Manuela Paraipan has acted as a media advisor to various parties in the Middle East. She was a media fellow and contributing editor to World Security Network, and is now part of the Bucharest-based Middle East Political and Economic Institute (MEPEI), a non-profit, independent organisation.
How have the dynamics of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process changed over the past 10 years?
The process went through stages and ups and downs. Despite several setbacks it matters that it was not abandoned. Often there are talks for talk sake but even when that is the case no one can say for sure it is a waste of time, energy and effort. For the negotiations to reach a clear, constructive end result you need players with enough political will and clout on the political home front, as well as, a medium to long-term vision not only for the agreement itself but its implementation and then post-implementation period.
As you have addressed in the Middle East Political and Economic Institute (MEPEI), is a negotiation process without Hamas at the table a non-starter?
Interesting question and the only answer worth listening to in this respect should come from the Palestinians themselves. Here I am not talking primarily about the Palestinian leaders whether from Fatah, Hamas or other groups and parties, but about Palestinian society. Do they feel they are all represented at the negotiation table? If the answer is yes, then, this is a decision to be respected, if the answer is no, then there are ways to address it and the reconciliation process is a step in the right direction provided it reaches an agreement acceptable to all concerned parties.
Has Hamas’ position been strengthening since the 2007 take over of the Gaza Strip? If so, in what ways?
It does depend on how we define ‘strength’ and how they define the term. As the governing body in Gaza, strength should come from the way they respond to the needs of the society there. By needs I am not referring only to the basic examples but also those for the creation of a safe or safer environment, working institutions and hopefully, to ensure economic growth and societal development. Some aims may not be possible to be achieved in today’s conditions but plans and programmes can be put forward. It also depends on the population in Gaza. If they are satisfied with Hamas’ efforts then that is a source of strength.
Given the recent changes in the United States’ body politic following the mid-term elections, has a chance for greater American support for peace talks between Palestinians and Israel been lost?
For as long as there are individuals, groups and communities with a genuine interest in reaching peace, nothing is lost. Perhaps delayed if the voice of those who seek coherence in peace negotiations is weaker than of those who are undecided as to whether this file is a top priority or not. There is support from the US to reach a settlement. Maybe local and regional and other international players should be more active in voicing and addressing the issue of peace versus conflict or ‘cold’ conflict. The bigger the community that throws in working alternatives and is willing to be part of the process in a positive, active way, the better.
How do you view the future of the leadership of the Palestinian Authority given that President Mahmoud Abbas is believed to be in such a weak position?
The whole Palestinian political arena goes through adjustments and reforms of sorts and the PA is not outside that trend. Admittedly there seems to be a gap between intentions and actions but there is a democratic process to be followed through. From a more pragmatic position it matters less who the person occupying the position is if he or she is able to deliver.
What can you read into the current stance being taken by Hamas given your recent interview with Khaled Meshaal in Damascus? Is Hamas serious about peace?
First and foremost it is in the interest of those they represent to be interested in peace. Second, Hamas itself has learned that it is one thing to be in opposition and quite another to govern.
In the interview, Meshaal stated to you that “No one dictates any policy or decisions to Hamas”. Do you believe neither the governments of Syria, Iran nor, perhaps, Turkey in any way shape or influence the positions taken by Hamas?
Glad you brought that up because Khaled Meshaal actually offers the answer when he said that there are common interests at stake but no replica. Dictating is one, influencing is another and in the globalised village we all live in whether we like it or not, you have a decision taken in Asia that has repercussions in Europe. It would be interesting to see if the region moves towards reforming and rebranding itself. Why not having ties and alliances based on economic and developmental interest that will then shape political and security arrangements?
Is Hamas a hindrance to peace, or, in your opinion, a central ingredient?
Hamas is an elected Palestinian party. If there is no double standard involved then peace is an objective for Hamas as well as for other Palestinian groups. Peace would offer a long-awaited chance to move beyond rhetoric and build a state. Isn’t peace more generous than war?
Has the United States government lost all credibility in the eyes of the Palestinian people, in light of the recommencement of settlement building in the West Bank?
The United States is a major player in the region and is leading the Palestinian-Israeli peace file. If credibility has been lost there are ways to get it back. It is not black or white especially in a demanding process such as mediating peace. Now, could the United States do more? Most likely.
Is the Israeli government in an impossible position on the issue of settlements given the killings of several settlers in the West Bank in September, and the need to maintain security for Israelis in the territory?
The security need alongside that of enjoying a decent life in an open society is probably a major concern for Israelis as it is for any other peoples. Governing in alliances is never easy and it poses numerous challenges. However, parties and politicians as a rule have a duty towards those that legitimised them. The most important obligation is to offer their popular bases alternatives for a better future. Having a vision for the future is or should be today’s preoccupation. Bold rhetoric and blunt actions may be satisfactory as long as what they offer is not a rehearsal of what has already been seen and tested. What is true for both and all sides of the Israeli – Palestinian – Arab peace process is that you cannot keep doing the same things and expect a different result. Conflict was tested and here we are today. Why not test real and pragmatic peace for a while and see what its effects are? If they prove to be more disastrous there is always the chance of going back to less calm times.
Israel and Hamas are currently in talks over exchanging Sgt Shalit for Hamas prisoners. Will this normalise future negotiations between the two parties or is it a once off?
It can go either way. While this establishes a precedent you need both parties to acknowledge that. These weren’t direct negotiations and this pretext can be used to say that the circumstances were special thus it won’t be repeated.
Do you believe reported tensions between Khaled Meshaal and Ismail Haniyah are overstated?
Tensions are not abnormal when the responsibility to govern and to provide the people of Gaza with services and something to hope for is at stake. There is diversity in the group. However, there is also an institutionalised relationship and once decisions are made they are respected.
Is it politically viable for Prime Minister Netanyahu to negotiate a solution to the conflict with Hamas while they refuse to recognise the Israeli state?
Whatever we hear or read about negotiations in general should be taken with a grain of salt. Unless you take part directly at the negotiations table you don’t have the whole image or it is interpreted and reinterpreted, thus less accurate. Going back to the question. The recognition problem can go both sides; the current Israeli government to ignore Hamas and Hamas to ignore the Israeli state. The conclusion is that both overlook reality. Why would any do so? Is there anything to win? And if it is then for how long? There is reality and pragmatism and then propaganda. Negotiation and dialogue is crucial because it offers the opportunity to speak to the other and explain your position and what is negotiable or not. Is there a stubborn, firm will to have peace now or in the immediate future? That I don’t know for sure but it does not look exceptionally promising.
Hamas, Peace and Palestine by Near East Quarterly is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at neareastquarterly.com.