Jerusalem Post Reporter Talks Israel-Palestine

Amid a stalemate in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, I spoke with Khaled Abu Toameh, the Palestinian Affairs Correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, for his take on the situation. Abu Toameh, an Arab-Muslim-Israeli, was born in the West Bank city of Tulkarem, and has covered Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades. He began his career as a reporter working for a PLO-affiliated newspaper in Jerusalem. Since then he has served as a producer and consultant for various international media outlets covering the Arab-Israeli conflict, including NBC News and U.S. News & World Report, and since 2002 has worked for the Jerusalem Post as the West Bank and Gaza correspondent, regularly interviewing the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

Do you see any real progress being made in the peace process in the short-term?

AT: “Probably not in the short term. It is not realistic any more to go all the way back to the 1967 lines. It means demolishing thousands of both Palestinian and Israeli homes. [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas has thus reached a conclusion that there’s no need to negotiate. What is reasonable is not conflict resolution, but conflict management."

But doesn’t the Palestinian Authority point to Israeli settlement construction as a reason not to negotiate?

AT: “Abbas has decided to use settlements as an excuse not to negotiate, even though they were never an obstacle to negotiations in the past. Just look at when the PLO signed the Oslo Accords. Palestinians didn’t even demand a cessation to settlement construction.”

Where does Hamas factor into the situation?

AT: “Since 2006, in the West Bank and Gaza, the PLO people have wanted Hamas to return Gaza and re-do the election. But when the PA deprives its people of aid and doesn’t give them any prospect of peace, they lose faith in the peace process and resort to arms and to Hamas. The refusal of the international community to hold Yasser Arafat and the PLO accountable back then drove Palestinians into the open arms of Hamas.”

But what about the reconciliation deal that was struck between the PA and Hamas?

AT: “We should not take it seriously. It’s just something on paper — a temporary marriage. Were it not for Israel’s physical presence between Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas and the PLO would be shooting each other.” 

What do PA leaders hope to accomplish by unilaterally declaring a state in the United Nations in September?

AT: “Abbas is trying to internationalize the conflict so that the international community imposes its will on Israel. It’s not about actually achieving a state, but about isolating and delegitimizing Israell in the international community. Abbas hopes that after the UN recognizes a state, he will continue to go to countries and claim that one UN member state is occupying another, thus building possible support for sanctions and other isolating measures.”

Do you think the PA will succeed?

AT: “Abbas is making a huge mistake. The only way to get a state is by negotiating with Israel. The UN will give him a piece of paper, but without negotiating with Israel, there won’t be anything on the ground. I think the PA will eventually succumb to pressure either by the U.S. or European countries and return to negotiating tables.”

What should President Obama do in the meantime?

AT: “Encourage the Palestinians to wait for the declaration until after there are Palestinian elections in a year, which was called for in the reconciliation deal with Hamas.”

So what’s your outlook for the two-state solution?

AT: “The two-state solution is a nice, but impractical plan. The PA is in power in the West Bank because Israel aids them in the West Bank. If Israel pulls out, the PA will fall from power and Hamas will take over — either through elections or by force. The irony is that Israel’s occupation is keeping the PA alive.”

“Those who think that a two-state solution will put an end to the conflict are naïve. I wish the conflict was about settlements, refugees, and checkpoints. The conflict is really about Israel’s right to exist. In the Muslim world there is still a majority of people who have not come to terms with a Jewish state in the Middle East.”

Lastly, as an Arab-Muslim of Palestinian descent, do you ever feel a personal conflict writing for an Israeli newspaper?

AT: “I find it sad and ironic that the only place in the Arab world where I can freely write what I want is in Israel for a Jewish paper.”

Photo Credit: Abram Shanedling