Where is Palestine’s Mandela?
By Alan Hart
The answer to my headline question is that he, Marwan Barghouti, is in an Israeli jail where he has been since his arrest in Ramallah by an IDF unit in 2002, after which, in 2004, he was sentenced to five life terms in prison. Some months before his arrest one of Israel’s security agencies tried and failed to assassinate him. A missile was fired at his bodyguard’s car and killed the bodyguard. (If the attempt on Barghouti’s life had succeeded, his killers would not have been brought to justice because as well as bulldozing Palestinian homes and stealing Palestinian land and water, Israel kills, murders, with impunity).
Regular readers of my occasional thoughts and analysis will know that I am in favour of the dissolution of the impotent, corrupt and discredited Palestine National Authority (PNA) and handing back to Israel complete and full responsibility for the occupation. As I have previously said, this could make calling and holding the Zionist monster to account for its crimes something less than a mission impossible. But…
If putting the PNA out of its misery is not an option, what the Palestinians of the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip need, urgently, are elections to give them the opportunity to bring on a new and credible leadership. If there were elections, and if Barghouti was pardoned, released and allowed to run for the office of “President of Palestine”, he would almost certainly win.
I’m also happy to speculate that in office he would do what collaborator Abbas, more or less under orders from the U.S., has failed to do – unite Fatah and Hamas, to enable the occupied and oppressed Palestinians to speak with one voice.
As I have written and said in the past, it bears repeating, there is no secret about Hamas’s real position. While it is not prepared to recognise Israel’s “right” to exist, nor should it do so, it is prepared, with Arafat-like pragmatism, to recognise and live with the actual existence of an Israel inside the pre-1967 war borders with, probably, mutually agreed minor border changes, and Jerusalem an open, undivided city and the capital of two states. Assertions about Hamas’s real position to the contrary by Greater Israel’s hardliners and the neo-fascists to the extreme right of them are Zionist propaganda “bs” (President Carter’s code for bullshit), out of the same stable as Netanyahu’s nonsense about Iran representing a threat to Israel’s existence.
Now 54, and fully fluent in Hebrew, Barghouti joined Fatah at the age of 15. He co-founded the Fatah Youth Movement on the West Bank and became Secretary General of Fatah in that territory. He is widely believed to have been the leader on the ground of the first and second intifadas. (Once it was underway the oversight director of the first intifada was actually Arafat’s number two, Abu Jihad, from the bedroom of his home in Tunis; and that’s why Israel assassinated him, in his bedroom, on 16 April 1988. If he had not been assassinated, Abu Jihad would have succeeded Arafat and the Palestinian cause would have been in the best possible hands at leadership level).
At about the time of his arrest Barghouti’s position on ending the conflict was in this statement:
I, and the Fatah movement to which I belong, strongly oppose attacks and the targeting of civilians inside Israel, our future neighbour. I reserve the right to protect myself, to resist the Israeli occupation of my country and to fight for my freedom. I still seek peaceful coexistence between the equal and independent countries of Israel and Palestine based on full withdrawal from Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.
In jail Barghouti has continued to condemn attacks on civilians in Israel but also stressed that he supported armed resistance to Israeli occupation. (In international law all occupied peoples have the right to resist occupation by all means including armed struggle).
Even in Israeli political and media circles there has been some debate about pardoning and releasing Barghouti. Following his January 2006 re-election to the Palestinian Legislative Council (he was first elected to it in 1996), Yossi Beilin, a foreign policy specialist and former Israeli government minister, and a voice of some sanity, called for Barghouti to be pardoned. And it was probably on advice from Beilin that in January 2007 Shimon Peres, then deputy prime minister, declared that if elected to the presidency he would sign a pardon for Barghouti. He has not yet done so and I think it’s reasonable to assume that Netanyahu said to him something like, “Don’t even think about it!”
The last thing Netanyahu wants is a Palestinian leader who commands the respect of his people and will not accept crumbs from Zionism’s table.
In his tribute to Nelson Mandela at the memorial service in Soweto’s FNB stadium, President Obama said that he, Mandela, “understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet.” Barghouti understands that, too.
What a real peace process needs is an Israeli leader who understands that an acceptable amount of justice for the Palestinians is an idea that can’t be destroyed by military might and oppression of all kinds. Such a leader would pardon and free Marwan Barghouti.
To the Zionist argument that he can’t be freed because he is a terrorist, there can be only one response.
Whether Barghouti was or was not a terrorist is an irrelevance. Mandela was described as a “terrorist”, and so were many of those who became prime ministers and presidents of Britain’s former colonies when they gained their independence. And what about Zionism’s own, Menachem Begin for example, arguably the most successful terrorist of modern times if not all of human history? (Begin had a leading role in driving out of Palestine by terrorism first the occupying British and then three-quarters of its indigenous Arab inhabitants).
To that response could be added the fact that Israel sometimes resorts to state terrorism.
There is good reason to believe that if Barghouti was pardoned and freed and became the president of Palestine, he would pursue a Mandela-like path of reconciliation to the extent that he would be committed to the wellbeing and security of Jews in a state of Israel inside more or less its borders as they were on the eve of the 1967 war. So there is a case for saying that Israel needs Barghouti as much as the Palestinians do.
There is now one thing (apart from Netanyahu!) that neither Israel nor the occupied and oppressed Palestinians need. It was drawn to my attention in an article by Abdel Bari Atwan, the former editor-in-chief of Al Quds, the only Arab newspaper while Abdel Bari was in charge of it that was required reading in the foreign offices of the Western world. Abdel Bari is no longer with the paper because its principal Gulf Arab funders were not prepared to tolerate his truth-telling any longer and demanded his departure. That didn’t come as a surprise to me because when three years ago I interviewed him for my Heart of the Matter series for Press TV (which can be found on my web site www.alanhart.net), he told me that the chair in which I was sitting opposite him at his desk had been occupied some weeks previously by a Saudi royal who offered him a vast amount of money to take his leave of the paper.
Abdel Bari’s article which commanded my full attention was headlined Al-Qaeda Arrives In The West Bank. It included this:
When I met Sheikh Osama bin-Laden in Tora Bora caves in the 1996, I conveyed to him people’s criticism that the organization focuses on fighting in Afghanistan, Southeast Asia (Thailand and southern Philippines), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chechnya, Daghistan, and elsewhere and that it did not carry out any operations against Israeli targets in and outside Palestinian territories. He told me the reason was the difficulty in crossing the border and the vicious security measures that the Arab security agencies adopted against his organization… It appears (mainly because of the mayhem in Iraq and Syria) things have now changed, at least partially.
About how things are changing Abdel Bari wrote this:
The Mujahedeen Shura Council, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda, yesterday announced in a statement that the three young men killed by the Israeli army in Hebron on Tuesday were members of one of its cells. The statement, posted on the internet, said: “As we announce the martyrdom of this group, we bring to the Muslim nation the glad tidings that, praise be to God, global jihad now has a foothold in the proud West Bank after everyone tried to foil every seed planted there.” Shin Bet (Israeli internal security) officials said the extremist network had established a safe haven in the West Bank, stored weapons, and planned attacks against Israeli targets and against the PNA.
If this information is true – and it appears to be true – it will shock both the PNA and Israel because al-Qaeda’s arrival in the occupied West Bank is a very serious security breach that will have repercussions because, judging from al-Qaeda’s activities in other regions, it means martyrdom-seeking operations and booby-trapped cars.
I personally do not rule out such a breach. Hamas has not carried out any military attacks against Israeli targets and settlements in the West Bank because it has a sort of “truce” with both the Israelis and the PNA in the West Bank and Gaza, and with it refraining from launching any systematic operations in order to evade an Israeli incursion into Gaza, which it rules, I believe it is inevitable that al-Qaeda and its supporters will try to find a foothold; and that they will likely succeed in recruiting enthusiastic young men dismayed at the state of deadlock and influenced by the Arab revolutions.
If al-Qaeda (and/or affiliates) did succeed in establishing enough of a foothold on the occupied West Bank from which to launch attacks to kill Israeli Jews, that could trigger a final Zionist ethnic cleansing.
It also could be that a credible Palestinian leadership headed by Marwan Barghouti after elections would represent the very last chance for stopping the countdown to catastrophe for all.
My plea to all who campaign for justice for the Palestinians is – give a priority to calling and lobbying for the release of Marwan Barghouti, the man who could become the Palestinian Mandela in terms of the reconciliation needed if the two-state solution is to be resurrected from its grave.
If it was, my guess is that that Barghouti would entertain the same hope as Arafat – that one or two generations of a two-state peace would lead by mutual consent to a one state with equal rights for all.
James Robbins, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, made what I thought was a most perceptive comment a few days ago. He said words to the effect that maybe it was not Mandela who had been in jail for 27 years but most of South Africa’s whites – in the jail of apartheid ideology. In the case of Marwan Barghouti, I say maybe it’s not him who is in jail but most Israeli Jews – in the jail of Zionism’s ideology.