Interview. Il manifesto spoke with Ghassan al Khatib, an analyst at Bir Zeit University, about the political takeaways from the funeral of Shimon Peres.

To Palestine, ‘Obama’s words mean nothing’

The photo has now made the rounds of the news services: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu shake hands, a gesture not seen for years that generated headlines referring to a possible thaw and resumption of talks between the two sides.

Things are actually quite different. The clash between the PNA leader and the Israeli Prime Minister is not finished and the two sides will continue to exchange harsh accusations. Friday, we spoke with the analyst Ghassan al Khatib, professor of political science at the University of Bir Zeit, West Bank, about this and the meaning of Barack Obama’s eulogy to Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Abu Mazen was the only Arab leader to attend Peres’ funeral, a choice that disappointed many Palestinians.

Abu Mazen was not in an easy position. He was caught between two fires. He knew that Western leaders were expecting to see him today (Friday) in Jerusalem. Probably he thought that being at Peres’ funeral would improve his image and raise the profile of the Palestinian cause on the international scene.

He has achieved this.

I think so. Of course, the step taken by Abu Mazen will not lead to any real progress for the revival of negotiations. However, if we put his decision in the framework of the relationships the Palestinian National Authority maintains with the United States and Europe, then the choice was the right one, although the (Palestinian) population, or the majority of it, did not like to see him honoring a Israeli leader who was associated with the Palestinian national catastrophe. In these situations, it is always a dilemma to take steps that can have positive results on the outside and at the same time betray the expectations of the public.

How was the Peres eulogy delivered by Barack Obama received on the Palestinian side? The Palestinians think it was an indirect criticism of the hardline policy of the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, as some say.

Without any doubt, it was an indirect criticism of Netanyahu and his government’s policy toward the Palestinians. But we are in the usual spot. Obama’s critics are always generic, in these eight years they never translated into actions on the ground. And above all, they never stopped the U.S. support for Israel and Netanyahu. Obama’s words mean nothing to Israel because they do not represent a form of concrete pressure.

Then Obama’s speech left no positive signs for any Palestinians.

Of course, because these criticisms have no arms, they have no legs, they have no hands, they have no practical consequences of any kind. And the Palestinian people, even people who do not usually follow diplomacy, thought it to be empty talk which will not lead to any change. Obama was a bitter disappointment for the Palestinians. In 2009, the president, in his famous speech in Cairo, warned about the struggles of the Palestinian people, landless and without freedom. But those words did not set in motion the changes in U.S. police in the Middle East that the Palestinians expected. After eight years, our population has understood the substance of the promises and statements of Obama. He listens to them and shrugs, simply because he knows that nothing will change. And this applies not only to the United States, but also to Europe. Every time the Netanyahu government expands its settlements on our lands, Western governments do not do anything concrete to stop it. Israel knows that their policies are only words, and continues its policy without fearing any kind of sanction.

Words similar to the peace promises Peres made for about 40 years.

Exactly. In the West, the former Israeli president was considered a bearer of peace, a statesman who had dedicated a significant portion of his life to the search for a peaceful solution. For the Palestinians, he is very different. Peres has been a star of the Zionist movement project that caused the historical injustice suffered by the Palestinians. Both in 1948 and in 1967, the year in which the remainder of Palestine was occupied, Peres’ sympathy for the settler movement was widely known. His party, the Labour Party, was responsible for initiating colonization, today considered one of the main obstacles to a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And let’s not forget that the Oslo Accords failed because Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and other Israeli leaders failed to meet the deadlines provided. Peres and his colleagues wanted to eat the cake without paying its price.

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