Marwan Barghouti, who is one of the most prominent Fatah leaders in the West Bank and is currently detained in an Israeli prison, says the time is right for the US administration to take a bold decision and make peace in the Middle East as soon as possible.
Barghouti, who responded to written questions, warned that the alternative to a two-state solution is a “persistent conflict” that knows no middle ground. The jailed leader said Israel was not interested in peace, adding that “no methods of resistance should be abandoned” so long as it is in line with international law.
Barghouti also noted that the “peace process inflicted serious damage on Fatah,” while urging Palestinian factions to reconcile. He also criticized the recent Arab Peace Initiative headed by Qatar as “the lowest the Arabs have gone in terms of a historical settlement with Israel.” Below is the full interview transcript.
Al-Monitor: After 11 years of detention, what can you tell us about these long years you have spent, and are still spending, in isolation?
Barghouti: I was abducted on April 15, 2002, in Ramallah, in the central West Bank, after several failed assassination attempts conducted by the Israeli occupation forces. I underwent a 100-day interrogation in three different centers in al-Masqubia in Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, and the secret internment facility No. 1391. I spent several years in solitary confinement, completely isolated from the world in a small cell where soil was falling off the ceiling and where cockroaches, mosquitoes and rats were rife. The cell was windowless, lacking direct sunlight and aeration. I used to go out handcuffed for one hour a day to a small yard where sun rays occasionally infiltrated, depending on the weather.
I was allowed six books every six months through the Red Cross, in addition to Hebrew newspapers, since I mastered this language during my previous stints in Israeli prisons.
After a period in solitary confinement, I was moved to mass solitary confinement, where I currently am. I spend my time exercising in the morning, then reading local news, analyses and current developments in the daily Al-Quds — the only newspaper allowed in. We are allowed to watch 10 satellite channels, selected by the Israeli prison services, three of which are in Hebrew while the rest are in Arabic. We use these channels to follow up on political developments and general events. Additionally, I teach and lecture a number of detainees on politics, economics and history.
I read between eight to 10 hours per day and I finish eight books per month, since every detainee is entitled to two books and we swap them with one another. I have read Arab and international novels.
I was given five life sentences and sentenced to 40 years in prison. I refused to plead before the Israeli court or to be defended by a lawyer, because I’m a Palestinian member of parliament and I have enjoyed parliamentary immunity since 1996. Also, I was re-elected in 2006.
Al-Monitor: How do you assess the current Palestinian political situation and the prospects for reconciliation between the Fatah and Hamas movements?
Barghouti: The Palestinian situation is becoming more challenging because Israel is derailing the peace process and ensuring its failure, while maintaining the policy of occupation. The Israelis have once again elected a government that has no desire to put an end to the occupation and settlements, nor to achieve peace with the Palestinians. The Palestinian scene is worsening due to the split that took place years ago. We already put forth an initiative called the "National Reconciliation Document,” which was signed by all factions without exception, including Fatah and Hamas. Unfortunately, the signatories did not abide by the agreement.
I believe that national unity is necessary to ensure the victory of all liberation movements and persecuted peoples. We hope that the efforts that have been made will usher in reconciliation, because this is a prerequisite for the unity of the people and the establishment of a state. Yet, reconciliation requires free will, faith and a belief in partnership between all parties, in order to lay the foundation for an independent, sovereign and democratic state.
I am sure that the Palestinian people will stand up for unity and reconciliation, and, sooner or later, will oust those inciting division. They should refer again to the "Palestinian Prisoners’ Document" and form a consensus government made up of independent ministers to hold parliamentary and presidential elections, in addition to elections for the Palestinian National Council, no later than the end of this year.
The Palestinian political circles that placed their bets on negotiations have failed and hit a deadlock due to Israel’s policies, which are opposed to peace. Therefore, I call for a strategy that is based on referring to the United Nations to achieve full membership in the UN and all other international agencies, so as to be able to sign pacts and agreements, refer to the International Criminal Court, cooperate with the international community to isolate and boycott Israel, impose sanctions on it to withdraw to the 1967 borders, in addition to imposing economic, security, administrative, negotiating and political blockades. Meanwhile, we should intensify and expand the popular resistance in a way that engages all factions and leaderships.
Al-Monitor: How do you view the US mediation to push the peace process forward, including the revival of the Arab Peace Initiative?
Barghouti: US peacemaking in the Middle East has failed due to the United States' full alignment with Israel. If the US wants to yield results and promote peace in the region, it has to explicitly and plainly ask its ally to cease the occupation of the 1967 lands to pave the road for establishing a Palestinian state, whose capital is East Jerusalem, and which coexists in peace with Israel. Additionally, it has to implement Resolution 194 on the right of return and release all detainees.
The US administration must deeply reflect on the reasons why its efforts have been futile for 20 years. It will then discover that this failure was the result of its alignment with Israel and its total acceptance of the Israeli stance. Now the time is right for the US to take a bold decision and make peace in the Middle East as soon as possible, because it is already late and if it does not make a move, the risk of the national struggle becoming a conflict that knows no middle ground is imminent. The Arab Peace Initiative is the lowest the Arabs have gone in terms of a historical settlement with Israel. The statements of the Arab ministerial delegation to Washington in regards to amending the 1967 borders and accepting the land-swap inflict great damage on the Arab stance and Palestinian rights, and stimulate the appetite of Israel for more concessions. No one is entitled to amend borders or swap land; the Palestinian people insist on Israel’s full withdrawal to the 1967 borders, in addition to removing the settlements.
Al-Monitor: Since no political progress was achieved on the level of the two-state solution, many suggestions were set forth including a Palestine-Jordan confederation or a single, binational state with Israel. What is your opinion on this?
Barghouti: Until now, the only possible solution — in light of international, regional and Palestinian considerations — is the two-state solution. This solution must not be abandoned, and efforts should be exerted to put an end to the occupation and establish an independent, sovereign state. The Israelis must know that the day peace reigns in the region, the occupation will cease to exist. That’s why, what is first required from Israel is to announce its readiness to end the occupation, withdraw to the 1967 borders and accept the Palestinian right of self-determination — including their rights to establish an independent, sovereign state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Yet, the two-state solution is facing the threat of being crushed by the occupation’s tanks and the settlements’ bulldozers. Palestinian politicians and intellectuals, including figures from the Fatah movement, are voicing their opinions in favor of giving up on the two-state solution, given Israel’s intransigence and opposition to this plan. These figures favor focusing the struggle on achieving a single, binational state, based on citizenship, equality and eliminating the discriminatory Israeli regime that is based on occupation, settlement and discrimination.
I still believe that there is a chance to achieve the two-state solution, if Israel honestly and explicitly agrees to withdraw to the 1967 borders and commits to it and recognizes a fully sovereign state. If the two-state solution fails, the substitute will not be a binational one-state solution, but a persistent conflict that extends based on an existential crisis — one that does not know any middle ground.
Al-Monitor: Some say that peace with the Palestinians is no longer a priority for Israel, because they are now focusing on dealing with the threats of Iran, Hezbollah and Syria. What could be done to convince Israel of the importance of reaching a final peace with the Palestinians?
Barghouti: The reality is the Palestinian people exist in this region, and will continue to do so in the future. The key to peace and stability in the Middle East is by ending the occupation and establishing an independent and fully sovereign Palestinian state. Peace with regional countries will not lead to total stability.
Israelis are mistaken if they think that the status quo will not change. They must realize that security cannot be achieved without peace. The Arab people have changed, and Israel cannot defy the region forever. It has the chance to reach peace with the current Palestinian Authority (PA), and this opportunity might not come again.
Moreover, Israel has avoided reaching a solution with the Palestinians and has neglected the Palestinian people’s rights to freedom, return and independence. This reflects tyrannical colonial behavior resembling that of an ostrich that buries its head in the sand. Israel has lost a historic chance to reach peace in the past eight years, when Mahmoud Abbas was the president of the PA. Abbas implemented everything that the road map for peace necessitated, and there was a certain state of peace and security that Israelis never dreamt of during the occupation years.
Abbas also opposed all forms of armed resistance, and he established unprecedented security coordination with Israel. What did Israel offer Palestinians in return? They Judaized Jerusalem, expelled the city’s residents, took control of its lands, arrested its children and shut down its organizations. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, they increased settlement building and land expropriation, destroyed more houses and made more arrests … in the end, this destroyed the two-state solution and the subsequent hopes for peace.
Al-Monitor: It seems that there is a new wave of peaceful protests against the Israeli occupation. Do you support armed or peaceful resistance?
Barghouti: The tortured and oppressed Palestinian people have the right to defend themselves by all means approved by the UN charter and international law. Total resistance is the most effective, and must be implemented according to a strategic vision that includes all factors of power. During every stage, it is wise to choose the convenient methods of resistance that may differ from those used in other stages, according to the given circumstances and data. No methods of resistance should be abandoned.
In the "Palestinian Prisoners’ Document" (or the "National Reconciliation Document"), all the Palestinian factions unanimously agreed on centering the resistance in the 1967 occupied lands. During this stage, there is a focus on popular resistance in the West Bank and in Jerusalem. For several years, Palestinians have been practicing peaceful popular resistance, amid ongoing efforts to calm the situation. Yet, what was the Israeli response?
Al-Monitor: Many people are talking about the possible absence of President Abbas. Do you see yourself as a potential substitute for him, since you enjoy the support of large segments of Fatah supporters?
Barghouti: The Palestinian people alone get to choose freely and fairly, through democratic elections, the next president. When consensus is reached and a final date for the upcoming elections is set, I will take the right decision. I do feel proud, though, of the Palestinian people’s loyalty and trust in their militant figures. I return loyalty with loyalty, and I will keep fighting for my people to get their rights to freedom, return, independence and peace.
First and foremost, the important thing for me is to ensure a state for my people, in addition to freedom, the right of return and independence. I have dedicated my whole life to fulfilling this goal, and I have participated in acts of militancy and resistance while clinging to my absolute conviction in the justice of this cause. I am certain that freedom will come, sooner or later. The occupation is bound to disappear, and its fate will not be any better than that of the racist regime in South Africa.
Al-Monitor: To what extent do you think Fatah has succeeded in achieving its political goals, given its history?
Barghouti: Fatah constituted the first collective Palestinian response to the refugee catastrophe and to the state of dispersion and compulsion. It gave the Palestinian people their national identity back, after it was washed away by the weight of the Nakba. It re-established the national movement, led by the PLO, and made huge sacrifices. Moreover, Fatah brought Palestine back to the political map of the Middle East, after attempts to bury it and remove it for good.
However, the failure of the peace process inflicted serious damage on Fatah, which made serious attempts to push this process to succeed and to reach an independent state and restore peace. The movement did not achieve this ultimate goal for our people because of the policies of successive Israeli governments and the absence of a serious Israeli leader willing to end the occupation. Israel still lacks the “[Charles] de Gaulle” who ended French colonialism in Algeria, and the “[F. W.] de Klerk” who destroyed the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The Fatah movement is facing a number of key challenges, including: ending the occupation and establishing an independent state, guaranteeing the right of return for refugees, securing the release of prisoners, eradicating the division, reaching reconciliation and national unity, establishing a national partnership based on democracy, developing its internal performance, promoting democracy that has set frames and leaders, and holding its seventh conference next year.
Al-Monitor: What is your take on the so-called Arab Spring? What does it mean to you and the Palestinians?
Barghouti: The democratic Arab revolutions are huge historical events for the Arab nation, which has proven itself to be alive and beating with life. The young generations do not accept oppression, dictatorship, corruption and the repression of freedoms. They refuse to live under crippled, helpless and subservient Arab regimes that are deprived of their free will and that answer to the political, economic and security-related American domination and subservience.
Throughout the past decades, the Arab nations have failed — whether single-handedly or collectively — to build a democratic political regime. For this reason, the Arab revolutions have shown the authenticity of our people. We have witnessed the first phase of the revolutions that saw the fall of several regimes. Meanwhile, other regimes benefited and took remarkable steps toward reform, through promulgating new constitutions that ended years of dictatorship, oppression and tyranny. Consequently, this laid the foundation for a democratic Arab regime that respects political, religious and intellectual pluralism and for the establishment of an independent state.
Al-Monitor: How do you see the roles of Qatar, Iran and Egypt vis-à-vis the Palestinian cause?
Barghouti: There is a dangerous historical Arabic and Islamic slackening when it comes to the Palestinian land and its people, cause and sanctities. Despite support that has been offered in one field or another, it is still not enough. The aid provided is not up to the level of facing the dangers of the aggression, occupation, settlement and the Judaization of Jerusalem, not to mention the daily attacks on sanctities.
All Arab countries must play a key role in supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people in order to enhance it on all levels to end the occupation and establish a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as capital. They should also play an even bigger role characterized by its seriousness and impartiality to reach national reconciliation and unity. We call on them to use their capacities and powers for the sake of the Palestinian people and their just struggle for freedom, the right of return and independence.
Adnan Abu Amer is dean of the Faculty of Arts and head of the Press and Information Section as well as a lecturer in the history of the Palestinian issue, national security, political science and Islamic civilization at Al Ummah University Open Education. He holds a doctorate in political history from the Demashq University and has published a number of books on issues related to the contemporary history of the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict. On Twitter: @adnanabuamer1