Answers of Mrs. Leila Shahid

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Leila Shahid
Chosen by Yasser Arafat as the first woman to represent the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Europe, Leila Shahid occupied several key positions in European capitals before she moved to Brussels in the year 2006, to become the General Delegate of Palestine to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Biography of Mrs. Leila Shahid

    • Leila Shahid “dislikes résumés”, but she has no problem in revealing her birth date in Beirut, Lebanon, on the 13th of July 1949. It is indeed Lebanon that made her a real “francophone” and a convinced “Francophile” at the same time.
    • Daughter of a couple born in Palestine, and well involved in the national combat against British colonialism, she grew up in a political environment, engaged in defending the Palestinian cause.
    • After she finished her bachelor degree in anthropology at the American University of Beirut, she joined L’ecole des Hautes Etudes En Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris and embarked in a research about social structure in Palestinian camps in Lebanon, a place she knows quite well as a political militant.
    • She was nominated by Yasser Arafat as the first woman to represent the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Europe. She became the Palestinian representative in Ireland (1989), in Netherlands (1990), in France (1993) and at the UNESCO before she became the General Delegate of Palestine to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg (since 2006).
    • She considers that her mission is an exceptional one being a representative of a state that does not exist yet. However, this state is very important in a way that it is the last nation that struggles for an official recognition from the world, a recognition that proves to be essential for peace in the Mediterranean.

Answers of Mrs. Leila Shahid


1. The political situation in Palestinian territories is unstable. Palestinian political leadership is deeply fractured between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Israel is pursuing the construction of the separation wall and refuses to stop its colonization activities in the West Bank. How to resolve this deadlock?

It seems obvious that we are in a very difficult situation. The main reason is that the negotiations that the Palestinian Authority, particularly President Abbas, had devoted more than 16 years to, since the Oslo Accords, are now stopped, because the Israeli government wants to start everything again right from the beginning. Except that, since the Oslo Accords in 1993, we have made some progress on the basis of negotiations:
- We have to negotiate the end of the Israeli occupation that conquered militarily the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, according to the UN Security council resolutions 242 and 338. The borders of our state are the ones recognized by the international community, which are the 1967 frontiers, unless both parties conclude an agreement for an amendment
- East Jerusalem is part of the occupied territories
- Israeli colonization activities are illegal and against the international law, so is the separation wall. Such actions are considered illegal by La Hague court of Justice (2004), by the European resolutions and the UN Security Council resolutions
- As stipulated in the 2002 Arab initiative, the Palestinian refugees’ status should be negotiated on the basis of the UN general Assembly resolution 194, according to an agreement to be reached by both parties.

The Palestinian Authority has pursued the path of negotiations with 7 different governments during 16 years, none of which succeeded in finishing its mandate! The United States and the international community reconfirmed both parties’ obligations in a road map adopted in Annapolis. It is totally unacceptable to call what has been done until now into question and accept that the Israeli Prime Minister refuses, all in all: the 1967 frontiers, the legal status of East Jerusalem, the illegal status of colonization and the separation wall, as well as the Palestinian refugees’ rights.
Each government has obligations towards its predecessor. Israel must choose between being a state of law or a state “out of law”. International responsibilities are essential to help resolve this deadlock. How come territorial conflicts in Asia, Africa or Balkans benefited from an international mobilization to impose national rights? Do Palestinians represent human species that do not have rights?



2. Some say that the two-state solution is no longer possible. What is your opinion on this issue?

A lot of Palestinians and Israelis are more and more skeptical about the possibility of creating a Palestinian state in the 1967 territories, due to the colonization activities, the roads diversion, the military camps and the separation wall that annex more than 50% of the Palestinian territory and isolate East Jerusalem. Ehud Barak himself said at the Herzlia conference, which was held one week ago, that if Israel doesn't accept immediately the two-state solution, then it would be soon obliged to accept an apartheid state with a majority of Arab citizens by 2020. Unfortunately, the Netanyahu government is burying his head in the sand. And such suicidal behavior generates more violence and despair, as well as wars and violence against Israel and its allies around the world. Personally, I think that both parties and the leading countries in the world should be determined to do their duty with a strong political will so that we can gain agreement on a two-state solution. But, in spite of everything, Palestinians launched the implementation of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad plan entitled “Putting an end to the occupation and building a state” with the help of our friends all around the world, notably the European Union. But it seems obvious that in order to make the withdrawal of Israeli forces possible, we need an international political will and an official recognition of the Palestinian sovereignty on 1967 territories. This option is less complicated than the creation of a secular and bi-national state rejected by most Israelis. Palestinians, for their part, need to establish their own state as quickly as possible.

3.
 The Russell Tribunal on Palestine will be soon launching its activities. What can you tell us about the preparation period? And what are the functions of the Russell tribunal?

My friend from Israel Nurith Peled and I did sign the call for the creation of the Russell Tribunal. In order to face Israel’s impunity for war crimes and massacres in Palestine and Lebanon, we decided to follow the Vietnam example and philosopher Jean Paul Sartre; thus, we asked cultural, intellectual, political, juridical and social leading figures to establish an opinion tribunal that would judge both the Israelis and the international illegal actions against Palestine. This call was launched with the support of Belgium Senator Pierre Galand two years before Israel’s Gaza offensive, following the advisory opinion of La Hague court of justice. After the Gaza tragedy, the reaction of personalities around the world was more important than ever before. The organizers decided that different sessions of this tribunal would be held in many continents and countries, the first of which will be organized in Barcelona on March 1st around the responsibility of Europe in failing in enforcing law and justice.

4. Is the struggle for Palestinian rights still a political fight or the confrontation became irreparably religious?


Of course, it is a national and anti colonial political question. The emergence of an Islamic movement such as Hamas is not a religious matter but a political one. Islam as a political ideology goes back to the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, then the arrival to power of the Mullahs in Iran in 1979. Religion became thus a political ideology used by a social force, along with a political speech based on Islam. The aim of Hamas and even the Islamic Jihad is not to strengthen faith in Islam among Palestinians, but to liberate Palestine from Israel’s occupation. They are national movements created on the basis of a social and Islamic ideology. I think, however, that they represent a regression from the PLO Palestinian National Movement that remained secular since its creation, but this movement loosed its credibility among its voters because the negotiations about the creation of a Palestinian state have failed. Voting for Hamas in 2006 was more a message of punishment than an expression of religious convictions, which explains, for instance, why Hamas voters elected the Christian mayor of Bethlehem. But I think that nowadays, Hamas is also judged on its failures rather than on its promises, which is why we are noticing that its popularity is declining.

5. 
Hind Khoury succeeded you as the delegate general of Palestine in France. Is it a specific strategy drawn up by the Palestinian Authority to promote modern image of Palestinian society? And what national role do women play today in Palestine?

I was chosen to be the first ambassador in 1989 in Ireland. At that time, the world was discovering, thanks to the first Palestinian Intifada, that the Palestinian resistance was based on the whole Palestinian society efforts. Women have played a crucial role during the 1987 Intifada. President Arafat wanted to pay them tribute. This is why he chose me, as a woman. But of course, at that time I was a simple Fatah activist. I am not sure that same convictions govern the Palestinian authority decisions today. For example, the Palestinian women movement action is not as important as before, because we believe it is very difficult to conciliate social and political struggles while we are fighting for our national independence.

6. 
After all, what are your expectations from the European opinion? The same than those you had during your visit to the French suburbs from 2003 till 2005, which is the subject of your book «Les banlieues, le Proche-Orient et nous»?

I visited French suburbs with Michel Warchawski and Dominique Vidal in order to establish direct contact with people of Maghrebin origins living in what can be called “ghettos” in French suburbs. And we actually succeeded in breaking the invisible wall that separates us from them. The book tells that story.

7. Are you optimistic about an efficient role that the European Union could play, notably after EU ministers called for Jerusalem to serve as the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state?

The declaration by the European Council on December 8 brought back the parameters of a solution to the Middle East conflict on the international scene, on the basis of what I detailed on the first answer. It was a victory for us. EU positions were never expressed in such a clear-cut way. Today we should work on applying these principles concretely. The establishment of new European institutions after the Treaty of Lisbon, such as the position of High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Lady Catherine Ashton and the position of President of the European Council, has changed the decision making mechanism. We are currently in a transitional period, and I hope Europe will remain mobilized both on the economic and the political levels.

8. What are you suggesting in your political and economic plans to improve the lives of the desperate Palestinian youth?

The plan that was drawn up by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad under the title of “Putting an end to Israeli occupation and building a state” is a conceptual revolution that helps young generations regain confidence in their future. It is important to show them that despite the Israeli occupation, we are able to build our state’s infrastructure. We have to show the whole world that the Palestinian state is a reality. This is how we oblige the world to recognize it. And the European Union is helping us by funding more than 1000 development projects in the West Bank, which allowed creating jobs and training opportunities for youth and boosted the Palestinian economy. It is obvious that a permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian territory remains the condition for long-term success. Meanwhile, this program allows investing in youth to help them build their future in spite of the occupation.