Qurei: Israelis see themselves as the sole, eternal victim

Former PA prime minister promises good relations after the "just and comprehensive peace that our peoples deserve."

qurei (photo credit: Amr Nabil / AP)
(photo credit: Amr Nabil / AP)
Israelis live in a constant state of paranoia that prevents them from recognizing Palestinian suffering and ending the occupation, former Palestinian Authority prime minister Ahmed Qurei said on Thursday.
During the two hour talk he gave at Tel Aviv University, Qurei, 73, spoke in warm and gentle tones.
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He waved and smiled at friends and shook hands with members of the audience who approached him after the talk.
Qurei apologized to the listeners if some of his remarks sounded harsh, but he said he wanted them to understand how Palestinians perceived Israelis, in hopes that it would lead to better understanding between the two peoples.
“I’m not talking to criticize,” he said. “I am telling you how the Palestinians look in the mirror and see their neighbor. The Israeli is perceived as a brutal soldier,” Qurei said.
“It is the image of one who looks down [on us]... The image of one who has no respect for our national aspiration and determination to achieve it, one who is imprisoned by his own vision as an eternal and only victim,” he said.
“Palestinians are often surprised and saddened by the Israeli society’s indifference to the constant suffering of the Palestinian people,” Qurei said.
“We often wonder how can a society that belongs to the developed world, with all its scientific, economic and military achievement, be so indifferent toward the suffering of the victims and be capable of turning a blind eye or shrinking responsibility for the agony and the pain of the Palestinians,” he said.
Unfortunately, he said, the Palestinian image of an Israeli is that of a killer of sons, husbands and wives, a soldier who is armed and arrogant and whose finger is always on the trigger.
“How can a state after 62 years of establishment and in spite of its tremendous military, economic and scientific superiority continue to live in a constant state of paranoia?” Qurei asked.
“How can a multi-ethnic, pluralistic, open, question-oriented society be infected by self-inflicted isolation coupled with symptoms of fundamentalism and racial discrimination?” he asked.
“How can they [Israelis] remain passive, how can their collective consciousness remain silent, when they see images of a woman of 80 years old being evicted from her home in Sheikh Jarrah?” he asked.
He continued to question how Israelis could accept the “looting and seizing” of West Bank Palestinian land, the construction of the “apartheid separation wall, the uprooting of trees and the arrest and torture of Palestinians.”
Qurei wanted to know how these events could take place in the era of live television, with broadcasting that transcends borders.
Israel is the “last colonial power in the post-colonial era,” he said.
Yet none of this aggression had diminished the Palestinian will, desire and hope for peace, he said.
“Let there be no mistake. The Palestinian people are determined to achieve their legitimate right and aspiration for freedom and dignity,” he said.
Many of the terms of a finalstatus agreement with Israel are known, as are the differences between the sides, he said.
The Palestinians have in the past agreed in principle to the 1967 borders with land swaps, Qurei said.
He spoke passionately about his desire for peace and the necessity of concluding the conflict as soon as possible.
But he said he supported the PA stance not to negotiate with Israel as long as it refuses to halt settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel’s desire for peace is measured by its willingness to cease all its unilateral actions, including settlement activity.
“Both sides should refrain from any unilateral act that may prejudice the outcome of the permanent-status negotiations,” he said.
“Settlement activity is a unilateral act,” Qurei said. He added that its cessation would not be a gesture of goodwill from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but a condition outlined in past agreements, such as the 2002 road map.
Israel, he said, has opposed Palestinian unilateral actions at the United Nations, but at the same time it continues to change facts on the ground in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“I assure you that both personally and in the name of President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership that we are determined, willing and capable of achieving the just, comprehensive and genuine peace that our peoples deserve,” he said.
That peace should be based on the terms set out in the Arab League Peace Initiative, Qurei said.
He applauded the close coordination that exists between Palestinians and Israelis on the issue of security.
But if the diplomatic situation deteriorates, it will impact security, he warned. “You cannot guarantee a security situation while there is occupation.”
The call by Netanyahu to recognize the Jewish nature of the State of Israel was an attempt by Israel to set a “new, unachievable precondition, intended to add and deepen the already wide gap between us.”
The Palestinians already recognized the State of Israel in 1988, Qurei said.
“Call it whatever you want,” he told the audience. He said he did not understand why the Palestinians now needed to recognize the Jewish nature of that state.
This issue is just one of a number of declarations that Israel expects the Palestinians to accept. It has also said that refugees should not be allowed to return to Israel, even though that is an issue best handled within the negotiations, he said.
“If there will be an agreedupon solution, why do you want to take it and put it in your pocket in advance?” he asked.
“Let us go and then together decide what should be a just and agreed solution,” he said.
Qurei said he still believed in a negotiated two-state solution, after which there would be normal relations between the two states with good cooperation.
Only such a peace can guarantee peace and security for both sides, he said.
“We cannot fulfill it in the absence of a serious partner that shares this vision,” he said.
The hope for peace that followed Madrid and Oslo has culminated in a “bitter harvest” that turned “our once deemed common ground into an arid landscape filled with thorns,” he declared. “Today, we stand at a difficult crossroad that puts us before two paths, the path of unilateral actions, violations, skepticism, frustrations and hopelessness and the path of wisdom, courage and mutual recognition of the legitimate rights of both sides.”
All problems can be solved in the “presence of genuine intentions and acceptance of each other’s rights and aspirations,” he said.
To the audience, he said, “You can create this vision, you can create this partnership, but let us do it now.”