Palestinian Authority Ambassador Ahmed al Madbuh: Palestinians Are Thankful to Bulgarian People and State
Interview of Novintie.com (Sofia News Agency) with Ahmed al Madbuh, Ambassador of the Palestine Authority to Bulgaria
Last week Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) published an interview with the Ambassador of the State of Israel to Bulgaria Noah Gal Gendler.
Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) has approached the two ambassadors over the recent visits to Bulgaria of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
During his visit in Sofia Israeli President Shimon Peres even declared that direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could be expected shortly, and described Bulgaria as “the most suitable” place to hold such talks
Subsequently, it became clear that the direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will be held in Washington, DC, in September; nonetheless, Bulgaria’s increased diplomatic activity has raised the question about the role that it can play in the Middle East Peace Process. .
The Editorial Team of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) welcomes any opinions and input on this topic. To let us know what you think, please use our contact form.
Within just one month in July-August 2010 Bulgaria was visited by the Presidents of the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel. During the second visit Israel’s President Shimon Peres expressed great optimism with respect to the start and potential outcome of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. How was this view received by the Palestinian side? Do you share this optimism?
The talks which started 4 months ago are indirect talks mediated by the US. At their start the Americans did not even call them “indirect talks”; they called them conversations for the convergence of the positions of the two sides. We accepted this wording as an expression of our desire to help for the progress of the peace process.
But before the current talks we had been negotiating with the Israeli side for 18 years, respectively, with each of the changing Israeli governments, but to no avail.
So the current indirect talks were supposed to solve 2 problems before direct talks could start – the problem with the borders, and the problem with security.
Since the start of the indirect talks we provided the American mediators with the full set of documents regarding our views, claims, and arguments on these two issues – borders and security.
Unfortunately, the Israeli side did not provide any response; there was no reaction on their part with respect to some of the questions.
At the beginning of these “convergence talks”, the American intermediaries committed to naming the negotiating party which hinders the development and the progress of the peace process.
It was also agreed that the moment there is some progress in the indirect talks, we will proceed to direct talks. However, there has been no progress, and there are practically no grounds to go ahead with direct negotiations.
So you don’t think the optimism expressed by the Israeli side in Bulgaria is justified, and you are not optimistic about the outcome of any direct peace negotiations?
Yes, you can put it that way but we are actually ready to negotiate at any single moment. However, with any kinds of talks there must be a clear foundation with clearly defined constants and variables in them, and grounds for their legitimacy.
Given that we have our position, and the Israelis have their position, and we need an intermediary, we believe that this intermediary should be the UN, the Quartet, and the EU.
What are the positions of the Palestinian Authority with respect to the major issues of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
If I can go back to my earlier answer, with respect to the borders – for us, the borders should be set the way they were defined for the occupied territories in 1967 according to the international documents. I.e. these are internationally recognized borders.
We have provided the American side with our position that the borders between us and the Israelis can be guarded by any kinds of international forces that might be suggested by the UN, the US, or the EU.
We agree to have NATO troops or the US Army take over the control and security of our borders. But without the presence of a single Israeli soldier no matter whether that soldier might be Christian, Muslim, or Jewish.
Since the disputable issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are a lot, and are very complex, which ones do you deem the most important? What kinds of concessions will the Palestinian Authority demand from Israel?
The problem is not complex at all, unlike what you seem to believe. What we demand are the things recognized by international law.
Palestine was divided in two parts with a decision of the UN in 1947, with 45% for the Palestinian state, and 55% for the Israeli state. I don’t want to discuss here whether this division was just or not.
In any case, Resolution 181 of the UN General Assembly is the basis for the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel. According to it, 55% of the territory of Palestine are allocated to Israel.
The Israeli state, however, was declared on 78% of the territory. And in 1967 Israel occupied the remaining 22%.
So in order to resolve this complex – in your words – problem, we don’t even claim going back to the UN resolution for the division of Palestine. We only demand the territories occupied in 1967.
This means that we recognize 78% of the historic territory of Palestine as territory of the Israeli state, i.e. we insist only on the 22% of the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, and recognized in international documents. This is why our demands are practically supported by all resolution of the international community, the UN, and the provisions of international law.
Were the visits of the two Presidents in Bulgaria coordinated in some way? Was there any connection between them, even if an indirect one?
The invitation towards the Palestinian President had been open for a long time. The only question was when he will have the chance to take some time to visit Bulgaria. I can’t say anything about the Israeli President.
PA President Abbas spoke very positively about Bulgaria. He called it a “friendly nation”. It turns out that Bulgaria is one of the few countries which have goods relations with both Israelis and Palestinians. Why do you think that is? What role can Bulgaria play in Isreali-Palestinian relations, can it host direct peace talks at some point?
Historically, Bulgaria has always had good ties with Palestine. What we are recently witnessing in the orientation of the Bulgarian Cabinet is an opening towards the Arab world. We can even talk of a restoration of the good relations with the Arab world – what they used to be in the past.
And given Bulgaria’s strong ties with Israel, this makes it capable of playing a certain role.
Let me say that the government of Ehud Olmert expressed readiness to recognize Palestine on the territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, including the valley of the Jordan River, and part of the Dead Sea. The government of Netanyahu does not wish to recognize these agreements so the negotiations had to start from the very beginning – as has been the case during these past 18 years – which is why no results have been achieved yet.
Bulgaria recognized the Palestinian Authority back in 1988. It could play a role in convincing Israel to accept the decisions of the international community. The two-state solution option is really not new, it goes back to 1947, and Bulgaria could help convince Israel to accept this option.
How is the fact that Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization, dominates the power in Gaza, unlike the West Bank where Fatah is the leading political force, going to affect the possibility for direct talks? Isn’t Israel going to stay away from the talks precisely because of Hamas?
Let’s differentiate things. Mahmoud Abbas is the Chair of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents and talks on behalf of all Palestinians, not just the Palestinian national authority, which covers only the West Bank and Gaza. About 37% of the Palestinians live in Gaza and the West Bank.
Israel is using precisely this argument to explain the lack of progress in the negotiations – the presence of Hamas in the Palestinian government. But if we look at Hamas as a political force we will see that there is an agreement between the West Bank and Gaza, there is no discrepancy in the positions between these two territories which is why Israel must quit using this as an argument for the lack of progress.
Yes, but Israel claims to be basing its actions on the threat for its security and the terrorist attacks?
The major problem is that the current Israeli Cabinet has seven ministers who come from the so called settlements. The Israeli settlements in the occupied territories themselves do not rest on any provisions of international law. This is practically a government of the settlers, it is a rightist government whose views are based primarily on the Torah.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a political one but the Israelis are definitely trying to turn it into a religious one. Imagine a country without a constitution that is basing on the right of power, not on international law.
When the negotiations with the Road Map started, the condition was that Israel will stop any construction in the occupied territories. But Israel is far from that. Their message for peace is just talking about peace.
While Peres was talking with much hope about direct talks during his visit in Bulgaria, Israeli bulldozers destroyed 120 graves in East Jerusalem, and declared they wanted to build a museum of tolerance on that plot. Imagine what would happen if one Israeli grave is destroyed. And they destroyed 120 graves, including of historical figures, and nobody said anything. Nothing was mentioned in the Bulgarian media about that.
While Peres was meeting with President Parvanov, at least 5 Palestinian citizens were arrested in the West Bank, and 20 Palestinian families were warned to leave their homes with the argument that those had been constructed illegally.
Even some Israeli media are saying that Peres should get a Nobel Price for talking. At the moment he is in the role of an advocate of the racist government of Netanyahu.
Which argument do you think is stronger – the one based on international law, or the one based on threats to one’s national security? What about the rocket attacks from Gaza against Israeli territory that are still continuing, as are the suicide attacks?
Let’s ask the question if Israel has the right to keep under blockade 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, and occupy the Palestinian territories for 40 years. Let Israel pull out completely from the occupied territories, and then we can talk about security matters.
Can you imagine the feeling of a mother or a father of a kid that cannot get its daily portion of milk? How can Israel be viewed positively if it is to blame for that situation?
Take the last war in Gaza – can you expect that the Palestinians will become more peaceful after this war? If this war has led to Palestinian rockets launched against Israeli territory, data shows that their efficiency if low – thousands of rockets might have been fired but only 15 Israelis have been killed by them – of whom 7 died of a heart attack because of anxiety.
Only in the first days of the war in Gaza Israel caused the death of 400 Palestinians. In 2004, 700 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli raid.
Israel does not have the right to use the argument of self-defense because it has occupied an entire nation.
According to international law, every nation under occupation has the right to fight with all means – the same way nations fought Hitler during World War II. Why didn’t they accept the Hitlerist occupation? Why didn’t they fight just through peaceful demonstrations? I underscore that Zionism is going the same direction as Nazism and that we must fight that.
During President Abbas’s visit to Sofia, Prime Minister Borisov pointed out that Bulgaria had provided “the best possible living conditions” to the Palestinians living here. How do you see the condition of the Palestinian community in Bulgaria?
Let me first say that we deeply respect Prime Minister Borisov and the position of the Bulgarian government in support of the Palestinian people. By the way, he is the honorary chair of the organization for Bulgarian-Palestinian friendship.
We are thankful to all Bulgarian governments, including the current Cabinet, for the fact that the Palestinians with Bulgarian citizenship and residing in Bulgaria have all rights; even the Palestinian businessmen working in Bulgaria without a citizenship enjoy security and respect.
We are thankful to Bulgaria – to its people and state, to the Presidential institution and all Bulgarian governments.
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