Being Mustafa Barghouthi

Pamela Olson
5 January 2005

Don't know if I mentioned it, but I volunteered to be Dr. Barghouthi's foreign media relations coordinator. It's a lot of work, but really nice to see it pay off. The press releases that I write have been quoted in the Financial Times of London, Al-Jazeera, Yahoo News, and others.

It's also fun talking to big-name journalists and trying to convince them to be just a little less biased in their coverage. Greg Myre of the New York Times said he just didn't have time to go into the kind of detail I cited. So, for example, the detention, beating, and humiliation of a prominent political leader, my boss, Dr. Barghouthi, who was beaten with rifle butts by Israeli soldiers and forced to lie on the ground in the cold for more than an hour on December 9 at Sanour checkpoint near Jenin, for no particular reason, was reported as a "confrontation with Israeli security forces."

It's also been quite an education. For one thing, most of the foreign press are located in either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Naturally, most of their phone numbers are Israeli numbers, and most of the email addresses Israeli, too. Even the email of Fair and Balanced Fox News ends with @foxnews.co.il. And it seems like half of them speak Hebrew and virtually none speak Arabic.

In a more localized bias of matters, almost all of the billboards in Ramallah (and a good chunk of everything else in Ramallah, too) are owned by Abu Mazen's family. So when we buy a billboard with Dr. Mustafa's face on it, we're paying the opponent for the privilege.

But walking out of the HDIP offices on Ramallah's Main Street is like walking into a Mustafa Barghouthi theme park. It reminds me of ASSU elections at Stanford. Every square inch of surface is fair game. People even put posters of him on their cars. For Dr. Barghouthi it must be like that scene in Being John Malkovitch where John Malkovitch goes into his own head.

It's funny to walk down the street and see one shop plastered from baseboards to rafters with Mustafa's face, and the next one smothered by Abu Mazen mugshots. If that's not democracy, I don't know what is.

Dr. Barghouthi's are by far the most attractive and professional-looking posters, with Dr. B looking confident and intelligent. And he has more posters up than anyone else by far, despite the fact that his volunteers and supporters get beaten up by both Israeli soldiers AND Fatah activists (Abu Mazen supporters).

The posters of Abu Mazen are horribly cheesy, with Abu Mazen in the foreground looking off into the future with a faint smile on his face, as if he knows something we don't, and Arafat in the background, like he's passing the torch. Another poster, also obviously doctored, has Abu Mazen saying something to Arafat, and Arafat smiling delightedly. Gag me.

A recent Haaretz article notes:

Palestinian caricaturist Umiya Juha last week drew three cartoons presenting Abbas in the eye of the onlooker. In the first, in Israeli eyes, Abbas looks like a miserable dwarf next to the huge figure of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In the second, he is seen through the eyes of Arab rulers, and he is carrying a sign announcing he was chosen by a 99.999 percent majority and a spiked club. In the eyes of some of the Palestinian public, he is seen as a dead-ringer for Arafat, wearing a black and white kaffiyeh. In the fourth drawing, the most important, Juha explains who the real Abbas is - and she draws him as an old grandmother knitting from colored balls of yarn.

Abu Mazen doesn't look like a leader even in his campaign posters. He looks like someone's absentminded, doddering old grandpa, mildly corrupt and eager to please, as Edward Said characterized him. The posters seem like a token gesture anyway. Fatah's overwhelming confidence in the results of the elections despite real competition from Dr. Barghouthi makes me wonder if they may be preparing for outright fraud - untraceable, buried in the press, and irrelevant by the time anyone can prove anything. Maybe they took lessons from a Bush advisor.

If there is fraud, I hope Palestinians get half the coverage the Ukrainians got. But I guess in Ukraine the Western guy was getting screwed, and in this case, the guy we like will benefit.

Bassam Salhi, the Communist candidate, did something kind of nasty: he bought the billboard directly above Dr. Barghouthi's office. So his mug is promising to end corrupation right on top of where Dr. Barghouthi works. Catty. He's been getting nastier ever since both Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi, a well-respected leftist, and the PFLP, a leftist party, endorsed Dr. Mustafa instead of him.

I went with Dr. Mustafa and about six other people on a visit to Qalqiliya district, including Jayyous, on Friday, 11 December (just two days after Dr. Mustafa and his people were beaten at a checkpoint near Jenin), as an "international observer." Actually I just wanted to see my Jayyous friends and cruise into town in the Presidential (insha'Allah) Isuzu. One of my Jayyous friends is a campaign coordinators for Dr. Mustafa in Qalqiliya region.

We had a great time. Dr. Mustafa gave about five speeches and presentations to crowded halls in Qalqiliya and surrounding villages, and he got a tremendous response. Many Palestinians are still unaware of the true scope and horror of the Israeli Annexation Wall's theft and the ethnic cleansing of the 'seam zones', so the meetings were educational as well as political.

A farmer stood up in one hall and told Dr. Mustafa that he'd had over 200 dunams (50 acres) of his land taken by Israelis, everything destroyed, including his house, trees, and crops. He said he needed support or he'd have to leave. He asked Dr. Mustafa what could be done for him.

Dr. Mustafa told him about the half billion dollars that comes into Palestine yearly that the PA largely embezzles. He said with the proper leadership, transparent and fair, nobody needed to go hungry.

Of course, handouts are no substitute for the hard days' work on their own land that every farmer in Palestine longs for. But the siege is on, and the Apartheid Wall is up, and checkpoints prevent any hope of normal life, education, or work for hundreds of thousands, and crops and wells are destroyed or stolen liberally, daily, by Israeli soldiers and settlers. People simply can't survive in the short term without government aid.

Corruption in the Palestinian Authority is severely undermining the Palestinian people, and is likely set to go on unabated if Abu Mazen takes the reigns, which falls right into Sharon's strategic interests - which include his wish to annex approximately 58% of the West Bank into Israel, forcing Palestinians on the remaining 42% (which is 10% of historic Palestine) either to live as prisoners or leave their homeland.

Dr. Mustafa said the first thing he'd do as president would be to hold comprehensive elections of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and he'd bring the worst offenders of theft of public monies and corruption to trial.

Someone asked him, "But aren't you afraid of trying to clean house in the Palestinian Authority?"

Dr. Barghouthi said, "My second day in office, you can watch. The Allenby Bridge will be very busy [with people leaving the country]."

The only person in the audience not delighted with the very thought of that was the PLC representative from Qalqiliya - who was sitting in the front row!

As we were traveling between villages, Dr. Mustafa got a call from Abu Mazen to see if he was all right after being beaten on Wednesday. As the Stanford Business School T-shirt says, "It's about sportsmanship, ass*$&%." Better late than never.

Dr. Mustafa's still sore, and a little sick from being forced to lay on the cold ground for more than an hour (he was also losing his voice a bit, which could be a disaster if it gets worse), but otherwise all right.

News also came over the wire at one point that the Communist candidate, Bassam Salhi, had been detained and beaten on his way to Jerusalem earlier. The Israelis claimed he was arrested for trying to enter Jerusalem without a permit - and for assaulting an Israeli soldier. IDF claims are getting so mendacious and absurd it's laughable. And a sign of their impending collapse under their own bluster. (Salhi was later released on bail, his thumb having been broken by Israeli soldiers.)

Afterwards we had a campaign meeting in Dr. Mustafa's campaign office in Qalqiliya, and I was delighted to contrast this down-home bunch of doctors, lawyers, teachers, and volunteers with the slimy Palestinian Authority weasels I'd dealt with before. Last year I went with a friend to Qalqiliya to try to file with the PA for a license for an NGO. The shifty characters we were dealing with looked like they'd eat your liver for a nickel.

The PA wanks who hang out at the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah, kiss each other's butts, eat overpriced meals and flash around their $500 cell phones also didn't inspire much confidence in their genuine concern for their suffering countrymen. The time Mohammad Dahlan - the PA security chief who trained with the CIA - descended on the Grand Park with his dozen heavily-armed bodyguard goons, the sight of him made my skin crawl.

Fatah also has a history of giving its own employees special privileges and handing out desperately-needed scholarships only to youths who pledge to support Fatah. My friend Mustafa from Jayyous, who's a high school counselor at a PA school, said the PA had threatened to fire any employees who campaigned, volunteered for, or even supported any opposing candidate. That's democracy for you! Despite this grave threat, Jayyous, known for being heavily-dependent on PA employment, has a lot of closet Mustafa Barghouthi fans.

Fadi whispered to me that he kinda sorta feared for Dr. Mustafa's life. He's stepping on some powerful toes, being a democrat and all. I asked Dr. Mustafa later if he was afraid he'd be arrested and thus be prevented from running. He said simply, as if I'd missed something obvious, "That won't prevent me from running. I'll run from jail."

On the way back to Ramallah, Dr. Mustafa and I reminisced about Stanford and practiced our Russian a little and split a hummous and eggplant sandwich in the car. We only crossed about five checkpoints all told, and we passed without undue incident, Humdulillah.


An analysis piece I wrote about the atmosphere of violence and intimidation surrounding the Palestinian elections entitled ELECTIONS IN PALESTINE: 'Democracy' at Gunpoint.


A partial list of Israeli obstructions to Dr. Barghouthi's campaign, depite Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's public statement that it is "important that it should be clear to the entire world that Israel has made possible free, fair and effective elections." His actions have clearly contradicted his words.

  • On December 6, Dr. Barghouthi he was surrounded by Israeli soldiers in Hebron's Old City and denied access to the Old City at gunpoint. Soldiers claimed he was an ordinary Palestinian and thus had no right to enter.

  • On December 9, he and five companions were stopped at Sanour checkpoint near Jenin, verbally assaulted and beaten with rifle butts by Israeli soldiers, and forced to stay in uncomfortable positions on the ground in the cold for more than one hour.

  • After Dr. Barghouthi was granted permission to enter the Gaza Strip, he was still delayed 1.5 hours at the Erez crossing. His team, including campaign manager Dr. Khaled Saifi, were forbidden from entering with him even though they had permits.

  • On the night of December 24, twenty volunteers for Dr. Barghouthi's campaign were detained by Israeli Occupation Forces in Hebron on al-Salaam Street for 2.5 hours in the rain, and their IDs were taken. They were verbally abused and humiliated.

  • On the night of December 25 in the town of Yatta in the Hebron region, two volunteers for Dr. Barghouthi's campaign were detained for two hours and physically assaulted by Israeli Occupation Forces.

  • On December 26 in East Jerusalem, Israeli policemen removed the only billboard that contained Dr. Barghouthi's presidential election materials and detained the campaign advertisement manager for interrogation.

  • On December 27, Dr. Barghouthi was arrested in East Jersalem by Israeli police and detained and interrogated at the Russian compound for three hours even though he had permission to enter East Jerusalem and despite the fact that Israel has said publicly that it will allow campaigning by presidential candidates in East Jerusalem, where residents will vote in the elections. He was then transferred to the checkpoint between East Jerusalem and Ramallah. Israeli soldiers made it clear that they retain the sole right of forbidding any movement by any presidential candidate at any time for any reason.

  • On December 30, Riziq Ziad Musleh, a 17-year-old Palestinian high school student, was shot through the right side and killed, with no warning or incident, from an Israeli observation tower in the Israeli settlement of Rafah Yam as he was putting up campaign posters for Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi in the Tel al-Sultan Refugee Camp near the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. The bullet lodged in his heart and he died that night.

    Quoted from a recent Guardian article:

    Zakaria Halaf, selling records at the Old City's Damascus Gate, had seen no election activity since the campaign started on Saturday. "There should be more happening. How can we have proper elections if nobody knows who the candidates are?"


    Ramzy Baroud, a veteran Arab-American journalist and editor in chief of PalestineChronicle.com and head of Research & Studies Department at Aljazeera.net English, had this to say:

    The Bush administration, despite its refusal to conform to much of the foreign policy doctrines of past administrations, understands the psychological importance of democracy rhetoric and insists on associating itself with democracy charades around the world: Afghanistan, Iraq and now Palestine. It has urged Israel to do all it can to help the newborn Palestinian democratic experience. Israel obliged, vowing to evacuate it troops from major Palestinian population centers for 72 hours during the election, with a subtle promise to return 'to occupation as usual.'

    Although this scenario is closer to travesty than democracy, the show must go on, so long as the New York Times reports with unending gratitude that Israel has done a great deed in aiding the first genuine democratic experience in the Arab world.

    Meanwhile, in order to guarantee a sweeping win for Abu Mazen, Israel is resorting to its usual tactics of coercing other candidates who dare to challenge the man who seems more interested in Israel's security than the security and rights of his own people.

    Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is one. One of the most eloquent and dedicated Palestinians alive, Dr. Barghouti was beaten by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint during a campaign trip. He was "choked with his own necktie, and left with wounds on his hands, foot and nose." It was neither the first, and dare I say will not be the last time that this courageous Palestinian will be bruised by Israeli occupation troops.

    Dr. Barghouti is categorized as neither an old guard nor a compromiser. He was never a part of a corruption scandal nor is he a fame seeker. The free medical services provided by an organization that he has established have reached tens of thousands of the poorest Palestinians, in villages that Abu Mazen hardly knows existed.

    Not only does Dr. Barghouthi believe in democracy and national unity, but also he is one of the most influential founders and leaders in the democratic opposition movement, Al-Mubadara, jointly established with the late Professor Edward Said and the respected Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi.

    The clarity in this man's political vision and respect for human rights and insistence on national unity is certainly a prerequisite to any successful Palestinian struggle.

    I am proud to say that I am a signatory on Dr. Barghouti's Mubadara, which seems to cater exclusively for the interests of the Palestinian people rather than the arrogant demands of their occupiers.

    In a recent radio interview in Minnesota, the show host concluded with the question, "But if not Abu Mazen, then who? Is there really an alternative that can in fact benefit the Palestinians?"

    "Yes there is," I answered without any hesitance, "and his name is Mustafa Barghouti."



    Pam Olson
    December 2004

    The Problem with Palestinian presidential candidate Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is that he is a democrat. He cares about and wishes to represent the aspirations of the majority of his people.

    He consistently pulls double digits in the polls and attracts massive popular assemblies and demonstrations in Palestine and huge support abroad despite the overwhelming institutional powers of Fatah, serious obstacles to his movement imposed by Israel, and almost total media blackout.

    Dr. Mustafa has no major apparatus of control, no major institutionalized financial incentives to pass out to the loyal and the sychophantic. Hundreds of Fatah members and employees, in fact, are risking their jobs, which are so precious in a time of vast unemployment, to support or volunteer for Dr. Mustafa's campaign.

    Dr. Mustafa also doesn't have the world's press at his beck and call. Even if they come to his press conferences, and his statements are mentioned in various articles around the world, he's mentioned only in passing as "a long-shot candidate."

    In a recent poll, however, when the only contestants considered were Dr. Mustafa and Abu Mazen, the results were stunning: 44% were in favor of Abu Mazen, 40% for Dr. Mustafa. This was before campaigning had even begun. Once the word gets out than a viable alternative, an anti-corruption, anti-violence, pro-civil disobedience, pro-non-violent struggle, popular and resolute leader is in the race, those results could change significantly in Dr. Mustafa's favor.

    Israel, America, Fatah, and other Arab governments have no idea what to make of all this. Naturally, none of these astonishing facts has been adequately reported in the media. Lack of equal opportunity has effectively turned the press into free and very powerful advertising solely for Mahmoud Abbas. Unless corrected, this inaccuracy could seriously bias the coming elections and undermine a fair chance for true democracy in Palestine.

    The world is very comfortable with the predictability of Abu Mazen, Israel-tested and White House-approved, and pretends like he has already won. The world doesn't know what to do with a grassroots democrat running on an independent ticket who just might turn everyone's plans and expectations upside-down.

    The world simply pretends he's only a vanity candidate. A dark horse. A Ralph Nader.

    Unfortunately for the world governments and media, the Palestinian public is not like the American or Israeli public. They know when they are being bamboozled. They know the rest of the world thinks certain things about them, their society, their government, their elections, because they watch the news, too. But they know the reality a lot better than we do.

    They doubt that Abu Mazen will represent their true aspirations. They know that if Abu Mazen, as expected, signs away rights to East Jerusalem, true sovereignty over all of the West Bank and Gaza, and of refugees, it will be Intifada Part III. And nobody wants this. They know he will be bribed, he will steal aid money, he will bestow favors on the faithful and use them to control the rest, and in exchange for his position of privilege, he will quietly sit by while Israel continues to expropriate Palestinian land in full view of the world.

    They know the governments of Israel and America are looking forward to more of the same. They know that "Sharon's expertise was always to demolish the national Palestinian leadership into two categories: either a version of the village associations, which would deign to head the reservations in the enclaves; or terrorists with whom you don't talk. It seems likely that the first option is slated for Abu Mazen; the second, for [Marwan] Barghouti [who's since dropped out of the race]; and eons of conflict, for us." [more]

    Note that the article above doesn't even MENTION Dr. Mustafa.

    They know that last year, Abu Mazen's government, "which successfully forged a commitment from the Palestinian factions to enter into a ceasefire, was actively and intentionally undermined by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who, by continuing his assassinations policy, soon saw to it that Abu Mazen's efforts came to nothing." [more]

    They want an alternative to the same old grind. They are tired of the humiliation of "peace talks" during which Palestinians sit on their hands while Israelis continue to brutalize them and steal their lands, and even more exhausted from the agonies of open conflict. They want reform, democracy, transparency. They want freedom both from the Israeli occupation and from the corrupt control structures of Fatah, which many Palestinians think of as another arm of the occupation.

    Dr. Mustafa is a serious bee in the bonnet of America, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, for all of whom the status quo is the preferred state of affairs.

    But it's not up to America, Israel, or the Palestinian Authority. It's up to the Palestinian people - for whom the status quo is a decades-long disaster.


    Excerpts from:

    Israel Attempts to Derail Mustafa Barghouthi’s Candidacy for President of Palestine

    Genevieve Cora Fraser
    Palestine Monitor
    December 10, 2004

    The Palestinian presidential candidate I’m rooting for is Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a distant cousin to jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi. He co-founded the Palestinian National Initiative with the late Edward Said as a democratic opposition movement to the Fatah dominated Palestinian administration and Legislative Council, which appointed approximately 6,000 municipal representatives rather than have them elected by the people.

    Barghouthi believes that a sovereign, independent, viable, and democratic Palestinian state must be built upon the institutional framework of the Palestinian Civil Society, a non-violent, self-reliant, self-determined network of NGOs or non-government organizations that include educational, medical, cultural, and charitable organizations as well as research institutes, plus environmental and legal organizations to name a few.

    “The Palestinian Civil Society was developed after the failure of the Camp David peace talks in 1978. It was then Palestinians came to realize that help would not be found from outside their borders, but from within,” Dr. Barghouthi stated.

    In addition to serving as secretary-general to the Palestinian National Initiative, Dr. Bargouthi is the President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, one of the largest and the leading Palestinian non-governmental organizations providing health and community services to more than 1 million people (1/3 of total population) yearly, throughout 435 Palestinian communities.

    But there’s one problem with Dr. Barghouthi’s candidacy. The Israeli government seems bent on making him a non-viable candidate. The Israeli military recently prevented his campaigning in Hebron by holding him at a checkpoint at gun-point. Most recently Barghouthi was beaten to the ground and repeatedly assaulted as he attempted to intervene while the military beat his staff with the butt of their rifles. As I write this, Dr. Barghouthi is in a hospital outside of Jenin recovering from IDF induced injuries.

    I call upon the United Nations, the European Union and the United States to intervene and permit all the Palestinian candidates for president free access to campaign throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The world community should not allow Israel to make a mockery of the democratic process. If Israel persists in obstructing fair and free elections in Palestine, sanctions should be swift and severe.

    The vision Dr. Barghouthi shared with Edward Said for a just peace was through the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state on all of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital. “It would also be the first Arab democracy in the Middle East,” Barghouthi said.


    Palestinian Elections – Charting the Palestinian Future

    by Haithem El-Zabri
    January 4th, 2005

    Presidential elections in occupied Palestine are just 5 days away, and the two main contenders – Mahmoud Abbas and Mustafa Barghouthi – are worlds apart in what they bring to the Palestinian cause. Below is a comparative overview of their backgrounds and positions on the issues, and how the international community is responding.

    Mahmoud Abbas

    Also known as Abu Mazen, Abbas is a founding member of Fateh, and for many years has been a very close aide to Yasser Arafat. Abbas was a key architect of the Oslo Accords, which benefited Israel and the Palestinian leadership, at the expense of the Palestinian people. Israel benefited by having the task of policing the Palestinians transferred to the Palestinian Authority (PA) - an authority who's power is only what the Israeli state will allow it to be.

    The Tunis-based Palestine Liberation Organization benefited by keeping its hold on leadership over the Palestinian people; the first intifada, being led from within the occupied territories, presented a threat that new activists would lead the Palestinian struggle. In their desperate cling to power, Arafat and his cronies made whatever compromises were necessary in order to reach some kind of agreement with Israel, and presented this to their people as a victory.

    Abbas is also the co-author of the Beilin-Abu Mazen Understanding (1995), which bluntly rescinds the Palestinian refugees' right of return to their homes in what is now Israel. Article VII, item 1, states that "Whereas the Palestinian side considers that the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes is enshrined in international law and natural justice, it recognizes that the prerequisites of the new era of peace and coexistence, as well as the realities that have been created on the ground since 1948, have rendered the implementation of this right impracticable." Few people seem to realize this, and Abbas continues to get away with his promises to the refugees that they will return to their homes "one day"!

    This dishonesty and manipulation is consistent with the PA's repeated assurances to the Palestinian people regarding protecting this right, while at the same time encouraging and supporting initiatives that did the exact opposite, such as the Nusseibeh-Ayalon proposal and the Geneva Accord. The Beilin-Abu Mazen Understanding also includes severe compromises on many of the crucial issues; as Beilin boasted, "They are willing to accept an agreement which gives up much land, without the dismantling of settlements, with no return to the '67 border, and with an arrangement in Jerusalem which is less than municipality level." Israel has pocketed these concessions and sought new concessions on subsequent negotiations.

    During his prime ministership in 2003, Abbas did very little to highlight Palestinian suffering, instead focusing on the actual purpose of the PA - to police the Palestinian people and prevent attacks against Israel. This was clearly illustrated in Abbas’ speech at Aqaba, where he repeatedly reaffirmed his commitment to end the Palestinian armed struggle, referring to it as "terrorism," while making no mention of Israel's continued onslaught against the Palestinian people.

    The PA, of which Abbas has always been a very high-ranking official, is notorious for the level of corruption it embodies. Many industries have been monopolized by PA officials or their relatives, senior officials have been granted licenses to import olive oil from abroad, making it difficult for Palestinian farmers to sell their oil, and one Minister (Ahmed Qurei) was found to be involved in the sale of cement to Israel for building the wall! There are also rumors that anyone who does not vote for Abbas will not be employed by the PA - currently the biggest employer in the occupied territories.

    And today, Abbas is again calling for an unconditional end to Palestinian armed resistance, and to the Intifada itself. Apparently, he is relying on Israel’s benevolence to willingly reach a fair agreement. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could be so naïve after all that has happened since the Oslo Accord, and especially during Sharon’s reign. Sharon has already made clear his vision for a Palestinian "state" - in actuality a prison comprising of unconnected bantustans on 10% of historic Palestine - and U.S. President Bush has made clear that whatever Sharon wants, Sharon gets. Putting the Palestinian cause at the mercy of these two is ridiculous, to say the least.

    The late Dr. Edward Said describes Abbas as follows: "Known universally for his "flexibility" with Israel... Abu Mazen is thought of generally as colourless, moderately corrupt, and without any clear ideas of his own, except that he wants to please the white man." In fact, as analyst Daoud Kuttab observed, Abbas has eliminated the political terms “thawabet” (immovable issues, such as the right of return and the status of Jerusalem), reasoning that politics can’t be frozen and one must be flexible.

    Little wonder then that Abbas is the unrivaled favorite of the U.S. and Israel. They have found their man, and this perfect fit gives some credence to the suspicion that Arafat was poisoned in order to make way for Abbas, thus facilitating the progress of U.S.-Israeli designs for the region. Analyst Hasan Abu Nimah warns that "Abbas will soon be served with endless lists of impossible demands... [which he] will not be able to fulfill... and the region will be back to square one."

    Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi

    In second place, according to the polls, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi offers a refreshing and needed change from the PA’s corruption and self-serving policies. A physician by profession, Dr. Barghouthi is the founder of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), which has provided medical care and aid to 495 Palestinian cities, villages, and refugee camps. PMRS volunteers have distributed food, water, and emergency first aid services to more than 1.3 million Palestinians - this alone is more than the Palestinian Authority has ever done for the Palestinian people.

    Dr. Barghouthi is also a human rights activist, involved in grassroots efforts for freedom, democracy, national unity, and social justice in Palestine. He has advocated for the Palestinian cause for more than 25 years, giving eloquent and convincing talks all over the world, presenting the Palestinian situation in terms of human rights and international law. And throughout these efforts, he has been beaten, arrested, and shot at by the Israeli Occupation Forces.

    In 2002, Dr. Barghouthi, along with Dr. Edward Said, Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi and Ibrahim Dakkak, established the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) in order to carry on the struggle for Palestine in a democratic manner that involves all segments of Palestinian society. Dr. Said has described this initiative as the "only genuine grassroots formation that steers clear both of the religious parties and their fundamentally sectarian politics, and of the traditional nationalism offered up by Arafat's old (rather than young) Fatah activists. PNI does not throw up its hands at the directionless militarization of the Intifada. It offers training programs for the unemployed and social services for the destitute on the grounds that this answers to present circumstances and Israeli pressure.

    Above all, PNI which is about to become a recognized political party, seeks to mobilize Palestinian society at home and in exile for free elections -- authentic elections which will represent Palestinian, rather than Israeli or US, interests. This sense of authenticity is what seems so lacking in the path cut out for Abu Mazen."

    Dr. Barghouthi currently serves as the Secretary-General of the Initiative. And of him, Dr. Said says "Singularly free of conventional rhetoric, Barghouthi has worked with Israelis, Europeans, Americans, Africans, Asians, Arabs to build an enviably well-run solidarity movement that practices the pluralism and co-existence it preaches."

    Dr. Barghouthi's electoral program covers all aspects of the Palestinian cause; ending the occupation, implementing the International Court of Justice's decision to remove both the racist wall and Israeli settlements, achieving national unity (within and without the occupied territories), sharing Jerusalem as a capital, securing the right of return for all refugees, eliminating government corruption, and ensuring the independence of the judiciary. In effect, a complete restructuring and democratization of Palestinian institutions and society that also invites the diaspora’s participation.

    The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has given its endorsement to Dr. Barghouthi, based on agreements on key issues such as stressing the “right of return” of refugees to what is now Israel, and insisting on full Israeli withdrawal from occupied areas as a pre-condition to any peace initiatives. In fact, Dr. Barghouthi has pledged not to sign any peace deal without the release of all political prisoners.

    Foreign Interference

    Israel's treatment of Dr. Barghouthi and his campaigners, when contrasted to its handling of the Abbas campaign, provides further evidence to which candidate benefits whom. When Dr. Barghouthi campaigned in East Jerusalem, he was detained for several hours. Just last week, he was beaten up at an Israeli checkpoint for coming to the aid of one of his campaigners who was being harassed by the Israeli soldiers. And a few days ago, a 17 year-old volunteer was shot dead as he put up campaign posters in a Gaza refugee camp. Abbas and his campaigners, on the other hand, enjoy unrestricted movement within and without the occupied territories.

    The U.S., Britain, and the Arab states have also been actively supporting Abbas. U.S. officials have been coordinating with Abbas when an official visit might be most suitable to boost him, and British Prime Minister Blair has reportedly made his proposed conference contingent on Abbas winning the election. Arab leaders also prefer someone who will preserve the status quo, and Egyptian President Huns Umbra (who has recently announced his confidence in Sharon’s desire for peace) has openly stated his preference for Abbas. And of course, the international media has given Abbas immensely greater coverage.

    Dr. Barghouthi notes that the U.S. and Israel "are trying to force a particular candidate on us. It's very strange, because all the people who are running as candidates in these coming elections are pro-peace: so why would they prefer one person to another? If they are just looking for someone who will give in to them, then that person will fail to represent the Palestinian people. I am planning to represent our people, not anybody else's interests."

    In fact, if the Palestinian people are to have a leadership that truly represents their needs and aspirations, Dr. Barghouthi is the one to trust.

    * Haithem El-Zabri is a Los Angeles-based activist and the editor of Alaqsaintifada.org. For special coverage of the Palestinian elections, please see www.alaqsaintifada.org.

    Next: Santana in Bethlehem . . . BBC almost gets it . . .
    Shifting and Swifting

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