Citizen Action Monitor

CBC’s Evan Solomon no match for Palestinian spokesperson in televised interview

Solomon’s scripted attempts to control the interview were embarrassing to watch

No 690 Posted by fw, March 11, 2013

On March 7, on the CBC’s Power Politics program, host Evan Solomon tried desperately to pin down Afif Safieh, the Ambassador of the Palestinian Diplomatic Corps. I don’t know what others thought of the exchange, but as a Canadian, I was embarrassed by Solomon’s biased line of questioning.

Below is my transcript of the 12-minute televised interview. The transcript includes my observations and references blocked off in this format ***** [comment in parentheses] *****.

Unfortunately, the CBC video is not available for embedding in this post. However, it can be viewed on CBC by clicking on the linked title below.

Baird’s warning for Palestinians: Palestinian Aid in Question, CBC, Power Politics, Evan Solomon interviews Afif Safieh, March 7, 2013


Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird apparently has a warning for the Palestinian Authority: Stop its bid to take Israel to the International Court or what? Will aid get cut off to the Palestinian Authority?  Remember the Palestinian Authority is set to take Israel to court over the construction of new settlements in the Occupied Territories. Hundreds of millions of dollars in Canadian aid to the Palestinian Authority are up for renewal in the next few weeks and the question is could this move put that cash at risk or not. Will the Palestinian Authority change its tactic?

Joining me now is Afif Safieh, the Ambassador of the Palestinian Diplomatic Corps. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for being here.

Afif Safieh (AS) – It’s a privilege, sir, to be with you on this program.

Evan Solomon (ES) – Earlier this month Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird gave a speech and he gave this speech in Washington to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. Let me just show you part of what he had to say. He said, quote:

“We were very clear from the outset that further actions, like we’ve seen at UNESCO, like we’ve seen at the United Nations, particularly at the International Criminal Court, will be ones which will not go unnoticed and will have certainly consequences in the conduct of our relations with the Palestinian Authority.”

What’s your reaction to that?

AS – Sir, first of all let me tell you that we, the Palestinians, we are resorting to international law as we believe that the international will should have a say on the issue of conflict resolution in the Middle East. What we did was extremely legitimate – going to the United Nations, to the concert of nations. And I’m surprised that there are certain influential voices around the world who are more worried that we might go to the International Criminal Court than they are worried by the daily Israeli blatant violation of international law and their sadistic behaviour vis-à-vis my society, the Palestinian society. Sir, today, we, the Palestinians, the victims of history, we are unreasonably reasonable. We have aligned ourselves on the preferences of the international community – the two-state solution. And today we are saying to the world, we are ready to respect all our commitments to the international community. What is being awaited is whether the international community will respect its commitment to our people. [Cross-talk].  …in one sentence, I believe in the Middle East, the moral dilemma, the political challenges the following – Is there one people too many, we the Palestinians, or is there a state missing that needs to be created? I believe the verdict of the international community is that there is a state missing, needing to be created. Unfortunately, history is still undecided.

ES – Well, well…and I think, you know, and even Benjamin Netanyahu has said he believes in a two-state solution. ***** [But only on Israeli terms, including Palestinian acceptance of “the facts on the ground”, meaning no return to the 1967 borders] ***** Certainly the Canadian government’s official position is that. I want to just pick up on a number of points and go…

AS – [Interrupts] Do you think that Netanyahu’s position is credible, believable and respectable, because, on a daily basis, his modus operandi, his practices on the ground says otherwise? He is continuously expanding those illegal settlements, eating up what remains of our geography and suffocating the Palestinian society and economy, hoping that we will voluntarily vanish into historical oblivion.

ES – [tongue tied, ignores the question and returns to the comfort of his scripted questions] I want to pick up on a number of points because, you know, to try to get some clarity here. First, let’s just focus on the Canadian position. Do you believe, when you hear John Baird’s statement like that, that Canada is threatening to withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, humanitarian aid, to the Palestinians, that expires at the end of this month, if Palestinians continue to go to the UN? And Baird’s point of view on that, and the Canadian government, has been this should be solved between the Israelis and the Palestinians, not at the United Nations. That’s their view. ***** [A view right out of the Israeli and US playbook] *****

AS – Sir, I belong to the school of thought which believes in diplomacy. I believe that we are going to the UN – one thing that world will help wage peace on us rather than we continuously wage war – I believe this is a noble feeling. I don’t like threats in politics. I like the politics of persuasion. And I believe Canada will be well inspired to remember that it’s a multi-ethnic society. It’s a nation of nations. And I don’t see why Canada decides to align itself on one belligerent player in a regional conflict. [Cross talk] …and all the others and offending part of its own domestic national fabric.

ES – Do you believe that the aid money to the Palestinians is at risk?

AS – I hope not, sir, but I never liked threats and blackmail in international diplomacy, sir.

ES – You’re, you’re calling the Canadian position blackmail?

ASNo, I am saying that I’m hoping that Canada will be more receptive to our cry for freedom out of captivity and bondage. We are unreasonably reasonable. I believe that our position ought to be supported rather than confronted in an antagonistic manner. We believe in the policy of persuasion, sir.

ES – You know that Minister Baird and our Prime Minister have said that though officially Canada does support the establishment of a Palestinian nation, a Palestinian state, they regard Hamas as a terrorist organization. They have asked Hamas to renounce violence, to respect Israel and to recognize formally Israel. And they cannot, they say, trust that Fatah has a partner with, a partnership with an organization like Hamas. So the question is does the politics represented by Hamas represent a fundamental obstacle to peace by both from the view of the Canadian government and the Israeli government?

AS – Sir, I happen to be a Palestinian Christian, a proud Palestinian Christian from Jerusalem, but I’m not favourable to the policy of demonization of Hamas or of Islamic tendencies. I believe Hamas like any other party I know around the world is not a monolithic party; it’s a pluralistic party. Within Hamas there are modernist schools of thought and pragmatic schools of thought…

ESBut they have a formal charter. But they do have a charter that’s formal.

***** [Solomon repeatedly brings up the Hamas charter. He is either ignoring or unaware of this inconvenient fact – “In 2010 Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal stated that the Charter is “a piece of history and no longer relevant, but cannot be changed for internal reasons.” Hamas have moved away from their charter since they decided to go for political office.  In 2009 interviews with the BBC, Tony Blair claimed that Hamas does not accept the existence of Israel and continues to pursue their objectives through terror and violence; Sir Jeremy Greenstock [UK Ambassador to UN 1998-2003] however argued that they have not adopted their charter since they won the Palestinian legislative election, 2006 as part of their political program. Instead they have moved to a more secular stance. In 2008, the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, stated that Hamas would agree to accept a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, and to offer a long-term truce with Israel.” Source: Wikipedia, Hamas Covenant,] ****

AS — …Number two, sir, I would invite those that voice that type of opinion to be equally as demanding vis-à-vis the Israeli political establishment and the Israeli political class and the Israeli political parties. You’re not without knowing that many Israelis are ashamed on the emergence of very extreme right-wing tendencies in their own society that are daily presented in the Knesset and are coalition partners imposing very important policies on the coalition in Israel – being equally as demanding would be a more …better inspired policy than being aligned on one side showing demands vis-à-vis one side and not showing vis-à-vis the other.

ES – But, but…again, the Canadian government’s view is you may disagree with Israeli policy but it’s a democracy and their governments change according to the votes of the people. Hamas has an official charter that calls for the destruction of Israel, and they regard it as a terrorist organization, so how does the Canadian government deal with Hamas? Can they be a legitimate partner? What’s your view?

AS – I believe that it’s …governments or regimes that are players in the international system, not political parties. So nobody is expecting Hamas to be an interlocutor in the international arena as such. It’s only a political party and in Palestinian society there is a consensus that it’s the PLO that speaks and represents Palestinian interests at the negotiating table or in international gatherings, sir.

ES – But, but to be fair that may be true. But let’s be honest, the PLO doesn’t really have control over Gaza, a significant part of the Palestinian people. I mean there’s no question that’s Hamas territory. Fair?

AS – Sir, we are moving towards reconciliation and if you remember on the 4th of January in Gaza, Fatah celebrated the anniversary of its birth. Almost two-thirds of Palestinian public opinion was in the streets of Gaza even under Hamas rule showing the push, the drive, which I believe is irreversible towards unity and reconciliation. But you spoke of Hamas and its policies. Do you know that when Menachem Begin was elected for the first time as Prime Minister of Israel in 1977 his party platform and his party anthem was “the Jordan River has two banks, the West Bank is ours, so is the East Bank”, meaning the Jordanian monarchy. Yet nobody I remember hearing Canada or elsewhere said that he’s not an interlocutor viable because of those radical expectations and aspirations and ambitions. So, sir, I am not in favour of encouraging people to differently demanding vis-s-vis different players in the international system. I ask and hope and expect fairness. And as I told you Canada is a nation of nations. Why should Canada antagonize the Arab world and its own Arab-Canadian community by having a position that is sometimes difficult to defend?

ES – Alright. I’m going to leave aside just for a minute the Hamas charter instead of going through it because it’s clearly an issue for the Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird and we’ve talked about …

AS – [Interrupts] And there are so many other issues that are…

ES – [Interrupts] Alright. So let me get to another one. Why does the Palestinian Authority insist it has no choice – as your Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad Al-Maliki phrased it last fall – with regard to prosecuting Israel at the international Criminal Court over the building of settlements, as you described, that violate UN rules?

ASSir, I’m disturbed morally and politically and ethically by those who are more worried that we might go to the UN than they are worried, disturbed and offended by daily Israeli violations of International law. And this is extremely disturbing, these double standards that I witness being deployed. Sir we haven’t yet been to the International Criminal Court. We are waiting now for the visit of President Barack Obama, and I hope he will be coming not only for a visit but with an initiative to lead us towards the two-state solution. And let me tell you, sir, the vote at the UN that took place in November was the following:

It gave us the recognition of the principle of Palestinian statehood, gave us the boundaries of that Palestinian state – the ’67 boundaries – and East Jerusalem as the capital of that state.

I believe that with international involvement, negotiations to come, which I hope will occur tomorrow, should be on how to implement those and not to discuss the desirability and legitimacy of those principles that already have been recognized for the last forty years. ***** [The above terms are non-starters for Israel and the US. Informed observers say there will never be a two-state solution] *****

ES – Ambassador Safieh, last question to you. How would you describe the current state of relations between Canada and the Palestinian Authority?

AS – I think we have a promising situation of improvement. And it seems that Helmut Schmidt, who used to be a very important German statesman – he said the biggest room on earth is the room for improvement. I hope that we can have an in-depth broadening and deepening of this bilateral relation. I hope that we will see more understanding from the Canadian government and of Canadian public opinion. And as I said earlier, we, the Palestinians, have become unreasonably reasonable. It’s not that difficult these days to support our demands. We are no more asking for absolute justice. We are asking only for possible justice — the two-state solution. I believe that we should be encouraged in that endeavour and not combatted.

ES — I’m going to leave it there. Afif Safieh, the Ambassador of the Palestinian Diplomatic Corps, very good to have you on the show, sir. Thank you.

AS – It was a privilege.

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