Barghouthi: It will not, maybe, change the daily life, but it will definitely provide Palestinians with hope. It will provide a context where the illegal measures on the ground, enforced by the military power of Israel which we cannot stop, remain illegal, so it’s moral power against military power. When we joined UNESCO [the cultural arm of the United Nations] we were practically creating the power of culture against the culture of power.
That’s how countries in the world liberated themselves. That’s how a person like Gandhi who had no military power managed to unify India and get independence. That’s how Martin Luther King liberated the United States from the segregation system. It’s the power of the idea, the power of culture, and the power of dignity. And that is something that maybe some military governments don’t understand, but that I hope politicians would understand.
Slate: Opponents also say the move is incredibly risky, perhaps exposing the Palestinian people to retaliation from the IDF and empowering fundamentalists. There’s a lot of concern, for instance, about Israel trying to deter President Abbas by withholding tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority.
Barghouthi: These acts are illegal. Israel has no right to withhold the taxes we pay ourselves, especially when it already takes a certain percentage for collecting these taxes. We’re not afraid of the punishment acts and we will not be blackmailed anymore, because if Israel continues and United States continues [to cut off its aid to the Palestinians], the Palestinian Authority will collapse. And the biggest loser of this will be Israel.
What we need are better arrangements, where the grievances of the people will be met, where there will be no motivation for any violation of anyone’s security. Of course, an arrangement where Palestinians receive their rights. If this injustice continues to consolidate an apartheid system which is worse than what prevailed in South Africa in the 20th century, there will be a Palestinian reaction. People will not take it. I’ve always said that the best security for everybody, including for Israel, is peace and democracy, where the two people are satisfied.
Slate: Last Tuesday the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution affirming the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. What happens next?
Barghouthi: We will continue the struggle. We will continue our popular nonviolent resistance. I am personally proud of the fact that we have been advocating nonviolence for 10 years. Now all the Palestinian groups adopt our approach, including Hamas. That is a great moral success for us. And we will keep struggling in the U.N.; we will go to every agency, one after the other, and get our membership from the grassroots. They don’t want to grant it to us in the Security Council? We will get it in every U.N. agency. We will go to international courts. We will continue our nonviolent resistance until we get our freedom.
Slate: I want to return for a moment to what you said about Hamas, that they’ve renounced violence. Can you explain that a little more?
Slate: Did they modify their 1988 charter? Do they think Israel has a right to exist?
Barghouthi: They’re adopting the two-state solution; they’re accepting the ’67 borders for the solution, and they are accepting nonviolence and sticking to nonviolence. And that is a big change.
Slate: How did you come to found the Palestinian National Initiative?
Barghouthi: For years we’d been struggling to find our way. There was an unhealthy polarization between Fatah and Hamas and a strong silent majority in the middle that wanted an alternative. And that’s how we created the Initiative back in 2002. We called it the Initiative because we believed that the Palestinians should not be reactive but proactive. And the idea was that we need a movement that struggles not only for Palestinian freedom from occupation, but for an internal strong democratic system, and social justice. These are the three main dimensions of our movement.
When we ran in presidential elections in 2005, we were astonished by the amount of support we got—just under 20 percent of the votes! We were a newly established party, but that encouraged us to continue. Today, the Initiative is a third party in Palestine but it is growing constantly. And as you have seen, it is very influential in terms of its political ideas and strategies, and in terms of being a powerful independent force that can help create the right ideas for our struggle but at the same time push for Palestinian unity.
Slate: A lot of people think the United States wouldn’t support Palestine at the U.N. unless it promised not to sue Israel in the International Criminal Court. What’s your reaction to that?
Barghouthi: I hope [President Mahmoud Abbas] does not accept those terms. We should pursue that line [going to the ICC] as long as Israel continues the violation. It is our right. If we don’t struggle for our rights, we will not be serving anybody.
So I think we should be more determined, more daring and frank with the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were frank. Some people might not like what we do but eventually they will. And we know very well that the American Congress will be the last to change. This is not a new thing. This was the case in the South African situation.
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