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Conflict Zone

Shaath: Gaza-West Bank split 'our major failure'

Fifty years on and Israeli occupation continues. Peace is stalled. Elections delayed. Why, after so long, have the Palestinians achieved so little? Tim Sebastian meets Nabeel Shaath, adviser to the Palestinian president.

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Nabeel Shaath on Conflict Zone

"There are problems. We are human. And even when we are under occupation, even when we are with so many agonies caused by the occupation we have our own mistakes. But the major problem is there," Nabeel Shaath told DW’s Tim Sebastian.

With the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War just passed, the "major problem" of Israeli occupation of Palestine that followed the 1967 conflict shows little sign of resolving itself. Recent polls even say one-third of Palestinian people believe the occupation will last another 50 years.

Democracy on hold

Those polls, taken in March this year, also say just 25 percent believe the current leadership is doing everything possible to end the occupation, but the prospect of a change in leadership and a new government seems a distant prospect.

Deutschland Palästinenserpräsident Mahmud Abbas in Berlin (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Stache)

Recent polls say 64% of Palestinians believe 82 year old President Mahmoud Abbas should resign

National elections across Palestine have been repeatedly postponed, with the 82-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas now in his twelfth year of power despite the fact that his election win in 2005 gave him just a four-year term.

At the heart of the delay? The division between Hamas-led Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, of which Shaath’s Fatah party makes up the most powerful group.

"You cannot hold a democracy under disunity. Otherwise you consecrate the division," said Shaath on this week’s Conflict Zone from Ramallah.

"If we were to hold elections in the West Bank only… we will have more democracy in the West Bank. But we do not represent Palestine. We then will be democratically representing the West Bank alone."

But the veteran negotiator and senior Fatah official denied that this was an excuse for clinging on to power: "Having elections [only] in the West Bank is worse then delaying democracy," said Shaath.

Again in March, 61 percent of Palestinians told pollsters they are dissatisfied with President Abbas and 64 percent want him to resign. The question is, could younger leaders offer more hope?

"We should have a new generation ruling Palestine. But that has to be done in a way that… the door is left open to unity."

Westjordanland Wahl (Getty Images/AFP/T. Coex)

“If we were to hold elections in the West Bank only … we will have more democracy in the West Bank. But we do not represent Palestine," Nabeel Shaath told Conflict Zone.

'Oslo is dead'

In October, Shaath was quoted as saying Arabs should wake up from their "peace dreams." What did he mean by this, asked DW’s Tim Sebastian?

"Oslo is dead … Mr. Trump is not looking to revive Oslo. He's thinking of a new deal. The Europeans in Paris were not looking at Oslo they were looking about a permanent deal. Oslo is dead. The Israelis killed it."

The Oslo Accords, negotiated in secret and signed in Washington in 1993 and 1995, while not a peace treaty, set a timetable for achieving peace. Further agreement between the two parties stalled in 2000 and was eclipsed by violence later that year.

More recently, in 2015, Shaath’s boss, President Mahmoud Abbas, told the UN that Palestinians "cannot continue to be bound" by the Oslo Accords.

A summit in January this year in Paris, led by the French government and attended by delegates from 70 countries, including then US Secretary of State John Kerry, also failed to shift the mired peace process.

Money for terror

USA Mahmud Abbas & Donald Trump in Washington (Reuters/C. Barria)

President Trump has said Israeli-Palestinian peace would be the "ultimate deal"

President Trump, who has shown a keen interest in the conflict and called its resolution the "ultimate deal", met the Palestinian President in Bethlehem on his first visit to the Middle East in May, following which President Abbas said he would "keep the door open to dialogue with our Israeli neighbors."

Earlier that month in Washington, where the two leaders met for the first time, Trump reportedly raised with Abbas the issue of payments being authorized by the Palestinian Authority to terrorists in Israeli jails and their families.

Shaath fiercely denied that payments were made to terrorists: "This is a racist claim… you cannot be racist enough to tell me that one million Palestinians are terrorists because they have all been through Israeli jails.

DW Conflict Zone - Nabeel Shaath (DW/T. Sakzewski)

Conflict Zone's Tim Sebastian meets Nabeel Shaath in Ramallah

"In 50 years one million Palestinians were in Israeli jails. Were they all terrorists? When I negotiated the Gaza-Jericho agreement with the Israelis there were 15,600 in Israeli jails. The Israelis accepted to release all of them with the exception of 229."

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he had also raised the issue with Abbas during the Washington visit and said the Palestinians' "intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others."

"We don't pay the attackers, we pay the family of people in Israeli jails. The Israeli government pays the family of criminals who are in Israeli jails," said Shaath.

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