Interview with Marwan Barghouti
You’re are finishing up Mario Puzo’s novel, Omertà. (It is one of eight books which the Red Cross is allowed to send every six months to the most celebrated Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jails. Marwan Barghouti devours every book they bring him, including this story of a Mafia godfather who decides to retire).
If I can, I try to pick international detective stories. I also try to follow what is going on in the world, the spread of democracy, and women’s rights. While I’ve been in jail I’ve read Noam Chomsky, a study on elites by the Palestinian sociologist Jamil Hilal, and poetry by Mahmood Darwish.
(Barghouti still has a beard and wears a maroon prisoners’ uniform. He lives in a cell 6ft x 4 ½ feet for the next few months he will be denied visits by his family. He was sent to prison in May 2004 to serve five life sentences plus forty years for his involvement in the slaying of five Israelis. As to what to do with him in the future, Israeli intelligences agencies are divided: for Shin Bet, he is the architect of terror of the Second Intifada and meets the criteria of a prisoner who has blood on his hands—never to be released. Army Intelligence see the head of Fatah in the West Bank as possible negotiator, a pragmatic man who could control the extremists. For the Palestinians, he’s the leader of the next generation (he is 46 years old), committed to combating corruption.)
President Mahmood Abbas says he needs ten months to order Palestinian affairs.
It will take him a year. If he implements his plans for reform, I will be at his side, like most Palestinians. But he must make no compromises-- and there must be no exceptions. Whoever loses their job because of mismanagement and corruption must not be rewarded with a ministerial appointment. These types of deals surprise me. They only produce more bureaucracy, which then doesn’t function.
Are you sorry you did not run for President?
My decision not to participate in the race was right—I took it in the name of national reconciliation. There’s no doubt that the Palestinian Authority and Fatah must be reformed. I hope the next Fatah congress will represent a concrete step forward to consolidate democracy and to punish corrupt officials. It will also be an opportunity for young men and women to take the reins of the organization.
Over the last few weeks the Palestinian authority had to fend off an internal revolt. Members of the Al Aqsa Brigades, linked to Fatah, fired their weapons in the streets. How should the Ramallah government react?
In past years, the Authority failed. It wasn’t able to create the nucleus of a democratic Palestinian state. Now it must rebuild its institutions—political, social and security. We need legislative elections based on an elections law which has widespread support and which guarantees participation by women. It wouldn’t be a democracy without a role for women. The problem of violence is the most salient example of the failure of the Palestinian state. We have to put an end to personal fiefs within the security forces and some of its former officers should be punished.
Should the militants be absorbed into the security forces?
They shouldn’t expect a prize for their struggle and sacrifice. They didn’t fight for their personal interests but for independence. They have the right to live in dignity. Hamas is ready to participate in July’s legislative elections. We could not imagine the future of the Palestinian people without the participation of the Islamic movement. It is a victory for democracy and national unity and an important political stride for Hamas which we should encourage.
Doesn’t your organization, Fatah, risk losing at the polls?
The success of Hamas in the municipal elections in Gaza is a result of its struggle, the honesty of its leader and its sacrifice. But its success is also a result of mistakes and mismanagement by Fatah. I’m confident that if the party implements some reforms, Fatah will regain its role as the leading party among Palestinians.
What do you suggest? Primaries to reenergize the faction?
Primaries are fundamental. The members and supporters of Fatah have the right to choose their candidates. The creation of artificial lists can only lead to electoral defeat.
You read The Missing Peace by the US negotiator Dennis Ross. Have opportunities for peace been squandered in the last few months?
I read Ross’s book and Clinton’s autobiography. I’m convinced that any agreement which does not put an end to the Israeli occupation, establish a free and democratic Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem and guarantee the right of return doesn’t stand a chance.
This summer the Israelis will pull out of Gaza. Is this an opportunity for Abbas to demonstrate his ability to govern in the Gaza Strip?
The pullout from Gaza was obtained by the armed struggle of the Intifada and not through clever negotiations. But it’s partial and if it remains that way, it will never lead to peace and stability.
Since he became President, Mahmood Abbas has called for an end to armed struggle. Right now the truce seems to be vacillating and in Gaza rocket attacks on Israel proper have resumed.
It is impossible to give up the resistance option unless the occupation ends. Three weeks ago Palestinian groups decided to grant a period of calm to permit international negotiators to make progress in their talks. What did we get in return? New settlements, a siege, more checkpoints and thousands more thrown in prison. There are elements within Israeli society which do seek a genuine peace and who regret the occupation. These are our future negotiation partners.