‘We are in a continuous intifada’: Interview with Fatah’s Husam Zomlot

By Alexis Thiry

Sometimes accused of being an apparatus composed only of old figures, Yasser Arafat’s political formation, Fatah, also includes young personalities. Husam Zomlot, the executive deputy commissioner for Fatah’s Commission for International Affairs, embodies the party’s new generation. Fluent in English, he is frequently interviewed by the western media. He talks in a structured manner with passion and determination. He is a recognized scholar both in Palestine and the West, and was part of the delegation presenting the Palestinian statehood request at the United Nations in September 2011. He has agreed to speak about this diplomatic initiative in an interview for +972 Magazine on February 22 in his Ramallah office, and to share his thoughts concerning the future of the Palestinian struggle.

You were part of the delegation promoting the bid for Palestinians statehood in the United Nations in New York. What did you try to achieve through this initiative, and how you would describe the outcomes, considering the certainty of an American’s veto?

Our first goal was to catch the attention of the international community, and reaffirm our discourse and the narrative of the Palestinian people. Mahmoud Abbas, in the framework of the General Assembly, talked about the Nakba and the forced exodus of  700,000 people. As he said, correctly, occupied territories are not “disputed,” and settlements are not “neighborhoods,” as the current Israeli administration likes to present it.

Our second ambition was the reaffirmation of the international law, based on existing UN resolutions, such as our “right of return,” in order to break down the current disequilibrium. International law is a legal weapon aiming to defend our people. Joining institutions such as the International Court of Justice could not only help to pursue those harming civilians, but more importantly, it could prevent crimes before they are committed. A soldier would think twice before shooting unarmed civilians.

We need to create legal parity in order to turn occupied territory into an occupied state. We are devoted to reaching state-to-state negotiations to solve this conflict. Previous talks were biased and favored Israel since it was maintaining a disastrous status quo. So, to answer your question, I would not call it a failure. The Security Council is not the only organ of the United Nations. A majority of States are ready to vote in our favor within the General Assembly. Last and not least, this initiative aimed and succeeded in fostering our national pride, and this shouldn’t be underestimated.

As people’s frustration is rising after years of negotiations, do you think the PA and Fatah compromised too much with Israel?

I do not share this point of view. I truly believe Fatah initiated the negotiations twenty years ago in a good faith. Netanyahu’s biggest fear at the moment is the success of our institutions. We managed to deprive Israel of its monopoly over the territories.

On the other hand the Palestinian Authority has to undertake the constant need to prove that it is a viable entity. The international community is constantly observing us while other countries aren’t under such scrutiny. The other cost is that negotiations made occupation more comfortable for Israel over time.

Do you think there is more talk of “giving Israel back the keys” or “one state”? If so, what would that look like?

If you are talking about dismantling the PA, I don’t regard it as a pragmatic option. It would be a political suicide. I do think the PA should be redefined and reformed, but this decision belongs to the PLO. The cost of such action would be so high regarding its possible benefits. We provide a number of public services. We have national health care coverage and public education, and the Palestinian people greatly rely on these services. The trend is to strengthen our national institutions, not dismantle them. If we do so, the occupation will fill in the gap, and divide and fragment Palestinian society more and more.

Since negotiations are heading nowhere with the current Israeli administration, what kind of strategy should the PA adopt to fulfill the dream of a Palestinian state? Do you regard “popular resistance” as the last option available by the Palestinians to fight occupation?  If yes, would you call it a “third intifada”? How should it be implemented?

I don’t like dramatic terms. It is definitely not the last option in our hands, but you are right, it is in many ways more effective than armed resistance. The Arab Spring proved its effectiveness and the Palestinians are watching what’s happening in Tahrir Square. The future liberation of Khader Adnan is the direct consequence of popular mobilization combined with international pressure. The Palestinian people have been talking about Adnan’s battle of hunger.

Popular resistance will not be the third intifada. In fact, the Palestinian people has been resisting for one hundred years, we are engaged in a continuous intifada. When a strike was lunched in 1936, it was already an intifada. Resistance, including armed resistance, is a right, but it is not in any way an obligation. Negotiations involve a very limited number of persons, and armed resistance involves two or three percent of the people. Popular resistance, such as a broad boycott campaign, aims to gather all fragments of the society no matter which political party they belong to, no matter their social class or their religion. But it doesn’t mean political parties don’t hold any responsibilities. Fatah has defined its new strategy during its Sixth Congress in 2009 during which Fatah officially gave up the armed struggle to be replaced with/by peaceful popular resistance. And we are pleased to see that Hamas has joined us recently (January 2012). It became a point of consensus between us, and something I can’t but welcome.

Do you think the BDS campaign makes a mistake by not differentiating goods coming from Israel, and goods coming from the settlements? 

No, I think a large-scale boycott should target all institutions implicated in occupation and illegality.  At the moment, occupation is more profitable than costly. Eighty percent of our water is either transferred to Israel or consumed by settlers. We need to bring Israel to its weakness.

Has the Fatah leadership thoroughly weighed the costs and benefits of a partnership with Hamas? And if the costs are clear, what do you see as the greatest benefits?

Let me be clear on this. Unity is our primary objective. To achieve popular resistance, the Palestinian society has to be united. I personally don’t know when the legislative elections will be held, but they are essential to form a united government.  The practice of blackmail perpetrated by Israel can no longer be tolerated. Unity has much more value than their sanctions. The goal is to agree on what we disagree about. No party can make war or peace decisions on its own, its decisions do not only involve themselves, but the whole population. We need to work together and implement collective decisions.

Alexis Thiry is a French-language editor of the Palestine News Network based in Bethlehem in the West Bank. His blog is called Des Visages et des couleurs.