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20 October 2005 Edition

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INTERVIEW - Outgoing Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland Ali Halimeh talks to An Phoblacht

Ali Halimeh

Voicing the Palestinian struggle

Dr Ali Halimeh has been the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland for the past four years. During his time here he has highlighted the truth behind the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine and has built strong relations with Sinn Féin. He has attended and spoke at the party's Ard Fheiseanna for several years. He will shortly be leaving Ireland to take up the post of Palestinian Ambassador to South Africa.

In this interview, An Phoblacht's Cathal Ó Mhurchú discusses Halimeh's time in Ireland and the current situation in Palestine

Ali Halimeh's official title in Ireland is Delegate General of Palestine, because, until Palestine is recognised as a sovereign state, he is not officially considered an ambassador. This technicality has not prevented the distinguished Palestinian politician from achieving many of his objectives over the last four years in this country.

He explains his political mission as one of promoting political and economic co-operation between Irish political parties and people and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), but also as countering Israeli propaganda in relation to Palestine.

"We highlight the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state and we do that through the press and the media in this country. We have been doing that since we opened our mission in Dublin," he says.

During his time here, he has helped to build a strong relationship with Sinn Féin.

"I have attended most Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna and have met many among the leadership," he says. "We have discussed issues relating to our conflict and our common objectives in getting rid of colonialism, occupation and oppression. We see so much in common when it comes to the right of the people to self-determination and the right to control themselves, instead of being controlled by others. I have met Gerry Adams more than once and I have had the privilege of meeting many other party members, some of whom have visited the Palestinian territories. We have so much to do still and much to learn from each other's experience in relation to conflict resolution, both in the North and in the Middle East."

Halimeh is vocal on the parallels that can be drawn between the Irish, South African and Palestinian Peace Processes.

"I think the struggles in Ireland, South Africa and Palestine have produced something very unique. We in Palestine can learn a lot from the northern political process and how you have reached certain political steps in relation to disarmament and decommissioning. Through organising meetings, debates and discussion, we can learn much from each other."


On the recent withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza Strip, he says it is difficult to judge or predict what Israeli intentions are.

"They decided unilaterally to disengage from the Gaza Strip. We were hoping that they would co-ordinate this disengagement plan with us and ask for collaboration. But the withdrawal was a unilateral decision by Sharon. If somebody is getting out of your land, you let them go. If the Israelis decide to leave and destroy their settlements, which symbolise oppression, then let them go. Now, I think what we will push for is the continued disengagement of the Israeli forces from the remaining Palestinian Territories."

It is time, he says, for the Israelis to "sit down with the Palestinians to discuss a mechanism for them to put an end to their conflict".

"We have taken over Gaza," he says. "We have had certain difficulties and we will have to sort this out ourselves, hopefully in the near future. But, while Gaza is an important part of Palestine, it does not make up the whole of the country. The West Bank and East Jerusalem belong also to Palestine and we have to build a state in both territories.

"The world will be watching us now and will see how we are reacting to the withdrawal of the Israelis from Gaza. We are focussing on rebuilding it. My new leadership thinks that through peaceful negotiations and political process we can achieve more. We are not saying that we should abandon arms but we are saying that we can keep these arms quiet for the time being until we see Israel is prepared to negotiate politically. This is the thinking of my new leadership and the Palestinian Authority.

On the possibility that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza might be related to the fact that they are trying to consolidate their hold on parts of the West Bank, he says: "Let me tell you — if that is their thinking and their objectives, then they are destroying any possible hope for a permanent political settlement and peace with the Palestinians. So it will not work."

He points to the change in Israeli Policy on the Strip.

"At one time they said that Gaza was part of Israel and that they would never withdraw, but they have come to understand that they must withdraw from Palestinian land if they want to live in peace and security. They cannot maintain the land and build more settlements at the expense of the Palestinian people's freedom and independence."

Halimeh says it is this logic that will see the Israelis withdraw from the West Bank.

"The West Bank is the biggest part of Palestine," he says. "There will be no viable Palestinian state without the West Bank. We are prepared to negotiate with the Israelis if they want a piece of land here if they are willing to give a piece of land of the same quality and quantity from their territory. But we are not going to give an inch of the Palestinian territory to entertain Mr Sharon's ideology of Zionism and Greater Israel. That kind of thinking is gone forever.


Asked about the ultimate objectives of the Palestinian struggle and views amongst Palestinians regarding the 'One-State' and 'Two-State' solutions, Halimeh says: "We have offered the Two-State solution because we understand the realities of the Middle East. We understand that both sides have historical and religious claims to the land. We have offered a Two-State solution to accommodate the state of Israel and that has been at the expense of Palestinian land, our people's land. We have taken that decision at the highest level of Palestinian institutions and we have offered it to the international community.

"I think as far as we are concerned, we have fulfilled most of our commitments in relation to the Road Map," he says, referring to the peace deal established in April 2003. "But Israel is still occupying the land. They are the ones who have denied Palestinians their rights to establish a full independent state."

"In the longer term, both states will have to collaborate and co-operate on economy, in trade, in business and in political considerations. This will be up to the new generation and the new leadership. I believe it will be difficult to have two states forever, because both sides feel very attached to these territories. Perhaps we will reach a kind of unity, where both of us control the land, run it and make the best use of it."

Halimeh believes that in the longer term the Israelis will feel the demographic pinch of the conflict.

"The Israelis are becoming fewer and the Palestinians are becoming more numerous. So this is perhaps one of the reasons that the Israelis have left Gaza, because they are a small minority. Before they left there were four or five thousand settlers in the midst of 1.5 million Palestinians. Israel cannot sustain that economically or militarily. Now they have the same problem in the West Bank. Logic dictates that, as the Palestinians become more numerous the Israelis ability to remain in that part of the world is going to become a severe concern for them. For the sake of both nations and peoples, let us live together under one political system and make good use of that piece of land. I cannot see why a Jew will not accept a Palestinian leader if he treats everybody as equal and I cannot see any reason why I, as a Palestinian, will not accept a Jew to be my Prime Minister if he treats me equally like everybody."

Irish and international support

Halimeh believes that Ireland has a very significant role to play in highlighting the Palestinian cause and the Middle Eastern conflict in the EU Parliament.

"We would like to see Ireland play its role in bringing Arabs and Israelis together, in finding a solution to the conflict," he says.

"The EU as a whole should be more decisive in its policies on the Middle East. It still waits for the US to tell them what to do and what not to do. We want the EU to come out stronger and tell both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, where are our wrongs and our rights.

"Europe and the International Community have to push towards a final settlement because Sharon and his government exploit hesitance from the International Community. It gives him an advantage in grabbing and confiscating more land where he is building the wall in the heart of the Palestinian lands.

"This is something that is unacceptable in modern history. The world is watching another country taking somebody else's land, somebody's houses. Crimes are being committed against the Palestinian people. Condemnations are not enough."

Asked about the kind of support he receives from the Irish Government, Irish political parties and Irish people generally he says the relationship is "excellent".

"The government today, headed by Bertie Ahern, has been consistent in their approach in relation to the conflict in the Middle East. During the EU Presidency, the Taoiseach and the Foreign Minster made more than one action to re-drive the Peace Process in the Middle East. Of course it didn't work because the Israelis and the Americans have always wanted to exploit the situation and keep it for themselves and they have always denied any real role for the EU when it comes to the political dimension of this conflict. The Americans will tell Europe 'you provide the money and leave the political dimension to us', which is a great disadvantage for the Palestinians as far as we are concerned because we think Europe is geographically closer to the Arab world. They appreciate the nature of our struggle more than the Americans."

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