Jibril Rajoub: The world can no longer ignore Palestine

'I think the regional and global community now has a vested interest in supporting our journey towards sovereignty'

The Secretary General of Fatah's Central Committee Jibril Rajoub tells Al Majalla that the Palestinians need a unified strategy to mend divisions and leverage new-found global support for their cause.
Lina Jaradat
The Secretary General of Fatah's Central Committee Jibril Rajoub tells Al Majalla that the Palestinians need a unified strategy to mend divisions and leverage new-found global support for their cause.

Jibril Rajoub: The world can no longer ignore Palestine

A prominent Palestinian leader since the days of the late President Yasser Arafat, Jibril Rajoub has enjoyed an illustrious career. He has held several critical security and political positions, culminating in his appointment as Lieutenant-General of Palestinian Security. He currently serves as the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Fatah movement.

He has also spent around 17 years, on and off, in Israeli prison, having been arrested multiple times until he was released in a 1985 prisoner exchange deal.

In a wide-ranging interview with Al Majalla conducted in his Ramallah office, Rajoub laid out his blueprint for establishing an independent Palestinian state after the war in Gaza.

He says Israel’s current war on Gaza has been a wake-up call to the US and Western nations about the dangers of the Israeli far right, which he views as detrimental to their interests, as well as to regional stability and global peace.

"This is clearly a war on the Palestinian people, not Hamas,” he says.

He talks about the renewed global focus on Palestine—a nation practically forgotten by the world—and argues that any resolution must incorporate Hamas because its ideological and resistance roots resonate deeply within the fabric of Palestinian society.

However, Rajoub says that Hamas needs to adopt a political strategy that can bridge the Palestinian divide and better align with the international community.

Rajoub says he considers Hamas to be a political adversary in the struggle over the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people and that ending Palestinian division requires more than good intentions and popular rhetoric—it will take hard work.

Below is the complete transcript of the interview.

Do the Oslo Accords still have legs, given the fact that the Israeli government is ruled by the far right and Netanyahu has vowed to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state?

No. They are null at this point. Since 1996, Netanyahu's strategy—and that of the Israeli right—has focused on two main objectives. Firstly, not to acknowledge the Palestinian people and their rights, even nominally. And secondly, to establish facts on the ground that make a Palestinian state impossible.

It has successfully done this through settlement expansion and the Judaisation of Palestinian territories, particularly in occupied Jerusalem, aimed at erasing Palestinian identity.

But two positive developments have taken place since 7 October. The first is a clear shift in international public opinion against Israel, largely due to its genocidal war in Gaza and the intensification of its ethnic cleansing campaign across the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Smoke plumes billow after Israeli bombardment over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 20, 2024

Secondly, international leaders, including those in the United States, have increasingly recognised that the actions of Israel’s far right do not serve its interests and threaten regional stability and global peace.

There has been a renewed push to resolve the conflict through the establishment of a Palestinian state within internationally-recognised borders—the 1967 borders. They believe this is crucial to Israel’s existence and integration into the Middle East.

The Oslo Accords laid the foundations for a future Palestinian state, including international recognition and the establishment of Palestinian embassies; so do people say it intended to kill the prospect of such a state?

The idea that the Oslo Accords have buried the possibility of a Palestinian state overlooks their significant impact. The accords tied the establishment of a state as a necessary component to resolving the conflict.

It also established the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Authority provided essential services to Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem and gave them autonomy in their decisions and ambitions. This helped bring about an international consensus on the legitimacy of Palestinian self-determination and statehood.

According to Yair Lapid, who spoke with Al Majalla in December, the idea of a Palestinian state has not been completely ruled out in Israeli society. But he said it could be significantly postponed until after the events of 7 October.

What are the obstacles today to establishing a Palestinian state? Is it the current government led by Netanyahu, or is Israeli society at large fundamentally opposed to it?

I think the issue is bigger than individual leadership or political ideologies within Israel. One of the biggest obstacles, I believe, is the lack of international resolve—particularly from America and Europe—to confront and actively oppose Israeli settlement policies and its broader agenda aimed at eroding the Palestinian presence and heritage.

The absence of decisive action has led to a tacit acceptance of right-wing Israeli policies, which are increasingly seen as fascistic.

Secondly, internal division hugely undermines Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood.

Finally, geopolitical shifts over the past 15 years have also diminished the Arab world's influence on the Israeli occupation, allowing Israel to act with impunity despite the demographic reality that the population— from the river to the sea— is almost evenly split between Jews and non-Jews, with over 50% being Palestinian.

Despite the longstanding presence of Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza since 1967, the international community's response to Israeli policies has been tepid at best.

Yair Lapid's comments on the feasibility of a Palestinian state, while seemingly open to the idea, do not necessarily reflect a commitment to addressing the underlying issues. Instead, they appear to serve as a superficial acknowledgement aimed at placating global public opinion, which is increasingly critical of Israeli actions and the lack of a meaningful path toward Palestinian statehood.

This global sentiment, fuelled by recent events in Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West Bank, has been a wake-up call to the international community. Lapid's statements are a reaction to this growing global movement that is urging governments—even those that are staunch allies of Israel like the United States—to reconsider their positions.

This global sentiment, fuelled by recent events in Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West Bank, has been a wake-up call to the international community. 

Jibril Rajoub, Secretary General of Fatah's Central Committee

You mentioned the importance of ending Palestinian division. How can we achieve a unified Palestinian national project, especially given the many failed attempts at achieving unity?

Criticisms of the Palestinians based on Hamas's actions overlook the crucial historical context dating back to 1948 and fail to acknowledge the relentless attempts by Israel to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from their land. It also doesn't take into account the crippling 17-year siege on Gaza and ongoing Israeli aggressions in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

A shift in global understanding is now evident. There is a growing awareness of the need to establish a Palestinian state and address the refugee issue in line with United Nations resolutions. This emerging consensus is an achievement that should motivate all Palestinians, including Hamas and PLO factions, to unite.

Hamas must adopt a strategy that aligns with the collective aim of establishing an independent, sovereign state with east Jerusalem as its capital, based on United Nations resolutions.

As a people under occupation, we assert our right to engage in all forms of struggle and resistance. This stance is supported by international consensus, recognising our right to resistance, including armed struggle, as sanctioned by global laws and the United Nations.

On its part, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has made promises to the Palestinian people, who have endorsed it as their sole legitimate representative. It has also committed to regional stability and global peace.

Hamas is expected to agree to this framework and enter into dialogue with Fatah based on four critical pillars:

1. The unity of the Palestinian territories (West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip)

 2. Establishing a united political vision to resolve the conflict and alleviate Palestinian suffering

3. Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and lifting the siege

4. Halting unilateral hostilities across Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem, including settlement activities, invasions, and tightened restrictions.


These steps are essential to fostering a new and positive atmosphere and should have three clear objectives:

1. Rebuilding Gaza

2. Unifying institutions and services across the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza

3. Organising free and democratic elections throughout the Palestinian territories

Additionally, Egypt should organise a comprehensive national dialogue. that addresses four key issues aimed at unifying Palestinian political parties:

1. A political solution

2. A unified plan to resist Israeli occupation

3. A consensus on the composition and structure of the state based on the rule of law, comprising a single authoritative body, unified legislation, a consolidated security apparatus, freedom of expression, human rights, and the highest democratic standards

4. Unanimous agreement on the mechanisms for holding elections

I believe this to be a solid blueprint for navigating today's national, regional, and international shifts. It recognises the need to learn from past experiences and move towards unity and resolving division. It also lays down foundational pillars to safeguard the Palestinian people's achievements towards statehood.

As a Palestinian—and specifically as a member of the Fatah movement and its central committee—my extensive experience and insight gained over 30 years of political engagement have led me to conclude that this strategy is the most effective, direct, and viable route to overcoming the perilous state of division, which is the biggest obstacle to the Palestinian cause after the occupation itself.

I think the regional and global community now has a vested interest in supporting our journey towards sovereignty.

I think the regional and global community now has a vested interest in supporting our journey towards sovereignty.

Jibril Rajoub, Secretary General of Fatah's Central Committee

Do you believe Israel's primary goal is to eliminate Hamas, or do they have broader goals?

The current Israeli fascist administration, led by these Neo-Nazis, seems intent on eliminating the possibility of a Palestinian state. It wants to settle as much of the West Bank and east Jerusalem as possible and marginalise its Palestinian inhabitants.

Thanks to the resolute endurance of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, who face incredible and relentless Israeli pressure in their everyday lives, they have not succeeded. What we are witnessing in Gaza is an intensification of this relentless Israeli campaign.

This is why Palestinian solidarity backed by Arab support is so critical. We need to counter Netanyahu's strategy of dividing us. Israeli settlement expansion and aggression toward Palestinians aim to fracture Arab unity.

It is truly remarkable to see Palestinian resilience and steadfast determination to stay on their land. This can even be seen in the two million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel who continue to hold onto their language and identity. This resilience is why Netanyahu is so determined to divide us.

Arab support is crucial in this regard.  I appreciate Saudi Arabia's steadfast position despite considerable pressure. Their commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state before any normalisation with Israel is commendable and strategic, significantly bolstering the Palestinian cause—a cause that has garnered global support.

This resolute Arab stance has forced the Americans, British, Europeans, and others to review their position on Israel. In the US, we have witnessed a significant shift in the Democratic Party and among the American public, challenging the notion of unconditional support for Israel.

Recently, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer explicitly stated that Netanyahu's policies and actions pose a risk to Israel's future.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a press conference following the weekly Senate caucus luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, March 12, 2024.

Read more: The Schumer shock: Seismic US shift on Israel or attempt to gain voter favour?

The consensus now is that ending the conflict hinges on the creation of an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty, alongside resolving the refugee issue and the plight of prisoners.

While the international community has been focused on the Israeli hostages, they must also look at the issue of Palestinian detainees, some of whom have been imprisoned since 1985. A whopping 15,000 Palestinians are languishing in Israeli prisons—5,000 before 7 October and an additional 10,000 after. The liberation of our prisoners is a top priority.

Any sincere and strategic vision to resolve the current Gaza conflict should encompass these three actions:

1. Implementing a real support programme for the Palestinians, not just superficial gestures

2. Coordinating with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)— the official representative of the Palestinian people—along with Egypt and Jordan. This collaboration is essential because Egypt and Jordan are compelled to send planes and provide aerial aid, given Israel's restrictions on land transportation of supplies.

3. Establishing a seaport—and an airport, for that matter.

This latter is crucial to our development plans. It's worth noting that Gaza once had an airport, but Israel destroyed it. I think the American decision to build a seaport has more to do with gaining voter favour in the upcoming elections than a sudden awakening in the consciousness of the Biden administration.  

Why build a port if Biden can just force the Israelis to allow aid trucks in through land crossings? This Israeli starvation campaign is a pressure tactic and is being used as a weapon of war.

The unprecedented actions taken by Israel—unlike anything witnessed in Europe or elsewhere in history—raise serious questions. Does Hamas's attack on 7 October justify such extreme retaliatory measures?

Historically, this pattern of behaviour aligns with Israel's long-term policies since its establishment, which destroyed 500 Palestinian cities, towns, and villages and displaced around a million Palestinians in 1948.

This raises an important question: Does the Holocaust—a tragedy for which Palestinians hold no responsibility—justify the subsequent suffering imposed on the Palestinian people?

This is a question that the Americans, Europeans, and the whole world need to answer. The perpetrators of the Holocaust should not enable the victims of one atrocity to inflict suffering on another group of people.

In light of this unjust situation, we remain committed to our land and our resistance to Israel's efforts to erase the Palestinian people, their culture and history. This is more than a religious obligation but a national and humanitarian one to ensure all Palestinians have the means to remain steadfast and resist.

This pattern of behaviour in Gaza aligns with Israel's long-term policies since its establishment.

Jibril Rajoub, Secretary General of Fatah's Central Committee

According to discussions I've had with Palestinians in Ramallah and Jerusalem, they contend that Hamas hasn't liberated any Palestinian territory within the borders of 1967. Instead, Palestinians have paid a heavy price because of Hamas's decision on 7 October. What do you think about this view?

First and foremost, I hold Israel and its policies responsible for the events of 7 October, and most Fatah members also hold this view.

While my personal preference is for Palestinians to align with Fatah's resistance strategy, many side with Hamas's vision and methods.

As I said before, Hamas is an integral part of Palestine's political, social, and national struggle landscape.

They decided to carry out its operation on 7 October without consulting us and others. This is why the ballot box is so important for the people to hold their leaders accountable.  

What would happen if elections were held across the West Bank and Gaza and Hamas were elected again?

If Hamas were elected, I would honour the outcome. As a proponent of democracy, I embrace the principles of pluralism and freedom of choice.

I acknowledge criticisms of Mahmoud Abbas, but I don't believe his legitimacy should be challenged.  

Jibril Rajoub, Secretary General of Fatah's Central Committ

What future do you see for the Palestinian Authority after the war in Gaza ends?

I acknowledge criticisms of Mahmoud Abbas, but I don't believe his legitimacy should be challenged.  He is a capable leader who is working to unify Palestinians and leverage our power under the umbrella of the Palestinian Authority. We need leadership that can instil hope for the future and deliver tangible benefits, such as job opportunities.

Is it time to call for international protection for Palestinians, especially given the suffocating Israeli occupation that has persisted for over 50 years?

Absolutely. The Palestinians need a safety net and international protection against the occupation and aggression they face on a daily basis. The events unfolding in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem constitute war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and egregious forms of racial discrimination and apartheid.

What has transpired since 1967 is unparalleled, and I dare say that the events in South Africa pale in comparison to the criminal actions of Israel, the aggressions, occupation and apartheid it practises on the Palestinian people.

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