Interview of Ambassador of the State of Palestine Nasser Abdul Karim to ONA News Agency.
-First of all, how do you evaluate relations between Azerbaijan and Palestine?
-Excellent! We’re even looking forward to maintaining the ascending trajectory of coordination and cooperation between Azerbaijan and Palestine.
-So because of the geopolitical situation of Palestine, it worth for me to ask this question. Do we have any economic cooperation? Is there a room to set or to improve cooperation in the economic sphere?
-Yes, actually there is room for more cooperation in trade. I think there is a will between two parties, Palestine and Azerbaijan to improve the trade between the two countries. We recognize the trade level is small between Palestine and Azerbaijan due to obvious reasons. The reality on the ground is that the Israeli occupation of Palestine makes it very hard to have free movement of goods and normal trade exchange as it should, like getting Palestinian goods out of Palestine to export to Azerbaijan and vice versa. In spite of all these difficulties; we’re working to reach the point when the trade will flourish between Palestine and Azerbaijan.
-If we have minimum trade turnover, what Palestine people can buy from Azerbaijan or vice versa?
-There is a very small volume of export from Palestine. Some Palestinian pharmaceutical factories exported some amount of medicine that was manufacturedin Palestine to Azerbaijan. Of course, when we regain our independence, sovereignty, the doors will open to have a healthy trade exchange between the two countries. For example, there will be room for coordination in the energy sector, we could benefit from Azerbaijan in this field because it has a long history and good experience in the energy sector, and its other industries in the agricultural field and tourism are developing quickly and gaining traction. In tourism there could be actually good coordinationbetween the two countries to increase the tourists’ exchange, Azerbaijan has become an attractive tourist destination in the last few years, where it has a lot to offer vis-à-vis tourism. On the other hand, Palestine, too; has a small but respected pharmaceutical industry and agriculture-based industry such as high-quality olive oil. Tourism-wise; it provides interesting places for Azerbaijani tourists to explore when they can visit it.
Palestine is one of the major destinations for historic sightseeing and religious tourism; in places like East Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, and other places. So, there is a big potential under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, once more, regardless of the desire and will that both Palestine and Azerbaijan have to develop and increase the volume of reciprocal tourism, I have to repeat saying the truth; the reality is that the Israeli colonial occupation of Palestine makes it not easy to do lots of things.
-Both countries, Azerbaijan and Palestine need international support. How Palestine and Azerbaijan support each other in the international arena?
-Of course, needless to say, that Palestine and Azerbaijan are brotherly countries; the historical, cultural and religious bonds that bind them, makes it almost natural for the two countries to stand together in the international arena where we support each other in international forums, international organizations and ultimately at the UN. We coordinate and cooperate in every level on the world stage, propping up each other stances and aspirations.
-Azerbaijan has hosted several conferences, such as “The donor’s conference to finance the strategic plan for the development of the City of Al Quds Al-Sharif”, “The establishment of Islamic financial safety net in support of the state of Palestine”. What are the tangible results of this kind of conferences?
-Azerbaijan has hosted since I have been here, multiple conferences on the question of Palestine. One of them, as you mentioned was the OIC Ministerial Meeting to provide a financial safety net for the State of Palestine and to support the infrastructure in East Jerusalem. These conferences are indeed effective, important and, of course, have tangible results. Most importantly, they provide a political and moral platform on the world stage to underlinethe just aspiration of the Palestinian people to attain their rights to be free of the Israeli colonial occupation and to have their independence and sovereignty.
On the other hand it provides financial supportto Palestine, like the conference that you’ve mentioned to assist the Palestinian people, especially in the occupied city of East- Jerusalem, where Israel makes it very hard for indigenous Palestinian Jerusalemites to normally develop their sector of the city; from infrastructure, to getting licenses to build new houses, new schools, new hospitals or clinics, in a calculated and methodological policy aiming to strangulate gradually the Palestinian population out of the holy city, in a subtle and gradual form of ethnic cleansing. So any financial assistance; helps the indigenous Palestinian Jerusalemites to sustain the infrastructure of the city.
-So is this kind of conferences expected to be held in the near future in Baku? Will this tendency continue?
-At the moment there is nothing on the draft sheets but knowing that we always talk and coordinate with each other, and Azerbaijan’s principled stance on Palestine. I think Azerbaijan won’t hesitate for a moment when the circumstances require; hosting related conferences on the question of Palestine. Just a few months ago, we witnessed the conference of the Palestinian Ambassadors in Asia hosted in Baku.
-As you know in this region Azerbaijan faces the conflict, because Armenia occupied 20% of its lands. What is the stance of Palestine in this regard and how do you see the solution of this conflict?
-I see the solution to this conflictthrough a peace process predicated on international law, UN-related resolutions; having a long-lasting peace and tranquility requires a peace accord based on the implementation of these principles; where they stipulate the restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and the return of the IDPs, which has been Azerbaijan’s stance all long. Palestine supports Azerbaijan’s position in this regard.
-Does Palestine really understand the situation of Azerbaijan?
-Yes, of course, we understand fully the situation of Azerbaijan. Personally, I have been here for many years; many Palestinian officials, our President, followed by our Foreign Minister; as well as other Ministers and high ranking officials visited this country many times, and reciprocally Azerbaijan Foreign Minister and many high ranking Azerbaijani officials visited Palestine; so we are constantly in touch and coordination with each other; thus we understand and appreciate the situation of each other very well.
-During election campaign PM Benjamin Netanyahu promised to start annex parts of West Bank? How do you think will he pursue his promise? And if he does, how Palestine will react it?
-We Palestinians know him very well, at the outset of the Oslo peace accord Netanyahu was vehemently against it. He ran many election campaigns on political platforms that were against the peace process. Mainstream Israeli politicians inside Israel described his government as an extremist, far right and racist; concurring with what we Palestinians and the majority of world leaders have been saying all along. Mr. Netanyahu, himself didn’t shy away from using racist diatribes against a segment of Israel’s citizens representing 20% of Israel population just because they happen to be Palestinians, as well as unabashedly declaring that “Israel is not a country for all its citizens”, not to mention his alliance with a fanatic bigoted party that was banned and considered by Israel and US State Department as terrorist movement.
Topping all the above with the brutal colonial apartheid system that Israel under his government has been nurturing and expanding at the expense of the basic human rights of the Palestinian people and their ancestral land.
So we have no illusions about what Mr. Netanyahu represents, what he and his cohorts want is to repackage the suppression of the Palestinian people, through a de-facto colonial occupation of Palestine espoused with an apartheid system, that makes South Africa’s apartheid regime in the last century pales in comparison.
We will counter his annexation measure with our own measures. It is true, that the balance of power is in Israel’s favor, it is a regional superpower with an estimated two hundred nuclear warheads, and headed by the most extreme shade in the Israeli political spectrum; backed to the hilt blindly by the biggest superpower on the planet, Mr. Trump’s US administration. Whereas they fail to see that although our people have been under the yoke of this occupation for many decades; their spirit isn’t conquered, their will to live in freedom and dignity was never defeated. They’ve persisted on this holy land for thousands of years.
-How do you view the USA government’s approach to this conflict and its recent moves?
-When Mr. Trump won the elections our President, Mr. Abbas met with him multiple times; our negotiating teams had tens of meetings with the American side. And then suddenly; against the spirit and substance of these talks; he cames out declaring that Jerusalem is capital of Israel violating International law, UN resolutions, US own obligations, and against the International consensus. And in rather systematic way his administration follows that with moving the USA embassy from Tal-Aviv to Jerusalem, closing Palestine’s Mission in Washington followed by closing the US consulate in East Jerusalem and moving it to the American embassy in Jerusalem, calls for the elimination of UNRWA (UN body that looks after the welfare of more than 6 million Palestinian refugees). Then he declares Al-Quds (East Jerusalem) and the refugees are off the table of his so-called “deal of the century” as a deal for peace. The two core issues that have to be resolved to have a meaningful peace accord. Going wholeheartedly in support of the occupier against the occupied; ultimately forfeiting the US role as a serious peace broker.
All of that combined with a campaign of bullying, intimidation and I could say outright extortion from his administration’s officialson almost daily basisagainst the Palestinian leadershipto accept his so-calleddeal, condescendingly reducing the issue to a naïve sugar-coated financial deal, which President Abbas has rejected with all sectors of the Palestinian people and leadership behind him; simply no Palestinian would accept it.
There can’t be an economic peace without having first a political peace; it is like putting the cart before the horse, the core of the problem is political, not economic. Peace should be based on the end of the occupation, independence and sovereignty for the Palestinian people anything short of that is a fallacy.
The Palestinian people are hard-working, one of the most educated and successful in the region and there are many examples of their success when given the opportunity in different parts of the world, they need their sovereignty over their country first to be able to create a thriving economy; then a well-meaning economic initiatives to cement the peace will be wholeheartedly welcomed.
Some in the so-called peace team in the Trump administration is personally invested in the illegal colonial settlements in occupied Palestine, and some come with ideological baggage that proved to be disastrous for the region and the US in the near past, and a couple of them with some dreamy implausible messianic outlook to the whole issue. Succinctly put, a team with a breathtaking lack of understanding or respect of the history, culture, geopolitical dynamics of the region.
-Are you (Palestine) still committed to the "two-state" solution?
We are committed to "two states" solution based on UN resolutions. Actually, in 1993 at the Oslo Accord we recognized Israel as a state within pre-1967 borders. And that was a major concession. What does that mean? arewe’ve accepted to establish our own state on the rest of what remained of historical Palestine which actually is 22% of its total area. The peace process was supposed to lead after 5 years of its commencement to the establishment of the Palestinian State, but Israel reneged on many of its commitments as required by the accord and did not reciprocate to our recognition by recognizing our right to have our own state.
The only alternative to the two-state solution is to have one state. There are two scenarios for the one state option. Either one state that retrenches the apartheid system that Israel has already created inside the Palestinian occupied territories; which is a recipe for continuous conflict. Or one state where all citizens of that state are equal, they have to have and enjoy the same civil and political rights. Israel, unfortunately, does not accept this option.
-Do you believe Palestinians and Israelis can live together peacefully?
-We could, I have no doubt. Majority of Palestinian and Israeli people would like to live in peace. People love to live in peace, it is in the core of human nature, they do not want conflict, no bloodshed, and they do not want to see their children, fathers, brother, sisters, and mothers shattered in conflicts. Multiple opinion polls show in spite of the difficult political situation that people from both sides want to have peace. And this could be and will be achieved in one day when there is an Israeli leadership with the political will to meet the requirements of peace.
-Sometimes we hear the claims that the Arab world does not show strong and enough solidarity and support for Palestine. Would be interesting to know your viewpoint on such claims?
-This is all media speculations fed by the deliberately erroneous statements made by Netanyahu; which meant to exaggerate his political influence and prowess for domestic purposes.What a better answer than the adopted resolutions at the Islamic and Arab summits held in Mecca in the last few days, where a consensus of support for the Palestinian position was reiterated and emphasized, calling for the independence and sovereignty of the Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital; Netanyahu will be hard-pressed to find an Arab or a Muslim leader willing to betray the cause of Palestine and Jerusalem (Al-Quds); which of course, in conformity with the attitude of the Arab world population where the question of Palestine is a core question, as it is in the Muslim world, and with the majority of world public opinion.
-Official visit from Palestine to attend the conference of Non-Aligned Movement to be held in Baku this year…
-Our president, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas will attend. If our president won’t be able to attend for unforeseen circumstances; he would delegate the Prime Minister to participate.