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Palestinian Diplomat Criticizes International Complacence Amid Ongoing Violence


We are going to begin, once again, with the latest on the violence in the Middle East, where fighting between Israelis and Palestinians continued for a seventh day today. Israeli airstrikes pummeled Gaza once again. Officials said they were targeting the home of a top leader of Hamas, which controls the territory. Officials in Gaza said at least 33 people were killed by the bombings. Hamas responded by launching another barrage of rockets into Israel. Overall, at least 180 Palestinians have been killed in the violence so far, including more than 50 children. Well, at least eight people have been killed in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy.

As this crisis has escalated over the past week, NPR has brought you a wide range of perspectives on this story from diplomats and officials and long-time observers of the region as well as Palestinians and Israelis just trying to get through this. So we're bringing you another perspective now. That's of Maen Rashid Areikat. He is a Palestinian diplomat, a former chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States. And he's a veteran of previous negotiations.

Ambassador Areikat, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

MAEN RASHID AREIKAT: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: It's been seven years since the last significant conflict with Hamas. It's been 16 years since the last major Palestinian uprising or intifada. As briefly as you can, why now?

RASHID AREIKAT: Well, I think it's the fact that the root causes for this conflict are still there, which is simply - to your listeners - the continuation of the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian people that started in 1967 and Israel's refusal to allow the Palestinians to have their own self-determination and their own independence and freedom. And as long as this military occupation continues, it reminds me with the slogan that the Clinton team used in 1992 - it's the economy, stupid. It's the occupation, stupid, you know? I mean, if you try to explain it, no matter how you try to explain it, it's the Israeli military occupation that continues to create conditions for the Palestinians that are unbearable. And that is the main source of the violence in the region.

MARTIN: So we know that Hamas and your organization, the PLO, have actually opposed each other. I think we might say they're political rivals. And the PLO has made agreements with Israel that Hamas rejects. Hamas took over Gaza, kicking out the Palestinian Authority officials. If I could ask you to help us understand what Hamas' strategy is. I mean, Hamas firing rockets at Israel is provoking a response where the death toll is vastly disparate. I mean, many more Palestinians have died than Israelis have. And Israeli defenses seem to make these rockets less lethal than they otherwise, you know, would be or could be. So what is the strategic objective here by Hamas, if you can help us understand that?

RASHID AREIKAT: Well, listen, I witnessed many rounds of talks in my life. And, you know, the PLO opted for peace agreements with Israel, signed the Oslo Accord in 1993, made peace with Israel. And what the Palestinians did get in return? You tell me.

Israelis - the majority of Israelis do not even contemplate a solution with the Palestinian people. And the Palestinians found themselves in a situation where Israel is exploiting our goodwill and good faith to reconcile, to coexist with them, to build more settlements and deny us the right to self-determination and statehood. So it's natural that people who are factions who are opposed to to Israeli policies like Hamas and others will gain popular support among Palestinians.

Hamas did warn Israel before they launched the rockets. Unless you stop your provocations in Jerusalem at Al-Aqsa Mosque, we will retaliate. This is not a Hamas-Israel situation, Michel. This is a Palestine-Israel situation. Hamas is trying to show Israel that the Palestinian people are not going to give up.

We are not going to succumb. We are not going to surrender and accept the diktat of Israel to deny us our freedom and our independence. And therefore, this is the reason behind Hamas's response to what Israel has been doing. We are doing the diplomatic track. They think that, by exerting pressure on Israel, they can make Israel understand that they cannot break the will of the Palestinian people.

MARTIN: Even at the cost of this tremendous loss of life, because the Palestinians are paying the heaviest price in terms of...


MARTIN: Of loss...


MARTIN: ...Of life.

RASHID AREIKAT: It breaks our heart. It breaks our heart. But what is the alternative, Michel? What is the alternative? Throughout our history, Palestinians are the only people in the world who are refugees in their own land. We are refugees in our own land. And what is happening today has proven clearly that Israel's peace and security can only - guaranteed through an agreement with the Palestinians. We are the people who are on the same land. We are the people who will be on this land for hundreds of years to come. And Israel's best option is to make peace with the Palestinians by allowing the Palestinians to be free and independent.

MARTIN: So, as we mentioned, you are a diplomat. You were involved in peace talks in 2014, which, as we said, was the - during the last major fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. If the two sides were to sit down now, can you give us a sense of what the Palestinian side would be asking for?

RASHID AREIKAT: Well, the Palestinian side, to be honest with you, is sick and tired of the complacence of the international community, sick and tired of the terms that the administration here is using. Israel has the right to defend itself. Defend itself against who, the occupied people? Has there ever been in history an example where an aggressor, an occupying power, has the right to defend itself against the occupied people? I think what we want to see is a real effort, a new approach that tells Israel simply, continuing the status quo, continuing the occupation of 4 million Palestinians against their will, building settlements, ignoring the national aspiration of the Palestinian people, dehumanizing the Palestinian people must end.

The United States must stand for its own principles. Everywhere around the world. the U.S. applies its basic principles of freedom, liberty, justice, what have you. Why, when it comes to Israel, this does not - that is not implemented? What is about Israel that makes the United States and the Western world so complacent with Israeli policies and with Israeli aggression that they can't tell Israel enough is enough? The Palestinians are humans who deserve to live in dignity and in freedom like any other nation on the face of Earth. Unless we do that, I am afraid we will see more episodes of violence that we are witnessing today.

MARTIN: That was Palestinian diplomat Maen Rashid Areikat. He's a former chief representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States. Ambassador, thank you so much for talking with us today.

RASHID AREIKAT: Thank you, Michel. Have a good Sunday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.