Erekat: Peace and democracy, a recipe to defeat ISIS
Jericho - Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said peace and democracy in the Arab world can defeat the cycle of violence sweeping across a region in turmoil, with Islamic State (ISIS) ruling parts of Syria and Iraq, which are suffering from a bloody civil war and sectarian violence.
Speaking to foreign journalists at his Jericho office, Erekat insisted that using war to end the region’s troubles may be futile.
“Some in the West have the impression that they can kill ideas with bullets. I do not think we can defeat ISIS with bullets,” Erekat said. “Bad ideas can be defeated by better ones, such as democracy in the Arab world and peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”
ISIS gained control over large areas of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and carried out high-profile attacks in other parts of the Arab world, Europe, North America and Asia.
The number of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria has more than doubled since 2014 to at least 27,000, according to a 2015 report by intelligence consultancy, the Soufan Group.
ISIS is an international threat, which has brought it into conflict with many governments, militias and other armed groups but Erekat said the only way to defeat ISIS is by nurturing democracy in the Arab world and reaching a final solution to the unresolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict, due to its significance to Arabs and Muslims.
The Arabs addressed the 1948 Israeli annexation of the British-mandate Palestine when Israel was proclaimed as a state and the takeover of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 as a shared cause. The occupation of Palestine territories is increasingly driving young people to lose hope in peace.
Erekat noted that more than half of the Arab population is under the age of 24 and many of the young people are losing hope in a better reality and a solution to the longstanding conflict.
“In the minds of Arabs and Muslims, the Palestinian cause is the number one issue. I cannot compete with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is promising desperate young Arabs 70 virgins and castles in heaven,” he said.
To reduce the extremist outreach in the region, Arabs must invest in youth and offer them better educations and opportunities to prevent exploitation by extremist groups.
“As unemployment rises and the youths’ trust in state institutions erodes, they will seek security in sectarianism and the promises of thugs and murderers,” Erekat said.
He cautioned European countries that if the Palestinian-Israeli conflict becomes a religious one, other countries and world capitals would soon be under curfew.
“What happened in Brussels and France is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said, referring to the November terror attacks in Paris and the March attacks in Brussels.
As the French peace initiative moves slowly to restart negotiations, Erekat insisted that the solution is already available.
“It is a two-state solution based on the 1967 line,” he said. “The state of Palestine to live side by side with the state of Israel in peace and security.”
He said: “We have recognised Israel’s right to exist on 78% of historic Palestine and accepted to establish our state on the remaining 22% of the land. When we began negotiations, there were less than 200,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today there are 600,000 settlers.”
Giving Israel more options, Erekat said: “Arabs have the Arab peace initiative of 2002 telling Israel once you withdraw from 1967 occupied Palestinian territories, 57 Arab and Muslim countries will have relations with (Israel). So normalise and be in peace with them.”
The Palestinian Authority expressed support for the Arab peace initiative, which Erekat described as “the most important since 1948”, but warned of attempts by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reverse the initiative and secure normalisation first.
“He (Netanyahu) tells Arabs why won’t you normalise with me, then I withdraw. This will not happen,” Erekat said.
“Netanyahu is determined to undermine the two-state solution. In the upcoming months, I see more settlements, more dictations and I see him pushing Palestinians and Israelis towards a circle of bloodshed and violence, unless the international community in Paris can stop him.”
Erekat insisted that the world community must stop treating Israel as a country above the law.
“Is there a difference between a thug and a murderer who cuts the throats of Western journalists in Syria and Iraq in the name of ISIS and someone who burns an 18-month-old toddler named Ali Dawabsheh, his mother and father?” he asked.
Erekat was drawing similarities between jihadists and Israeli security forces, who are said to have witnessed, condoned and even facilitated torching the house of the toddler and his parents, who were asleep inside, in their village north of the West Bank in July 2015.
“I will not accept to be under the rule of an Islamic state or a Jewish state,” Erekat said.