PNA President, Abu Mazen, gave a special interview to Israel’s main news programme last weekend, in what was conceived by right-wing parties in Israel as a direct attempt to interfere in the Israeli elections. Yet how can one interview given by a man who is considered by many in Israel as generally irrelevant, and particularly irrelevant with regards to the elections, actually have an affect?
Well, simply, and by putting this in Abu Mazen’s own words, by telling his version of the truth. Abu Mazen, as the initiator of the interview, wanted Israelis to know that he thinks that negotiations are the need of the hour, that he is against a third – and armed – Initifada and that he still believes that the core issues are solvable – and with this he emphasised his views on final borders and the right of return (“I have a right the visit my home is Sfta, but not to live in it”).
Putting aside what we may think about the right-wing parties’ take on the rationale behind the interview, one can’t argue with the following – this interview has taken over the political headlines in Israel, brining back to the forefront of everyone’s minds the almost completely forgotten issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Shabbat ended, anyone who is anyone in Israeli politics started to react to the interview. Netanyahu took advantage of the formal photo opportunity at the beginning of the Cabinet meeting on Sunday to “remind Abu Mazen” that Jerusalem and Ramallah are “only 7 minutes apart so let’s talk so we can see the real positions” (hinting, or more reastically, accusing him of saying different things in English and in Arabic).
The current centre-left actors – Yehimovich and Lapid – who have practically ignored the Israeli-Palestinian issue in campaigning so far, were both forced to react too. The possible old-new-comers, Olmert and Livni, both published statements and Livni even gave a special interview on the same news programme (after weeks of well-sensed silence); praising Abu Mazen and slamming the government for its “not so clever reaction to the interview”, adding more assumptions about her possible return to the political ring.
Hamas reaction to the interview, criticising Abu Mazen for his “soft opinions” on the core issues, was also broadly covered in the media, prompting even more public discussion about the Israeli political responses. It is too soon to determine whether Abu Mazen’s remarks will actually have an effect on the voters coming to determine their next leader on January 22nd, but one thing is certain – as of now, the Palestinians have made a come-back in the Israeli attention. The question of whether Abu Mazen and the PNA are real partners for peace is still in dispute, but the uncertainty about their political and public manoeuvring in Israel was indeed shattered in the headlines they managed to control. If that was Abu Mazen’s intent, he proved he can pull it off. That, on its own, is a notable event.