The real problem is not Hamas, but the Israeli occupation | Fadi Hanania

Palestine’s ambassador to Malta, H.E. FADI HANANIA, admits to being frustrated by the international community’s 'double standards', in confronting the escalation of violence in the Middle East. But he remains hopeful that a two-state solution is still viable

Palestine’s ambassador to Malta Fadi Hanania (James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Palestine’s ambassador to Malta Fadi Hanania (James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

On May 14, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen tweeted: “Very concerned by the situation in Israel and Gaza. I condemn indiscriminate attacks by Hamas on Israel. Civilians on all sides must be protected. Violence must end now.” This seems to cement an international perception that there is an ‘equivalence’ between the violence perpetrated by both sides in the conflict. How do you respond to the underlying implication that Hamas is equally responsible for the current situation?

Of course, as you – and most of the Maltese community – already know, this is not a war between Hamas and Israel. That is, however, how the international community is trying to put it. Israel tends to depict Hamas as a religious faction – in order to frame the dispute as a religious disagreement.

The international community is trying to ‘put it on Hamas’, to make it out as a religious conflict between Hamas and Israel. But this is absolutely not the reality.

Hamas are part of the Palestinian people. They are defending the Palestinians’ right of freedom. But the problem that started between the Palestinian people and Israel is not about Hamas. It’s about East Jerusalem. That is the core problem.

Today’s conflict started in Jerusalem. It began with the eviction of Palestinian people from their homes in East Jerusalem: which is in breach of international humanitarian law. These people have been living there, with contracts, since the 1950s. They own the land they live on. The Israelis, however, took judicial resolutions to evict those people from their own homes, and give the land to settlers: in order to build more Israeli settlements in the Arab area.

That’s where the whole tension started.  After that, we had Israeli aggression against Muslim prayers, during the Holy Month of Ramadan– and even against the Orthodox Christians, in the Holy Week of Easter: which this year coincided with Ramadan. So there was a lot of tension in Jerusalem, during the holy month of Ramadan. And what happened on Eid, the last Friday of Ramadan – that’s a very holy day, for Muslims – [was that] 300 Palestinians were wounded, inside the Al Aqsa Mosque.

That is what precipitated the new demonstrations against Israel. Confronted with this, the Palestinians could not stand still; they had to demonstrate, in the West Bank, in Gaza, in all the occupied territories… they had to shout out, with their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. When you have roadblocks, and check-points around the Mosque area, [it means that] people were not granted access to their religious beliefs.

We believe that Jerusalem is a holy city for all religions: including Jews, Muslims and Christians. It is not just for one religion. It should be free for all religions equally…

And yet, the European Union – alongside the United States, Russia and others – is an important power-broker on the international stage. Any hope of a meaningful solution to the Middle East crisis would presumably have to depend, to some degree, on its diplomatic input. Are you concerned, then, that this distortion – as you describe it – may impact the chances of a peaceful solution?

In reality, we have received many different signals from the European Union; many different codes, and press releases… some of them have called for a cessation of aggression; some of them have called for a stop to the violence, or for a ceasefire… what we really need, however, is a call for the end of the [Israeli] occupation.

That is our main problem. Our problem is not aggression today, or the need for a ceasefire right now. What we need is a solution to the real problem, which is the occupation of Palestinian land. The tension will never stop – our people will never stop fighting for their rights: either peacefully, or in any possible way. But what we really need is a stop to the aggression against our people, by having an independent Palestinian state.

As you said, the US administration is a big player in the region. They have good relations with Israel; and we are sure that – with all due respect to other players - the USA is the most influential power on Israel. Since the new administration has been in place, we have not really had a chance to communicate with them… after four years of having cut off relations with the former administration.

Nonetheless, we have just received a message last week from [US President Joe Biden], who sent a personal message to President Abbas. So the signals are positive; but we are trying to build on it by aiming for an international consensus about ending the occupation…

My understanding is that relations between Palestine and the USA took a downward turn under President Donald Trump. Apart from the signals you just mentioned, has there been any noticeable shift, in practical terms, in US foreign policy since the change of administration last January?

The Americans have always been big supporters of Israel; that is an absolute reality. They have supported Israel through UN resolutions: and also by financing them, with up to US$ 3.8 billion spent annually on Israel… most of that money goes towards weapons, and military spending.

Since 2016, we had the Trump administration; and in the first year, he was actually very much in favour of finding a solution to the Middle East crisis. But after one year in the White House, that policy changed… and it became absolutely against the Palestinian people: by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – that was a major step – and by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of only one State [Israel]: which was a breach of international regulations, UN resolutions, and our basic humanitarian rights.

President Trump even closed down our office in Washington DC, and stopped funding for the Palestinian people, and for UNRWA: the Palestinian refugee agency. So yes, we did suffer from the biased US administration under Donald Trump.

Now, however, we hope that with President Biden, we can build a route towards achieving a Palestinian state. That is our main objective now. We are frustrated by 73 years of being under aggression, under constant attacks, under occupation. We want to end the suffering of the Palestinian people; and to live freely, like any other society in this world. Fifty-four years of suffering, since the 1967 war, is enough for our people.

It is about time that the international community - led by the United States, the EU, Russia, China, and even the Arab countries, of course; they have a major role to play in this – implements UN resolutions 242 and 338, that call for a two-state solution, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

We are not asking for anything that is not our right. It is basically our land; and it is our right to fight for it…

Coming back to your earlier point, that ‘this is not a conflict between Hamas and Israel’: it is nonetheless true that Hamas has fired numerous rockets into Israel, in response to the Israeli aggression you described. Doesn’t this also give Israel the automatic excuse that it is ‘acting in self-defence’? And if so: aren’t Hamas’s actions really hurting the Palestinian cause, more than aiding it?

We have to understand that Hamas is part of the Palestinian people. They are not outsiders who came to Palestine. That is the Israeli story: they [Israel] are comparing Hamas to other factions, who are not really part of the struggle. But Hamas are part of us. Hamas is part of our political system…

… yet the last time Hamas actually won an election was in 2006; and that mandate has never been renewed. Is the organization really representative of the Palestinian people today?

We were supposed to have elections this year; but due to the Israelis’ refusal to hold elections in Jerusalem, unfortunately the President has decided to postpone elections until it is allowed in Jerusalem.

But this doesn’t change the fact that Hamas is an integral part of Palestinian society. They are not only present in Gaza; they have supporters all over, inside and outside of Palestine. There are 13.6 million Palestinians: some of them support Hamas; some support Fatah; some support PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine]; others support other factions.

So you cannot have a war against only one Palestinian faction, because they are basically all defending [the Palestinians’] right of freedom. What Hamas is doing, and the way they are doing it, is their right of expressing their fight for freedom. We are still under occupation. The international community needs to understand this: we are a people under occupation.

It is the occupiers’ responsibility to secure our safety; not to evict us from our lands; to grant us access to our places of worship. It is the occupiers’ responsibility to defend us, according to international humanitarian law. It is not us who are provoking wars; it is the Israelis who should stop their aggression towards the Palestinians.

But yes: I understand that the media uses double standards, when it comes to presenting the Israeli/Palestinian problem. We are frustrated about this. We are trying to explain our story everywhere. Here in Malta, I am trying to do it with the politicians, with the media, and with everyone: in order for people to understand the reality on the ground. We don’t have much control over the media. But we are trying to get the real story across.

All that we want, from the international community, is to stop the illegal occupation.

Your stated objective – an independent State of Palestine – depends on the enactment of a UN resolution, passed in 1974, calling for a ‘two-state solution’. In reality, however, this has consistently proved impossible to achieve in practice, in almost 50 years; and today, the prospect seems farther than ever from becoming a reality. Do you still believe that a two-state solution is a viable option?

I do believe that the two-state solution is a viable solution, yes. In fact, it is the only viable solution.

We have already agreed to live in only 22% of the historical Palestine, in order to achieve peace. But this right – to have a state of our own – is something we will never give up on. Nor will we ever give up on the right of return of Palestinian refugees: of whom there are around 6.5 million, worldwide.

People have a right to return to their land; they still hold their keys, hoping to one day be able to return to their homes… from generation to generation, they still pass down the message that it is their right to go and live in their own land.

So the only option is the two-state solution. And I am against all those people who say that the land is ‘too small’ to have two states. That is not at all true; absolutely not. Palestinians are capable of building their own State. We have been very successful outside of Palestine – there are many, many successful Palestinian business-people… artists… poets… scattered all across the world… even here in Malta.

We have been successful in the Gulf states; or in Chile, for example: where we have a community of over half a million Palestinians… more than the population of Malta. Some of them have become Congressmen… Chile’s foreign minister was Palestinian; as was the former president of Honduras, of El Salvador… We are very powerful in Latin America; because these people were integrated into the local societies.

So we do have the expertise, to build a successful Palestinian state. And all those people are willing to come back, and invest in its creation. But the reality is that – in our own homeland – we don’t have control over the economy, unfortunately.  So right now, it is impossible.

It is now time to bring all those people back, and to build a successful, independent state in which the Palestinians can live freely, and in dignity. This, at the end of the day, is all we are asking for…