More Up Our Sleeves

Nabil Sha'ath tells Haaretz that Fatah has other measures planned to create pressure on Israel - aside from the UN declaration of statehood.

The decision to petition the United Nations for statehood in September is part of a strategy designed to perpetuate Israel's image as an apartheid state, according to senior Fatah official Nabil Sha'ath.

"I think of September as the deadline for a project we must succeed in - getting as many countries in the world to recognize the state of Palestine and to ask the UN to accept Palestine as a full member," Sha'ath said last Thursday in an interview with Haaretz, following two days of discussions in the Fatah Revolutionary Council about the Palestinian request for independence. "We had to set a deadline. Abu Mazen chose September because of Mr. Obama's speech last year, in September, when he promised there would be 'a new state' after a year, so September became a deadline. What will Abu Mazen do? He wants to keep this card in his pocket.

Nabil Sha’ath, left, shaking hands with Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh in Haniyeh’s Gaza City office.

I conclude from this description that you don't have a clear strategy. You can't even deal with the freezing of tax revenues by Israel after the reconciliation. What will happen if even more serious steps are taken?

"We cannot ask our donors to put $3 billion in the banks just in case Israel is doing this or not. We cannot delay unity because of Israel's threats. This question was discussed at the revolutionary council yesterday. Bashar Assad made a statement that 'milk and bread are much more important than freedom and dignity.' I don't agree with Assad. Shall we delay unity because of the withheld revenues?

Are there preparations for what will happen after September?

Abu Mazen is even thinking of dissolving the Palestinian Authority and getting Israel to take responsibility. He is thinking of what I call apocalypse alternatives. Maybe he's right. Israel under Netanyahu needs at least something to worry about, something that Mr. Barak calls the tsunami of September.

But Abu Mazen is not the only Palestinian that is supposed to decide.

To me, the alternative is not unknown. It's to continue this strategy of building our unity, of non-violent struggle, and of really treating Israel as an apartheid state. That means to go all over the world to tighten the pressure on the government of Israel. This issue of an independent state of Palestine is just one element of putting pressure on Israel so that when we go back to negotiations, we go to serious negotiations, with clear terms of references [mainly UN resolution 242] and a clear end to all actions that violate the Oslo agreement.

You are speaking about a popular struggle, but you are not able to get masses of Fatah members to participate in village-demonstrations led by your own movement's activists.

Correct, we don't yet have that kind of tsunami, but Fatah is moving toward that. We now support a new flotilla, the BDS movement all over the world. Fatah is moving gradually into all that an unarmed popular struggle entails.

The same Fatah that suppressed the youth demonstrations in El Manara Square?

The blame is on both sides. The girls and boys of the PFLP simply thought that the presence of a Fatah leader at the place was not allowed.

They also didn't want to see the leaders of the other organizations. In addition, the members of the Mukhabarat [Intelligence] pretended to be demonstrators.

I don't know if Mukhabarat were all over the place, but I know the shabiba were and the mistakes were committed by shabiba. We are learning how to co-exist with popular struggle. To tell you the truth, this wasn't at the beginning in the mind of Abu Mazen. He is gradually starting to see it - popular struggle and international activism. Abu Mazen at the beginning was scared of the idea of BDS. But if you want to put real pressure, this is the way. If you want negotiations it can be done by Saeb Ereqat and two assistants. If you want armed struggle - that can probably be done with 500, 2000. But if you want popular struggle, it should involve 4 million people. And all other sorts of initiatives. The BDS groups meet here in my office.

That is to say, you support a boycott of everything that is Israeli?

Absolutely. The PA cannot do it. But this is our right, as a movement. Unarmed struggle does not mean that I have submitted to Israeli occupation but that I am looking for other ways of making pressure, not armed, not violent. One of them is BDS. If people decide that they are not going to buy anything Israeli that they can produce locally, it becomes effective. It worked in South Africa. The South Africans where not just calling to boycott the goldmines. It was prevented from representing itself in the United Nations. The day has not come yet when 50,000 people sit in protest at the Qalandiyah barrier, without even throwing stones.

To get 50,000 people in Qalandiyah, Nabil Sha'ath and Abu Mazen have to be at their head. And you don't even cross over at the Qalandiyah barrier like ordinary people.

There is the duality of a liberation movement and a ruling party. That's why Abu Mazen threatens to abandon the authority. This is one way of resolving this conflict.

How are you preparing yourselves for the Israeli response after September?

I think the draconian measures - those done and threatened by Netanyahu - paralyzed Obama. Had he not done this, the US would have had a much more negative attitude to unity. More draconian measures will bring about much more international pressure on Israel.

We have been hearing this from you for 20 years already. And all that happens is more international donations without political pressure on Israel. Exactly, but this is going to change. Finally, all the threats in the world, including those of Mr. Obama, do not work. Abu Mazen's leaving the negotiations after the September 2010 debacle was a courageous act. From that moment I was very supportive of him.

What is going to happen at the UN?

We'll go to the Security Council and ask to become a member state. If the U.S. does not veto it, we become members. The Security Council will send us to the General Assembly which will approve it. If they use the veto, we will still go to the General Assembly, which can decide to accept us as an observer state. Since 1988, 113 states have recognized us. Today we are not exactly two-thirds of the total membership, but more than two-thirds of the usual number present that vote.

And then?

That is one of the steps to demonstrate our insistence on sovereignty within the 67 borders. Some say we are doing all this to improve our bargaining cards in negotiations. So what's wrong with that?