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Areikat: ‘Still committed to a two-state solution’

PLO ambassador to U.S. emphasizes desire to achieve lasting ceasefire, border agreement

Maen Areikat, chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s delegation to the United States, delivered a lecture about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on campus Wednesday. He sat down with The Herald to discuss the need for a two-state solution and the difficulties of current negotiations.


Herald: What do you think would be the ideal path and structure for Palestinian nationhood? 

Areikat: We are still committed to a two-state solution, despite the fact that what the Israelis are doing on the ground is making the realization of a two-state solution impossible. And we have repeatedly said that what we want to do is develop and establish a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, which will include Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state. That constitutes 22 percent of what used to be historic Palestine, and of course we want a state that can survive side by side in peace with Israel. We also said that we would be willing to make minor, reciprocal land swaps. And we don’t envision a state with offensive military capabilities. What we need is a state with enough defensive capabilities to defend its citizens and its borders and for the rule of law to protect all the population.


Herald: Following the war in Gaza this summer, it seemed that neither side could maintain truces, as though Gaza and Israel each had completely different interpretations of what it entailed. Do you think this inability to communicate suggests a move away from the viability of actual peace talks?

Areikat: Right now the focus of all parties, including the Israeli leadership, is to consolidate the existing ceasefire between the Israelis and the Palestinians in Gaza. There is going to be a conference for donors next month in Cairo to provide support and assistance —  both material and financial — for the reconstruction of Gaza. There is an issue of the continued illegal military occupation of the Palestinian people. In order to provide security for Israel, the Palestinians must enjoy their freedom and their independence.


Herald: What’s your opinion on the viability of the 2014 Fatah-Hamas agreement and the consolidation of Palestinian authority? Do you think it’s going to ultimately benefit the PLO in negotiating with the Israelis and the United States, or will the association make it difficult for other countries to take the PLO’s push for peace seriously?

Areikat: Anytime a people are divided, it’s a sign of weakness. Be it the Palestinians, the Americans, the British, anybody. So if the Palestinians agree to unite their ranks, this is a good sign. Yes, there are different political views in the Palestinian society, but the PLO has reached peace agreements with Israel in the past and wants a political resolution to the conflict, while there are other groups that still believe in the arms struggle. But this is a process that will take time to bring factions to accept that the only way out is a political, not a military solution. I think the Palestinian national reconciliation is a positive step. I think it is important in order to provide support to provide Gaza a government that speaks for all of the Palestinians.


Herald: I know (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has condemned these agreements, and said that by associating with Hamas, it destroys the chance for PLO peace talks because of association with what they define as a terrorist organization. Do you think that a two-state solution could be possible with Netanyahu, under a united government?

Areikat: Netanyahu has been opposed to reconciliation. When we were divided, Netanyahu would say ‘who am I supposed to talk to, to the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank or the one in Gaza?’ Now that we are united, or that we’re ending some of our divisions, he’s saying ‘I cannot talk to a united Palestinian side’. So he is the one who is not making up his mind. We don’t interfere with his internal politics. We don’t tell the Israelis what form of government they should have. The current foreign minister of Israel, Avigdor Lieberman, calls for the transfer of Palestinians outside their country. And therefore, we have certain reservations of many members of his cabinet who seem unwilling to accept the existence of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian state. This is an internal matter to have.

We believe that Netanyahu is someone we can make peace with. Unfortunately, Netanyahu has been in power for the past four-and-a-half years, and we have not seen any step on his part over the past four-and-a-half years that indicate that he is willing to take the necessary steps to end the conflict with the Palestinian people. His objective, his aim, is to continue to maintain the status quo, to prolong the conflict, and to somehow create a situation on the ground that would make a two-state solution impossible. I would like to believe that he is someone we could make peace with, but his actions are not encouraging, and they do not point to that direction.


Herald: It seems that both Hamas and Israel have benefited from the struggle politically — in terms of Israel saying, ‘Look at these rockets coming into our airspace,’ and then Hamas pointing to the suffering of the people in Gaza. Do you think there is going to be an increasingly radicalized population in both countries that will make it hard for leadership to ever actually make peace? 

Areikat: Anytime people resort to guns and violence to resolve their political conflict, their endgame would be strengthening the forces of radicalism and extremism. It’s not unusual to see that both Israelis and Palestinians are drifting more to the extremes because of the recent confrontation. Two thousand two hundred Palestinians were killed. The vast majority were civilians — including almost 500 children — and that definitely is hardening the feelings on part of the Palestinians. The same for the Israelis, they also feel attacked and their civilian population was threatened, but that’s why the Israeli leadership should come to the conclusion that there is no military solution to this conflict. The only way out is a political solution.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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