Haidar Abdel Shafi, one of the original founder of the PLO, medical doctor, long-time President of the Gaza Red Crescent Society, former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, passed away yesterday at age 88. His contribution will be long remembered. In 2005, he was interviewed on the crisis by Bitter Lemons, a Palestinian-Israeli electronic journal.
bitterlemons: What is your reaction to Israeli Prime Ministerial advisor Dov] Weissglas’ comments last week that Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan effectively aims to freeze the political process?
Abdul Shafi: The position of Israel is very clear and needs little explanation. Israel remains committed to its initial position that it has claims to Palestine in general, not specifying any particular area. Israel works for the implementation of this position. It never formally recognized any rights for the Palestinians and that explains the conduct of Israel.
bitterlemons: You don’t believe Israel is in any way interested in a Palestinian state?
Abdul Shafi: No. I believe very strongly Israel is against the establishment of a Palestinian state. The declared Palestinian position, which is very moderate and very conciliatory, that we accept a state in less than one-fourth of Palestine on the borders of 1967, is rejected by Israel, and Israel has taken measures to make this impossible.
bitterlemons: What do you make of the international community’s position in this respect, accepting a two-state solution but also Sharon’s unilateral plans. Is this contradictory?
Abdul Shafi: Yes, it is contradictory, but it is partly because our performance in support of our own cause is not very well organized and that may explain why the international community, in my opinion, does not seem very aware of the issues. We have a definite failure as Palestinians to extend our views and explain the situation properly so that everybody can see the reality of the Israeli position.
bitterlemons: Do you see any political opportunities for Palestinians if and when this unilateral withdrawal takes place.
Abdul Shafi: The Palestinian performance is not organized, and there is plenty of room for improvement on how we go about responding. But I think the Israeli position is very clear, and it is clear what they want to give and what they do not want to give. Our declared position, a state within 1967 borders, is still not accepted by Israel. Zionism has never been interested in Gaza. Israel remains committed to the claims of the First Zionist Congress. The Gaza issue was not addressed during that congress. It was obvious right from the beginning that they had no real interest in Gaza, and I believe they sincerely want to withdraw from Gaza. Equally certainly they want to exact a price for this, as far as Palestinian rights in the rest of Palestine go.
bitterlemons: There seems to be a dynamic, ahead of any withdrawal, of escalation, with Hamas declaring they will throw out Israel and Israel declaring they will not withdraw under fire. Is this a sustainable dynamic?
Abdul Shafi: No, it’s not. As long as we go about our affairs without the minimum level of organization we can’t get anywhere. Our problem is that we act without organization. This explains the disarray we suffer from.
First of all we must realize national unity. We cannot leave the stage open for every faction to do as it wishes as the situation is now. There are many points of view and many different strategies on this and that is the cause of our continuing disarray. What we need is that all political factions join in one body that we call for instance the national unity authority or leadership, where they air their views in detail and then reach decisions democratically to which everybody is committed. That’s what we badly need.
No faction has the right to stay aside and act as it wishes. We are badly in need of national unity to meet the present challenges. If we do not do this, I am afraid that we shall remain in disarray.- Published 18/10/2004 (c) bitterlemons.org