Mustafa Barghouti is Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative "Al Mubadara". He believes that the Middle East peace process has failed and that Palestinians must now choose the path of peaceful resistance. But what exactly does that entail? Muhannad Hamed spoke with Mustafa Barghouti in Ramallah
The Palestinian application for full membership of the United Nations failed because it did not get the required nine supporting votes on the Security Council. What are the next steps that now have to be taken within the UN?
Mustafa Barghouti: Now that we have at least been accepted as members of UNESCO, we should turn our attention to the World Health Organization and other specialized UN organizations. That way we can gradually establish Palestinian membership by working our way up from small to big, as it were, thereby making life difficult for those who unjustly deny us our rights.
I believe that this is the best way for us to continue our diplomatic resistance. It would be wrong now to give up halfway and limit ourselves to the Security Council alone, not least because the US could block our application there indefinitely.
The Israeli–Palestinian negotiations have ground to a halt. How might it be possible to resurrect them?
Barghouti: The current negotiations have no hope of succeeding. We support the Palestinian president's demands that Israel should stop building settlements and respect the international resolutions that recognize the 1967 borders.
But the current Israeli government cannot agree to these demands. And it knows that it is safe in so doing, because of the stance taken by the United States and the hesitancy of the international community, which refuses to put pressure on Israel. This is why we should be thinking about an alternative national strategy. From our point of view, the balance of power would first have to change before any truly effective negotiations could begin.
Such a change could be brought about in one of four ways. Firstly, peaceful resistance by large sections of the population; secondly, an international campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian people; thirdly, the restoration of national unity and the formation of a united national leadership of the Palestinian people; and fourthly, a fundamental change in the economic policy of the Palestinian National Authority that would mean it concentrating once again on enabling people to survive, especially those who are suffering as a result of the construction of settlements and the wall, particularly in Jerusalem and Hebron.
You talk about alternatives to the Oslo Agreement and to the peace process. What form would these alternatives take? And what are the chances that the Palestinian people and the international community really would put their trust in them?
Barghouti: We have suggested alternatives, the most important of which is non-violent resistance by the people, a strategy that is supported by the Palestinian population. Even the other political factions in Palestine who used to reject it, didn't believe in it, or regarded it with scepticism now recognize that the Palestinian struggle must primarily take the form of popular resistance. By acknowledging this, they are now supporting the strategy we have advocated for the past nine years. It means they have come to appreciate the view of the Palestinian National Initiative, which has proved to be the right one.
Our suggestions, therefore, are for non-violent resistance by the people on behalf of all the political factions that believe in this, plus diplomatic resistance at the United Nations. These strategies are currently being pursued. We have also called for the formation of a united Palestinian national leadership, which everyone is now advocating. This strengthens our belief that our approach is the right one, and that we must therefore move it forward. We now want to develop it further, with concrete, practical suggestions about how to take the situation in Palestine forward.
There have already been several reconciliation agreements in the past between the opposing Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas, which have tried to put an end to the internal division among Palestinians. You yourself were personally involved in these initiatives, yet they were never actually implemented. Will the current talks and this agreement be any different? What could persuade both sides to do more to make them work?
Barghouti: I believe that there are currently three conflicting factors influencing national unity. Firstly, all Palestinian factions have to be convinced of it, including Fatah and Hamas. There must be more things to unite them than divide them.
Until now, one side has only ever talked about negotiations, even though these effectively did not exist, while the other talked only about armed struggle, though at the moment there is just as little of this going on. So what we are saying now is: there is no longer any cause for dispute, because both sides recognize the principle of the necessity of an independent state and have spoken out in favour of non-violent resistance by the masses.
On the other hand, however, the situation is influenced by a negative factor that is preventing a reconciliation, namely the ongoing fight between Fatah and Hamas for supremacy within the Palestinian Authority. Yet what they are fighting for is a position that is still just subordinate to the occupying power; they fail to recognize that it really isn't worth the trouble.
It would be far more important if they were to vie for position in the struggle for national liberation. Assuming that we still find ourselves in the midst of this struggle, we should concentrate on establishing a united national front and leadership instead of fighting over power within the Palestinian Authority. The third negative factor is the pressure that Israel and various foreign parties exert with the aim of preventing national unity, which of course has a negative effect on efforts to achieve a reconciliation.
The Palestinian public has grown sceptical. These days the feeling is: if you've reached an agreement on the release of prisoners, why are some still sitting in jail? People ask what the point is of having two parallel governments: how can there be any talk of unity when there is no unified government, and those governments are in serious crisis?
So we will still have to deal with a conflict in which it is unclear whether unity will eventually be achieved. The longer it takes for the reconciliation agreement to be implemented, the more sceptical people will become about whether the noble aim of achieving national unity really can be taken seriously.
So will the Palestinian territories see a new government of national unity in the near future?
Barghouti: We are calling for the formation of a government of independent candidates, whose main task would be to preside over the next election. The forthcoming talks will decide whether this government will actually come into existence. We in the Palestinian Initiative called for the meeting in Cairo where all the factions come together.
The international community fears a takeover of power by Islamist forces in the Arab countries. Do you believe such fears are justified?
Barghouti: I am in favour of allowing the people to vote freely. And if the people decide in favour of the Islamists, then that is what they should do, the same as if they were to decide in favour of liberal parties. Ultimately the point is to establish democracy in the Arab world.
If Party X wins an election, it doesn't mean that that is how it will always be from now on. It then has to pass the litmus test of the next election. The principle of peaceful rotation must be observed, so that the victory of one party doesn't result in the prohibition or suppression of other parties. On the contrary: democracy means opening up to all the opportunity to participate and compete. The democratic decision of the people must be accepted.
How do you view the role of the EU in the peace process?
Barghouti: Certainly in a more positive light than that of the US, but unfortunately the EU is still not in a position to act completely independently of America and has great difficulty in obtaining agreement on any position among its 27 member states.
What exactly are you calling on the EU to do?
Barghouti: I would like the EU not to apply double standards with regard to Israel, and for its demands for freedom and democracy to be applied to Palestine as well. I would like to see the EU taking measures against Israel, because Israel is in contravention of international law, for example in its illegal annexation of Jerusalem and the extension of settlements, and the EU is aware of these contraventions. So the EU should engage itself as much for the Palestinians' right to freedom and democracy as it does for other peoples'.
Do you believe that civil society institutions, in both Palestinian and Israeli society, play a significant part in the peace process?
Barghouti: Civil society has always played an essential part in the Palestinian struggle for national liberation. And there have also always been Israeli forces for peace within Israeli civil society that have campaigned for our rights. So: yes, they play a very important role, one that we must maintain.
There are good institutions that demonstrate alongside us, and whose demonstrators are beaten and arrested just as we are. These organizations and people, such as B'Tselem or Physicians for Human Rights, are worthy of respect. Cooperations such as these should be consolidated and extended. We must take on the politics of discrimination, because it damages all of us, on both sides.
The magazine Foreign Policy has named you one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2011. What does this accolade mean to you?
Barghouti: I am proud of the reasons why Foreign Policy chose to nominate me. They write about my pioneering role in the broad-based non-violent resistance of the people and in the discussions about national unity to end internal division, reinstate democracy, and concentrate on Palestinians' human rights.
This explanation makes it clear that the world is now beginning to recognize the approach of non-violent Palestinian resistance. To me, this is a reward for all the Palestinian people who have fought in this way – some of whom, such as Jawaher Abu Rahma, have lost their lives in the process – and for the thousands of demonstrators who take to the streets peacefully day in, day out. It is they who have earned this honour; I only serve as their representative. More than a personal honour, it is an accolade given to the whole of the Palestinian people.
Will you be standing in the presidential election at the beginning of next year? And can we hope that the elections will be fair and democratic?
Barghouti: Until now that has not been a subject of discussion. I already put myself forward once before, in 2005, and I always like to say that I'm the only man in the Arab world to have run unsuccessfully for the highest office in the land without ending up in prison. Nonetheless, we made a considerable contribution in 2005 to preparing the path of democracy, and perhaps this was also part of the reasoning behind the Foreign Policy decision.
In any case, we blazed the trail, even if the 2005 elections were beset with problems. If we hadn't had the elections of 2005, we would not have had the reasonably fair and transparent parliamentary elections of 2006. In this respect, Palestine was a pioneer within the Arab world.
Now, however, there is unfortunately a lack of democracy due to the internal division and the blockade that the Government of National Unity had to endure in 2007. We no longer have a legislative council or a separation of powers; instead, we have central points of power where all the reins are held in one hand. And that's the problem.
That's why it is less important to ask who is standing for office, and more important to ask what are they standing for. Are they standing for a truly democratic office? And will there be truly democratic elections, for all Palestinians? How can we ensure that these elections are free and democratic? When we can be sure of all this, then we can look to the future and consider where to go from here.
Interview conducted by Muhannad Hamed
© Qantara.de 2011
Mustafa Barghouti is a doctor, the president and spokesperson of the moderate Palestinian National Initiative "Al Mubadara" and an activist in the World Social Forum movement which is critical of globalization. In the presidential election in January 2005, he garnered 19.8% of the vote, coming in second behind the incumbent president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins
Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de