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'We are in a continuous intifada': Interview with Fatah's Husam Zomlot

By Alexis Thiry

Sometimes accused of being an apparatus composed only of old figures, Yasser Arafat’s political formation, Fatah, also includes young personalities. Husam Zomlot, the executive deputy commissioner for Fatah’s Commission for International Affairs, embodies the party’s new generation. Fluent in English, he is frequently interviewed by the western media. He talks in a structured manner with passion and determination. He is a recognized scholar both in Palestine and the West, and was part of the delegation presenting the Palestinian statehood request at the United Nations in September 2011. He has agreed to speak about this diplomatic initiative in an interview for +972 Magazine on February 22 in his Ramallah office, and to share his thoughts concerning the future of the Palestinian struggle.

You were part of the delegation promoting the bid for Palestinians statehood in the United Nations in New York. What did you try to achieve through this initiative, and how you would describe the outcomes, considering the certainty of an American’s veto?

Our first goal was to catch the attention of the international community, and reaffirm our discourse and the narrative of the Palestinian people. Mahmoud Abbas, in the framework of the General Assembly, talked about the Nakba and the forced exodus of  700,000 people. As he said, correctly, occupied territories are not “disputed,” and settlements are not “neighborhoods,” as the current Israeli administration likes to present it.

Our second ambition was the reaffirmation of the international law, based on existing UN resolutions, such as our “right of return,” in order to break down the current disequilibrium. International law is a legal weapon aiming to defend our people. Joining institutions such as the International Court of Justice could not only help to pursue those harming civilians, but more importantly, it could prevent crimes before they are committed. A soldier would think twice before shooting unarmed civilians.

We need to create legal parity in order to turn occupied territory into an occupied state. We are devoted to reaching state-to-state negotiations to solve this conflict. Previous talks were biased and favored Israel since it was maintaining a disastrous status quo. So, to answer your question, I would not call it a failure. The Security Council is not the only organ of the United Nations. A majority of States are ready to vote in our favor within the General Assembly. Last and not least, this initiative aimed and succeeded in fostering our national pride, and this shouldn’t be underestimated.

As people’s frustration is rising after years of negotiations, do you think the PA and Fatah compromised too much with Israel?

I do not share this point of view. I truly believe Fatah initiated the negotiations twenty years ago in a good faith. Netanyahu’s biggest fear at the moment is the success of our institutions. We managed to deprive Israel of its monopoly over the territories.

On the other hand the Palestinian Authority has to undertake the constant need to prove that it is a viable entity. The international community is constantly observing us while other countries aren’t under such scrutiny. The other cost is that negotiations made occupation more comfortable for Israel over time.

Do you think there is more talk of “giving Israel back the keys” or “one state”? If so, what would that look like?

If you are talking about dismantling the PA, I don’t regard it as a pragmatic option. It would be a political suicide. I do think the PA should be redefined and reformed, but this decision belongs to the PLO. The cost of such action would be so high regarding its possible benefits. We provide a number of public services. We have national health care coverage and public education, and the Palestinian people greatly rely on these services. The trend is to strengthen our national institutions, not dismantle them. If we do so, the occupation will fill in the gap, and divide and fragment Palestinian society more and more.

Since negotiations are heading nowhere with the current Israeli administration, what kind of strategy should the PA adopt to fulfill the dream of a Palestinian state? Do you regard “popular resistance” as the last option available by the Palestinians to fight occupation?  If yes, would you call it a “third intifada”? How should it be implemented?

I don’t like dramatic terms. It is definitely not the last option in our hands, but you are right, it is in many ways more effective than armed resistance. The Arab Spring proved its effectiveness and the Palestinians are watching what’s happening in Tahrir Square. The future liberation of Khader Adnan is the direct consequence of popular mobilization combined with international pressure. The Palestinian people have been talking about Adnan’s battle of hunger.

Popular resistance will not be the third intifada. In fact, the Palestinian people has been resisting for one hundred years, we are engaged in a continuous intifada. When a strike was lunched in 1936, it was already an intifada. Resistance, including armed resistance, is a right, but it is not in any way an obligation. Negotiations involve a very limited number of persons, and armed resistance involves two or three percent of the people. Popular resistance, such as a broad boycott campaign, aims to gather all fragments of the society no matter which political party they belong to, no matter their social class or their religion. But it doesn’t mean political parties don’t hold any responsibilities. Fatah has defined its new strategy during its Sixth Congress in 2009 during which Fatah officially gave up the armed struggle to be replaced with/by peaceful popular resistance. And we are pleased to see that Hamas has joined us recently (January 2012). It became a point of consensus between us, and something I can’t but welcome.

Do you think the BDS campaign makes a mistake by not differentiating goods coming from Israel, and goods coming from the settlements? 

No, I think a large-scale boycott should target all institutions implicated in occupation and illegality.  At the moment, occupation is more profitable than costly. Eighty percent of our water is either transferred to Israel or consumed by settlers. We need to bring Israel to its weakness.

Has the Fatah leadership thoroughly weighed the costs and benefits of a partnership with Hamas? And if the costs are clear, what do you see as the greatest benefits?

Let me be clear on this. Unity is our primary objective. To achieve popular resistance, the Palestinian society has to be united. I personally don’t know when the legislative elections will be held, but they are essential to form a united government.  The practice of blackmail perpetrated by Israel can no longer be tolerated. Unity has much more value than their sanctions. The goal is to agree on what we disagree about. No party can make war or peace decisions on its own, its decisions do not only involve themselves, but the whole population. We need to work together and implement collective decisions.

Alexis Thiry is a French-language editor of the Palestine News Network based in Bethlehem in the West Bank. His blog is called Des Visages et des couleurs.

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    1. Jazzy

      Its unfortunate that young leaders in Fatah aren’t becoming more pragmatic on the ‘right of return’ issue. Hopefully this kind of talk is just political posturing, or brinksmanship. Also, sitting in the OPT, Mr. Zomlot probably doesn’t appreciate how BDS is hurting his cause in the West, and understandably, doesn’t see any harm in voicing support for any opposition to the occupation. This is a good reason to heed Chomsky’s advice, and think independently about what kind of advocacy actually helps the Palestinians – not just what they tell us to do.

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    2. Palestinian

      Our ROR is an ultra violet line so Israelis have to prepare themselves for our return ,else every Israeli has access to Al Lyd Airport .

      Reply to Comment
      • Dream on! Do you seriously think the State of Israel is going to commit suicide by allowing you a so-called “Right of Return”? It’s that kind of “All or Nothing” attitude that has prevented you from having an independent state in the past and will continue to prevent you from having one in the future.

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    3. XYZ

      Zomlot said:
      Popular resistance will not be the third intifada. In fact, the Palestinian people has been resisting for one hundred years, we are engaged in a continuous intifada. When a strike was lunched in 1936, it was already an intifada. Resistance, including armed resistance, is a right, but it is not in any way an obligation.

      A hundred years of “resistance”. Your resistance can go on for another thousand years or ten thousand years. You were offered a state in 1937, 1947, 1999, 2008 and even the Likud is now offering you a state. You turned them all down. That’s your problem. And if you want “armed resistance”, then you are going to encounter “armed counter-resistance”. You are on a suicidal path and it is the Palestinian people who will suffer. Give up the “right of return” and you can have a state….refuse to give up the ROR and you will be condenmned to eternal failure.

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    4. XYZ

      I might add that while Zomlot talks about 100 years of Palestinian resistance, the Jews have been resisting superior outside powers and Christian and Muslim pressure and coercion for thousands of years. Contrary to much Arab/Muslim and even Leftist/Progressive Jewish propaganda, Israel is not an artificial state that will fold up when the right recipe (BDS, popular resistance, armed resistance, missiles, full-scale wars) is found. I think that has been made pretty clear up until now.
      As long as the Palestinians insist on confrontation instead of REAL negotiations based on real compromise (primarily on ROR) they are just going to have to rely on feeling good about themselves through resistance instead of real national achievement.

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    5. Kolumn9

      A failure at the UN has succeeded in fostering national pride? It is an impressive pride indeed built on failure after failure year after year.

      If this is the future of Palestinian leadership I am sure they are well on their way to many pride raising acts in the future.

      Perhaps the Palestinians are not willing to succeed for fear of injuring their pride?

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    6. Palestinian

      Which says alot about the integrity of the UN ,64 years after donating 78% of our homeland to colonists , they refuse to give us a state on 22% ….says alot

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    7. Dan Kelso

      Palestinian, ISRAEL which is defending itself against Pan-Arabism, Arab imperialism and Arabization of the Middle East – that is the “problem you dont like”.

      The real problem is global Arab/Moslem insistence to spread hate, violence, wars, terrorism, lies, false accusations against Jews and reducing Jews to subhumans or second class citizens.
      There’s a reason that 99% of South Sudanese voted to be free from the Arabs in North Sudan.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Palestinian

      Dan , if you dont like the region pack your bags and take the first flight to where you were “imported” from .The world -Zionists = peace ,just like teeth without dental caries = happy person 🙂

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    9. Dan Kelso

      Even the crazies who run Sudan agreed to a 2 state solution. Today their a Arab North Sudan and a Christian South Sudan.
      If the Palestinians were running Sudan, they would have never wanted a 2 state solution with South Sudan. Instead they would have wanted all of Sudan.
      You cant make peace with Rejectionists like the Pals.
      Palestinians should get one thing into their heads: the world does not revolve around them. They share the blame for their situation, because they always wanted everything and never wanted to compromise.

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    10. Kolumn9


      Your equation doesn’t even work in the Middle East considering the state of Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, etc..

      We are staying. We are from here. Whether you get a state or not depends very much on accepting this fact.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Palestinian

      People in Southern Sudan (including Muslim citizens) are the indigenous population , just like the Palestinians who dont accept to comprise their homeland to thieves using fairytales to justify their land theft.

      @Kolumn9 you are here ,but you arent from here,you dont belong to the land.Whether you stay or not depends on how you deal with the problem your people created deacades ago.We will never give up our ROR ,you have to deal with that ,and let me remind you today you are in control but nobody knows whats gonna happen tomorrow,history is repeating itself.

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      Reply to Comment