As long as no solution is found to the dispute between Palestine and Israel that is acceptable to both sides, the region remains unstable, says H.E. Mohammed K.M. Nabhan, Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Serbia, commenting for this CorD Magazine interview on the latest tensions that have arisen following the U.S. administration’s decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem.
According to the ambassador, the peace process must receive a new main mediator, as this role cannot be played any longer by the United States, which has taken a stance in favour of Israel. Noting that the peace talks between Israel and Palestine have lasted for 24 years, Ambassador Nabhan adds that common comparisons with the crisis in relations between Belgrade and Pristina are inappropriate, “simply because Israel is an occupier and Serbia is not”.
Your Excellency, you have been strongly critical of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Why do you consider that controversial?
– The answer to why we oppose U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem is because the decision is in violation of more than eighty UN Security Council Resolutions and more than a thousand UN General Assembly resolutions, in which the U.S. participated and with which it agreed. All those resolutions consider Jerusalem as an occupied territory. The West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip are Palestinian territories occupied by the Israeli Army since 1967.
This move violates international law and ignores the history and legitimate rights of the Palestinian People.
On the whole, the international community did not support the U.S.’s move, as could be seen at the recent UN Security Council session. How do you expect developments to progress?
– In 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed by Palestinians and Israelis in the garden of the White House, with then U.S. President Clinton and 63 heads of state or foreign ministers in attendance. Since that time, the U.S. has served as the main mediator in negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, aimed at implementing this agreement.
Throughout this time, we have spoken with successive U.S. administrations, including the Trump administration, with which we had 26 official meetings. We were hopeful that this administration would mediate fairly.
Unfortunately, with this move and Trump’s decision, the American Administration a priori excludes any comprehensive and positive outputs of the negotiations process, so the Palestinian People no longer accept it as the main mediator in any negotiations with the Israeli side. We now look to other influential countries in the international community, in order to form a solid and acceptable framework for negotiations that will lead to a comprehensive and lasting peace
You consider one possible resolution of the conflict over Jerusalem could be to divide the city into two entities and for it to become the capital of both Israel and Palestine?
– Jerusalem is the beginning of all beginnings. Jerusalem is the main jewel of every crown. Jerusalem was established by the Canaanites, the ancestors of the Palestinians, in 3000 BC, before the emergence of all religions.
Jerusalem is the shrine of all believers in the world, especially East Jerusalem, which includes all the holy sites, the church of Holy Sepulchre, which is the world’s holiest shrine to Christians, and The Dome of Rock (Qubbat Al-Sakhra) and the famous Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Historically, the Palestinian people have considered Jerusalem an open city, and it should be such – not under any occupation, as it is now. Jerusalem could be a place that the whole of humanity can access and where they can come together. This is not the case at present. Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are not granted access to Jerusalem. Can you imagine needing military permission to move from Obrenovac or any place in Serbia to Belgrade, something like how the situation was in some parts of Europe under Nazi occupation? And, worse than that, Israel is building a racist dividing wall, which is snaking its way through the West Bank. It is a monstrous, eight-metre-high wall made of concrete; this wall is an entire regime composed of barbwire, trenches, watchtowers, electric fences and ditches, fractionating Palestinian towns and villages in a mercilessness way. Israel has erected more than 500 checkpoints around and between Palestinian towns.
Israel continues its settlement policy and the Judaization of Jerusalem, attempting to change the Islamic and Christian features of the city and to destroy its Arabic identity.
I would like to refer you to the latest EU report on Jerusalem, to invite you to read it.
The West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip are Palestinian territories occupied by the Israeli Army since 1967. This move violates international law and ignores the history and legitimate rights of the Palestinian People
Could your second suggested option of Jerusalem becoming the capital of both countries prove problematic for those countries that have not yet recognised Palestine – and here we are talking about almost half of all UN members?
– First of all, on 29th November 2012, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to accord Palestine Non-Member State Status in the United Nations. A total of 138 countries voted in favour of the resolution. So, more than two-thirds of UN Member States have recognised the state of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital. And there are very few states that are against recognising the Palestinian state: the United States, Canada, Czechia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Panama, Palau and Israel.
So that reflects the well of international community support based on international law and resolutions of international legitimacy.
What does Slovenia’s announcement that it is to formally recognise Palestine mean to you?
– This means a lot to us. This means that Slovenia, like all other countries that recognise the Palestinian State, contributes to the peace-making process which will end the Israeli occupation of the territories of the Palestinian State, occupied since 1967.
Slovenia is set to become only the second EU member state to recognise Palestine. President Mahmoud Abbas recently called on the EU as a whole to recognise Palestine, but the Union remains neutral. How would you comment on such a low level of understanding with Europe?
– The United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution which demands that all States comply with Security Council resolutions regarding the Holy City of Jerusalem, and do not recognise any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions. That was the response of the international community to Trump’s decision.
The resolution was approved by 128 UN Member States. So, an overwhelming majority of the international community rejects Trump’s decision. And the majority of EU member states voted in favour of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution, and remarkably the UK also voted in favour of the resolution, which means that they all reject Trump’s decision.
The EU is on its way to recognising the Palestinian State. Israel is trying to stop that process, but we can see that it has begun, and no one can stop it. And by the way, we have a very high level of understanding with Europe. Speaking at a meeting in Brussels with EU foreign ministers last month, President Mahmoud Abbas urged EU governments to recognise the State of Palestine. The European Union assured President Abbas that it supports the two-state solution that includes the Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Historically, the Palestinian people have considered Jerusalem an open city, and it should be such – not under any occupation, as it is now. Jerusalem could be a place that the whole of humanity can access and where they can come together
Following the U.S. administration’s decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, a series of protests were staged against the policy. Analysis of research showed respondents fear the move could result in fresh conflicts and a wave of instability in the region, especially following Hamas’s call for a new intifada insurrection. What are your predictions for the region?
– I understand your question is about the future of stability and security in the Middle East. If we look at the last seventy years, with a focus on the last 25 years, we see that the U.S. has waged many wars in the Middle East, destroying many countries along the way, while Israel launched more than eight wars. Now, who is threatening the peace? My people, who seek dignity and freedom in their own state, a state that is recognised by the overwhelming majority of the international community? Or those who destroy many countries, killing millions of people? So, it is clear that the main problem in the region is the Israeli occupation. As long as the Palestinian issue remains without resolution, it will remain the main reason for instability.
You say that there should be a resumption of the negotiations that have lasted for decades and aim to normalise the relationship between the two peoples. How long, in your opinion, does such a peace process need in order to prove successful?
– We have always called for negotiations on clear grounds that lead to establishing a Palestinian State. We believe that such a result is attainable. All that is needed is the will of the other side to end the occupation and respect the desire of our people for independence and freedom.
The previous question is relevant locally because Israel and Palestine are often mentioned in the context of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. In its strategy for the Western Balkans, the European Union expects Serbia to reach a binding agreement with Kosovo by 2019. There are those who argue that resolving long-standing problems should be done quickly and result in the identifying of final solutions, instead of processes lasting for many years. From the perspective of your country, how would you view such an approach?
– We have been negotiating for more than 24 years, with more than six Israeli governments. Our position is well known to them, and to the whole world. We have discussed every sentence, comma and full stop. All we need is the implementation of that which we have agreed upon. Throughout that time, the U.S. played the role of mediator and supervisor. Unfortunately, nothing was achieved, simply because Israel does not want to end the occupation and the U.S. did nothing to compel them to do so.
According to the part of your question related to what the EU expects Serbia to do, I’m really not aware of that, but what I can tell you is that any comparison between the Palestinian issue and Kosovo is a completely false comparison, simply because Israel is an occupier and Serbia is not.
Palestine voted against Kosovo’s admission into UNESCO. Will this remain your country’s policy in the period ahead?
The United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution which demands that all States comply with Security Council resolutions regarding the Holy City of Jerusalem, and do not recognise any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions
You are among the longest-serving ambassadors in Serbia. How would you assess relations between the two countries?
– We have good relations with Serbia. That is obvious through mutual support in international organisations. And really there is also great sympathy between the two peoples, because both peoples have been subjected to aggression and occupation, and a part of both peoples was forcibly displaced and became refugees.
The relationship between Palestine and Serbia is developing not only in the political field but also in culture, the economy, tourism and all other fields.
Furthermore, thousands of Palestinians studied in Serbia and there are a large number of mixed families.
Don’t forget that Saint Sava visited Palestine twice and lived there for around three years. You see how old the relations are between the two peoples.
At the official level, we have always been keen to renew relations constantly, and we also see the same concern from Serbia.
At the recent edition of the Kustendorf Film Festival, founded by famed Serbian director Emir Kusturica, the prize for best film by a young filmmaker went to Palestinian director Rakan Mayasi for the film Bonboné. This work addresses the complexity of the political situation between Palestinians and Israelis. Are you satisfied with the level of cooperation between Palestine and Serbia in the domain of culture?
– Historically, Palestinians are peacemakers. Palestine has always been a land of culture, creativity and civilisation. Palestinians are magnificent individuals and have amassed a large number of international prizes in all fields, despite the terrible circumstances imposed by the Israeli occupation.
We have a good level of cultural relations with Serbia. Many publishing houses have published books by Palestinian authors translated into Serbian.
The prize for best film that went to Palestinian filmmaker Rakan Mayasi at the Kustendorf Film Festival is not the first to be won by a Palestinian filmmaker in Serbia. I remember, for example, that Palestinian filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel won a prize for his film “A World Not Ours” in Serbia five years ago.