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INTERVIEW: Marwan Barghouti
‘Arafat did things that nobody could for the Israelis’ 

Marwan Barghouti
Marwan Barghouti, 41, is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, general secretary of Fatah in the West Bank, and the chief coordinator of Al-Aqsa Intifada. Barghouti joined Fatah at the age of 15 and studied history and political science at Bir Zeit University, taking a masters degree in international relations. He spent six years in Israeli jails and was deported from his homeland in 1987. His involvement with the first Intifada was as a liaison officer in the PLO's offices in Amman and Tunis. He returned in 1994 under the Oslo accords, as a believer in the peace process. He is now on Israel's most wanted list. His home has been shelled, his closed associates and relatives targetted and some killed and his son was abducted and assaulted by the Israeli soldiers. On 3 August he escaped an Israeli rocket seconds before it blasted his car into pieces. He heard an Israeli gunship hovering over his car in Ramallah and abandoned it quickly. Jefferson Fletcher spoke to him on 31 July.
The Israelis claim that Yassir Arafat is responsible for starting this Intifada last October after the failure of the negotiations at Camp David. Is this true?
The Israelis are crazy. First of all, do you really think that Arafat gave the orders for this Intifada to start? This Intifada didn’t start by orders—and never will stop by orders. It will stop when it achieves it demands, it goals, which is to put an end to the Israeli occupation. Second, these military activities (against the Occupation) are not organized by Arafat.

Then can you tell me who is actually in command of the Intifada? Who is coordinating the resistance activities if you say Arafat isn’t in fact in command?
There is a committee which has representatives from all the Palestinian political factions. We have meetings every week in the central committees in the West Bank and Gaza. There are also regional committees in Jenin, Nablus, Rafah, Hebron, and Jerusalem, etc.

So who’s in charge of the central committee here in the West Bank?
I am in charge in the West Bank.

Can you comment on the riots this past Sunday in Jerusalem? The Israelis claim that the Palestinian Authority provoked these riots by calling upon Palestinians to defend Al-Aqsa. Are these allegations correct?
I think that the Israelis are always responsible for these provocations. For example, take the provocation by the Temple Mount Faithful with their plans to lay the cornerstone of the third Jewish temple on the Haram-Al-Sharif compound. The Israelis deliberately tried to disturb the Muslims and the Arab world by their plans to build a third temple. I think that it is a disaster that the Israelis allowed these Jewish fanatics to disturb the stability in the region with their provocative acts. Why do they do these things? Why, for example, did Barak let Sharon visit the Haram-Al-Sharif compound last September if he was really interested in peace?

Are you interested in peace with the Israelis?
I do believe that I am one of the prominent people who support the peace process, and somebody who fights for the peace process. I support the dialogue with the Israelis, whether it be with members of the Knesset or the Israeli peace groups. The Oslo agreement was supposed to lead to an end of the Israeli occupation, and implementation of the accords was supposed to begin in 1994. By 1997, the Palestinians were supposed to control more than 80 to 90 percent of the Occupied Territories, and the remaining 10 percent was supposed to be negotiated during the final status talks. What happened was that the Israelis never implemented their part of the agreements, and now the Palestinians only have 18 percent of the Occupied Territories under Palestinian control.

Do you believe Yassir Arafat was wrong then to sign the Oslo Accords?
I do believe that Yassir Arafat did things that nobody in the Arab world could do by signing this agreement with the Israelis. Arafat signed a very bad agreement, and he accepted all of the Israeli conditions without any guarantees from the Israelis that they would implement their side of the bargain. He arrested hundreds from Hamas and Islamic Jihad and succeeded in preventing any kind of suicide bomber or terrorist activity against Israel during the last four years before the Intifada. He made the Israelis feel secure, and the settlers, and the occupation forces, but for the Palestinian people, things just got worse. So are you saying that the Oslo Accords were a mistake for the Palestinians? The mistake was not with the Oslo Accords, but the mistake was with these crazy leaders in Israel--like Netanyahu and Barak--who didn’t implement the agreements. I believe that Oslo did open the door for peace in the Middle East, but unfortunately, the Israelis never implemented the agreements, so there is no real agreement now.

In your opinion, were there any mistakes made by the Palestinians in the negotiations?
In the final status talks at Camp David, Barak came and convinced the Palestinians to put aside the interim agreements and go directly to the final-status negotiations. I was opposed to the Camp David summit because I insisted that the Israelis first implement the interim agreements they had signed before we even consider the final-status issues. I asked why should we have to put aside these signed agreements when we had them in our hands and go directly to the final-status talks? And what did Israel suggest at Camp David? First, to cancel the right of return for the refugees, second, to maintain the majority of the settlements, and third, to keep the occupation in Jerusalem. So it was not possible to reach a settlement under these conditions.

The Israelis allege that 97 percent of the Palestinian population are currently under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak repeated this claim on 30 July in an editorial in the New York Times. Barak said, in effect, that the Palestinians mostly rule themselves. Is this true?
This is not true, not true. Tell me where 97 percent of the Palestinian population are living under control of the Palestinian Authority? They are not. All of the villages, all of the refugee camps outside of PA are under control of the Israeli occupation. Jerusalem, it’s not under the Palestinian control. You are talking about 200,000 in East Jerusalem alone. And all the villages in Areas C and B are not under the PA control. So this is not true.

Can you comment on the death of the six Fatah activists yesterday in Nablus. The Israeli Deputy Defence Minister claimed it was a ‘work accident’.
The Israelis always make this allegation, trying to claim that it was a ‘work accident’— te’ona avudah they say in Hebrew. They always say this, but it is not true. They claim that what happened three weeks ago in Tulkarem was a ‘work accident’ when they assassinated one of the Hamas activist.
In Nablus, when they assassinated Osama Jayabna by the telephone, they also said it was a work accident. Not long after that--about one week ago--when Sharon came to the conference of the Likud, he started to talk about his achievements. He said, ‘These people who attack us in Jenin, now they are not alive--in Tulkarem, in Tamun, in Nablus--and in Bethlehem.’ I heard him personally say this in his speech on television. So he (Sharon) confirmed that they assassinated all the people they denied killing before this meeting. So I think that it is very clear that when the spokesman of the Israeli army said that three of these people were accused of putting a bomb in Tel Aviv and that they are wanted, it’s obvious that they killed them.

But how did this happen, if there were no military helicopters in the air at the time, nor was there any tanks. So how did they do this?
The building was less than two kilometers from an Israeli military base, and they used a remote control for the explosives.
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