Last Sunday, imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti delivered an impassioned plea to the international community to tackle the root causes of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, praising the “new Palestinian generation” for resisting the Israeli occupation.
In an article for the Guardian written from his cell in Hadarim prison – his first for an international publication since 2002 at the height of the second intifada – Barghouti said he was pleading with the world as he was then “to deal with [the violence’s] root causes: denial of Palestinian freedom”.
The intervention by Barghouti – whom many Palestinians view as a potential future president – comes before a meeting that was due late this week between representatives of the “quartet” (the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia) attempting to mediate a peace deal amid a mounting toll of death and injuries on both sides.
In comments supporting the recent wave of protests, he wrote: “This new Palestinian generation has not awaited reconciliation talks to embody a national unity political parties have failed to achieve, rising beyond political divides and geographic fragmentation.
“It has not awaited instructions to uphold its right, and its duty, to resist this occupation. It is doing so unarmed, while being confronted by one of the biggest military powers in the world.”
Barghouti also warned that Israeli actions – in particular to do with the flashpoint religious site, the Haram al-Sharif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount – threaten to “transform a solvable political conflict into a never-ending religious war that will only further undermine stability in a region already experiencing unprecedented turmoil”.
Barghouti (56), who was an important figure in the first and second intifadas, was arrested by Israel in 2002 in the middle of the second intifada and convicted on five counts of murder two years later.
Refusing to recognise the Israeli court, his lawyers insisted he was only a political leader. He enjoys widespread respect among all Palestinian factions and, despite being held in an Israeli prison, is often mentioned as a potential candidate to succeed Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian Authority’s president. Recent visitors have suggested Barghouti would put himself forward as a candidate from prison if Abbas steps aside.
Barghouti writes: “The escalation did not start with the killing of two Israeli settlers”, referring to the drive-by shooting of an Israeli couple in front of their children a few days earlier. “It started a long while ago and has been going on for years. Every day there are Palestinians killed, wounded, arrested.
“Every day colonialism advances, the siege on our people in Gaza continues, oppression and humiliation persist. As many want us today to be overwhelmed by the potential consequences of a new spiral of violence, I will continue, as I did back in 2002, pleading to deal with its root causes: denial of Palestinian freedom.”
He adds: “Some suggested that the reason why a peace deal could not be reached was late President Yasser Arafat’s unwillingness or President Mahmoud Abbas’s inability, while both of them were ready and able to sign a peace agreement.
“The real problem is that Israel has chosen occupation over peace and used negotiations as a smoke screen to advance its colonial project. All governments across the globe know this simple fact and yet so many of them pretend that returning to the failed recipes of the past could allow us to achieve freedom and peace.”
Despite being imprisoned, Barghouti is seen as a hugely important Palestinian figure. He was responsible for drafting the 2006 Prisoners’ Document, in which jailed leaders of all major factions called for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 borders.
He also helped draw up the Mecca Agreement that aimed at uniting a national unity government for the Palestinians in 2007.
Barghouti’s comments came as French President François Hollande warned that the escalation in violence in the Palestinian territories and Jerusalem was “extremely worrying and dangerous”, adding: “Everything must be done to calm the situation and end this cycle [of violence], which has already caused too many victims.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015