Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-48)|
11 FEBRUARY 2009
Q40 Mr Illsley: So, the prospects
of a Palestinian national unity Government are practically zero
at the moment?
Dr Bregman: It is not unusual
that a liberation movement has a debate. I remind you that in
1947-48 there was the Irgun, Stern gang and Haganah. There was
competition between them and in the end one group emerged to take
over. We should try to push the Palestinian groups to work together.
The actor here that can help is Egypt. It can work with Hamas
and Fatah and tell them that they must work together because it
is the dream of the Israelis that they be separated.
Q41 Mr Illsley: I can understand
that. Dr Albasoos, do you think that there is any chance of the
two organisations working it out?
Dr Albasoos: I think it is possible,
but not easy, especially nowadays, with the gap between the two
parties being wider than before. There is one main obstacle and
if we can solve it then we can solve this problem and we can have
a unity Government between Fatah and Hamas. There was a condition
given by the United States and Israel to the Palestinian Authority
led by Mahmoud Abbas, which was that if Hamas was to be involved
in a national unity Government, they would stop the financial
and political support of Fatah. If that condition were to be lifted
then a national unity Government would be feasible.
Q42 Mr Illsley: One final question.
It has occurred to me throughout this conflict that it boils down
to the casualty figures which were quoted earlier. It seems to
me that firing rockets into Israel lost Hamas the support of the
international community. If you take away the proportionality
argument, a lot of commentators could not argue about what Israel
was doing while Hamas was firing into Israel which was practically
achieving nothing other than a show of resistance. If Hamas had
stopped firing the rockets and said, "Look, we are not doing
anything here and we are being attacked," do you not think
that that would have strengthened the hands of the British, Americans
and anyone else to say to Israel, "Stop"?
Dr Albasoos: I think that Hamas
is trying to get attention from the British, United States and
other Governments by saying, "We are here, we are under occupation,
come and rescue us; we need the attention; we need the support
and the help." That is the point. I think that the rockets
launched from Gaza towards Israel are not harming Israeli society,
so much as bringing the attention of the so-called international
community to engage in talks with Hamas.
Mr Illsley: Surely it would have been
Dr Albasoos: What has happened
to Israeli citizens over the past eight years has been mentioned
before. No one agrees with the violence and missiles from Gaza
and from the Israeli side, but there is no balance of power whatsoever.
Neither Hamas, nor any Palestinian faction, would launch any missiles
from Gaza if the European Union and the British Government were
to engage in dialogue with them.
Q43 Chairman: Dr Albasoos, my
colleagues are reacting to what you have just said and I should
just like to ask a question. Is it not a fact that rockets were
fired into schools and populated areas and that there were casualties?
Those may have been few, but nevertheless, for a period of eight
years, rockets were firedthey were fired during the ceasefire
and during the recent conflict. We have the figures about the
disproportionality, the balance of casualties and all the rest
of it. They were fired for military reasonsto inflict damage,
not just to send a signal. Is that true?
Dr Albasoos: It is a reaction
to that. I do not agree with that.
Chairman: I am not asking whether you
Dr Albasoos: It is kind of a reaction
to the Israeli actions. We are going to go to through that cycle
again and again, of action and reaction between both sides, it
will not finish.
Chairman: Okay. I want to bring in David
Heathcoat-Amory, who has not yet had a chance.
Q44 Mr Heathcoat-Amory: Given
that Hamas have two enemies, Israel and Fatah, and as we have
heard, Fatah and Hamas are now further apart than before, what
are the realistic chances of a two-state solution? Are we now
looking at a three-state solution?
Dr Bregman: I think that eventually
Hamas and Fatah will work together, so we will have a two-state
solution, unless the Israelis continue to build settlements in
the West Bank, which will create a new reality, where you cannot
disengage and create a two-state solutionthat is the real
danger. It is inevitable that they will work together, and they
understand that. The real danger to the two-state solution is
the building of settlements, which will make it impossible to
have two separate entities.
The international communityif I
may use that term should work hard on trying to stop the
settlements, which are not in the interests of the Israelis. That
is because they want a two-state solution, not one state where
you have an Arab majority. If there is one, they either have to
allow the Arabs to vote, whereby there would be an Arab Government,
or say, "No, we will not allow you to vote", which would
be a South Africa for methat is the heart of the problem.
We do not have to spend a lot of time thinking whether Hamas and
Fatah will work togetherthey will do it.
Ms Bar-Yaacov: I would like to
stress the urgency of the settlement issue. I wholeheartedly agree
with Dr Bregman's comment that the main obstacle to a two-state
solution is the Israeli settlements that are continuing to expand.
It is already late, but it will be too late if urgent action is
not taken to stop their construction and expansion.
As I said, a comprehensive plan that involves
all the regional actors has to be, in my opinion, based on the
Arab peace initiative, and that is also a vehicle to rally support
in the Arab world, which is critical. But the settlements are
absolutely the key issue, and as any Government have to realise,
although a lot of work has been done on it, it is evidently not
enough, because Israel is continuing to build. Eventually, that
may render a two-state solution impossible.
Q45 Mr Heathcoat-Amory: Presumably,
it was Israeli policy to try to show that if you were uncompromising,
you get bombed, as in Gaza, but if you were more compromising,
as in the West Bank, you can live in peacethat would tend
to separate the two issues. From what has already been said, would
it be a mistake, or too supportive of the Israeli position, if
the west or the international community tried to deal with the
West Bank, with the Palestinian Authority currently based there?
Ms Bar-Yaacov: First, I would
like to say that Israel would not have attacked Gaza, at least
in my opinion, if rockets were not being fired from there, while
rockets are not fired from the West Bank. It has nothing to do
with a compromising or uncompromising Governmentit is a
question of a threat: there were ongoing rockets fired. Israel
tried to renew the ceasefire in December last year, but rockets
were fired. I have already laid out the analysis of who broke
the ceasefire, but certainly, rockets were fired on Israel. Had
that not happened, Israel would not have attacked Gazathat
was most certainly a response to rockets firing from Gaza. It
is important to stress that there are no rockets being fired from
the West Bank, so the West Bank is not under attackor not
in that way.
Q46 Mr Heathcoat-Amory: Should
British foreign policy try to secure peace between Israel and
the West Bank, while leaving Hamas and Gaza out of it, or would
that institutionalise a split?
Ms Bar-Yaacov: I think that would
institutionalise a split. You must treat Gaza and the West Bank
as one territoryabsolutely. With any kind of international
plan for peace and any kind of policythat is what I said
earlier in my response to Eric Illsley's question, that the West
Bank first policy is not productive. It has to be changed. Gaza
and the West Bank have to be treated as one territory and, even
if a national unity Government are not around the corner, efforts
have to be made. I certainly do not think that it is around the
corner and that is because Hamas does not want it, not because
Fatah does not want it. From what I am hearing from the Hamas-Fatah
negotiations, Hamas is setting conditions that are absolutely
impossible to meet, including the one that I mentioned earlier,
which is that there should be no basis for negotiations, so the
new national unity Government will not be able to negotiate peace
with Israel. They will have to be based on the platform of resistance.
That is clearly not acceptable. Hamas is looking to reform the
PLO and there are all sorts of other moves but eventually, if
there were elections in Palestine, I hope that international actors
would learn from past mistakes and respect the results, no matter
which party wins. One way forward would be to plan an understanding
between Hamas and Fatah even if they were not a fully fledged
national unity Governmentthat will focus on two issues.
First, Fabian Hamilton referred earlier to the reconstruction
of Gaza, and there could be co-operation on the issue between
Fatah and Hamas because they would both like to see serious reconstruction
efforts made in Gaza. To that end, a conference on major reconstruction
will be held on 2 March in Cairo. The second issue is the opening
of the crossings.
Chairman: We have a couple more areas
to cover quickly, as there will be a Division at 4 o'clock.
Q47 Mr Purchase: You will now
have your thoughts on the likely results of the horse-trading
for a new Government in Israel. I want to ask you two things.
First, given your understanding of how things might turn out,
will there be a considerable change in Israel's relations with
occupied Palestinian territories, and secondly, do you think that
relations with the EU will improve or worsen?
Chairman: That is a question to all three
witnesses, but yes or no would be quite sufficient.
Ms Bar-Yaacov: It is not a yes
or no question. Horse-trading will go on for about six weeks.
It is tough. The election results were so close, and one trend
that is important to note is that there was quite a major shift
to the right. The right bloc has gained a large number of seats
and it will be impossible for Livni to form a coalition. There
is no guarantee that she will be asked to form one without Avigdor
Lieberman, who is quite a hard-core, right-wing political leader.
We will have to wait until the Government is formed before we
can answer that question responsibly. Given the slight chance
that Livni and Barak might join forces and there might be a centre-left
bloc of 40 seats, the scenario would look completely different
depending on who sits in the coalition, and we really do not know
who will do that. As you politicians know better than I do, the
negotiations will be tough, and 12 parties will be negotiating
so we have to wait to see how the coalition is formed. We are
looking to see whether the centre-left bloc will be strong. If
Livni manages to form a coalition, she will want a two-state solution.
Q48 Mr Purchase: Let me interrupt.
There could be a slightly left or slightly right Government. Do
you think that we will see significant differences in their approach,
whichever party is in power?
Ms Bar-Yaacov: Yes, very much
so. If Livni were to form a Government along the lines that she
would like, she would go for peace talks with the Palestinians
and prioritise that on the basis of a two-state solution. She
would open peace talks with Syria. If Netanyahu ends up being
Prime Minister, he believes in what he terms "economic peace,"
which means basically no peace process, but giving some economic
incentives to Palestinians on the West Bank. He does not believe
in trying to reach an agreement with Hamas; on the contrary, he
would like to see the movement crushed one way or another. He
would like to attack Iran. We are looking at two extremely different
Mr Purchase: If there is that degree
of difference, there are no surprises there.
Chairman: We have about one minute left.
Dr Bregman, do you want to speak?
Dr Bregman: I shall be brief.
It is very clear that Israel has moved sharply to the right. Even
Kadima is based on many people from Likud. The policies will be
different. My last point concerns Netanyahu. We are expecting
him to become Prime Minister. He will try to manage the Palestinian
issue, and if the international community pushes him enough, he
will try to strike a deal with Syria.
Dr Albasoos: I do not think that
there will be many changes to the peace process as there have
been negotiations for 16 years. Whether the left wing orthe right
wing is in power, there will be the same results. It will be worse
if Netanyahu leads the Government, especially in terms of a ceasefire.
Chairman: We have to conclude at this
point. We shall start our next session with our next witness.
Thank you for a very useful session.