DR AQEL TAQAZ is vice-chair of the World Peace Council and secretary of the Palestine Committee for Peace and Solidarity.
He is a member of the Palestinian People’s Party, a component party within the Palestinian Authority government coalition.
He has just completed a tour of Britain, organised by Liberation, addressing large audiences in Oxford, Birmingham, London and Manchester where he spoke at a packed fringe meeting at the annual Trades Councils Conference.
Steve Sweeney (SS): More than 120 Palestinians have been shot dead and thousands injured, but, despite global condemnation and UN investigations for possible war crimes, Israel isn’t stopping, as we saw with the shooting of an unarmed medic last week along with another member of the Tamimi family. Why do you think Israel continues in this way?
Aqel Taqaz (AT): Israel continues with this behaviour despite all the condemnation and announcements of UN investigations (which Israel does not comply with anyway — refusing them the permission to even enter Israel and the Occupied Territories) because Israel has the full support and cover, politically and economically, of the imperialist countries, especially the US, preventing the international community from taking any action against Israel.
In fact, on the contrary, they continue to provide Israel with all means of help and support, especially military aid.
Therefore, Israel continues to behave as a country above international law and somehow not subject to any such constraints or rules.
SS: Hamas has been blamed for the unarmed civilian deaths. What are their aims for Palestine and are they really a barrier to peace?
AT: We believe that the main issue and the main cause of the violence in the Middle East to be the Israeli occupation — an issue at the heart of the problems afflicting the region, an untreated wound.
Hamas is a part of the political system, participated in the elections 2006 and was part of the government.
As in every country there are different political parties with different programmes and views.
This is the case also in Israel, with the extreme right-wing political parties and chauvinistic groups and tendencies that exist on the scene there.
The PLO signed an agreement with Israel (Oslo 1994), many of the terms of which Israel has continued to flout. Israel must abide by and respect the terms of this agreement.
Hamas, on its part, is fighting to end the occupation and siege and the UN Charter recognises the inalienable right of all people under occupation to struggle against that occupation and by all means.
We believe that there will be a peaceful solution with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the borders as they stood on June 4 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital and with the proper address of the issue of the refugees and their right of return as according to UN Resolution 194.
It falls to Israel and its allies and supporters to see this recognised accord and its fundamental tenets through from their side — otherwise the future will remain foreseeably bleak.
SS: Is there any prospect for peace between Hamas and Fatah and what would this represent for Palestine?
The division between Hamas and Fatah could be brought to an end easily if only the regional and international forces who are supporting them could agree upon a solution to this damaging dispute.
We believe this to be an essential precondition to achieving our goals and the whole of society and all political parties are doing their upmost to achieve that. Unfortunately, that having been stated, we don’t see that as happening very soon.
SS: The Knesset has proposed a law banning the filming of Israeli soldiers with heavy sentences for those convicted. Why do you think this is? And what will it mean in terms of human rights monitoring and journalism?
AT: Israel is utilising all means to prevent people from all over the world, especially in the West, from bearing witness to the crimes committed against civilians in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza.
This behaviour is unacceptable — the multiple videos, reports and films clearly show Israeli brutality and could be used as evidence against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
Because of this, Israel is doing whatever it can to cover its behaviour by exploiting various legal mechanisms within its armoury or by moving to prevent, even kill, those journalists brave enough to try and report what is happening.
It is the imperative and urgent duty of all journalists and officials, especially in the so-called free world, to react accordingly and continue to report on this situation.
SS: The Middle East is being torn apart by different imperialist interests. Why do you think this is and what are the prospects for peace in the region, which look pretty far off at this stage?
AT: The Middle East is in the centre of the designs of all big powers for the region, one which they seek to control by all means.
The region is especially vital to the imperialist forces for its rich reserves of oil and gas in addition to its geostrategic importance between three continents and the possibility to control the maritime routes.
The imperialist forces will do everything in their power to protect their interests without a care for the resulting victims and destruction.
However, we believe that peace can be achieved by putting an end to these interventions and leaving the peoples of the region to solve their differences through dialogue and to decide freely for their future, their political representatives and leadership and their chosen course of development.
Otherwise, the region will remain a field of wars, destruction, refugees and extremism.
SS: Turkey has been given free rein to attack Kurds in northern Syria, launching an illegal ground invasion of sovereign territory and is also conducting military operations in northern Iraq. Why are they able to act with impunity and what does it tell us about the role of Nato, since Turkey is its second-largest army?
AT: Turkey is exploiting the current situation in Syria, where the central government was unable to control all of its sovereign territories because of the terrorist war against it, and the reality is that the big powers are in need of Turkey’s assistance in implementing their plans for the region — concurrent with Ankara’s own interests — especially in controlling some parts of Syria, pushing the Kurds back and securing a major role in the final stage of the Syrian conflict and its resolution.
This need of the big powers for Turkey’s assistance places a pressure on its allies — the US and Nato — to tolerate its immovable stance towards the Kurds.
The priorities of all engaged forces in the region are not the same and this works in favour of the Turkish designs.
SS: Why has the focus of warmongers shifted sharply back on Iran again? After the nuclear deal collapsed, we saw Israeli air strikes on supposed Iranian targets in Syria and, more recently, Netanyahu threaten military strikes against Assad.
AT: We know that some powers in the region — primarily Israel and the Gulf countries — and pro-Israeli forces in the US, mainly Republicans, were against the agreement with Iran believing that it will allow Iran to be rid of sanctions, enabling it to ride out its internal crises while strengthening its position international especially within the Middle East region.
After Trump’s election to office, all these aforementioned forces seized upon the opportunity, through lobbying and financial incentive, to push for a US withdrawal from the agreement.
Trump has kept all options open, including that of a war against Iran, also with the support of the same forces. To further stoke this heated atmosphere and to push for an Iranian backlash, Israel is attacking targets in Syria stating that these are in fact Iranian assets and warning Syria of the dangers if they allow Iran and Hezbollah to have bases near the Israeli border.
Because of that and because the situation in Syria remains as yet unresolved, these forces are trying to push an already incendiary situation to the verge of an explosion — a precipice on which they believe an accord more favourable to them can be negotiated with the other big player in the region, Russia.
SS: How do we achieve peace?
AT: Peace in the Middle East can be achieved if the international community takes seriously its responsibility to solve the burning issues in the region by addressing the Palestinian issue at their core — by moving to bring an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and other Arab land occupied since 1967, establishing an independent Palestinian state within the June 4 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and the solving of the refugee problem in accordance with Resolution 194 — all through an international conference, with the participation of UN and all big powers, to implement the UN resolutions related to Palestine.
This should take place concurrent with a withdrawal of all foreign forces from the region and with proper assistance to help people to develop their countries and to fight against poverty and unemployment.
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