Sunday, December 05, 2004

A Possible Partner, Viewed Warily in Israel

A Possible Partner, Viewed Warily in Israel:
“Marwan Barghouti, the 45-year-old Palestinian politician and presidential candidate who sits in an Israeli jail, is widely considered to be among the best of his generation: charming, articulate and intelligent, even if a bit of a showboat. Many Israelis regard Mr. Barghouti, fluent in Hebrew and English, as a future Palestinian leader.

But his record is a complicated one, even his Israeli admirers agree. As Israelis contemplate whether Mr. Barghouti might be a man they could work with in the post-Arafat era, his past would seem to put him beyond the pale, at least for a current set of Israeli and American leaders who vow to combat terrorism and demand a Palestinian leadership that disavows it.

In May, Mr. Barghouti was convicted in an Israeli court on five counts of murder, one of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, and activity and membership in a terrorist organization. He was sentenced to five life sentences, plus 40 years for five murders.

Mr. Barghouti did little to contest his trial, called it a political show and insisted that he was always a political leader, not a military one. And there are some Israelis who say that nearly any young Palestinian leader of the period of armed intifada could have been convicted on similar charges, and that choosing to arrest Mr. Barghouti, who never pulled a trigger, was as much a political decision as a legal one.

But there are also a number of prominent Israelis who know Mr. Barghouti well who say they are deeply troubled by his turn toward violence against Israeli soldiers and civilians as a tactic of the Palestinian struggle for an independent state.…”

Yossi Beilin is a prominent Israeli politician of the left, a central figure in every serious negotiation with the Palestinians in the past 15 years. Mr. Beilin deeply believes in a final settlement that would create a Palestinian state on nearly all of the West Bank and Gaza.

But Mr. Beilin says he has lost respect for Mr. Barghouti, who privately threatened violence against Israel in May 2000, as President Clinton's peace initiative was failing. Mr. Barghouti also was a prime instigator of the intifada, which began a few months later and has cost more than 4,000 lives on both sides - nearly three-quarters of them Palestinian.

Mr. Beilin contends that Mr. Barghouti allowed himself to be used by Yasir Arafat to create a militant group within the main Fatah movement - Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades - to compete with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which opposed any deal with Israel.

In a meeting on May 14, 2000, at a Jerusalem hotel, "Barghouti told me that he wanted to continue the use of violence, and that if there were no peace agreement by September, he would use violence," Mr. Beilin said. "He didn't call it intifada," which means uprising in Arabic. "But he said that to fight Hamas on the ground we need to use violence against Israel to control the streets."

He had met Mr. Barghouti many times, Mr. Beilin said, "but here I saw a different Barghouti."

Mr. Beilin, who describes the meeting in more detail in his recent book, "The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Agreement, 1996-2004," said he was quite surprised by Mr. Barghouti's threat. "It was not only cynical but frightening," he said. "It was, 'We have a target and we'll get there by diplomacy or violence, and both are legitimate.' "

Mr. Beilin said that he opposed arresting Mr. Barghouti and that he believed that he would be released. But Mr. Beilin pointed to a sharp contrast between Mr. Barghouti and the most likely winner of the Palestinian election, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mr. Abbas has condemned the use of violence "and is a partner for peace," Mr. Beilin said.

Mr. Barghouti "is not innocent at all," Mr. Beilin said. "I believe he was carried away. He thought he could control the violence he unleashed and end the intifada in a few weeks. But he was carried away in an ongoing competition with Hamas on the ground, which was about violence, and today Hamas is stronger than Fatah, and Barghouti is to blame - because Fatah started this intifada, and not Hamas."

Hillel Frisch, who teaches political science at Bar-Ilan University, has known Mr. Barghouti since the late 1970's and considers him something of an "Israelophile" - proud of learning Hebrew and resentful, like many locally grown Palestinian leaders, of the older exiles who came to the territories with Mr. Arafat in 1994, and who got and retain most of the plum jobs.

Mr. Barghouti "became a revolutionary against the statists" like Mr. Abbas, who believed that the Palestinian Authority was the nucleus for a Palestinian state. "Barghouti became more radical when he and the insiders were left out of the Oslo process," Mr. Frisch said. "The revolutionaries adopted the Lebanese model that terror and guerrilla warfare would push Israel out, and Marwan was the head of the revolutionaries."

People like Mr. Beilin don't even see what they're asking. They want a Palestinian leader who renounces violence when ther is no let up in violence against the Palestinian people. Were he alive today Frederick Douglass would be talking about people who want crops without plowing.

Power concedes nothing without a struggle. In the face of unrelenting violence aginst Palestinians, no legitimate leader can renounce violence unless he can stop daily Israeli violence and theft against his people.

Al Ingram
con·cept: A Possible Partner, Viewed Warily in Israel