The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Mustafa Barghouti: The liberation of the Israeli and Palestinian people

Israel must understand that the liberation of the Israeli people depends on the liberation of the Palestinian people

Occupation Magazine, June 28, 2005
Translated from Hebrew by Daniel Breslau

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian Democratic Initiative, criticizes the Palestinian Authority, which he believes is not doing enough to preserve the public’s security. Barghouti says that under the current situation there is no law and order, and that Palestinian security personnel are involved in most of the incidents of violence and use of weapons. The government ministries are not functioning, corruption continues, and the PA wastes a great deal of money on security forces that are not carrying out their responsibilities. A large part of the budget goes to the security apparatus, and very little is invested in education, agriculture, and other important areas.

Barghouti is not optimistic with regard to the future of the peace process. Sharon, he says, is not interested in peace, and his unilateral plan for evacuation from Gaza comes only after he has understood that he cannot provide security for the settlers there, and that the water in Gaza will soon be gone and that he will have to start desalinating drinking water. Sharon is evacuating Gaza in order to turn it into one big prison, and Israel is on the way to establishing an apartheid regime. The problem is that the Palestinian authority and the international community are also cooperating with Sharon’s plan. Sharon is working contrary to the interests of the Palestinian and Israeli people, and is damaging the entire region. The solution is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Barghouti also says that President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) did not need to agree to the humiliation of his last unnecessary meeting with Sharon. He should not play by Sharon’s rules, says Barghouti, but should call to convene an international peace conference.

According to Barghouti, there is no real Palestinian opposition within the PA. Many elected representatives chosen from parties that are members of the government occupy key roles and do nothing. As for the Palestinian Democratic Initiative, which he leads, Barghouti says it fulfills its role as a large and active Palestinian opposition, and that since its establishment, in June 2002 — at the initiative of Dr. Haider Abdel Shafi, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the late Professor Edward Said and others — it has been an important factor that represents a large part of the Palestinian citizens who have not yet found representation in the Palestinian political system.

In the Palestinian street, among ordinary citizens, there is a sense of alarm and uncertainty about the future. Do you share that feeling, and what is its source?

Dr. Barghouti: The feeling is justified, accurate, and authentic, and is getting stronger by the day among sectors of the Palestinian public, and even among senior officials of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). After the presidential elections, which were despite everything a badge of honor, a sign of impressive national responsibility and maturity, there was a sense among the Palestinian citizens that things were improving and advancing, and that the future was going to be better in every way — economic, social, standard of living, general security and the personal security of each individual. The elections also led to the election of the candidate of the Fatah movement, Abu Mazen, who took up the banner of “general and personal security” in the Palestinian election campaign, but on the ground the reverse is true. The Palestinian people have no security; personal security is totally lacking, and so with the other areas in the everyday life of the Palestinians, including education, the economy, employment, agriculture, and health. Beyond that, the Israeli occupation still continues in full force, the Israeli settlements continue to expand, the Palestinians’ lands are continually threatened with confiscation, the checkpoints have not been removed, and in place of those that have been removed, the Israeli army quickly sets up new ones. Construction of the fence continues despite everything and despite court decisions, and the Israeli withdrawal, that the Palestinians saw as a result of the elections and the new leadership — now they know that there is no withdrawal or disengagement, but the removal of the army and the settlers from the Gaza Strip and its transformation into one big prison, closed and confined. All of these things are the source of the sense of uncertainty that is slowly but surely turning into frustration. If we add to this the continuation of Israeli aggression (1200 Israeli attacks since Abu Mazen’s term began), the picture is clear and far from reassuring.

But despite this there have been steps toward reform in the areas of government, division and separation of powers, particularly authority over security.

Although there have been discussions of the need for reforms of the government and the Palestinian ruling bodies, and even firm promises that served as calling cards during the election campaign, but they have remained at the level of talk. On the ground there have not been any steps in the direction of the needed government reforms, even the minimal reforms: there is no government transparency, corruption continues, and security, or the lack of it, is continually deteriorating. We only have to look at the events of the past week: the government offices are not functioning, nepotism continues, and funds are wasted, so there are no real reforms or even the beginning of reforms.

You spoke of a decline in security, especially among the Palestinian security forces or their personnel, who are using the weapons that the PA gave them.

The lawlessness that reigns today in the Palestinian territories is many times more serious than during the era of the late President, Yaser Arafat. Today there is no law and order, and the weaponry that is supposed to serve the security of the Palestinian citizens, as was stated during the election campaign, is today turned against them, as members of the Palestinian security apparatus are responsible for 90 percent of the lawlessness. That’s what happened last week in Jenin, and thus the frustration. Everyone thought that after the presidential elections and after all the promises the situation would improve.

Maybe in this context it is possibly a positive step that the national security advisor in the Palestinian Authority, Jibril Rajoub, has declared that the security forces are responsible for the security failures, that the commanders are its source, that this must be dealt with severely, and that Abu Mazen must punish them?

Such declarations are a correct evaluation of an obvious phenomenon, but they are nothing more than declarations. I am not ready to accept this phenomenon, that continues to somehow rise from within the PA leadership and its officials, where those who have participated in setting the policy and in the lack of action in this particular matter, but are not ready to take responsibility for the situation or for the consequences of their actions. The loyal members of the PA, and officials within it, should take responsibility for what takes place in the territories, or they should resign their positions. You can’t agree to participate in official duties and policy making but escape from responsibility. These people pursue their struggles over power and senior posts, but criticize the policies of the government of which they are members, even in key positions. Among them are members of the Legislative Council who sit in their seats but criticize the situation, and administrators and security personnel who also criticize the deteriorating situation. This is an intolerable situation. If everyone is criticizing, then who is responsible on the ground? What I am saying is also valid for the Palestinian political parties that are part of the government, criticize it, but are not willing to take responsibility.

Some of the lawlessness comes from the refusal of the Palestinian government and the PA to accept all of the Palestinian armed groups into the ranks of the security forces.

The situation on the ground is different. Indeed, 26 percent of the PA’s budget goes to the security forces, who are hardly providing any security, compared to 5 percent for education. And less than one percent for the development of Palestinian agriculture. There are 63 thousand employees in the various security services, that is nearly half of the state workers. This is an abnormal situation.

If that is the case, as you describe it, where is the Palestinian opposition that you are supposed to represent?

Among the Israeli public there is a distorted picture of what is going on in the territories under PA control. For the Israelis, the Palestinian people as a whole are divided between supporters of Fatah and supporters of Hamas, but everyone forgets — I hope not on purpose — that there is a large third camp, made up of almost half of the Palestinian people. This camp participated in the presidential elections and received more than 30 percent of the votes. And I represent this camp, which demands clean politics, free of corruption, nepotism, and the pursuit of narrow personal interests, a politics that will be concerned above all with the interests of the Palestinian people who have lived for decades under a uniquely evil occupation and continual oppression. For some reason they ignore the existence of this camp, that established a civil society with all that it entails, and popular organizations that operate in all areas — agriculture, education, health and justice, in order to support Palestinian society.

We are fulfilling our role as a large and active Palestinian opposition that since its founding is an important factor representing a large part of the Palestinian public. We are the Palestinian opposition that challenges the complex of fear. Indeed, there were those who did not hesitate to threaten our voters, lest they lose their appointments or their jobs, but our supporters did not fear and did not surrender. Thus was created a Palestinian political system with three elements — Fatah, the Islamic movement, and the Palestinian Democratic Initiative, which, in its role as a real opposition, places on the Palestinian agenda issues that were not raised before, such as governmental corruption, granting favors, distorted priorities, and nepotism.

A few days ago we spoke with Palestinian prisoners, and they complained that they had been forgotten. Is this what you mean when you speak of distorted priorities?

The prisoners are right and honest. As with other areas, the PA neglected its responsibilities for the prisoners, and did not behave as one would expect of the leadership of a national liberation movement. It was dragged behind Israel into the role of one that reacts, rather than one that initiates, leads and directs. The PA members, particularly senior ones, are very distant from the daily lives of the Palestinian citizen. They are not aware of his suffering, and they care above all about themselves, getting government positions, and advancing personal interests, instead the interests of the Palestinian citizens and the issues that concern them, like prisoners, the separation fence, education, economy, and agriculture. The PA lacks initiative in all of these areas, including the political process.

Like the topic of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip?

Yes, that’s right. The PA accepted Israel’s rules of the game there as well and fell into the trap that Sharon set for it, that works against the interests of both sides, against the two-state solution. Sharon replaced the road map with his own plan and succeeded in drawing in the Palestinian Authority, the US, Europe, and the entire international community — they all were drawn into a plan that turns Gaza into a big prison and inflicts a death blow on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Sharon is not leaving Gaza out of good will, but because he understood that he can’t defend the settlements, and that the drinking water in the Gaza Strip is running out and that if Israel stays there it will have to desalinate water. Thus I say that since the disengagement is not a solution, the main question before the Israeli people is whether they want to become an apartheid state, since the Palestinians are today half of the population between the river and the sea, or whether they will agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the June 1967 borders. The independent Palestinian state is the solution, since we will not leave our land and therefore there will be a situation of two peoples that are equal in number. But the Palestinian people will at some point become the majority, because of their high rate of natural growth, which is at least twice that of the Israel! is. This is a sure recipe for apartheid, and everything it entails with regard to quality of life, income, greater quantities of water for Jews, more investment in health of Jews as opposed to Palestinians (1000 dollars per Jewish resident vs. 50 dollars for each Palestinian resident).

You saw the pictures of the meeting between Abu Mazen and Sharon — a meeting of rebukes, and despite that Abu Mazen announces that the meetings will continue.

That was a mistake. What is required from the Palestinian leadership is to call for convening an international conference in accord with the requirements of international agreements. He shouldn’t agree to this insulting and degrading treatment, because Abu Mazen is the leader of the people, the elected leader. As for Israel, it must understand that the liberation of the Palestinian people means the liberation of the people in Israel, no less.

To conclude, how do you see the coming days?

They will be very difficult days, and the suffering is going to be even greater. I say this on the basis of my accumulated experience of almost daily visits across the territory of the Palestinian Authority. There I see the continuation of suffering and oppression, and I am sure that the incessant pressure will lead to a big explosion and a huge conflagration. The vast majority of the Palestinian people (75 percent) today exist under conditions of shameful and worsening poverty, on an income of less than two dollars per day.

Daniel Breslau
Department of Science and Technology in Society
Virginia Tech
133 Lane Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0247