I was interviewed by Fred Maroun in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The ruling states that the U.S. Congress requires presidential approval to pass a law allowing U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to identify Israel as their birthplace on passports.
Fred: Bassem, do you agree with the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court?
Bassem: No, Fred, I don’t. I think that it is bad for the Palestinians and bad for Israel.
Fred: As I understand it, the U.S. administration’s rationale is that Jerusalem is still disputed territory whose status has to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians. Congress’ legislation would have implied that Jerusalem is part of Israel. Would that not be a problem for the Palestinians?
Bassem: An American NGO conducted a poll among Palestinians in East Jerusalem in 2009 and found that 70% of them want to be part of Israel and therefore want Israeli citizenship. Congress’ legislation would have made it easier for Palestinians to make the case that they should be granted Israeli citizenship. Currently East Jerusalem is not officially annexed by Israel. What I would like is that it be officially annexed, and that all Palestinians in East Jerusalem be offered Israeli citizenship immediately. I think that Israel is not currently interested in fully annexing East Jerusalem because that would mean offering Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians. Of the 160,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, only round 30% already have Israeli citizenship.
Fred: Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas insists that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a Palestinian state.
Bassem: Yes, but it is very difficult to divide Jerusalem. I want to see all of Jerusalem as an open city, under the jurisdiction of Israel.
Fred: If Israel annexes East Jerusalem, it would obviously be a problem for Abbas. What would happen to the West Bank in this case?
Bassem: Most Palestinians in the West Bank are very frustrated about the corruption of the PA, and they are paying a high price right now for being stateless. They appear to have no future because the PA is unable to negotiate a two-state solution. It seems right now that they will never get a state. I hope that Palestinians in the West Bank will get a chance to elect a peace-oriented government in the West bank (without Gaza) that understands the interests of Palestinians and that can negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank with some adjusted border changes. That new Palestinian state would not need to have East Jerusalem as its capital, but there should be relatively unrestricted travel between Palestine and Jerusalem, while respecting the security needs of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Fred: What would happen to Gaza in such a scenario?
Bassem: Ordinary Gazans are very upset about how the international community is acting towards Gaza and the future of Gaza. At this point, it looks like Gaza will not be independent, but it will continue to be an Islamist dictatorship that is determined to fight the Israelis. My hope for Gaza is that it would return to its pre-1967 status and become part of Egypt. Unfortunately, considering Hamas’ hold on Gaza, and considering the Egyptian government’s animosity towards the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas originated, I do not see this happening soon. The voice of the ordinary Gazans is not being heard by the international community.
Fred: What about refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan? Where would they go?
Bassem: I think that most Palestinian refugees are waiting for a solution from the UN that involves financial compensation and not a return to Palestine. I would like the world community to pressure Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan into offering citizenship to Palestinian refugees. After decades in those countries, contributing strongly to their economies, Palestinian refugees deserve it. Also some of the refugees should be able to settle in the new Palestinian state in the West Bank, with financial compensation as well.
Fred: To be honest, I am a little taken aback by your answers. It seems that you have defined a strong outline for a two-state solution that is very different from the two-state solution suggested by the PA.
Bassem: Yes, I think that this is the most realistic option at this point in time, and I think that this is what most Palestinians want. My wish is that Israel and the international community will rally around such a solution, which is fair to both Israel and the Palestinians, and make it happen soon. Palestinians have been waiting for a solution for far too long.