Bassem Eid, a veteran Palestinian Arab human rights activist, challenged many common claims about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a June 14, 2016 attended by more than 80 congressional staff members and interns. Eid, founder and director of the former Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, a non-profit organization based in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), offered his views on the Arab-Israeli conflict in a talk facilitated by the office of U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and sponsored by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

Eid, who lived for many years in eastern Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp and now resides in Jericho, said that most Palestinian Arabs are “seeking dignity, not identity.” Their identity, he asserted, they have. What they lack, Eid elaborated, is leadership that can or wants to build opportunities for jobs, education and health care for themselves and their families. This concern for their individual and family welfare trumps current attention to diplomacy about a Palestinian state, Eid told his audience, which also included organizational representatives.

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He pointed out that the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank, has received “billions in aid” from the international community, including the United States. However, the authority—in part due to corruption which Eid categorized as extending “far and wide” under the authority— “failed to create jobs for Palestinians.” In his opinion, the inability of the international community to hold the PA accountable for management of aid represents a clear “failure.”

Eid said that “only the Palestinian leadership has benefited” from the so-called “stabbing intifada,” in which Palestinian Arabs have, since September 2015, attacked—and in some cases murdered—Israelis with rocks, cars, knives and guns. This violence, he told the audience, focuses on Palestinian issues does not lead to understanding internal Palestinian divisions. As a result, Eid said, in reality it is “only proving the lack of [Palestinian] leadership.”  

PA President Mahmoud Abbas lacks legitimacy and is busy “fighting for his own empire in the West Bank” instead of working to improve the daily life of Palestinians, according to Eid. Perhaps alluding to the fact that Abbas is in the eleventh-year of a four-year term and has refused to hold elections, Eid remarked that “No Palestinians believe elections are forthcoming.”

He discussed a recent attempt by the French government to increase pressure on Israel for concessions to the Palestinian Authority. The human rights advocate said that peace between Israel and Palestinian Arabs could be achieved only through bilateral negotiations. The PA’s refusal to engage in bilateral talks violates a pledge made to then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, by Abbas’s predecessor, Yasser Arafat. That promise, in a 1993 letter, formally initiated the Oslo “peace process” that created the authority and allowed limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The French effort seems to contradict that promise. Eid called the Paris attempt an example of the “international community becoming part of the conflict, instead of part of the solution.”

Additionally, Eid pointed out that if a Palestinian state were to come into being, the nature of Palestinian politics in the Gaza Strip and West Bank suggests that such a state would be repressive and undemocratic. Moreover, since the West Bank falls under the control of the PA, dominated by the corrupt Fatah movement, and the Gaza Strip is ruled by its rival Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, Eid rhetorically asked, “Which Palestinian state are you going to recognize? And what kind of state would it be? Not a state I want or dream of.”

Abuses by the PA receive scant attention from Western media. For example, in a March 16, 2016 interview with German media outlet Deutsche Welle, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah acknowledged that “torture happens” in authority prisons. This admission received no coverage by the mainstream U.S. news media. By contrast, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dog bit two dinner guests at a party, The New York TimesTime MagazineReuters, among others, carried the story. Eid told the audience that he himself was imprisoned briefly by Yasser Arafat for the “crime” of criticizing Palestinian leaders’ human rights abuses, released only after the intervention by former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

Eid recommended promoting economic cooperation instead of focusing on ill-timed efforts at statehood in which the PA seems uninterested—having rejected U.S. and Israeli offers in 2000, 2001 and 2008, among other instances. He said there is an ability among the international community to encourage cooperation in the West Bank between Israelis, Palestinian Arabs and Jordanians. Eid categorized efforts by the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to isolate and delegitimize Israel as harmful to Palestinian Arabs who want and need jobs.

Eid’s emphasis on economics, his warnings of the oppressive nature of Palestinian leadership and the need for “immediate change” in Palestinian political life all counter the conventional narrative that frequently infantilizes Palestinian Arabs as victims of Israeli repression when their sole desire is statehood.

Although one congressional staffer, who identified herself as Palestinian-American, accused Eid of being a “sell-out,” a number of attendees thanked CAMERA representatives for presenting his viewpoint, which they said was new to them.


Durns is media assistant for the Washington D.C. office of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.