Palestinians will be free says activist Barghouti
Barghouti puts blame squarely at feet of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
Palestinian political activist Mustafa Barghouti has no doubt where to put the blame for the latest unproductive round of Mid-East peace talks.
"I personally don't believe that a peace deal can be made with a government led by Netanyahu," he said. "His insistence on continuing the policy of settlement and the expansion of settlements, at a rate that is unprecedented, is simply destroying the… potential of a two-state solution. I think we are about to lose the very last opportunity of a two-state solution - if we haven't already lost it."
The founding secretary-general of the political movement, the Palestinian National Initiative, was in the UK to take part in an event organised by the debating forum, Intelligence Squared. In a similar debate a few weeks ago in New York, he successfully argued that Palestine should be admitted as a member of the United Nations, partnered by New Israel Fund board member Daniel Levy.
He took the outcome of that debate as a hopeful indication of shifting American Jewish public opinion, since he estimated that the majority of that audience were Jewish. You cannot change the stance of the United States on the peace process, he says, unless you change the position of American Jewry.
Seven years ago, Mr Barghouti was a runner-up to Mahmoud Abbas for the Palestinian Authority presidency, claiming nearly 20 per cent of the vote. Whether he will stand again in elections due in May, he does not know. "It's too early to say, we'll see."
But he has no complaints with the position of the Palestinian leadership over the peace talks. "They have done everything they could," he said, compared with the latest Israeli proposals which he dismissed simply as "a tactic to lose time."
The "bantustanation of the West Bank is going on very quickly," he said. "It would be an illusion for any Israeli politician to think that there will be a Palestinian leader who can accept the bantustan as a substitute for a state without the Jordan Valley, without water."
As for unity among the Palestinians, the reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas may be going more slowly than expected, he said, but it was "important, because for me it is bringing democracy back to Palestine, democracy that was lost because of the divisions."
Hamas, too, he argued, has now lined up behind the strategy of non-violence he has long advocated. "They are adopting non-violence… they confirmed and repeated it many times. Their actions on the ground are a proof of that. They haven't done any kind of military action since January last year, either in the West Bank or Gaza."
A participant in the Madrid peace talks in 1991, Mr Barghouti said he had never been more optimistic than he was now, that the Palestinians would win their freedom. But whether that would be within a two-state solution, he was not sure. "My heart wants to see a two-state solution; my brain tells me it is very difficult," he said.
If not two states, the alternative was a one-state solution with "full democratic rights" for the Palestinians. Whichever the case, it was, he said, "an Israeli choice".