Dr Mustafa Barghouthi Interview

JANA WENDT: Dr Barghouthi, after the Legislative Council forced the resignation of Mr Arafat`s Cabinet, one official was quoted as saying, “We`re telling the king, your power is not absolute.

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” Now, do you see this as a turning point for the Palestinian Authority?

DR MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI, PALESTINE PEOPLE`S PARTY: Yeah, it is definitely a turning point for the Palestinian people, because this establishes a very good system of accountability, at least the beginning of a system of accountability. For the first time, the Legislative Council is taking power in its hands and is acting independently from the Executive Authority and that, by itself, is a very great step towards the democratisation of the Palestinian system, which would not really be finished without having free democratic elections in Palestine, which are now identified to happen in January. The question is whether there will be sufficient pressure from the international community to force Israel to allow elections to take place and to withdraw its forces from the territories and allow freedom of movement and the lifting of seizure and closure, so that Palestinians can have free, democratic elections of a new Cabinet – of a new council and, thus, of a new Cabinet, hopefully.

JANA WENDT: Let`s backtrack a little again to what did happen last week. Corruption is the issue that appears at the heart of what the legislators were reacting to. How widespread would you say corruption is in the Authority?

DR MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: I think there are elements of that, but there are also elements of incompetence and there is also the fact that the council and the Palestinian public was not satisfied with the amount of change that was made in the Cabinet. You see people expected a much wider, stronger change and reform. What happened is that Mr Arafat just changed a few ministers and this was perceived as a cosmetic change, as a response to pressure from outside. The demand that was happening in the council – and we were part of that, from the Palestinian national initiative – was to…we were demanding that the government talks to the people and does not just do steps in response to external pressure.

JANA WENDT: How true are these images that we hear from ordinary Palestinians of Palestinian Authority officials lining their pockets, of driving around in luxury cars and owning villas when needy Palestinians are left without? How true is that picture?

DR MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: Well, it`s partially true, maybe, and it applies to particular people, but the truth of – and the reality is that this is not the only issue. There are many other issues and one of the main issues on the ground is that people feel that there has been a failure of the peace process and people feel that their situation deteriorated rapidly and what we have now is a full reoccupation of the West Bank. What we have now on the ground is expansion of settlements on a daily basis. 45 new settlements have been created by the Israeli Government during the last year. What we have on the ground is seizure and closure and curfew. Some cities like Nablus has been under curfew for 90 days, non-stop, day and night, and the closure was lifted only for 80 hours. So the whole economy is attacked. The seizure and closure is preventing women from reaching hospitals to give birth. Sick patients are unable to reach hospitals to get treatment. It`s a disaster and this is caused, of course, first of all, by occupation, but, also, it`s an outcome of a failing peace process.

JANA WENDT: The recent publication of an article by a former Palestinian minister, Nabil Amr, in which he freely criticises Mr Arafat for failing to strike a deal at Camp David. That`s seen by many observers as a significant turning point in the criticism of Mr Arafat. Do you see it that way?

DR MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: No, I don`t agree with Mr Nabil Amr, who has been a minister for seven years and he just recently resigned and he, himself, bears a certain amount of responsibility for what`s happening. I see it in a different way. I see that, in Camp David, we did not have a real offer and we could not have concluded a deal but, unfortunately, that perception was not presented sufficiently to the world. If you look at the map, you will see very clearly that the Israelis failed to produce something that would provide the possibility for a two-state solution, failed to provide something that could be considered fair, and the result of that is what we are witnessing now – a creation of an apartheid system on the ground.

JANA WENDT: Dr Barghouthi, finally, can we expect the Palestinian leadership to again support Saddam Hussein if there is a strike on Iraq?

DR MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: Well, I hope there will be no war at all, because I don`t think anybody in the world wants to see war, except maybe those who make wars in this world. So we think that maybe the most recent decision from Iraq to accept the presence of observers will reduce the tension and the pressure, and that was a wise decision. Palestinians are not for war. They are not supporters of Saddam Hussein. They`ve never been. They are for peace and for peaceful resolution.

JANA WENDT: But they were in the last Gulf War, weren`t they?

DR MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: No, I think this is another misperception that was presented about Palestinians and there was an exaggeration of certain phenomena. Palestinians, we declared – I personally declared that, back at the time when Kuwait was occupied, I said in the United Nations in Geneva that we, the people who have been occupied all our lives, cannot support any occupation but, one the other hand, we don`t like military aggressions or military actions and we`d like to see this thing resolved peacefully and in a nice way. Also, we want the world, the international community, which is putting so much pressure now on Iraq to accept UN resolutions, to put the same amount of pressure on Israel to accept UN resolutions. We want one international standard everywhere, not double standards.

JANA WENDT: But if I could just definitively get this from you – there will be no support from the Palestinian leadership for Saddam Hussein if there is a strike on Iraq?

DR MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: I think there are efforts to trap us again to be identified once with international terror, once with the Afghan problem, once with the Iraqi problem. We have one problem to concentrate on and that is our own problem, the problem of occupation, which has become the longest occupation in modern history. 35 years of occupation is too long to tolerate and it must end and we want to get rid of that.

JANA WENDT: Dr Barghouthi, with respect, I understand the message you`re transmitting here, but what is the answer to the question – the Palestinian leadership will or will not support Saddam Hussein if there`s a strike on Iraq?

DR MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: No, we`ve never supported Saddam personally. We know that he has lots of problems and we support the survival of the Iraqi people, the right of the Iraqi people to make their own choices, but we don`t support aggression against Iraq or any other country.

JANA WENDT: Alright. Dr Barghouthi, we must leave it there. Thanks very much for your time.