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Omar Barghouti: Will this further Palestinian rights or just divide power under occupation?

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. The new reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah to a large extent came about because of the changes in Egyptian politics. But how much does it change the politics of the Palestinian struggle? Now joining us to discuss all of this is Omar Barghouti. He joins us from Ramallah, Palestine. Omar is an independent Palestinian researcher and commentator and human rights activist. He’s a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. He’s also a founder of the Palestinian civil society boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions campaign. Thanks very much for joining us, Omar.


JAY: So, Omar, what led finally to this deal between Fatah and Hamas, and what’s the significance of it?

BARGHOUTI: I think, as you said, the Arab democratic spring has played a key role in both parties getting together, but also popular protest in the West Bank and Gaza, in the occupied territories, asking both parties to reunite. But the main issue is: reuniting on what program? It’s not enough to shake hands and kiss. The most important aspect is: what’s the program that they’ve reunited on? The key issue to Palestinians are our rights–our right to independence, to freedom, our right to living without Israeli apartheid, our right of the refugees to return home to the homes from which they were forcibly displaced during the 1948 Nakba. Now, on May 15 during the Nakba events, the whole world saw thousands of Palestinians yearning to go home, as all refugees do across the world, and Israel shooting them, killing, maiming, injuring–hundreds, actually, were injured in those civil, peaceful protests. Now, this has reminded the world and Palestinian leaders that without solving the issue of refugees, without the right of return in accordance with UN Resolution 194, which calls for return to the lands and homes from which they were ethnically cleansed, there will be no solution to the question of Palestine. This is the key to Hamas and Fatah in their agreement. If they uphold Palestinian rights, they will have the support from a great majority of Palestinians. If they fall again into the Oslo agreement trap, the Israeli-PLO agreement signed in 1993, of reducing the Palestinian people into just those in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, they will lose popular support everywhere.

JAY: So, Omar, what’s the substance of this agreement? On the face of it, there’s very profound differences between Hamas and Fatah, on issues of armed struggle, certainly on issues of a two-state solution and to what extent you recognize Israel. I mean, just what really have they agreed to? And have they at the very least agreed to some kind of process leading to elections?

BARGHOUTI: Unfortunately, that’s the only thing that they’re talking about, elections and dividing “power”–power between quotes. Under occupation, I don’t know how anyone can have power. But, anyway, this has taken most of the discussion–how to divide the seats among them, who goes where, who’s prime minister, how to divide the ministers among them, and so on, how to have elections, they’ve discussed that in detail. But there’s much less detail on how they’re going to achieve Palestinian rights. Elections of a Palestinian legislative council under occupation will not get us there. It’s an important step, but it’s not enough. They don’t have a clear political vision how Palestinians can end occupation, apartheid, and have the right of return realized. Without that, there’s no right to self-determination being realized, being exercised. So I’m a bit pessimistic about this agreement being very short on basic rights and very detailed on nonsense about elections and so on and dividing power.

JAY: Now, the PA, Fatah, they had planned to, in September at the United Nations, have a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, independence. Has Hamas signed on to this?

BARGHOUTI: It seems that Hamas has accepted that, yes. They’ve given the green light. They’re basically telling Mahmoud Abbas, go ahead and try and we’ll see what will happen. So in a way they’ve accepted to take part of the cake that’s the PA in return for allowing the leadership of Fatah to go ahead with the UN initiative and so on on its own. And this is quite problematic, because neither side can speak now, neither side has a mandate to speak on behalf of a majority of the Palestinian people. So with that initiative in September or with Hamas agreeing to whatever elections, regardless what they agree on, it’s not about Fatah and Hamas; it’s about the Palestinian people. The silent majority is with neither Fatah nor Hamas. And it’s about time to learn a lesson from the Arab democratic spring. You have to involve the masses in your decisions. The Palestinian public has to be involved democratically in making those decisions.

JAY: Who are the young people that stormed the Israeli border on Nakba Day? How were they organized? And to what extent did the old guard organizations play a role in this?

BARGHOUTI: The old guard was not involved at all. These are refugees, Palestinian refugees, including in the West Bank and Gaza. Most of the protests were by refugees, Palestinian refugees, and that’s little known in the West. Palestinian refugees are not all in exile. Yes, the great majority are in exile, have been ethnically cleansed outside of historic Palestine, what’s now Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. But part of the refugee, a huge part, remains in Gaza–80 percent of Gaza are refugees whose homes were destroyed, villages were destroyed, in what’s now Israel. And many refugees are in the West Bank as well, as well as in Israel. They have around 300,000 internally displaced refugees inside Israel, Palestinian citizens with Israeli citizenship who are not allowed to go to their villages inside Israel because they’re not Jewish. So most, the great majority of those refugees, those who tried to cross the border in Lebanon, in Syria, the occupied Golan Heights, Gaza, and the West Bank, were refugees who are insisting on their right to return home and want to remind the world, including Palestinian leadership, that this is our red line, you shall not cross that red line. The right of return is the key to solving the question of Palestine.

JAY: How have the events in Tunisia and Egypt, the uprisings there, to what extent have they helped to further inspire the Palestinian movement? And what is the state of organization of this new civil disobedience, democratic rights movement amongst Palestinians? To what extent is the organizational strength increasing?

BARGHOUTI: It’s a dialectical relationship: we influence them; they influence us. We both are mutually influencing one another. The Arab revolutions were very inspired by the First Palestinian Intifada, which was in 1987 till 1993, and also the beginning of the Second Palestinian Intifada that started in 2000. So Palestinian civil protest, peaceful resistance, also played a key role–as many of the leaders of the Arab revolutions are saying–in inspiring Arab masses to revolt against their dictators. And in return, we are very emboldened and inspired by the Arab peoples, their revolutions. I think the whole atmosphere in our region has changed irreversibly. We’re undergoing a massive historic transformation. And the sooner the Israelis realize that and the US government realizes that, the better it will be for everyone, because those who are still going by the old rules that the US and Israel dictate to their proxies–Mubarak, Ben Ali, and the Saudi King, and so on–to act on their behalf and do their bidding, now things are changing. Soon enough we’ll have democratically elected Arab governments that will speak for their people and will represent their people’s aspirations. And guess what? The people do not want Israel’s apartheid or occupation to continue. And the sooner the US listens to this message, if Obama is sincere about listening to the voice of the Arab masses, this is what the Arab masses are saying: freedom, social justice, and ending Israeli occupation and apartheid.

JAY: What are the demands of the Palestinian democratic movement? To what extent is there support for a two-state solution?

BARGHOUTI: The most important, perhaps the most effective part of Palestinian civil resistance is the BDS movement, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, of which I’m a founding member. The BDS movement started in 2005, but it was based on decades of Palestinian civil resistance, popular resistance, that people in the West usually have not heard of. Those movements led or culminated in the BDS movement in 2005. The BDS goal that came out from the great majority of Palestinian civil society in 2005 has three basic demands, and it has very close consensus among Palestinians, not just in the occupied territories: also Palestinian citizens of Israel, and, crucially, Palestinian refugees, the majority of the Palestinian people. The three demands are ending the 1967 occupation, with removing the colonies, the wall, and so on, ending the whole regime of occupation of Arab territories conquered by Israel in 1967, including the Golan Heights. Number two, ending Israel’s system of racial discrimination, which is a form of apartheid according to the UN definition of apartheid. Saying Israel is apartheid does not mean it’s identical to South Africa. There are many comparisons, but it’s not identical. We’re comparing with the UN definition of apartheid, and it fits the bill. The third and most important demand that all Palestinians agree on is the right of return for refugees, to return home. So those three demands have basically garnered the widest possible support we’ve seen among Palestinians in decades, literally in decades. The BDS national committee, the leadership of the global BDS movement, is the largest–by far the largest civil society alliance or coalition that has been formed in decades. So, clearly, those three demands form a consensus among Palestinians that does not endorse one state or two states. We remain neutral on that question, because it’s a huge coalition with a consensus. Some people support two states. Actually, the majority still support two states. A minority supports one state, a democratic state for all, as myself. I’ve always for 28 years supported one democratic, secular state for all, irrespective of identity. But in the BDS movement we do not take one position on one state, two states.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Omar. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And please don’t forget the donate buttons here, because if you don’t do that, we can’t do this.

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Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian researcher and human rights activist. He is a founding member of the global, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. His views have been presented on CNN, Bloomberg and BBC and opinion pieces published in the New York Times, New York Daily News, the Guardian, among others.