Former Palestinian presidential election candidate Mustafa Barghouti (L), who is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, holds a young girl during a rally in the West Bank City of Hebron, Jan. 14, 2005. (photo by REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun)
Author Rasha Abou Jalal Posted December 17, 2015
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Since its inception in 2002, the Palestinian National Initiative has played an important local and international role in bolstering popular resistance against the Israeli occupation through the boycott of Israeli goods in European and world markets.
Al-Monitor spoke with PNI Secretary-General and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council Mustafa Barghouti about the PNI’s functions, goals and achievements, as well as its global efforts to boycott Israel. He also discussed the PNI’s position vis-a-vis the ongoing Palestinian uprising and the armed resistance.
Barghouti shared his opinion concerning the current Palestinian state of affairs in light of the difficulties in the implementation of the reconciliation agreement terms; in addition to his assessment of the PNI’s international legal and political role played in putting an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
These issues, among others, were discussed in the phone interview. The edited transcript follows:
Al-Monitor: To start, please tell us about the PNI. When did it start, and what are its espoused political methodology and goals?
Barghouti: The PNI was founded in 2002 as a political social movement focused on achieving three primary general tenets: first, liberate the Palestinian people, end the occupation, establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and repatriate Palestinian refugees expelled from their lands in 1948. Second, realize internal democratic rule and build an effective democratic system that guarantees popular participation, free elections, the separation of powers, independence of the judiciary and the right of the Palestinian people to choose their leaders in a free and democratic fashion while giving them the freedom to express political opinion, organize themselves politically and strengthen civil society. Third, achieve social justice by championing the rights of women and marginalized factions of society, as well as combat poverty, create job opportunities for the unemployed and safeguard the rights of people with special needs and disabilities.
With regard to its political approach, the PNI believes in the need to adopt an alternative national approach to peace negotiations with Israel, which have failed miserably. It also rejects the Oslo Accord, as it was a piecemeal transitional agreement that neither put an end to settlement activities nor contributed to reaching a real and definitive solution.
In addition, the PNI is focused on changing the balance of power through four main elements: first, broad popular resistance; second, the boycott movement and the imposition of sanctions against the Israeli occupation; third, provision of social and economic support to the steadfastness of people on the ground; and fourth, achievement of national unity and striving to establish a unified Palestinian leadership that transcends current divisions.
Al-Monitor: Tell us about the PNI’s efforts on the international scene in general, and the European one in particular. What were its main achievements in that regard?
Barghouti: The PNI has played a broad international role in support of the Palestinian cause. It is characterized by its close popular, parliamentary and governmental ties both in Europe and the world. These relations are aimed at mobilizing global public opinion in favor of the Palestinian cause, expanding the boycott movement and imposing sanctions on the Israeli occupation at all levels. Said role is not confined to Europe, but includes the whole world, such as Russia, India, Latin America and South Africa.
In this context, the PNI successfully achieved three goals. First, it increased the number of countries that recognized the Palestinian state, such as Argentina. Second, it greatly expanded the Israeli boycott and succeeded in imposing economic sanctions against Israel on all levels. Third, it increased the size of local and international popular demonstrations against the Israeli occupation. In this regard, we will continue to endeavor toward greater achievements.
Al-Monitor: What is your opinion of the ongoing Palestinian intifada? Do you think that it will succeed in achieving its goals, and for how long will it endure?
Barghouti: We believe that this is a real popular uprising, and not popular unrest, as some describe it. It is an intifada that came as a result of Palestinians losing faith in the agreements with Israel, with negotiations doing nothing except providing cover for the expansion of settlement activities throughout the past 23 years. This uprising was caused by the failure of the Oslo Accord and the Palestinian youth’s realization that their future prospects were limited. As a result, we backed the intifada and called for its development, continuity and expansion, while maintaining its popular character. Furthermore, backing and support must be given to people subjected to continuous Israeli transgressions, such as killings, arrests and the destruction of homes. All of this requires a change in the official Palestinian policy and the implementation of decisions made by the Palestinian Central Council in March 2015. Key among these decisions is putting an end to the security coordination with Israel.
For this uprising to succeed, we must quickly form a unified national leadership and accurately define the objectives of the intifada. To date, Palestinian factions lack a common goal, which we propose should be: First, the complete and comprehensive end to Israeli settlement activities. Second, compelling Israel into stating its willingness to end the occupation. Third, unconditionally releasing all Palestinian prisoners without exception. In my opinion, the intifada shall endure, because the Palestinian people have no other option at hand.
But if Israel negates the independent-state option by maintaining its expansionist settlement activities, then only one choice will remain: that of a sole democratic state that includes both Palestinians and Israelis, with all living therein with equal rights and obligations throughout all Palestinian lands.
Al-Monitor: What is your stance vis-a-vis armed resistance? Do you think it is necessary in the context of achieving the goals of the PNI?
Barghouti: We believe that the Palestinian people have the right to resist occupation through any means, as long as they comply with international human rights laws. But we also believe that under the current circumstances, popular resistance is the best and most effective method, and we will strive to expand said resistance.
Al-Monitor: You were one of those who signed the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas in April 2014, which aimed to end divisions between the two factions, as well as lead to the formation of a national unity government, the holding of elections for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, the PLC and the Palestinian National Council. One and a half year later, how do you assess the current Palestinian situation?
Barghouti: Continued divisions cause the most harm to the Palestinian situation as a whole, as well as limit the chances of our struggle to achieve palpable results. Nothing is currently more important than to quickly end this state of division and set dates for the holding of presidential, PLC and PNC elections, in addition to establishing a unified national leadership. These are vital and essential issues and thus, the most important thing is to put an end to divisions and reunify the nation.
Al-Monitor: Despite this agreement being signed, many key issues remain unresolved such as the political-detainees dossier, the handing over of the Gaza Strip to the national reconciliation government and assimilating Gaza’s public sector employees, among other contentious issues. What, in your opinion, stands in the way of resolving said issues?
Barghouti: The most important point in the reconciliation agreement was the implementation of the decisions adopted by the Public Freedoms Committee emanating from the reconciliation agreement. These decisions included ending political detentions and guaranteeing freedom of expression and opinion. But, unfortunately, said decisions were never implemented, as both parties continue to violate people’s rights. As a result, I believe that the best avenue to overcome all obstacles faced by the various reconciliation dossiers is to implement the committee’s decisions. It is imperative that reconciliation be finalized, because the ongoing dispute between Hamas and Fatah is one for authority that lies under occupation. In other words, it is a dispute about something that lacks sovereignty and thus is unjustified. We would be better served if we agreed to unite in a national effort to attain the liberty of Palestinians.
There are other obstacles standing in the way of completing reconciliation efforts, among them that the unity government lacks the powers and sovereignty to perform its duties in Gaza. All these difficulties are engendered by an unwillingness to accept the premise of partnership, as some have grown accustomed to the one-party style of rule.
Al-Monitor: How do you assess the position taken by the United States, United Nations and European Union vis-a-vis the Palestinian cause? What more can they offer to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Barghouti: The EU and UN are blatantly negligent in their support of the Palestinian cause. As for the US, its total bias toward Israel has caused the peace process to fail, rendering it unable to play the role of mediator in said process. As a result, we are now in need of an expanded international framework capable of achieving positive and palpable results in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It would be similar to the one established to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue and Syrian crisis, while taking into account the implementation of UN resolutions aimed at ending settlement activities and the occupation. But, unfortunately, many international factions have double standards when it comes to the Palestinian issue, whereby what is implemented in other countries never sees the light when it comes to Palestine, as Israel has been given the right to act above international law. As such, this is a reality that we must overcome.
Either as a result of hesitation or bias, the EU, UN and US are not playing the required moral, political and legal role to pressure Israel into ending its occupation, although some positive developments have taken place in the pro-Palestinian-cause stances of many European countries, such as Sweden.
Al-Monitor: On Oct. 24, 2015, you were physically assaulted in Ramallah, with unknown individuals attempting to stab you. In your opinion, who stands behind said attack, and what are their motives?
Barghouti: As the attack unfolded, one of the attackers whispered in my ear: “Let the intifada help you now.” A local commission of inquiry was formed to investigate the attack, with no results forthcoming so far. Irrespective of the identity of the factions behind the attack, it advances Israeli interests.
Al-Monitor: On a personal level, if presidential elections are held in Palestine, will you be one of the candidates, as occurred in 2005, when you went up against President Mahmoud Abbas? If not, who, in your opinion, would be a good candidate?
Barghouti: When I ran in the presidential elections of 2005, I did so to enshrine the principle of democracy and pluralism inside Palestinian society, as well as to voice the opinions of the silent category of people. At that time, I received broad popular support and obtained the second-highest number of votes. But under the current circumstances, prior to discussing presidential elections, we must ask ourselves about the authority that we would be leading, for I think that the PA has been completely stripped of its powers by Israeli occupation forces. As for me personally, I have no intention to compete for any post or title, as my interest lies in unifying the Palestinian ranks to confront the occupation, and I content myself with that reply.