Interview: Dr. Mustapha Barghouthi

IMEMC exclusive Interview with Dr. Mustapha Barghouthi, Palestinian independent legislator, on the current situation in Gaza, and his public statement that the crisis could cause the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority
Q: Could you speak briefly on your statement calling for a possible disollution of the Palestinian Authority?

Mustapha Barghouthi: Well I said if the Israeli attacks continue at this rate, practically, the Palestinian Authority will disappear. And it is, anyhow, a Palestinian Authority under complete and full occupation with absolutely limited authority and with no sovereignty whatsoever, and now half of the cabinet are in prison, and 27 parliamentarians are also kidnapped, so it is quite possible, that at this rate of destruction that is taking place to authority facilities, and with the authorities incapable of paying salaries or providing any serious services, it becomes obvious that this will probably be the end of the authority. Of course if the authority ends, it does not mean that the national Palestinian liberation movement will end. It will simply continue. But, the whole Authority, everything that was produced by Oslo, could simply disappear if Israel continues this policy.

Q: Don’t you think such a move would reflect badly on Palestine in the international arena, giving the impression that since coming so close to a national unity government that everything kind of falls apart when Israel invades?

A: No I am not calling for the dissolution of the Authority, I am just warning that the Israeli measures could lead to this.

Q: And how have the different factions responded to this Israeli attack? Is the attack affecting Palestinian internal unity?

A: In my opinion it is very strange that Israel is so severe in its attacks against Palestinians exactly at a point when all Palestinian groups agreed on a national platform, a common document. For the first time in 20 years we have a common political program, which is a great achievement. And it’s a program that accepts two-state solution that accepts the Arab initiative, accepts international legitimacy, accepts UN Charters. So for the first time there is a very strong basis for a unified Palestinian position. That is, for a two-state solution. And if that is the case, it is not understandable why Israel is so severe in its attacks. In my opinion, there are only two ways of dealing with this situation, either Israel breaks down more walls, and then its an endless vicious cycle of violence, or we could all go now to an international peace conference on the basis of that program.

Q: And do you think that it is a coincidence that the Israeli attack was timed directly after the recognition of Israel by Hamas, just a day after that recognition?

A: I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think Israel does not want to negotiate with anybody, and that’s why they don’t want Palestinians to even be moderate, and they don’t want them to have moderated their position. Because it is easier for Israel to say that there is nobody to negotiate with. That’s the whole Israeli plan. Olmert’s plan is about claiming that there is no Palestinian partner and imposing unilateral solutions. That’s why Israel is doing what it is doing. But while we expect that from Israel, it shouldn’t be the world’s position. The world community should take a different stand, demanding a peace process, not encouraging wars in the region.

Q: Do you think that the statements of Abbas condemning any kind of attack on Israeli forces have contributed to that Israeli agenda?

A: I am not aware of such a statement.

Q: Mainly, he was talking about rocket attacks and he said that Palestinians…

A: He has his own view and his own opinion on resistance in general, it’s his position. But he signed the common platform

Q: So you don’t think that he is working towards the agenda of Olmert and of Israel?

A: No, I wouldn’t use these words.

Q: What about the governance right now in the Palestinian Authority territories and the rule of law? How has the invasion affected it?

A: Terribly, because now when you destroy the ministries, the infrastructure… We were already having serious difficulties having an independent judiciary system, and now it’s much more complicated. When so many institutions and structures are destroyed, when you don’t have electricity to run facilities, it is absolutely terrible.

Q: Would you say that the attack on infrastructures and government buildings is a violation of international law?

A: Of course. Like all the other attacks, which have cost us up until now 100 deaths, mainly children and women, and more than 250 injuries.

Q: And what about the infrastructure that has been attacked by Israel?

A: Do you want to know what was destroyed?

Q: Yes, and how it has affected Palestinians?

A: They destroyed the main electricity station, the only electricity station in Gaza. That means 80 per cent of the people are without electricity. It means that the water supply is totally affected. It means that there are 300 000 people living in high rises who cannot get water to their houses. It means partial paralysis and possibly full paralysis soon of the sewage systems. It means that Gaza could sink in sewage and that could be a serious public health disaster. Infectious disease could start. We already have reports of WHO that indicate that the number of intestinal infectious disease and diarrhea has increased by 160% already. So it’s a public health disaster. It’s quite possible we will see a very serious situation.

Q: You were calling also for an investigation on a claim by doctors that they were seeing unusual wounds in some of the victims?

A: Yes, we demanded an international, independent team to come and investigate the Israeli weapons that are used against civilians because we see terrible effects, including severe burns, not just injuries but also severe burns that are unprecedented. We think that the only way to find out what is going on is to have an independent team that is qualified to examine the affects of these weapons

Q: How has the media coverage been?

A: Worldwide?

Q: Yes

A: Awful. Extremely influenced by the Israeli monopoly and Israeli terminology, and we think it’s not good because there isn’t really an impartial approach to covering the media. I’m not denying that there are good places, good people and good journalists who are trying their best. But I think overall if you take the American media, there is an overwhelming adoption of the Israeli narrative and there is no fair treatment of what is happening, and people are entitled to knowing the objective reality and the truth, and that is the duty of journalists. But unfortunately when it comes to the Palestinian question, this is not the case

Q: Do you think that the Israeli call for journalists to leave the Gaza Strip and prevention of some journalists from entering has something to do with this?

A: Totally. Not only that, I think Israel does not want anybody to know what is going on. That is why they were shocked that the first three of four days after the Israeli soldier there was caught there were so many international journalists in the region and they started to cover the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and the suffering of the Palestinian people, and then Israel did its best to kick them out as much as it could. More than that, Israel is preventing so many people who are coming from the States and so many parts of the world from entering the Occupied Territories because they don’t want to allow an international presence like there was in 2002

Q: There has been some talk about what is legitimate warfare and what is not. Do you think that it is legitimate to take a prisoner of war, an Israeli soldier as a prisoner?

A: I think Israel is playing a game here. One time they say that they are conducting a war against Palestinians, and when you say then you have to apply the rules of war, which means the possibility of having prisoners by both sides, they say that it is occupation. When you say then you have to follow the Fourth Geneva convention, which there are duties of an occupying power, they say it’s a war. It’s a game of terminology that Israel uses all the time, since 2000, alternating between, they try to take what is best for them from two systems. And they try to be totally unaccountable, and that applies to this question.

Q: Just one last thing about the Palestinian Authority being rendered ineffective. How can the gaps that are left be filled in? Are international organizations stepping in?

A: The most important thing is to have a unified Palestinian leadership. That means the implementation of the platform they have agreed on. If we have a unified leadership then we have a responsible leadership, we have a leadership that is accountable to the people. Then with government or no government we have leadership. If we don’t have unified leadership, even if we have a government, it still wouldn’t work

Q: And Israel is preventing the implementation of that?

A: Also Palestinians are not doing enough to do it

Q: How so?

A: Because they are not paying attention to the fact that it should be done very quickly

Q: And how could it be done, the implementation?

A: By all the groups agreeing on immediate implementation at least on part of the unified agreement that was in the platform.

Q: And I guess they’re distracted by the invasion?

A: There are distractions, there are difficulties, which I don’t underestimate. But I think is not enough political attention to the fact that options of unified leadership and unified strategy and unified narrative has been one of our major weaknesses since the sixties.

Q: Can this be done with one-third of the government in Israeli prisons?

A: Absolutely. Yes, of course it can be done. We are not talking about substituting the government. We gave the government an umbrella of low vote confidence, but that’s not the issue. The issue is not about allowing the Israeli  arrests to affect the government, no, it’s about unifying the leadership. The government can continue, what we need is a unified leadership and everyone knows what I am speaking about. It’s a place where decisions are made collectively and together.

Q: So this wouldn’t imply that the Hamas government has failed?

A: No it would imply that later we would have a national unity government. This would not be a failure to anybody, it will be a success for all groups.

Q: Would Fatah agree with that?

A: That’s what I hope we should have.

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