Nearly two years have passed since my last meeting with the distinguished professor and former Arab League ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, Dr Clovis Maksoud.
Last time Dr Maksoud spoke about the media and their profound impact on the Middle East. He also examined some of the region's recent tragedies, such as sectarianism, and suggested ways to get out of major regional rigmaroles.
This time Dr Maksoud provided insights into the tragic Palestinian political situation, the lack of Arab and Muslim political will to move effectively to restore justice to Palestinians, the Goldstone report and whether or not it will have an impact on the US.
According to Dr Maksoud, 1948 was a disaster for the Arabs and 1979 a catastrophe. The situation today, predictably, hardly lends itself to any optimism.
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Yet in the past four decades, the OIC failed to act effectively on Occupied Jerusalem. Why?
Regional organisations don't have the teeth to make it costly for Israel to usurp and 'judise' Jerusalem. They will keep supporting, diplomatically and [by means of information], the right of at least the eastern part of it to be the capital of an emerging
But the OIC, despite its commitment to Jerusalem, has to work on an Arab initiative determined to make it costly for Israel to continue dismantling the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem.
A sanctions system will have to be brought in. In order to have an OIC viable and amenable to implementing policies, Arabs have to be determined to pursue a policy that makes it costly for Israel to continue. Perhaps the easiest option is that the two countries that have diplomatic ties with it [Egypt and Jordan] break those relations.
What about all this talk of normalising relations with Israel? After all, this is viewed as the last card Arabs hold against Israel.
The US is trying to pressure the Arabs and I think it should not be forthcoming because we are compensating Israel as an investment to license it to continue intensifying its impunity — diplomatic as well as operational — as has been proven since the Oslo agreement.
It would be a serious setback, to put it mildly, for the cause of the Palestinians if this transaction, wherein Arabs indicate a disposition to normalise relations in return for the resumption of futile negotiations, takes place. You don't negotiate when you don't have the clarity of a prior agreement.
Moreover, Israel has never admitted since 1948 that it is an occupying power. It treats itself [as a claimant] and since the partition plan, has never defined a border for its state.
In that respect, the Oslo agreement was a trap into which Fatah, and subsequently Hamas, fell by going to so-called elections under the occupation. They both have been fascinated by the sovereign titles, with hardly municipal authority.
Why are the Arabs falling into this trap of negotiations and conciliation? Is this testimony to Israel's ability to manipulate?
Arab states have no coordination among them, particularly on Palestine. It has been
made almost impossible to have a credible deterrent against Israel's impunity. That is
because Egypt's peace treaty with Israel
has more or less removed it as a deterrent to Israel's violation of UN resolutions and
acting as a claimant. The Arabs, although they pay lip service to the declaration of the Beirut Summit, never provided a possibility of sanctions.
While it should have been the plan for final settlement and reconciliation, it wasn't.
The Arabs diluted the impact of this initiative. There was no other approach which
encapsulated: 'Take it or leave it'.
This is the ultimate peace: We sacrifice part of Palestine and you have to withdraw
from the West Bank and Occupied Territories. This was the ultimate formula for final
Aren't some voices in the Middle East already pushing for that?
They say so. The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, and the secretary-general of the
Arab League have said it. It is not that they don't mean it. The fact is that you have to
have a determined united front which behaves in a united way. If you said, 'take it or
leave it' and they don't take it, then break relations, suspend relations.
The problem is that Israel takes normalisation for granted and that has weakened the Arab position and has made inapplicable the UN resolutions pertaining to the Palestinians' right to self determination.
If 1948 was a disaster, 1979 was a catastrophe because it removed Egypt, a crossbreed of experiences and potentials of Arab Africa with Arab Asia. When that becomes dysfunctional, we break up.
Now Turkey is replacing Egypt as a proxy for attempts at healing, whether it be with Syria, Iraq, Iran or even Yemen where almost a civil war is taking place.
Shouldn't Turkey's new goal be welcomed?
Yes, but it should have been the role of Egypt to be the healer of our internal wounds because it has the stature and the capacity.
Between 1979 and 2009, we saw Egypt try to reclaim its central role. We always had hope before 1979. The Palestinian cause, which represents to the Arabs the potential of their collective renaissance and their present collective humiliation, is now being dealt by the intelligence department of Egypt as compensation for having diplomatic relations with Israel.
Of course we can't be against it but we shouldn't be for it. This is the dilemma. In that respect, it is important that we bring the unity of the Palestinian people not as an operation or an Egyptian intelligence success. It is crucial that we reconstruct a plan for the Palestinians to revamp their structure.
What about the role of Palestinians inside Israel?
They are exhibiting a sort of resilience that might be the yeast of what ought to be because they have experienced direct contact — discovered the power of Israel and the vulnerability of it.
And they have by this discovery created for themselves an inner strength and posed the dilemma for Israel: Either you consider us equal Israeli citizens and therefore Israel is not a Jewish state or we will continue to fight for our national and human rights.
What does this portend?
It carries the seeds of a medium to long range correction of the overall geopolitical situation.
Why do you think President Mahmoud Abbas initially wanted to postpone discussing the Goldstone report? Was it American pressure?
The Americans didn't have time to put pressure. They indeliberately invited American pressure when they were able to manage the situation. Now they are trying to salvage. But it is too late.
What about Hamas's announcement that it will not be part of elections coming January?
Let us assume it is legal for Abbas to call for elections. Gaza doesn't participate. A substantial minority if not a majority in the West Bank, and maybe some in Jerusalem
won't participate. Where is the legitimacy?
When legitimacy overwhelms legality, it is no more legal.
Should the elections proceed?
I don't think the whole concept of these elections is right. They should restructure the PLO. The Arab states must give back and there must be a severing of diplomatic relations. What has to be restored is that Palestinians are under occupation and have a legitimate right to resist.
Resistance doesn't necessarily mean violent or armed resistance. Militancy is the last resort. There is the option of civil disobedience, demonstrations, going to the UN again, restoring non-violence.
You have to restore the culture of resistance. But Khalid Mesha'al will tell you that this is exactly what he is doing. They are resisting without a strategic vision of resistance.
What is needed is to restore resistance to occupation and we tell America that we will not negotiate until they say Israel is an occupier and don't say 'freezing colonies' but 'dismantling colonies', which are illegal. You can't compromise with a violation of the law.
Do you believe Obama can bring about change?
I think he will have to weigh all options on Palestine.
Because Obama has inherited luggage, baggage and garbage. He is now in the process of cleaning up. He had to clean up before his vision comes through. He has already succeeded in keeping the recession from becoming a depression. He is striving to invest to reduce the level of unemployment, among other things.
He finds himself leading with a complexity that is not very inspiring. On the issue of Palestine, he has not received a coherent Palestinian position.
He has received a blueprint of reconciliation, namely the Beirut declaration, yet the
Israelis and some Arabs [neglect it as] not the final thing but one of the options. That reduced its determinant position.
Are you optimistic?
If the deficit of [information is cleared], I will move towards optimism. But it takes
genuine political effort and commitment on the Arabs' part.
Do you think the Arab street continues to be provoked by Israel's arrogance?
Yes. The Palestinian cause is a recipient of that frustration and support. You can trigger Arab anger despite what they face on other fronts, poverty for instance — the Arabs are a rich nation of the poor. That is logical and should remain. They should not exclusively focus on Palestine. Palestine remains a rallying issue.
What is stopping Egypt from taking a strong stance in today's world? Have they lost confidence?
In the intellectual community and among the masses, there is a great deal of support for [Egypt] breaking relations with Israel. The behaviour in Rafah and not allowing doctors to cross the borders has created a lot of resentment.
Yet the counter-offensive — 'we went to war several times and we now want to focus on poverty etc' — is not working. On the contrary, we have a very wealthy class of people and more poverty and that is where you have the oppositions, the Islamic Brotherhood.
You've been on the scene for many years and you have seen presidents come and go. Have you ever witnessed this low a point before?
Incidents in 1948 at least prompted a reaction and brought about unity [although it] failed because of mismanagement. The fact that unity has taken place [has] planted in the subconscious that it can happen again. 1979 made that plantation dry up a little.
Goldstone has revived the international constituency of conscience. It is now for the Arab vanguard to articulate and communicate the narrative of the people of Palestine and of the world and begin to mobilise.
What do you think the US will do about the Goldstone report?
The US will tolerate mobilising opinion but it won't pass it to the Security Council. If we [the Arabs] would say to them this has to go to the Security Council otherwise we cut relations, it won't happen.