Salman el Herfi: “MBZ is a small dictator who plays with fire”

Diplomatic practices are no longer required. Almost a month after the signing in Washington of the peace agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the Palestinian ambassador to France, Salman el Herfi, criticizes the “legalization of the Israeli occupation” by the two petromonarchies of the Gulf, in defiance of international law. An anger “On the record” which betrays the disarray in which the Palestinian Authority is today plunged, when negotiations with Israel have stalled and the Palestinians have never seemed so far removed from the establishment of a hypothetical state.

Point : Weren’t you overwhelmed by the announcement of normalization between the United Arab Emirates and Israel?

-Palestine-Israel-Emirates- © GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP
The Palestinian Ambassador to France, Salman el Herfi (here in 2005), believes that the United Arab Emirates has “never been on the side of the Palestinians”.
© GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP

Salman el Herfi: what happened is hardly surprising. We have very specific information on the contacts that existed between the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Israel. There was already close military, security and economic cooperation between them. Go to the Port of Haifa and you will see all the UAE container ships that have been doing round trips for years. So we weren’t surprised. The only novelty is the formalization of this relationship. I thank them for showing their true face.

The Emirates have never been on the side of the Palestinians.

Why have the Palestinian leadership cried treason?

We are very careful in our relations with each state. We do not interfere in the internal affairs of any country as long as they do not interfere with our own. The truth is, the Emirates have never been on the side of the Palestinians. It began in 1985, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, when the UAE froze aid to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). This continued after the US invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when that aid was cut off altogether.

Do the peace agreements between Israel, the Emirates and Bahrain not crack the unity of the Gulf over Palestine?

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain violate the UN charter. They violate Security Council resolutions. They violate the Arab initiative of 2002 [la paix avec Israël en échange des territoires palestiniens occupés par Israël, NDLR] and the resolutions of the Arab League summits. In fact, these two countries have become more Israeli than the Israelis! But we remain fully confident that their people will not accept this for long.

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Palestinians succeeded in crippling the Arab League

However, Palestine failed to get the Arab League to condemn these peace agreements.

Economic pressures have been exerted on some countries. Now Mohammed bin Zayed’s money [le prince héritier d’Abu Dhabi, dit MBZ, NDLR] and his friends will he continue to protect the Emirates? It is necessary to recall that almost no country agreed to chair the session of the Arab League after Palestine refused to do so. In other words, the Palestinians succeeded in crippling the Arab League.

Yet few Emirians spoke out against this peace agreement.

What peace are you talking about? Are these countries at war? Are the UAE tanks in Tel Aviv? It is not Israel that is occupied, nor the Emirates or Bahrain. These are the Palestinians. We have resisted for a century and we are ready to resist another hundred years.

Didn’t the Emirates still succeed in securing the suspension of Israel’s annexation of the West Bank?

The annexation was halted by resistance from the Palestinian people and by international pressure. The European Union played a much more important role there than the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi has never worked against annexation. What he did was legalize the Israeli occupation: Jerusalem, the Palestinian territories and the settlements.

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The Israelis say they want to negotiate directly with you on the basis of the Trump plan. Are you ready for it?

Only direct negotiations are possible within the framework of Security Council resolutions and agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. We must not forget that the normalization between Israel and the Emirates is the product of the Trump plan which in the text mentioned the annexation of 30% of the West Bank. This is a violation of international law and UN resolutions. However, Donald Trump tried to get this plan accepted by the UN Security Council, and failed. And he had to find a disabled [Salman el Herfi désigne ainsi MBZ, NDLR] to sign his agreement. This is not going to work. The Israelis know very well that they will not have peace if they twist the arm of the Palestinians.

But what leverage do you have today?

It is up to me to ask you a question: what means do the United States and Israel have to impose their agenda on the Palestinian people? Neither Mr. Trump, nor his administration, nor UAE money is going to change the situation on the ground in any way. Because even if the whole world normalizes its relations with Israel, the Palestinians will still be there. When Israeli citizens open their windows in the morning, it is the Palestinians they find in front of them, the Palestinian women, with their children. If this “peace deal” can save Netanyahu from his corruption judgment, and give Donald Trump some votes in the run-up to the presidential election or allow MBZ and his family to roam the streets of Tel Aviv, he however, will not bring peace or security to the world.

Are you not more isolated than ever?

Donald Trump has said ten to twelve other Arab countries will normalize their relations with Israel. Where are they ? This agreement is, in my opinion, pure propaganda. Have the UAE and Bahraini peoples been consulted? Has a Parliament adopted this plan? And with all due respect, how many Emiris are there in the world? 800 000 ? And Bahrainians? 500,000? There are a total of 340 million Arabs!

Isn’t there today a crisis of legitimacy for the Palestinian Authority with its people?

Is MBZ going to force the Palestinians to change their leadership? No, the Palestinian leadership is well established with its people and is not isolated. Palestinians are not orphans. On the contrary, if there is a surprise, it is our patriotism. Despite the difficulties, all political factions recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative, chaired by Mahmoud Abbas [Hamas et Fatah ne sont pourtant toujours pas réconciliés, NDLR]. We will have legislative and presidential elections, but it takes time: give me a single example of a people who organized elections under occupation.

How do you react to recent statements by the French Ambassador to Israel, who has distanced himself from the two-state solution?

Ambassador Éric Danon has not broken with the French position. This is only Israeli media propaganda[theinformationwashoweverrevealedby[l’informationapourtantétérévéléepar[theinformationwashoweverrevealedby[l’informationapourtantétérévéléeparPoint, Editor’s note]. We have obtained confirmation from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs that France has not changed its position. We have confidence in Paris, which is working hard to defend international legality: a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital.

How do you plan to get there?

We are not going to sit idly by. The whole world has come to terms with apartheid in South Africa, but it did not last. We don’t have an F35 plane [les Émiriens sont soupçonnés d’avoir obtenu en échange de la normalisation avec Israël l’autorisation de Washington de commander des chasseurs F 35, NDLR], nuclear weapons or tanks, but a desire for peaceful popular resistance. Our presence is rooted in our land. They try to push us towards violence, but we will not give in to it, or only when it is necessary. Our people are united, patient, and supported around the world. We will go to the UN and challenge Mohammed bin Zayed to declare Jerusalem occupied territory. He surrendered to Israel without a battle. He’s just a little dictator who wants to make himself known, and he’s playing with fire.

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