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Time is running out

Interview with Mustafa Barghouti

Sunday 25 March 2007

CP: when you were running for president against Abbas, what was it like to campaign against somebody who had the US, Israel, so much money and support on his side?

MB: For me it was very good. If Arafat had been alive, I would’ve run against him also, as a matter of principle, that this country needs a different alternative. I was running for two purposes: one purpose was to win and to be able to run the Palestinian struggle, which I believe we can still do better than them. Second, I was running for the purpose of democracy, to have a true competition. And I believe if we would not have had this presidential election, and that tough race, and if Fatah had not had to encounter that true competition in that race, we would not have a very good legislative council election later. It was a step to build up democracy, and it was an effort, I mean, it wasn’t just me running in that election, it was the whole idea of establishing the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) as a new movement outside the PLO, I mean, that there can be new movements in Palestine that have not been historically in the PLO, and they do not have to be fundamentalist like Hamas, because if you look at the political spectrum you have the PLO groups that have not changed much in the last 30 years, or 40 years, and then you have the Hamas fundamentalist and jihad groups which have a certain ideology. But I believe that there is huge majority in the middle, silent majority, that wants a different alternative. So me running in the presidential election was part of a campaign to establish this third line, the third alternative, and in that sense I think we succeeded dramatically, getting almost 20% of the vote. A new movement that was only 2.5 yrs old, running for presidency and getting almost 20% of the vote. Many other parties who had been there for forty years, could not get close and got 2% or 2.5%. although they were running against us, not against Arafat by the way, just 3 or 4 other candidates. But we managed to establish what we call pluralism and we managed to establish true competition, and that was very,very important, and if Fatah had not had the support of those who were employed in the government sector, we would have beaten them. So, how does it feel? It felt great!

CP: How do you see, today, a potential political solution?

MB: There are two options. And the choice is Israel’s. Either we have two states, and for us two states means the end of occupation, every inch of the occupied territories of 1967. This is not a just solution, but it’s a fair compromise. And I think Palestinians agree with that; even Hamas now agrees with that. So there is a majority of Palestinians who would accept stability and peace based on two state solution with the establishment of an independent state in the 1967 borders. If that happens, then we have one solution, which is a two-state solution. So, that is one option.But it means Israel’s ending the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and a Palestinian state that is really sovereign, that has its own borders. And I think part of the solution is to bring in international troops to be stationed on the borders on both sides just to be sure that there will no violation of any kind. To me, this is the best option. But if Israel does not allow it to happen… We are witnessing increasingly, every day, a situation where Israel is taking more land, more land from the other side. And if Israel does not agree to a two state solution then there will be only one option which is a one state solution. Israel is now transforming the occupation into an apartheid, actually already has transformed the occupation into apartheid. And there are two things that I am sure about. First of all, that Palestinians will never accept to be slaves of the occupation or to an apartheid system. Second, that a compromise that is less than the areas of 1967, will not provide a strong base for stability.

CP: Israel is an apartheid state?

MB: It is, absolutely.

CP: What is your feeling about armed resistance vs. non-violent resistance?

MB: I believe that while Palestinians in general have the right to resist in every possible way according to international law, there should never be any attack on civilians, there should not be any violations of international regulations, which, by the way, Israel keeps violating. But even if Israel violates them, we shouldn’t. On the other hand, I believe that after all these years, that military confrontation can only be in the interest of Israel. There are no conditions for military struggle, and I believe that the best approach that we advocate, and I advocate, is a non-violent approach of mass popular resistance against the occupation.

CP: So, morally and ethically Palestinians have the right to practice armed struggle but practically maybe…

MB: Legally! Legally. We follow international law. We follow what international law says. But, I believe that our first approach should be non-violence. I don’t like violence. I personally don’t like violence. I have a problem with violence. It doesn’t only include military action. Even if I see a man beating his child, I have a big problem with that. So, it is a personal and moral issue. In principle, I think we always have to retain the moral superiority against our occupier.

CP: In 2002, you left the PPP (Palestinian People’s Party) to form the PNI. What was the main reason for that?

MB: The main reason for that was the PPP became an adjunct and a follower of Fatah, and it lost its independence. If you want a specific main reason.CP: Was there any particular policy that…MB: They simply failed to follow the program that we had written together- I wrote most of it - which is to be an independent force. And to follow their social policies. I’m a believer in a movement that is not only political, but also social. And I think they failed in that, and they would not allow us to form policies that would go in the direction of the majority inside the party, and I expect democracy. Another reason was that the period for which I was elected for the leadership of that party, and I was in top leadership, you know, had expired in 2002. And I was insisting to have a congress. The congress in which I was elected was in 1998. It expired in 2002. There should have been another congress We are now in 2006, and they still haven’t had a congress. So I thought I did my duty, I was elected for four years, I finished my four years, I respect democracy, I do not like splits, so my option in order to not allow a split in the party was leaving. And the movement that we created the Palestinian National Initiative, was on a completely different ground. I think it was some kind of simple democratic approach, which came out of lots of discussions with people like Dr. Haidar Abdel-Shafi who is a well-known Palestinian leader, as well as the founder, the main founder, of this party, and Dr. Edward Said. So what we established was really a movement of the future. We tried to liberate it from ideological restriction and stiff approaches. The most important thing in our minds is that we were establishing a movement that is there to serve the people, not itself, and the whole population, not only its cabinet. And with a clear political and social mission.

CP: In the international “community” who do you see as Palestine’s friends?

MB: The people. The people of the world. Whoever they are, wherever they are. I am pretty sure any people anywhere, any ordinary people anywhere, if they are allowed to get the right information in an objective manner they will be supportive of the Palestinian people. That’s why our fight, our struggle is also a struggle for media, and for knowledge. We did a film together with Daniel Barenboim about the Joint Orchestra which Edward Said and he founded, the West-Eastern Divan. And I became part of the experience. That film’s title was “Knowledge is the Beginning”. And I believe that knowledge is the beginning. If people get to know the reality objectively, I believe in humanity. I believe in human quality, in people. I believe that, even if they are bad sometimes, there is an important human side of every human being, that one should look at and look for. And I believe that our allies are the people. It’s just a matter of time and right conditions for them to realize what is going on.

CP: Do you ever visit the EU or US?

MB: Always. I visit the EU constantly. Of course my time is limited, so I go for very short visits. I have been in many countries. I insist on going to the States, and try to go and speak there and interact with people. My last visit included Stanford University, Los Angeles, Madison University in Wisconsin, Seattle, Washington D.C. I think I’ve already lectured in every important university in the states. Really, Name anyone and I think I’ve been there: UCLA, Harvard, Columbia Johns Hopkins, Atlanta, San Francisco University, Berkley, Princeton. I even spoke in Iceland.

CP: Did you meet any resistance coming into the states?

MB: No

CP: Harvard has a person named Alan Dershowitz…

MB: I always find people who oppose me. The Israeli lobby always works against us. But I cannot recall a single situation where it was hard. My talk is always full of facts and graphs and maps, it’s about objective reality. And there were many occasions when they came and we had good interactions. It was never a problem for me. I just wish I had more time to do more of that.

CP: In March 2004 Sheik Amed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, was assassinated by Israel. Can you say anything about that?

MB: It’s part of an assassination policy, that has taken the life of many people. Arafat was assassinated, I think. So, it’s a policy. And it does not produce results, because they kill Sheik Yassin, but they have, in his place, so many other people. So I don’t think political assassination ever helps anybody’s cause.

CP: So, this policy of assassination is not going to serve Israel’s needs?

MB: No.CP: But it’s a policy. And you think Arafat was assassinated?MB: It looks like it. I cannot prove it.

CP: You were part of the Madrid peace negotiations. What was the most important result of those negotiations, negative or positive?

MB: The main result that was positive, was that Palestinians were recognized as people. Their rights were recognized. Without that process we would not have reached the point where even the American president of the United States and the British Prime Minister stand in front of the press and admit that there should be a Palestinian state. So, in that sense it was a big success. And it was the result of the Palestinian first intifada. If there were no Palestinian first intifada, Israel would never have sat down and negotiated with Palestinians. The sad thing, is that the opportunity was lost because of the poor performance and leadership of the PLO leaders, who were trapped by Israel in the Oslo process. We could have probably gotten a Palestinian state and peace a long time ago. That’s my belief.

CP: You mean the PLO was being a little too soft when they were negotiating?

MB: Not too soft. They fell in the trap of giving up too much in exchange for Israel accepting them and recognizing them. You can justify anything, except one thing that is unforgivable: to sign an agreement without Israel’s commitment to stop expanding settlements. That is a fatal and unacceptable fault.

CP: What is the best English-language source of news on Palestine?.

MB: Palestine Monitor.

CP: What do you think we need to do in the West, to help bring about change?

MB: I think what’s needed is to solve a very basic question. Which is that Palestinians are equal human beings like everybody else. And we are entitled to the same freedom, dignity and rights that every other person has in this world. And if that idea is accepted then it comes natural that we should support ending the occupation and oppression of Palestinians and support the rights of Palestinians, including a state. But I think also that one very important point is finding a way of liberating people’s minds in the West from the dominance of the Israeli-Americans in the news.

CP: The Israeli lobby?

MB: Yeah. It is dominating. The Israeli narrative dominates the media. And the media dominates the minds of the politicians and the people. CP: 99% of the people in the West Bank are very welcoming to Americans…MB: People here have no problem with America or with American people. They have a problem with American official policy. And people here are hospitable to foreigners in general. It’s a very tolerant society. People like many things that are American. But they don’t like American policy; because it’s wrong. And I think the American policy with regard to being totally biased toward Israel, contradicts its constitution, contradicts the claimed American values, contradicts even the expression of the President from time to time. And I think the American policy in the Middle East contradicts the national interest of the American people.

CP: One last question, and it’s not really a question, but it’s an offer for you to say something that needs to be said that we haven’t already covered.

MB: There is one thing I’d like to mention, and that is that there comes a time in people‘s lives when they cannot take injustice any more. And that time has come for the Palestinians. We are unable to tolerate any more injustice.

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