|Please tell us a little bit about your role in Britain and what you feel you have achieved so far.
I am the Palestinian Diplomatic Representative in London, and have been so for the past fourteen years. I believe Britain is an important capital for several reasons:
Britain is also a major power in the European Union and an important partner to the Arab world. Many believe it should be the inspiring Athens of the contemporary Rome.
- It is the former colonial power in Palestine
- It is presently responsible for the creation of the Palestinian crisis
- Furthermore, Britain is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and we (the Palestinians) believe that peace can only be achieved with United Nations resolutions as the grounding component.
As to what has been achieved, there is a major shift of opinion favouring the Palestinian position. Opinion polls show a ratio of 2:1 in our favour compared to support of the Israeli position. This result is a culmination of factors, but the trend is clear.
How do you feel the MCB and the British community could help the Palestinians both in the UK and in Palestine?
I believe that the Muslim British community are of extreme importance. I am pleased that I have an excellent working relationship with the MCB. For the Muslims, the need to solve the problem is very high on their priority list. Because of their importance in around 80 electoral constituencies - where they can make a real difference - political parties have become sensitive to the Palestinian problem.
I believe the parliamentary deliberations (on Palestine) of national constituencies is going to increase after the next elections.
Certainly a good way of supporting the cause of the Palestinian people is becoming more visible in the media, academia, sport, and business world. For us Palestinians this community's support is primarily effective as a strategic asset.
How did the death of President Arafat affect the Palestinian people nationally and internationally?
Yasser Arafat was the founding father of the contemporary Palestinian movement, and the Palestinian people. His death was a traumatic and immense loss; yet I am proud that transformation has taken place in the smoothest possible manner, exactly the way that our constitution requires.
With the death of President Arafat, what are the prospects of the peace process moving on?
Yasser Arafat was perceived by the Americans and the Israelis as an obstacle to peace because they expected docility, whereas Arafat represented our national dignity.
Our colleagues in the peace process have showed enormous cohesion and responsibility in preparation for the upcoming presidential elections on the 9th of January 2005.The elections will be competitive and internationally monitored. I am proud to say that this would be the second such elections since the birth of Palestine.
The death of Arafat has removed the pretext fabricated by Sharon and sadly aligned to by George W Bush that Yasser Arafat was 'no partner for peace'. That pretext can no longer be invoked. I personally believe that the revitalisation of the peace process and the semblance of movement that we see today was going to occur anyway, even if Arafat was with us, and it would have obtained his blessing.
You, I, and your readers may remember that Tony Blair, in his annual conference speech in September said:
`Come November, I will make it my priority to reactivate the peace process'.
'Come November' simply meant when we have the American elections behind us. I certainly believe that the reactivation of the peace process is going to be the resultant of three objective factors
Palestine & Israel: Is improved understanding between the two possible?
- Having secured his place in the Whitehouse for a second mandate, Bush might want to secure his place in history.
- There is enormous exasperation in Europe and the world for what I call the 'self-inflicted impotence' of the US administration as far as the Palestinian Peace Process is concerned, which has deteriorated in the last four years.
- There is a growing awareness from Paris to Pakistan for what has created the rift between the international community, the unresolved Palestinian problem, and the perceived American complacency and complicity with the Israeli territorial appetite.
We are still under occupation. The major test will come in a matter of weeks when we start seeing the implementation of the 'road map'. But, the peace process will only succeed with the endeavours of third parties; namely, the Quartet Unites States, United Nations, Russia and the European Union.
The major flaw in previous attempts was the fact that too much responsibility was left to local parties to manage. Since we have two asymmetrical parties, Israel was tempted to negotiate positions rather than take sides.
It is well-known that the last Camp David talks failed because of the failure to reach an agreement on two main issues: Jerusalem and the right of refugees to return home. Now that there are efforts to restart the negotiations, what is the current position of the Palestinian Authority on these two issues?
The leadership that will emerge after the elections will be fully committed to Yasser Arafat's legacy. But the political game will be more fluid. I believe that political commentators have knowingly or unknowingly quoted Max Weber who wrote very eloquently that all societies pass through three stages:
We have had, prior to 1948, a traditional leadership. We have just witnessed the end of the charismatic era. Now begins the institutional phase. With the world as our witness, we have had a very smooth transition and the Palestinian people have demonstrated enormous maturity and a great sense of responsibility.
- The traditional leadership
- The charismatic leadership
- The institutional leadership
Yasser Arafat at the same time was an individual, an idea and an institution. The individual is perishable, but the idea will prove to be immortal through the institutions that he helped create.
Afif Safieh was in conversation with Shadi Bashir