The former Palestinian delegate to the EU, Leila Shahid, has told EUobserver that she left diplomacy behind in order not to betray her people, and that she is furious with the EU’s response to the ongoing conflict.
The 74-year-old Palestinian representative from 2006-2015 is a small but thoughtful woman. As the Lebanon-born daughter to Palestinian parents walks into the restaurant in Paris’s 16th arrondissement to meet the Foreign Press Club, the journalists waiting for her immediately take a stand. She is especially well-known and respected in France, even among those who disagree with her.
Since 7 October, her stance is, however, perceived as more radical than ever. Especially as she refused to condemn Hamas directly after the attack.
“I haven’t changed at all,” she told EUobserver after the conference. “I am still advocating for my people. I have, however, abandoned diplomacy in every sense.”
Shahid has been advocating for the Palestinian cause since her youth; in the 1970s she joined Fatah, founded by Yasser Arafat and one of the major political factions within the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). She has since then represented Palestine in the Netherlands, Denmark, France and, ultimately, from 2005 to 2010, in the European Union.
“I left diplomacy behind because I couldn’t betray my people anymore. The EU diplomats and the EU, in general, have no interest in peace in the Middle East. There are some exceptions, like the Scandinavian countries, but all in all: the EU is only interested in their own commercial interests,” Shahid told EUobserver.
She said she believes that Europe is trapped by guilt for what they did, or what they let happen, to the Jews during World War II.
“May I remind you that it was not the Arabs who committed those horrendous crimes to humanity, but the Europeans. And that guilt, I believe, it seems is blinding Europe for the crimes that Israel — not the Jews, mind you — is committing as we speak,” Leila Shahid said.
Shahid was close to Arafat over the years. First, as Palestine’s representative to the Netherlands and Denmark, then to France, and between delegate to the European Union. In 2004, she sat by Arafat’s deathbed in Paris.
According to Shahid, the ongoing war cannot be put on Hamas’s shoulders alone. She still refuses to condemn the organisation directly.
“I am no Islamist, I don’t support Hamas and their ideology, but I refuse to accept the narrative that the war started on 7 October,” Shahid said.
She said that nothing can ever justify the killing of civilians, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli, but that she believes it to be the price to pay for not resolving the conflict.
“As a human being, I mourn all children and civilians killed, Israeli civilians but also the thousands of Palestinian victims that are converting Gaza into a graveyard. Those are victims that European politicians tend to forget about,” she said.
“For 56 years the international community, including the EU and the UN, has been talking about the right to self-determination. Yet, here we are, 30 years after the Oslo Accords, and the situation is worse than ever. It is very short-sighted to believe that this started a month ago,” she added.
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Shahid told EUobserver that she had already been deceived by the European Union before the latest war in Gaza.
“The European Union has been depoliticised. Few member states want a political union, which is why the project has become a technical business project,” Shahid said.
She claims that the Europeans have proven to be more interested in the trade markets, like the ones in Africa or the Arab world, and therefore refuse a common political position in international conflicts.
“That was the case with Ukraine after 2014, before 2022, and that has long been the case regarding Palestine. I left my position [as a Palestinian ambassador] to the EU in order not to betray my people, as I believe the EU is still doing today,” Leila Shahid said.
When asked about whether it contradicts the Palestinian cause for Palestinian representatives, such as herself, not to condemn Hamas, she expressed a clear stance.
“I have no problem condemning violence against civilians, but I need the international community to acknowledge and condemn the thousands of Palestinian victims, not only in Gaza but on the West Bank and in Eastern Jerusalem, where Hamas is absent,” she said. “This violence didn’t start a month ago and Europeans need to look themselves in the mirror.”
Insisting on the 56 years of violence against Palestinians, she also admits her own failures.
“I didn’t succeed, in business, we are further from peace than ever,” she said.
“However, the EU needs to take a look at Israel’s politics, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, and before him several others, [who] have actively worked against peace. From January this year he is forming a government with, for example, extremist Itamat Ben-Gvir, convicted of supporting terrorism against Palestinians,” Shahid pointed out.