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UCO’s Husam Mohamad Says Arab Spring Meant U.S. Put Israel-Palestine Progress On The Backburner

Men at the Awarta checkpoint in the West Bank show their stomachs to prove they're not carrying explosives, October 1, 2006.
Michael Loadenthal
Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Men at the Awarta checkpoint in the West Bank show their stomachs to prove they're not carrying explosives, October 1, 2006.

There’s been little progress on achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians since the 1993 talks in Oslo ended in a memorable handshake between the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and President Yasser Arafat.

University of Central Oklahoma political scientist Husam Mohamad argues U.S. support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more of a shift in rhetoric rather than actual power.

“It’s easy to gamble on the Palestinian cause. The United States is involved in so many conflicts and issues, especially in the Arab Springs, that it put the Palestinian issue on the side,” Mohamad told KGOU’s World Views.

He’s an expert on U.S. policy toward the Muslim world, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Arab nationalism. He says many Israelis support the idea of a two-state solution, but it has to be on their terms. Israel’s two driving forces are preserving both the state’s security considerations and the religious demographics.

“The one-state solution is basically saying, ‘We can live under Israel, that’s fine. Just give us equal, fundamental rights,’ and Israel is saying no. Because you cannot be citizens of the state of Israel, because that would ruin the Jewishness of the state of Israel,” Mohamad said. “So if you're a Palestinian, you're basically told you cannot be a member, a resident of the state, because you're not Jewish. And you have to be somewhere else. Somewhere else where? I would accept if it's another state. But it's not another state. So in the final analysis, if it is not the two-state solution, Israel probably will never accept the one-state solution.”

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SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: Husam Mohamad, welcome to World Views.

HUSAM MOHAMAD: Thank you. Pleasure.

GRILLOT: You study Palestine. Middle East in general, but in particular focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Can you give us kind of an update, as of right now, kind of where we are in that conflict and that standoff in terms of hot conflict, hot zones versus a stalemate? Where are we in this situation?

MOHAMAD: For the most part it is a stalemate. And if you look at the past two decades or more, the impression was is that negotiations would be the solutions that would result in a two-state solution. And Palestinians had high hopes, Israeli perhaps the same. But the course of negotiations itself led nowhere. And who to blame? Not just one party. Also, you can blame the United States for not being aggressive enough to enforce a solution, or to bring a cooperation between the two sides that would lead to a conclusion that would raise the hopes of the Palestinians, and also make Israelis feel secure, because Israelis, in the final analysis, cannot stay the way they are without a solution to their neighbor, which is the Palestinians. But also you can look at the Palestinians themselves. They have problems, internal problems. They have geographical divisions. They have political divisions. They have heated controversies between Islamists and nationalists. Add into that you have the region that is suffering from turmoil. You have the Arab Spring. So the Palestinians were sidelined - regionally, internationally, and locally they are suffering from internal conflicts and strifes. And the balance of power has always been in Israel's interest. So they cannot really challenge Israel. If Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) himself wanted to go from Point A to Point B, he would have to ask for a permit from the Israelis to travel. So the Palestinian negotiators are very weak. Very unable. May be willing, but they're unable to deliver for the Palestinians. All of this, basically, leads to the present situation, which is a continuation of the same exact situation that was before. Which is a continuation of Israel's military occupation, continuation of policies that are aggressive against the Palestinians, continuation of Palestinian resistance that sometimes become quite violence. Continuations of the humiliation, restrictions on travel, basic needs and services for the Palestinians are very limited. From the Palestinian point of view they want to change the status quo. From the Israeli point of view, they don't want to change the status quo. Because to change the status quo without being certain that it's going to lead to stability that would benefit the state of Israel is more risky than keeping the state of Israel and maintaining occupation. For the the American administrations, it's easy to gamble on the Palestinian cause. The United States is involved in so many conflicts and issues, especially in the Arab Sprigs, that it put the Palestinian issue on the side, so the situation is really hard, and really difficult.

GRILLOT: Well, I mean, I can understand and appreciate - I think most of us can - your analysis of blame. You use the word blame. It sounds to me like there's enough blame to go around, that everyone has their issues and problems. But moving beyond blame, it seems to me that is obviously in the way, perhaps, of solving a solution. And I particularly appreciate your notion of status quo. Who wants to maintain the status quo versus who wants to change. But let's talk a little bit more about the United States and the U.S. role in the negotiation process. Now you've written extensively about U.S. administrations and the role that they've played. Some suggest that the United States is not necessarily an honest broker because it's obviously very pro-Israeli. But there's a large contingency in the United States of support for the Palestinians as well. It's a very complicated situation. But how would you rate the United States' role? You mentioned blame for the U.S. But let's look specially at administrations. If you look back at the Clinton administration and then the Bush administration and then the Obama administration, kind of how each of these administrations stack up. Are they approaching the situation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and those negotiations in a different way? It seems to me it's fairly consistent, but I don't know. But what about the details of each administration?

MOHAMAD: Well, the United States has been always consistent in its approach toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. If we look regionally, the main concern of the United States has been to maintain and preserve stability in the region. The United States' fundamental interests are in the Arab world, in the Muslim world. They have so much investment, so much interest - especially when it comes to oil. Security of the state of Israel is one of these fundamental goals that the United States have, and remain, and continue, and perhaps will continue to do so. Without the United States' support, a lot of people would raise questions about the status of israel, the future of Israel, the historical legacy of israel - all of these kinds of things. If we start with the Clinton administration, probably that was the first administration that tried to resolve the conflict, especially in 2000. In the year 2000 you had the Camp David Summit, in which Bill Clinton tried to bring about an agreement. But they agreement that resulted in gave the Palestinians less than what their fundamental goals were. Which was a withdrawal of Israel from territories that it occupied in the 1967 war. And that would be about 22-23 percent of historical Palestine. So let's say, generally speaking, Isreal wanted to withdraw from 95 percent of the West Bank. There were a few minor disagreements, actually exchanges of land were suggested in Taba and other negotiations that followed Camp David, but have never really been concluded. So that was probably the closest time in which a settlement could've been reached. The United States have never acknowledged or recognized the national rights or claims of the Palestinians, strangely, until the Bush administration came into power. The Bush administration basically said, 'We support the two-state solution.' This was not the official policy of the United States. This sounds strange, or was a shift in the United States' policy. But sadly, it was a shift in rhetoric more than a shift in conduct. Because the Bush administration, when it promoted the two-state solution, it basically, at the same time, let Israel do whatever it wished to do in the Occupied Territories. So in rhetoric, the Bush administration, even the Obama administration to a degree, and I'll come to the Obama administration, continued to support the two-state solution in principle. And by the way, the two-state solution in principle has international backing. So it is perhaps the most viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's much more popular than other solutions. So then why the United States would come and support such a solution? Well, the fear about the one-state solution is that even from Israeli point of view, the Israelis support it. There's a large number of Israelis that support the two-state solution. But they wanted to do that only on Israel's terms, which means you maintain and preserve the security considerations of Israel, which could be at the expense of the future Palestinian state. For example, if you're negotiating for a two-state solution, and at the same time you're building settlements on the same land that you're going to divide into two states, it does not make sense. Because that very land you're negotiating to divide is now being occupied by settlers. And various laws and policies that enact significant parts from the West Bank expanding the Jerusalem area to be part of Israel. From the Palestinians' point of view, they're stuck. They're held in a process which they became afraid of. A process that is unending. From the Israeli point of view, which is supported by the United States, two things are important. One: You want to maintain the Jewishness of Israel. So any possibility other than two-state solutions should not be on the agenda. Any outside interventions from Europeans or the United Nations or the Russians is not allowed. The United States have a monopoly over the solutions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But at the same time, that monopoly ends, more than anything else, at one: preserving the Jewishness of Israel, meaning even Israeli Arabs are questioned whether they should be or should remain in the future as part of Israel. They are part of Israel. And if you look at the Palestinian side, to give them a state the way they are asking for it, it has to be limited, restricted. Meaning when I go to the West Bank, and I go there twice a year, the first person to check my papers, my documents, my passport - is an Israeli. And then I go, and after half-an-hour drive, the Palestinians will start checking your documents. When I leave, the last person from the Palestinian territories that would check and investigate you is an Israeli. So there is no Palestinian sovereignty in the present status quo. That is convenient for Israel, because Israel can maintain its security without any regard to the security of the Palestinians, to the life of the Palestinians. Add into that, when you travel, and i do that side the territories, I go through sometimes just to go visit my aunt for 20 minutes usually, I go through five hours, and I'm not exaggerating. It could be 20 minutes, it could be five hours. It depends on the checkpoints. And those checkpoints can really put you on hold for a long time. And by the way, it's not because of security arrangements.

GRILLOT: Well this is what I was going to ask. Is this not related to the security concerns that Israel has, I mean they obviously have an experience of Palestinian resistance, violent resistance.

MOHAMAD: That's true. There are things that make sense to focus on the security issues. But between Palestinian villages and towns, there are no security risks, or very little security risks. And you would keep Palestinians, on a daily basis, stranded on checkpoints for a long time. And there are highways that are considered special highways for settlements. Palestinians - and I was one of them - would have to go through very horrible routes to get from Point A to Point B. They're not allowed by law to drive on Israeli highways. They're not allowed to go through Israeli checkpoints that are for Israelis. Because there are checkpoints for Israelis, but those are for the security arrangements you're talking about. The checkpoints for Palestinians are mostly to make the life of the Palestinians miserable. Humiliating. I took my kids, who were born in the United States, lived in the United States, and they stood with me at those checkpoints, and my son looked at me and said, 'But they don't even check our IDs.' So there was no real justifications for many of the complexities. And I am just visiting for a week, two weeks, three weeks. What about those people that I know in every town that have to live this life? They've been cheated out of life.

GRILLOT: Well, clearly this is a terribly complicated situation. So given the situation as you've characterized it, what do you think the solution is going to be? You've mentioned the status quo is something that's likely to be maintained. But quickly, what hope can we have that this is going to change in terms of how they're treating each other, how they're able to overcome and resolve this conflict?

MOHAMAD: Everybody knows what the final solution is going to be. It's divorce. When you are at a conflict as such, you have to create two settings, two entities. The Palestinians must have the fundamental basic rights: sovereignty, statehood, return of refugees, security, removal of Israeli settlements from the territories. And then the Palestinians would have something to lose. So they would, definitely, try to preserve as much as possible. Now, I cannot guarantee no violence would take place, yes. But I mean violence can happen anywhere in the world. I'm tallking about, here, mass violence. Potentials for mass violence if you maintain the status quo. Possibly a third Intifada. Or the other alternative, if it's not another two-solution, its to have one state. A lot of Palestinians start to support the one-state solution. And the one-state solution is basically saying, 'We can live under Israel, that's fine.' Just give us equal, fundamental rights. And Israel is saying no. Because you cannot be citizens of the state of Israel, because that would ruin the Jewishness of the state of Israel. So if you're a Palestinian, you're basically told you cannot be a member, a resident of the state, because you're not Jewish. And you have to be somewhere else. Somewhere else where? I would accept if it's another state. But it's not another state. So in the final analysis, if it is not the two-state solution, Israel probably will never accept the one-state solution. Palestinians would remain under the same status quo for many years to come. The reactions to the status quo, we have seen it, would be violence in part, sometimes perhaps peaceful resistance. There are movements around the world that are pressuring Israel, but Israel is not really paying attention as long as the United States remains on its side.

GRILLOT: Alright, well, Husam, thank you so much for being here today and trying to bring some sense to a situation that many of us find very difficult and confusing and frustrating. So thank you for being here and providing us your thoughts. Thank you.

MOHAMAD: Thank you. I appreciate it. It's my pleasure.

Copyright © 2016 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.

KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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