Barghouti calls for halt to relations with Israel
Independent Media’s group foreign editor Shannon Ebrahim had an exclusive interview with leading Palestinian political figure Mustafa Barghouti, who is on a visit to South Africa.
Q: Will the outcome of the Israeli elections this week make any difference for Palestinians?
A: I do not think the elections will make any difference, as there is no difference politically between the two competing camps.
One misrepresentation in the world media is to describe one camp as left and the other as right, but there is no left in these elections. Gantz is an extreme right-wing camp competing with another more extreme right-wing camp which is that of (Benjamin) Netanyahu.
If you examine every issue relating to Palestine of the two camps, there is no real difference. They all want to keep Jerusalem annexed, to deny Palestinians the right to have East Jerusalem as their capital, to keep the Jordan Valley under Israeli control, and neither will remove any settlement and will encourage settlement building. Both are against the rights of Palestinian refugees, and against the establishment of a Palestinian state. Both speak about a self-governing system under Israeli control, similar to the Bantustan authorities you had here.
The Gantz party talks about separation which is about separating the Palestinian people from their land.
It is quite possible that the two parties may form a national coalition. Both parties support the racist state national law which was passed in the Knesset, which excludes Palestinians from the right to self-determination. Both parties are consolidating a system of apartheid.
Q: If Israel moves ahead with annexing the Jordan Valley and 30% of the West Bank, how will Palestinians react?
A: Netanyahu’s plan is to annex 62% of the West Bank through two mechanisms: by imposing Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley (32%), and imposing Israeli law over the settlements which occupies 30% of the West Bank, called Area C.
His plan will be co-ordinated with the Trump administration. All Palestinians, regardless of their ideology, are unified against such a plan.
There is no hope of talking about negotiations with the establishment in Israel because the balance of power is skewed in their interests. What we need is a unified strategy to change the balance of power. The strategy should be based on six pillars: popular non-violent resistance; boycott divestment sanctions and international solidarity; internal unification with one unified Palestinian leadership; reintegration of all Palestinians in the diaspora around one goal; penetration of the ranks of those who support Israel’s policies.
We need to explain to them that what Netanyahu and the Israeli government is doing is dragging the Israeli people into a system of apartheid.
The Palestinian Authority should also stop security and intelligence co-operation with Israel, as it only benefits Israel. There has been a decision by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) structures, including the central council, to stop such co-operation, but unfortunately it has not been implemented.
Q: Do you still believe in a two-state solution?
A: What we need is a national dialogue and we should speak specifically about one issue. If Israel kills the two-state-solution, we have to unify and demand a one-state solution. One state with full democratic rights for everybody, like in South Africa.
Israel has already killed the two-state solution. The laziness and lack of action from the international community is also to blame, as it has failed to translate its support of the two-state solution into action.
The only thing that can deter Netanyahu and stop this process is if those countries which say they support the two-state solution impose sanctions on Israel for violating international law.
What is a more clear violation of international law than annexing the occupied territories, or imposing racist laws? Confiscating peoples homes and lands, and daily severe violations of human rights.
What is the reaction? Statements. Statements don’t worry Netanyahu, only punitive acts and sanctions do.
I always wonder why other countries are subjected to sanctions for doing far less than what Israel has done, while Israel is treated with impunity and as if it is above the law.
Q: Is there any real channel of communication between the Palestinian leadership and the White House?
A: None, because the White House violated all agreements and under Trump has become a participant in violating international law.
It has closed down the PLO office, cut off all aid to the Palestinian Authority, and attacked the UN Relief and Works Agency which is helping Palestinian refugees. They cut one-third of its budget and are trying to destroy it. Every UN session they are taking completely biased decisions in favour of Israel and this administration is following a very dangerous policy of encouraging settlement activities, which is illegal under UN resolutions.
Q: What other tangible steps should the international community be taking?
A: There are many things the international community could be doing.
Europe is one of the largest trading partners of Israel, and if they applied their own laws they should restrict relations with Israel, as Israel is violating European laws. Complete sanctions on all settlements and settlement products, UN publication of all companies that work in the settlements as this is illegal, this was a decision taken by the UN Human Rights Council, but never implemented. What South Africa did to downgrade its representation in Israel is a good step and it has to be fully implemented. It is one message that many countries could repeat like they did in 1967, after Israeli aggression against Arab countries.
This is a strong diplomatic instrument that has to be used. Something has to be done to stop the invasion of Israeli systems into Africa where Israel is abusing the needs of some countries for security and military equipment, water and irrigation systems.
They are trying to bribe some governments to establish relations with Israel when in the past they had reservations about that because of the violations of Palestinian human rights.
One thing that countries can do is to stop providing aid to Israel. Israel is the largest recipient of US aid in the world. Countries can also stop military co-operation with Israel and stop buying their military equipment. I believe India now has agreements with Israel for military equipment worth $12 billion (R176bn).
Q: What would you like South Africa to do going forward?
A: No country can understand our suffering better than South Africa.
Each time we have a visitor from South Africa, they say that the apartheid system in Palestine is far worse than they had in South Africa. That is because it’s a combination of apartheid, occupation and ethnic cleansing.
We hope South Africa can be at the forefront in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and help us with other African countries to be in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
South Africa is on the UN Security Council and it can play a useful role in supporting us. We are not against the Jewish people, but against the system of colonialism, apartheid and oppression. When we struggle, we struggle for us and them, because their future is so linked to our future.
There will never be peace in this region unless the Palestinians are free.
* Barghouti is a Palestinian physician, activist and politician who sits on the PLO Central Council, and is general secretary of the Palestinine National Initiative.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media’s group foreign editor