No security for Tel Aviv without security for Ramallah.
No cease-fire can work without a political plan for a full withdrawal.
Escalation of the struggle is the only way to peace.
A talk with Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti
During the night, someone had splashed some paint on one of the windows of the apartment where we were meeting, in a stone building in a quiet Ramallah suburb, and the owner of the building was upset: Maybe the Israelis had marked the house. Marwan Barghouti is convinced that the Israeli defense establishment has indeed marked him for assassination. He cites remarks made on Thursday by the deputy chief of staff branding him a terrorist, similar words from the head of Military Intelligence, Ariel Sharon's enthusiasm for assassinations, and intelligence information he claims to have indicating that a warrant has been issued for his arrest.
His two escorts are unarmed. The car we drove in was small and the car accompanying us was even smaller. As usual, Barghouti does not take any extra security measures. He recently told his sometime rivals, the heads of the Palestinian security services, who had warned him to be careful: "I don't need you to do that. My mother tells me the same thing.." He will not express any criticism of them or of the Palestinian Authority in an Israeli newspaper.
I remember him from other times. A delegation to Europe that included Israeli Knesset members and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Barghouti made friends with everyone - Haim Ramon of Labor, Golan Heights settler Yehuda Harel, Yitzhak Vaknin and David Tal of Shas and Maxim Levy and Yehuda Lancry of the Likud. The only friction that arose was between him and Dedi Zucker: Zucker, a Maccabi Haifa fan, couldn't tolerate Barghouti's rooting for Hapoel Tel Aviv. On the last evening, Barghouti preferred the company of the Israelis to that of the wealthy Palestinians in Valencia, Spain, who had invited him over. Unbelievably, this was less than five years ago. Not even five years ago. Since then, he has become the scourge of the Israelis, considered by many to be our most dangerous enemy - perpetrator of the intifada as well as an international media star, whom even President Mubarak attacked several days ago for standing in Arafat's way.
Why has this happened to him? How did a buddy become an enemy? How did a partner for dialogue become head of the Tanzim, an organization responsible for spilling much Israeli blood in the past year?
-- Do you expect the IDF to pull out?
"Whether they stay or go, it's almost the same thing. A few hundred meters behind us there are roadblocks, so they'll maintain the occupation of Ramallah from there. There's not much difference. But they haven't achieved anything with their tanks. They sat in the tanks and didn't come out. They couldn't arrest even one of the suspects. They can't even go to the bathroom. Sharon spoke of three objectives after the Ze'evi murder: arresting or killing the leadership of the Popular Front - that didn't happen; arresting or killing the cell that killed Ze'evi - that didn't happen, either. And third, arresting or killing the chief terrorists in the territories, and that didn't happen either. So what did he achieve? Nothing. He just killed 68 Palestinians.
"If you occupy the streets of Bethlehem, you're not protecting the streets of Hadera. And that's just what happened: While they were in the streets of Bethlehem, a Palestinian cell took over the streets of Hadera. If you occupy Ramallah, a cell will come and occupy Tel Aviv. He cannot protect Israeli streets by occupying the territories. It's not the way."
-- How long will you continue?
"At the beginning of the intifada, they said it would all be over in two or three weeks. I was at Al-Aqsa at the time and I said that this intifada would last longer than anyone on either side expects. They tried to stop it with the help of the President of the United States, the Europeans, military pressure - and they haven't succeeded. True, we've paid a heavy price, but they haven't succeeded. The Israelis elected Sharon to bring security. He said, give me 100 days. It's been nine months, 270 days, and he hasn't succeeded. No one in the world can succeed in breaking a people's will with military power. It's not cells or organizations, it's a whole people you're dealing with.
"Today is the anniversary of the Rabin assassination. There hasn't been any peace process since he was killed. The guy who shot Rabin shot at the peace process. Unfortunately, he succeeded. He stopped the process, maybe even killed it. But there's no alternative to the process.. After a year or two, everyone will understand that there's no other way but peace."
-- What have you achieved?
"First of all, we succeeded in sending a message that the proposals raised at Camp David were unacceptable to the Palestinian people. Second, we succeeded in proving that the Israelis will never be able to feel they have security as long as there is an occupation. Security and occupation do not go together. Security and settlements do not go together. I'm telling you, there will not be security for one minute as long as the occupation is there. And the third achievement is that I think that every settler now understands that he has no future in the territories. Deep down, he realizes this. He has no sense of security. Some have left. It's not spoken of or written about so people won't say they're traitors, but this is what has happened in dozens of settlements. This is a big achievement - we managed to undermine the settlement enterprise. And fourth, we succeeded in uniting the Palestinian street. This is the first time in 25 years that all of the organizations are sitting around one table. Granted, there are major disagreements, but for the first time, there is also a wall-to-wall consensus. All the Palestinians want to put an end to the occupation and to the settlements and to establish a sovereign state within the `67 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital. On this, there is now a consensus. I'm talking about Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front - everyone. This is an important thing. I have personally gotten increasingly closer to them. There is a dialogue and we also have a joint committee that convenes every week."
In Israel, it has been reported that you are heading an effort to coordinate joint terror operations.
"This is untrue. I think it's all part of paving the way for my assassination. Ben-Eliezer and Moshe Ya'alon and the head of Military Intelligence say that I'm leading a combined military organization. What are they referring to? It's all meant to justify an assassination. A joint military leadership is not possible."
-- What are you responsible for?
"I'm responsible for Fatah, what the Israelis call the Tanzim. They differentiate between Fatah and the Tanzim. I am a political leader.. I support any action against the Israeli occupation and the settlers. You know that I'm always candid. I don't play word games. Newsweek asked me why we started this and I said that I ask myself how we could have been so tolerant. For seven years we waited. We should have started sooner. You know that I'm not from the peace camp. I am the peace camp. We were courageous enough to support Oslo and we tried to convince the whole world through dialogue. We were ready to meet with Shas and the Likud, with everyone - to talk, to persuade, to discuss.
"But the Israelis don't want to understand. Whoever has power and the mentality of power isn't interested in the fate of the weak. He doesn't care. We tried everything, really, even though we suffered and were in Israeli prisons and suffered through interrogations and pressure and expulsion. Even with all this suffering, we said, `Let's open a new page..' After seven years, we reached the conclusion that the Israelis don't want to understand. They're ready to sit at the negotiating table for another 100 years. What do they care?
"For them, it's not pressing. And meanwhile, they build more settlements. Since Oslo, they built 23,400 units. What does this say? They toyed with us and laughed at us. The same thing with the prisoners: I told them a thousand times that it's embarrassing for us. I'm embarrassed to be a Fatah leader while colleagues, such as Fathi Barghouti, a member of my cell, or Abu Sukar, are sitting in prison for 25 years. We said we were opening a new page. The Israelis don't want to treat the Palestinians as equals. They've never treated us as equals - not at the roadblocks or at the airport or on the road. And they always humiliated the Palestinian leadership.
"We have 100 years of experience of war without talks and 10 years of experience of talks without war. Now we've managed to correct the process, to put it on both feet. Now the intifada must continue, and we are also ready to sit down at the table. I'm not against that. If there is progress at the table, it will influence the actions in the field. For a year, they've been talking about a cease-fire. They're crazy. What are you going to tell the street? What is the cease-fire for? If the Israelis come with a plan and a timetable for a full withdrawal, it will give hope and a reason to stop."
What actions do you consider legitimate and what actions do you consider illegitimate?
"You know that up to now, our policy in Fatah has been to restrict our actions to the territories. There are political reasons for this as well - it is relevant to defend the matter of borders. I would really like all the organizations to concentrate on the territories. But I understand why they carry out actions inside Israel. Why should you feel secure in Tel Aviv when we don't feel secure in Ramallah or Bethlehem? More than 80 percent of those killed were killed in Area A.
"For me, Ramallah and Tel Aviv are now Area A. The same. If you want security in Tel Aviv, give security to Ramallah. If you come and say, `I respect the Palestinian territories. I won't carry out actions in the territories; they have immunity. And if you don't keep coming and going with tanks and humiliating the Palestinians, that's something else. Why should the Israelis have the right to fire shells and send in 15 tanks, while if a Palestinian goes into Israel, it's a big deal?
"I told the members, let's take a step back. I don't need to go to the Israeli points of power. He has a mountain called a tank, a mountain made of steel. He sits inside it and I can't do anything about it. So lets look for other places. I also don't support shooting at Psagot. You won't succeed in places that are well-fortified. It's as simple as ABC. You have to think about the places where they'll be taken by surprise. I don't think there's anything to be gained by shooting from Area A on settlements. I'm not against a cease-fire in Gilo, where the shooting doesn't do anything. Better to maintain quiet in Area A and keep up the resistance outside of Area A."
-- Is the PA making arrests now?
"Unfortunately, yes. I'm against these arrests."
-- Why shouldn't Israel assassinate you?
"First of all, in principle, the assassination policy is a policy of terror. It's also a very dangerous moral issue. And it also doesn't solve anything. Really. It just raises the level of hatred between the two peoples. One also has to look toward the future: Even when you go to war, you understand that one day there will be peace. There is no eternal war, except perhaps in Israel. And if they do kill me, do you think they'll find a new leader the next day who is more moderate than me, who'll fix Mofaz his morning coffee? If you're looking for a partner, you don't kill him."
-- Israel certainly doesn't view you as a partner.
"If we're not partners, then tell me who is. I think that we are the real partner for a real peace. Israel is wasting time and blood. Yesterday, I thought about what happened under Rabin's leadership: He shook hands with an Arab leader and all the Arab capitals opened up to you. He went everywhere. I feel that Israel is perhaps ashamed of being an occupier now. But maybe not. When I hear the Israeli leadership, from all the parties, speaking proudly of the occupation, I feel there's going to be a disaster in the region.
"How can you be proud when you're demolishing houses and killing people? This doesn't happen anywhere else in the world today, except for Afghanistan. The prime minister and the defense minister speak openly on television about assassinations. Two days ago, I heard them using those words: `We killed, we assassinated.' If they're looking for a partner who will accede to Israeli dictates, they won't find anyone. And if they find him, he won't be able to reach peace. The Israelis missed a historic opportunity with a brave partner like Arafat."
-- Will you try to assassinate Israeli leaders?
"We don't have such a strategy, nor have we had one for the last 50 years. But it is legitimate. If there are assassinations of the Palestinian leadership, we will have our own assassinations. It wasn't in our plan. The murder of the leader of the Popular Front is no small thing. I knew Abu Ali Mustafa. He was a friend of mine, a wonderful man. He decided to return home because of the peace process, so you can't accuse him of being against the process. He was a moderate. The Israelis are surprised by the Ze'evi killing? Ze'evi's head wasn't any more precious than that of Mustafa. I don't like word games of name-calling and so on. Ze'evi was a man of hatred, a symbol of killing and transfer, as well as a general, not a man of sport and literature, who always went around with a weapon and was proud of it. If you open the door to assassinations, you open it for everyone."
-- How are your relations with Arafat?
"In this interview, I will say that they are very good. He is the man who decides and I respect all of his decisions."
-- And if he decides on a cease-fire?
"I respect all of his decisions."
-- Will there be a cease-fire?
"That's already another question."
-- Why not try it for a month or two?
"Cease-fires don't solve anything, unless they're part of a political plan. It wouldn't last. The last time we met with Arafat, we told him we would respect his decision. And what happened? Within a few days, the Israelis went and carried out assassinations in Qalqilyah, Nablus and Tul Karm. Arafat announced a decision, so it has to be respected, but if the Israelis killed 68 Palestinians, how are you going to tell the street to hold their fire? Without any political hope, it's impossible to maintain a cease-fire."
-- What do you think of Ramon and Ben-Ami's unilateral separation proposal?
"They're confused. Let them come out and say what they really want. A few months ago, I heard Yossi Sarid say some truly brave things. He said that the occupation is the real factory for terror. I told Italian television that, look, I agree with everything the Israeli opposition leader says, so I'm not such an extremist. You talk about terror? Judge us only after we're equals, when we have a state."
-- Will we travel to Europe again?
"This time, only after a Palestinian state is established. I know how I've changed. I'm a person who lives on the Palestinian street and there they want only one thing - independence. They don't want to see Israelis, except as our guests. For seven years, the PA protected Israelis for free. For nothing in return. Now we've managed to defeat Sharon. He is the symbol of the occupation and the settlements, and sooner or later, the Israelis will understand that if Sharon can't bring security, then who can?
"Right now, escalation of the struggle is the only way to hasten peace. It's a type of dialogue, to make the Israelis understand. They don't want to understand in a polite dialogue. I'm saying this after seven years of talks with them. We talked and they didn't listen."
-- Do you expect to die of natural causes?
"I once said that death is in Allah's hands and not Sharon's. I'm ready for anything. I've been to all of our funerals. Now death isn't that big a deal on the Palestinian street, not to anyone."