies. Even if Israel stops bombing, people in Gaza are going to die from hunger and thirst, and the lack of medication. There are no hospitals to take in the injured now. They are all completely full. People are being treated on the floor and there is no fuel to generate electricity for the incubators and equipment.
Q. You don’t consider the events of October 7 (Hamas attacks) as the trigger for this particular war?
A. This is not the starting point of the conflict. That goes back to 1948 (year the State of Israel was established). Let’s go to the root cause of the problem and not the repercussions of the conflict. This is the fifth war on Gaza. And, let’s be frank — nearly 170 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and more than 2,500 have been incarcerated, and we have nearly 2,000 injured in hospitals. Are the Palestinians in the West Bank launching rockets against Israel? So, how do you justify that?
The essence of all this is to get rid of the Palestinians, wipe out Gaza, cede West Bank to Israel proper and have their (Israeli) own one-state solution.
The intention is to finish the question of Palestine. The intention is not to get rid of Hamas, because they cannot get rid of Hamas.
It is within the psyche of the Palestinian people.
The intention is to finish the Palestinian issue, once and for all. This is an excuse to finish that question because they are not interested in the two-state solution. They are not interested in making peace with Palestinians and have played a significant role in weakening the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, let alone being always supportive of Hamas with regard to the division between Fatah (Palestinian ruling party in the West Bank) and Hamas. Now they are claiming Hamas is a Daesh (the UN designated terror group Islamic State). The Israelis helped to create and facilitate Hamas. So why the collective punishment of the Palestinian people? Go pursue Hamas.
Q. But isn’t that what the Israeli government is saying it’s doing? Israeli officials are saying that Hamas is embedding itself in the civilian population of Gaza, under hospitals and schools.
A. You don’t kill civilians under the pretext that Hamas is using them as human shields. This is nonsense.
They are indiscriminately bombarding buildings. This is not collateral damage. This is an intentional destruction of people and a place.
Israel is a military power it can use surgical strikes against Hamas.
By now, more than 10,500 Palestinians have been killed.
Q. Will the PA return to administer Gaza at some point after the war if peace is brokered with Israel, maybe by a third party?
A. You have to make a distinction between the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and the PA. The PLO is the representative of all Palestinian people. They are a signatory to the Oslo Accords (between Israel and the PLO, signed in 1993 and 1995 in the US and Egypt, respectively). The PA came as a result of the accords, so the PA is the executive branch for implementing policies of the PLO and running the daily lives of the people in the West Bank and Gaza (Hamas has ruled the enclave since 2007).
If the war stops, and humanitarian aid comes and the hostages (an estimated 240 people abducted by Hamas from Israel) are released – let’s take the positive scenario that as soon as possible this war ends on certain conditions whether it would be the exchange of political prisoners, when humanitarian aid goes into Gaza and people are treated medically and properly buried in cemeteries, then the other question will arise – there will be an interim period when international forces could come and administer Gaza until we have serious talks between the PLO and Israel, with an honest broker of peace from the international community – not the Americans, because we don’t trust the Americans any more. Thirty years of the Oslo Accords have brought nothing except destruction to Palestinians. Then when we talk about a deal, we first talk about ending the occupation, the finality of conflict and an independent sovereign Palestinian state with geographic contiguity of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Q. UNSC members China and Russia have called for an immediate ceasefire and a two-state solution. How do you view their position?
A. These are political stance. We need implementation. There have been calls for a humanitarian pause (Israel has agreed to a daily short pause to let civilians flee through a corridor, US officials told media), a limited ceasefire and resolutions at the UN Security Council.
Israel thinks of itself as being above international law, humanitarian law as long as it is supported by this unipolar power that is the US, which is using its veto power (at the UNSC), giving it military support and financial aid and trying to protect Israel from what they call the Arab warmongers.
Q. India has encouraged direct Israel-Palestine talks. What do you think of that?
A. India has always been a good friend of the PLO and the Palestinian people, so we expect friends to do more in crisis situations such as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, send more aid, try to be more vociferous at the UN, call out to stop this carnage and ask for a ceasefire on a bilateral level with Israel.
India, as a big power, can do more.
Q. Is your government contributing to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?
A. Of course we are ready to help with the limited resources we have.
The other point is how can the PA reach the Erez crossing between Israel proper and Gaza in order to send medical equipment, food etc. If Israeli forces don’t open the border crossing, we cannot do anything. The Rafah crossing (between Egypt and Gaza) is a smaller opening, mostly meant for people to cross.
There could be a group set up by the United Nations, involving major countries such as from Europe, the US, Russia, China, the UK to go and inspect (border control) along with the Egyptian and Israeli representation. But the idea is to not allow all the shipment to enter (Gaza). How many trucks have been allowed to enter through Rafah in the past month? Few. How can that feed 2.2 million people? (More humanitarian aid is expected to enter Gaza, according to the latest media reports for the Middle East.)
Q. You said earlier that Israel has weakened the PA and helped Hamas. Then how come there were so many breaches in Israeli defence and so much happened suddenly on October 7 (Hamas rocket launches and incursions)?
A. Hamas believes in the Islamic state, they don’t believe in the secular system. Why did they call this campaign against Israel toofan al aqsa? The Al Aqsa (mosque in Jerusalem) is the third-holiest site in Islam. It (slogan) means these attacks were in culmination of the last three years of daily desecration by the extreme religious settlers in Al Aqsa.
They (Israeli authorities) quashed demonstrations (Palestinian), allowed settlers to move into Al Aqsa, conduct their prayers and create new facts on the ground.
Q. Is the PA involved in any negotiation to free the hostages taken by Hamas from Israel?
A. No. The PLO does not have the jurisdiction to negotiate. Qataris are playing the mediating role along with the Americans and Israelis.
The question of hostages will be settled if there is a ceasefire, and if there is an international intervention whereby all parties could cease fire until the hostages are released and we hope that this war will be over soon, and that reason comes to the minds of people, they sit around the table and solve that amicably, not militarily because there is no military solution to this conflict. There is only a political solution.
Q. Will this war escalate into a regional or larger conflict if Iran and Hezbollah (Lebanese militant group) enter?
A. I have a hunch, that this week or in the next week there will be a humanitarian pause because there is mounting international pressure on Israel and even the US is not happy with the collateral damage, as they claim, with regard to the deaths of Palestinian civilians. (News of Israel agreeing to a daily 4-hour humanitarian pause came after this interview was conducted).
The possibility that Hezbollah and others will join this battle is remote. If they wanted to join, they could have done so on Oct 8 when the Israeli air raids on Gaza started. So, with all this destruction, do we anticipate that Hezbollah and the others are going to join forces? No.
All we are seeing are skirmishes (some Hezbollah fire at Israel in its northern border).
Q. Has Hamas helped or hurt Gazans since it started ruling the Gaza Strip?
Hamas has been in control of Gaza for the past 15 years. You should ask this question to people living in Gaza and not me who is from the West Bank.
Whether people in Gaza like Hamas or not cannot be proven until elections are held. People will say what they want to through elections – whether they want Hamas or the Palestinian Authority or a third party.