Palestinian Human Rights Activist Sees Limited Opportunity for Peace
The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) was established in 1996 in response to the deteriorating state of human rights under the newly established Palestinian Authority (PA). Today, PHRMG, based in Jerusalem, monitors human rights abuse against Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Founder and Executive Director of PHRMG Bassem Eid shared his opinion on the Arab Spring, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and the Obama administration.
What is your view of the current state of the "Arab Spring?”
Bassem Eid (BE): I don’t believe that in the days of Obama we are going to see any peace in the Middle East. It looks like everything is moving backward. Islamism is increasing and it’s not only putting Israel under pressure but also the Arab democrats under pressure. Egypt in my opinion is going to be completely occupied by an Islamist brotherhood, and Syria will likely go down the same path.
How do you see this impacting Israeli-Palestinian relations?
BE: To make peace, I don’t think the Palestinians and Israelis are ready. Palestinians don’t want to be considered Muslim and don’t want to establish an Islamist state. When [Palestinians] want to make peace with Israel, no Arab country will support us. So we have a difficulty on how to present our ideas.
How about Israel?
BE: Israel is in a very difficult situation. Everybody is worried and everybody completely has the feeling that danger surrounds us.
A lot has been said about Israel moving back to the pre-1967 armistice lines, and Palestinian negotiators refuse to negotiate without a halt to Israeli settlement construction. What do you think about this?
BE: Settlements are an obstacle. They cost the state of Israel a huge amount of money. However, Palestinians also know very well that Israel will never have to go all the way back to the 1967 borders, especially given Ma’ale Adumin and Ariel [major Israeli West Bank communities] with hundreds of thousands of people living there.
How do you see the issue of Palestinian refugees seriously factoring in on future negotiations?
BE: It’s a very strong card that the PA is holding, but nobody believes that the Palestinians will all be back, especially those descendents. I think it is an issue that is already agreed between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Everybody talks about right of return within the Palestinian state only. The majority of Palestinians in the Diaspora prefer to get financial compensation instead of coming back, especially to a Palestinian state under the PA.
How does Hamas and Gaza fit into everything, especially with the recent reconciliation deal struck between the PA and Hamas?
BE: Today Gaza is not just a problem for Israel, but for the Palestinians in the West Bank as well as the Arab World. In the past few years, [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas has failed to build any strategy for the peace process, so he went and made the reconciliation deal.
Do you think the reconciliation deal will amount to anything?
BE: Past agreements between the PA and Hamas have usually failed. Even though the PA and Hamas signed this deal, to this day, they have not figured out a new prime minister. I am a person who believes that if any election takes place among the Palestinians, Hamas will win. This would be a big disaster for the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the world.
You sound quite pessimistic, but is there anything the Obama administration can do?
BE: I think the Obama administration is a complete failure for a U.S. administration. When he came to power, he made the Arab people so optimistic for the future. But right now I think Mr. Obama has no idea about the conflict. With Islamism spreading in the region, I think we have a window this year for peace, but after a year, the gates of peace will unfortunately close.
Photo Credit: Abram Shanedling