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Palestinian Realities

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Edited Transcript of Remarks by Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi
'For the Record' No. 296 (18 June 2008)

Even the most critical opponents of the South African apartheid regime argue that the system created by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is worse than apartheid at any given point in time. Speaking at the Palestine Center, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi explained that since the Annapolis meeting in November 2007, Israel has created more facts on the ground that enforce the system of segregation. 

The Palestine Center
Washington, DC
16 June 2008

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi:

Good morning to you. Thank you for hosting me.  I really appreciate the invitation.  I appreciate also the flexibility of the timing. My schedule went in different directions, as it usually does.  I think it's a good opportunity to meet all of you and at least to update you about what's going on.  Since we don't have much time and to leave space for some questions and so on, I will be brief in my comments. 

Let me start by saying if we look at the situation today in Palestine and in the Middle East, what we notice is a very sharp and clear picture of the failure of the so-called Annapolis process.  When we criticized the approach a few months ago, we were told that we were pessimistic too much and that we should give it a chance.  Many people thought that there would be big change simply because the United States, this time, is getting involved, in contradiction with previous experiences.  Well, it's better to look here at the facts instead of making judgments. 

When we look at the facts, we see the following.  Since Annapolis, the number and the rate at which settlement expansion is going is much bigger, much faster and much more dangerous than any time before.   The only document that came out of Annapolis was not a document that would identify the final status issues that should be dealt with.  That was not a document that made a timeline, for instance, for particular implementation of any of the issues or even a timeline about finalizing negotiations about any of the main issues like Jerusalem, settlements, borders, etc.  The only document that came out was a document that repeatedly, six times, spoke about the Roadmap.  The Roadmap, in its first point, speaks about the freezing of settlements.  So what happened since Annapolis? 

The rate at which settlements expand is 20 times more than before Annapolis.  Just before the most recent visit of [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice to the Middle East, Israel announced the creation of 7,974 new apartments or units in Jerusalem, East Jerusalem.  In comparison, between 2002 and 2006, only 1,600 units were built.  That means that since Annapolis, they're building six times more than what was built in four years in East Jerusalem.  According to the Peace Now movement, 2008 has witnessed the fastest growth of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in ten years.  What we see here is constant expansion of settlements in an area which is being negotiated and, at the same time, we have 105 so-called unauthorized settlements, spots and units, none of which have been removed.  Although, I don't agree totally with the whole concept of unauthorized settlements because I think all settlements are unauthorized, it's not up to the Israeli government to decide what is legal and what is illegal.  Every settlement is illegal by international law and by U.N. resolutions.  But even if we accept that American concept of unauthorized spots, none of these 105 spots have been removed. 

During the time since Annapolis until today, the number of Israeli attacks on Palestinian territories has increased by 300 percent.  There were more than 2,420 attacks, including more than 1,000 attacks in the West Bank itself.  Forty five percent of the attacks took place in the West Bank.  The claim is usually that Israel is attacking because of the presence of missiles, but in the West Bank there are no missiles and clearly the continuation of these attacks have led to a sharp increase in the number of Palestinian victims.  During the whole year of 2007, Israel killed 404 Palestinians.  Since Annapolis and up until today, Israel has killed 471 Palestinians including 61 children.  That is a sharp increase in a period that is six months less or seven months less than the whole year of 2007. 

If we talk about freedom of movement and checkpoints, [Quartet Middle East Envoy] Mr. [Tony] Blair was assigned, was given a job description which did not allow him to interfere with political matters, which was a bit strange, but a job description that restricted his intervention to economic affairs and improving the freedom of movement of Palestinians in the West Bank.  And that's why he was assigned to speak with the prime minister from the Palestinian side and with [Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud] Barak from the Israeli side.  Well thanks to the efforts of Mr. Tony Blair, during the Annapolis period, we had 521 checkpoints.  Today, we have 607'an increase by 86 checkpoints.  The building of the Wall, which is very serious, very dangerous, very instrumental in destroying any potential for a two-state solution, is going on at a very fast rate.  The Wall in 90 percent of the cases or 85 percent of the cases is built inside the Occupied Territories and it is separating Palestinians from Palestinians not Palestinians from Israelis.  In addition to building the Wall, the Israelis have invented recently a more sophisticated system of segregation of roads.  The major main roads inside the West Bank are now practically confiscated, surrounded by a wall on both sides, and they are only accessible to Israelis or Israeli settlers.  If a Palestinian like me regardless of who I am, even a member of Parliament or anything like that, is caught driving or walking on any of the main roads, like 443 road, we will be sentenced to six months in jail. 

According to a friend of mine whose name is Ronnie Kasrils'he is a Jewish minister [of intelligence] in the government of South Africa, an old fighter against apartheid'he came and visited us and he said in a press conference that comparing Israel to apartheid is an insult to apartheid because the system Israel has created in the West Bank and Occupied Territories in general is much worse than apartheid at any given point in time.  The segregation of roads never existed, not in the United States during the civil rights movement, not in South Africa during apartheid system.  This is totally insane.  When we speak about apartheid, I know how many people got angry at [former U.S.] President [Jimmy] Carter when he used the term, which pleased me a lot.  The term pleased me a lot, not the attacks on President Carter.  We've been in dialogue with him since 2003, and we were very pleased that he came and saw the reality himself and then wrote his book.  But some people get angry because we use the word apartheid.  They think it's an exaggeration.  But let me give you some figures about the reality. 

First of all, let's take water production.  We produce in the West Bank 936 million cubic meters of water.  Israel takes away 800 million of them.  The main reason why the Wall goes like a snake inside [Occupied] Palestinian Territories is not just the settlement annexation, it's also because that Wall goes inside the Occupied Territories to appropriate and control most of the water reservoirs, whether in Ariel, Salfeit area or Jordan Valley or in the north in Qalqilya region.  On average, a Palestinian citizen is allowed no more than 50 cubic meters of water per capita per year while Israeli settlers are allowed to use 2,400'48 times more than Palestinians.  The same time, the Israeli GDP [gross domestic product] per capita today is almost $25,000; $24,500 to be precise.  The Palestinian GDP per capita is between $800 and $1000.  That means they make 25 times more than us, but we are obliged by the Paris agreement and by Israeli orders to have unified market and unified tax laws.  And we are obliged to buy products at Israeli market price when we have a difference of a GDP that is 25 times more than the Palestinian GDP.  More than that, on average, when we buy water from Israel'we buy our water from Israel'we have to pay 5 shekels per unit while Israelis pay 2.4.  We have to pay 13 shekels per unit for electricity while Israelis pay 6.4.  And you have segregation of roads; you have the Wall, which is destroying the Palestinian contiguity of land.  If you have this situation, what would you call it if you don't call it apartheid? What other term could one use? 

In summary, I think, unfortunately the Annapolis process was not a peace process.  In my opinion and with any objective analysis of the situation, one would come to the conclusion that the Annapolis process was nothing but an effort to diffuse a potential that existed then for maybe some process that could be related to the Arab League Initiative.  It was a way of diffusing a pressure that was rising in Europe and some other places to convene an international peace conference and to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli issue on the basis of international law.  It was a process that eventually led to giving Israel the time it needs to continue settlements building, to continue having the checkpoints and restrictions, to continue creating this apartheid system while the United States administration was conceived or perceived to be practicing peace in the region.  So, they got the time they want and soon everybody will say this administration is busy with elections and nobody is going to expect anything from them. 

But what we have lost is two things.  We have lost time and we have lost an opportunity.  The opportunity cost of the Annapolis process is dramatic when it comes from a Palestinian, at least, and Arab perspective.  You cannot speak about building peace while one side is destroying the basis of peace.  You cannot speak of a two-state solution when Israel is destroying the very potential of having any reasonable contiguous or viable Palestinian state.  That's why, I think, given these situations and given the description I have given to you, I think it would be clear, it would be proper not to cheat ourselves about the situation.  And let us assume and agree that probably this is not a time for a resolution of the conflict.  What is going on is a continuation of struggle. And what gives me a lot of hope, huge hope in Palestine is this wonderful rise of nonviolent resistance in Palestine, which we are very much part of, which we encourage, which we advocate and we participate in; this huge expansion of demonstrations from one place to another that brings back the spirit of 1988, the first intifada, the spirit of nonviolence, the spirit of participation, the spirit of determination not to give up our rights.  That is combined with also a rise of [an] international solidarity movement. 

Today, I had meetings at Congress and I'm going to have more meetings today. I could have even more meetings tomorrow, but I have to leave early.  But I tell you, I've never seen receptiveness like this.  I'm not promising much change, but I'm saying people are listening in a way that is unprecedented.  In other words, I think the people are beginning to see that the king is naked.  The level of discrimination that Israel is creating in the Occupied Territories, the unbelievable images of this horrible Wall that is being built cannot be hidden.  What we need is just more systematic efforts, more unified efforts, more scientific, reasonable, rational language to advocate the Palestinian cause and definitely more and better coordination between people who believe in that. 

That leads me to my final point, which is the issue of the internal Palestinian situation.  The most drastic, negative sign that we have today in Palestine is this terrible division between Gaza and the West Bank, between Hamas and Fateh.  A terrible division that has affected a very good potential we have for democracy because, I believe, we've managed to build a democratic model that is definitely the best in the Arab world.  It was killed. It was assassinated.  It was strangulated by international isolation of the Palestinian people.  Maybe some people can find 10,000 causes why they should have isolated Hamas government, although I in principle [am] against isolating any government that is democratically elected.  Everybody should be given that chance.  But nothing can justify the fact that the world community, especially the United States and Europe, were mobilized by Israel to strangle it'the first democratic experience when we had a national unity government which represented 96 percent of the Palestinian people and which provided a very good opportunity for sustaining democracy.   Going again into democratic elections and probably fixing the situation, that was a disaster.  Killing the national unity government was a disaster and it was killed.  Believe me; it wasn't killed because of internal conflict.  There were internal factors.  There were always extremists on this side and extremists on the other side who were pushing for confrontation.  But, the majority was for unity.  If it wasn't for this isolation of the national unity government, we would not have had this collapse. 

That's why I believe that our future as Palestinians depends on finding a way of regaining unity; on finding a way of going back to a democratic system; on finding a way to going back to elections again.  Not through what is going today where practically two autocracies are functioning both in Gaza and the West Bank; two autocracies, both of which are killing the rule of law [and] both of which are negating the rule of the legislative power and the legislative council.  Both governments are practically illegal.  If you follow the real basic law, both governments are violating the law and their hands concentrated on the legislative, the executive and the judiciary powers.  This is not what Palestine needs.  That's why we need unity again not only for the sake of our national cause, but we need unity again for the sake of regaining a Palestinian democratic system; for giving hope of the future and also for giving hope for the efforts to modernize and reform the Palestinian society in the right direction, in a way that would make us much stronger than we are today. 

That's why in the Palestinian National Initiative'a movement that represents a democratic alternative; a movement that is 100 percent totally independent from Hamas and Fateh; and a movement that believes in unity and the right of all to participate in the political system without discrimination'we believe in a strategy that consists of four components.  The first is Palestinian popular, nonviolent struggle that should expand and spread and is expanding and spreading, by the way, in the form of the struggle against the Wall, in particular, and against the siege in Gaza.  A second is to find a way of regaining Palestinian national unity and establishing a unified Palestinian leadership.  We have to admit that in 20 years we did not have a unified leadership.  For the last 20 years, we had divided Palestinians, and they were divided starting from the Oslo Agreement.  The Oslo Agreement created a huge, deep division in the Palestinian side, a division that also affected the relationship between people in the diaspora and people inside.  Since then, we've been divided.   The election and the democratic process give us an opportunity, a chance, and we must get back to that as a way of regaining Palestinian unity.  And finally, the third point is to help people survive under very difficult circumstances and to create the utmost and strongest possible international solidarity movement with the Palestinian people.  I have a lot of hope and I am very optimistic about the future.  I think when you see the resilience of the people on the ground and the failure of all efforts to force Palestinians to leave, one cannot be but hopeful. 

Thank you.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council representing the Palestinian National Initiative of which he is secretary general. He served as Minister of Information in the short-lived Palestinian unity government. He is a physician and a former candidate for president of the Palestinian Authority.  

This 'For the Record' transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker's views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.

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