Ankara may be in a state of dismay, the prime minister may be under the heavy psychological weight of coping with threats to his political career, but both are responsive to the outcry of Gaza. With this sensitivity of the Turkish people and concerns of the greater world in mind, Today's Zaman visited Nabil Maarouf, ambassador of Palestine to Turkey, and spoke about the current situation in Palestine and future prospects of peace among the sides of the conflict.
Can you summarize the current situation in Palestine in general and in Gaza in particular?
Palestine in general is under occupation. Yet we are, in one way or another, in a peace process. Israelis, unfortunately, are not even ready to make the daily lives of Palestinians easier. The Israelis have done nothing about what we agreed upon in the last negotiations. They are expanding settlements. This is a violation of the Annapolis Agreement. Of course [Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert claims that they are not building new settlements in the West Bank. "We are making it in East Jerusalem," they say. By this they imply that East Jerusalem is not part of the West Bank. For us Palestinians if East Jerusalem is excluded from the West Bank, there is no way to reach an agreement with the Israelis. More than 600 checkpoints are still operating in the West Bank, and the main function of the Israeli soldiers at these checkpoints is to humiliate the Palestinians. We are experiencing daily attacks in one city or another, which end with arrests, the killing of a number of people and, in some cases, the destruction of houses. This is Palestine in general. If you go to Gaza, the picture is even worse. Israelis are blocking Gaza from all sides and attacks are taking place daily. Air raids are killing people indiscriminately, not content with just assassinating specific persons. By cutting electricity and fuel they are affecting daily life, hospitals, everything.
Israelis claim that they are fighting Hamas and not the Palestinian people. How much of this is true?
Hamas is a part of the Palestinian people and all of us are under occupation. The Israelis are not fighting Hamas; they are killing kids, civilians. The difference between what is going on in the West Bank and in Gaza is only about intensity. The claim that the Israelis are discriminating between Hamas and Fatah is nonsense. They are fighting the Palestinian people, the Palestinian identity; they are fighting the possibility of establishing peace with the Palestinian people.
But there is a difference between Hamas and Fatah, isn't there?
Everywhere in the world you have differences. We, too, have different political programs between the Palestinian parties; in other words, we have different political schools of thought in Palestine. Some people say if we succeed in establishing peace this is good for Palestine and others say we cannot establish peace with Israel because they don't want peace with us. But this hardly relates to the reality of relations between Israel and Palestinians. The relationship between Israel and Palestinians is that of an occupying power and an occupied people. On top of that, we are also trying to unite and agree on a joint program once again. We are making a mistake as Palestinians if we continue having these differences between political parties in Palestine.
Do you foresee success in these efforts to come to a joint program?
You know that we have the Yemeni Initiative of President Abdallah Salih. These days we have two delegations from Fatah and Hamas in Sanaa, Yemen. Hamas announced that they are accepting the initiative. From President Abbas' side, I can tell you that he will accept the initiative without any conditions. In the end we are going to be united again and have the institutions of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, either to be handled by the president or by a third party.
For the interest of Palestine, Hamas should end the coup in Gaza; they should give the handling of the borders again to President Abbas' guards. Only through that will the borders open and the siege be partially broken. I hope that Hamas will activate the negotiations. In the future we are planning to reform all our security forces on the basis of professionalism. There won't be security forces of Fatah or of Hamas. The institutions of the state should be for everyone.
Israel claims the siege is imposed so the Gaza residents won't support Hamas. Is this working?
The complete opposite is true. In fact what the Israelis are doing by isolating Gaza is enhancing and strengthening Hamas. The siege teaches the Palestinians that there is nothing to be gained by negotiations. Israeli policies are feeding extremists all over the world, not just in Palestine. Maybe the Israelis are planning a complete separation between Gaza and the West Bank. This is what Hamas should know and notice. If my enemy wants to separate Gaza from the West Bank, we as Palestinians should work in the other direction to unite these two.
How do you see the help Turkey provides for Gaza?
First of all let's talk about political help. Politically I have noticed that the Turkish government is following what is happening in Palestine and in Gaza in detail. Political statements issued by the Prime Ministry and Foreign Ministry are very strong and clear. This is a very firm and supportive stance.
The economic aid is increasing every day. Both the official aid coming from the government and the civilian aid of the NGOs are increasing. For example injured people are being brought to Turkey for treatment. The industrial zone that Turkey is founding in the West Bank is long-term aid also.
The industrial zone was originally planned to be in Erez. Was it changed to the West Bank because of the current situation?
The first one you mentioned has not been cancelled but the current circumstances, particularly the unstable situation at the borders, didn't allow the launching of the project. It is still on the table, but everybody is waiting for the situation to improve to start again there. The idea was instead of waiting until the situation improves it would be better to open a second one in Tarkumia, West Bank. This decision was made at the Ankara Forum's seventh meeting, which was held in Ankara last November. Today we are very close to launching this industrial zone in Tarkumia. We are waiting for the Israeli clearance. Since the piece of land on which the industrial zone will be constructed is in Area C, the Israelis should give permission for the construction.
What happened to the Annapolis Agreement? Is it still on the table?
In this regard I am totally pessimistic. When we went to Annapolis we agreed with the Israelis and Americans in front of about 40 states and a number of international organizations that we have to start through implementing the road map. Now the commitments of the road map are that Israel should stop all kinds of settlement in the occupied territories. Since Annapolis Israelis have given the order for construction of more than 400 houses. This is one of the actions that they shouldn't have taken. There are also things they should have done but didn't. They didn't reduce the number of checkpoints; they didn't stop the building of the wall; the two negotiating teams reached nothing to this point.
Aren't the Americans pressuring Israel to stand by the Annapolis Agreement?
In fact the only way to get a result from the peace process is to see real pressure from the Americans. But up to this point we haven't seen anything. For example last week the trilateral committee was held in Jerusalem under the chairmanship of Gen. Fraser, who was appointed by President Bush to observe what is happening in regards to the commitments. The defense minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, was absent. While our prime minister was there and the Americans were there, the Israeli minister wasn't. How can you say that the Israelis are serious? So personally I don't see any possibility of a peace process with the Israelis; I don't see any pressure on them. I can tell you there is no Israeli partner for this peace.
Are you optimistic that a change in the White House will change things?
No! We are always waiting for a new president. But the new president comes and then we wait for the next. This is the strategic policy of the US. The policy of the State Department toward the Israelis and Palestinians is always same. The Americans are not in favor of a real solution that will establish a just peace in Palestine.
Then there is a paradox here: You say that nothing will come of this, but you are still behind the peace process.
We are trying to have hope. You have to have hope. The question is what will happen if we reach the end of 2008 without achieving anything. There are analysts claiming that this is the last chance for the peace process. You know there is a lot of talk among the Arab leaders also, saying that our initiative is not on offer forever. We offer this initiative but we cannot keep it on the table forever. The Israelis should decide what to do soon.
You have your own paradoxes also. You are hearing awful things from Palestine but as an ambassador of Palestine here in Turkey you have to deal with economics, cultural relations and education. Isn't this hard to bear?
I have to. I cannot lose hope. I am here to represent Palestine. My country may be under occupation but I am received with full respect in Turkey. Our nations have good relations and my job is to enhance these relations. So we have to work on all fronts. We are working on political, economic, cultural and sporting events.
This year we are organizing the second Palestinian Cultural Week in Turkey, which is going to take place on May 4-15 in Istanbul, Ankara and Mersin. Also we are going to invite a football team from Palestine to come to Turkey and be trained here and we will organize a friendly game. All these actions are about enhancing relations. I am getting full support, and I am proud of that.