Khraishi: Palestinian dignity ′not for sale′ | Political interviews by Tim Sebastian & Michel Friedman | DW | 08.03.2018
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Conflict Zone

Khraishi: Palestinian dignity 'not for sale'

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, wants a peace conference in 2018, but with the US sidelined. Will anyone show up? Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, is on Conflict Zone.

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Ibrahim Khraishi on Conflict Zone

The US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Ill words on Twitter. Cuts in aid for Palestinian refugees. With US-Palestinian relations at a low, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, told the UN Security Council in February he wants a Middle East peace conference by the middle of this year.

That conference, however, according to Abbas, would not include the US as the main power broker, as it was in the negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords being signed on the White House lawn.

On DW's Conflict Zone this week, host Tim Sebastian meets Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva. Does he believe Palestinian leaders are in a position to dictate the terms of any talks? And are they really prepared for talks in 2018?

'May your house be destroyed'

In a speech in January, Mahmoud Abbas said of Donald Trump's awaited peace plan: "We won't accept his project; his deal of the century is the slap of the century, and we will respond." 

Palästina Israel Konflikt Versammlung PLO in Ramallah Mahmoud Abbas (picture-alliance/AP Images/M. Mohammed)

President Mahmoud Abbas addressed members of the Palestinian Central Council in Ramallah, saying Palestinians were at a "critical moment"

And taking aim at Trump, Abbas said, "May your house be destroyed."

What effect did Khraishi think this kind of response to the US would have on the diplomatic process?

"The announcement [on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital] was unexpected, first of all, for the Palestinians and the international community," said Khraishi. 

Previous presidential candidates have offered similar support for formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

President Trump confirmed in December he would fulfil his campaign pledge, sparking demonstrations and condemnation of the decision across the international community.

The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv will be completed in 2019, Vice President Mike Pence has said.

Abbas was also reported as saying of Trump, "Damn your money." How did Khraishi expect the Americans to respond to insults?

"We will insult anyone who is going to touch our rights. Our rights are not for money. Our dignity is not for money," Khraishi told DW’s Tim Sebastian.

But the heightened tension and angry rhetoric could hit the Palestinian people hard.

Palästina UNRWA Demo in Gaza (picture alliance/ZUMAPRESS/W. Nassar)

Foreign ministers of Jordan, Sweden and Egypt will co-chair a conference in support of UNRWA in Rome this month, seeking to secure the long-term future of the agency

The US State Department has announced it will withhold $65 million of funding, of a planned $125m, from the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), which runs education, health, and social services programs for Palestinian refugees, including in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

"We are suffering since 70 years ago. It's nothing new for us and we can live without the American money. We can find a way but the Palestinian national dignity and rights is not for sale," said Khraishi.

He also expected that an upcoming meeting in Rome, to be attended by ministers from nations supporting UNRWA, would lead to an agreement on meeting the shortfall created by the Americans.

According to UNRWA, the US was its largest single donor in 2013, contributing over $130m, while a US official said its assistance in the 2017 financial year was over $355m.  

Overdue elections

Beyond financial support, political support too is waning.

A poll in December - taken in the West Bank and Gaza Strip the day after Donald Trump's announcement on Jerusalem – put satisfaction with President Abbas at just 31%, while 70% want him to resign, up from 67% three months earlier.

Khraishi, however, disputed the figures, saying there "is sometimes political use for those polls and for those opinions" and that more recent polls in February were "totally different".

General elections by the end of 2018 – 12 years after the last legislative elections – were agreed at a meeting of Palestinian factions in Cairo in November last year.

Junge Palästinenser radiaklisieren sich (REUTERS)

According to polls taken in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, belief that armed action is the most effective way to establish a Palestinian state has increased from 35% to 44% in the last few months

Lost hope?

But of those polled in December, 45% also said they wanted a return to an armed intifada. Had their leaders failed to offer them hope in diplomacy and negotiation?

"This may be right because the frustration is very high," said Khraishi. 

"We didn't succeed until now to come up with a peaceful solution as we promised our people since the start of Oslo. And the problem is not the Palestinian leadership or the Palestinian side, it's our neighbors, the Israeli leadership, that they are not ready until now to meet with their international obligations."

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