LETTERS FROM PALESTINE
Being Mustafa Barghouthi
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
An analysis piece I wrote about the atmosphere of
violence and intimidation surrounding the Palestinian
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
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
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
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."
THE PROBLEM WITH DR. MUSTAFA
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.
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
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
Note that the article above doesn't even MENTION Dr.
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
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.
Israel Attempts to Derail Mustafa Barghouthi’s
Candidacy for President of Palestine
Genevieve Cora Fraser
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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Shifting and Swifting