Monday, 04 January 2010 04:06
“South America is part of the ‘international family’ and what they have to say does have a weight in international affairs”
(Ed. Note: Dr. Mai Al-Kaila has been the Palestinian Ambassador to Chile for the past four years. Born in Jerusalem, she studied medicine at Birzeit University and completed her studies in Spain and the United States. For 17 years, Ms. Al-Kaila worked with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) - the UN agency responsible for providing services to Palestinian refuges in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West bank and the Gaza Strip - in the women and child health program in the West Bank.
(The Santiago Times interviewed the ambassador after the visit of Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and foreign relations minister Riad Al- Malki in late November.
(The aim of the South American visit - which included Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Venezuela - was to build international support for United Nations (UN) recognition of an independent Palestinian state with boundaries prior to the 1967 Six Day War and with Jerusalem as its capital. All of the South American countries visited supported this. The Israeli state has said that it will nullify all past agreements if the Palestinians go through with any unilateral decision and they will react with a unilateral decision of their own, which they did not specify.
(The Palestinian delegation’s visit came in response to the deadlock in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks since the three-week conflict between Hamas and Israel in December 2008, which left over 1300 Palestinian and 13 Israeli casualties, including women and children. The Palestinians rejected the resumption of talks until Israel stopped its expansion of settlements on Palestinian lands. In late November the Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s government put a ten-month freeze on West Bank settlement building. This freeze did not include East Jerusalem, the construction of 3000 housing units in Israeli settlements and the construction of public facilities.
(The European Union (EU) was sharply criticized by Israel when it supported a Palestinian proposal for a watered-down version of the initial Palestinian proposal, one that does not stipulate East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.)
Question: Were Abbas’s objectives met on his visits to the different Latin American countries?
Mai Al- Kaila: In a way, yes. The United Nations represents countries from around the world. South America is part of this “international family” and what they have to say does have a weight in international affairs. Historically, South America has often stood by oppressed peoples. The Palestinians need all the support they can get. They already have the support of the Arab countries for a two state solution. It depends on what decisions the UN takes and whether Israel will abide by them. A two state solution is stipulated under international law but Israel is not complying with it.
Q: What was Chile’s response? And what effect does it have on the two state solution proposal?
MAK: Chile supports international law, so it supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Chilean policy and the Chilean people in general support the Palestinian cause. There is also a big Palestinian community in Chile and they have organizations that support people in need in Palestine. But Chile doesn’t have much power alone and there isn’t much they can do independently.
Q: What are the main obstacles to reaching a two state solution?
MAK: One of the reasons is that Israel doesn’t respect international law. It is not treated in the same way as other countries are. It is treated as a country that can get away with things, a country that is above the law. There are a set of standards applied when dealing with Israel and another when dealing with Palestine.
Q: What is Chile’s position on the political rift between Hamas and Fatah?
MAK: Chile doesn’t have a position, really, on this specific issue. They do not support either side per se. Chilean policy towards Palestine is to work for unity and agreement. They support the unity of the Palestinian people.
Q: How important is East Jerusalem in any negotiation on the creation of a Palestinian state?
MAK: It is very important. It is vital. The two-state solution only functions if East Jerusalem is the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Q: There has always been a lot of debate about a future solution between Palestine and Israel. Do you think this time there will be something offered that is different?
MAK: That’s true this is an ongoing conflict. It all depends on whether Israel will abide by International law, if there is enough pressure on the UN to do something and if Israel stops being treated as having privileges when it comes to international law, a law that applies to all countries.
Q: In an interview with Erekat during his visit, he said there was no difference between the policy of George Bush and Barak Obama towards the Israeli/Palestinian issue. Do you think there is a difference?
MAK: No, I don’t think there is a big difference. I agree with Mr. Erekat. Although we had many hopes vested in Obama, he has changed very little in US policy towards Palestinians. The USA continues to treat Israel as a country above the law while, for example, sick Palestinians, women and children, are not being treated in hospitals because Israel has set up barriers.
SOURCES: www.haaretz.com, www.aljazeera.com, www.guardian.co.uk, www.bbc.com, LA TERCERA, EL MERCURIO, www.maannews.net, www.richardsilverstein.com
About the writer
Gida, a Jordanian of Palestinian/Syrian descent started off in Chile on Aug. 3, 2007 without a word of Spanish and far far away from her home in Amman. She has a BA Specialization in Anthropology and Sociology and a Minor in Art History and Studio Arts from Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. After completing her studies, she went back to Jordan, worked for two years with CARE International and the Jordan Red Crescent amongst others, got married and embarked on the journey to Santiago. She learnt Spanish, did an internship with Amnesty International, taught English and learned that palta is good with everything. In Santiago she has also nurtured her love for cats and garnered her interest in dogs. She learned about the Santiago Times from a friend and thought she would try her hand at both photography and writing. Gida hopes to see a lot more of both Chile and South America.