Interview: "Abbas has twelve months to get rid of the corrupt”.
Originally published in Corriere della sera, Friday 29 April 2005
By Davide Frattini
He is finishing “Omertà” by Mario Puzo; one of the books that the Red Cross has delivered (eight books every six months) to the most famous Palestinian prisoner in Israel’s prisons. Marwan Barghouti gobbles up everything they bring him, even the story of a mafia godfather who decides to retire.
He wears his familiar short beard and the brown uniform of prisoners. He lives in a cell measuring two metres by one-and-a-half – explains his lawyer – and for the next three months he will not be able to receive any family visits. He was sentenced in May 2004 to five life sentences plus forty years after being convicted of involvement in the murders of five Israelis. The secret services are divided on what to do with him in future. To Shin Bet he is the “architect of terror” in the second Intifada, and falls into the category of “a prisoner with blood on his hands” who should never be released. But military analysts see the head of Fatah in the West Bank as a possible interlocutor, a pragmatic person who could rein in the extremists. For Palestinians, he is a leader of the new generation (he is 46), one of those who fights corruption. President Mahmoud Abbas has said that he needs twelve months to put the Palestinian house in order.
“So let him have a year. If he carries out a plan of reform, I will be right beside him, like the majority of Palestinians. But he must not make compromises, there must not be any exceptions. Anyone who is expelled from his position after years of bad administration cannot be rewarded with some role in a ministry. I am astonished by these kinds of deals, they produce only more bureaucracy that doesn’t work.”
Any regrets? Should you have run for President?
“The decision was right, for the sake of national reconciliation. But there can be no doubts that the Palestinian Authority and Fatah have to be reformed. I hope that the next Fatah congress will be a concrete step in consolidating democracy and punishing corrupt officials. It will also give an opportunity for young people to lead the organisation”.
In the last few weeks the Authority has faced an internal revolt. Elements of the al-Aqsa Brigades, linked to Fatah, have been shooting in the streets. How should the government in Ramallah intervene?
“In years past the Authority has failed, it has not succeeded in creating the nucleus of a Palestinian democratic state. Now it has to rebuild its institutions: political, financial, security-related. We have to have legislative elections based on a law that enjoys broad support and guarantees the participation of women: there can be no democracy without women having a role. The problem of violence is the clearest example of the failure of the Authority. We must put an end to to centers of personal power in the security forces and one or two of the past commanders should be put on trial.
Can the militants be absorbed into the security forces?
“They shouldn’t expect a reward for their struggle and sacrifice. They didn’t fight for personal interests, but for independence. They have a right to live in a dignified way”.
Hamas is prepared to take part in the legislative elections in July.
“We cannot imagine the future of the Palestinian people without the participation of the islamic movement. It is a victory for democracy and national unity, an important political development for Hamas, which we should encourage”.
Even if your party, Fatah, risks losing the elections.
“The success of Hamas in the Gaza municipal elections was a result of their struggle, the honesty of their leaders, and their sacrifice. But it was also a result of errors and bad management by Fatah. I am confident: if reforms are made, Fatah will regain its position as the leading party”.
What do you suggest? Primaries to renew the faction?
“Primaries are fundamental. The members and supporters of Fatah have the right to choose their candidates. Creating artificial lists can bring only electoral defeat”.
You have read “The Missing Peace”, by the American mediator Dennis Ross. These days, are other opportunities for peace being missed?
“I read Ross’ book and Clinton’s autobiography together. I am convinced that no agreement will endure if it does not guarantee the end of Israeli occupation, the birth of a free and democratic Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of the refugees”.
This summer, the Israelis will withdraw from Gaza. Does this represent an opportunity for Abbas to show he can administer the Strip?
“The withdrawal from Gaza was not achieved through the skills of negotiators but by the weapons of the intifada. It is partial. If the situation remains that way, it will not bring peace and stability”.
On becoming President, Abbas called for an end to the armed struggle. Now the truce seems to be shaky, rockets are starting to be fired again from Gaza against Israel.
“It is impossible to renounce the option of resistance as long as the Occupation remains. Three months ago the Palestinian groups decided to guarantee a period of calm to allow international negotiators an opportunity to advance negotiations. What did we get in exchange? New colonies, siege, checkpoints, thousands more prisoners in jail. There are elements in Israeli socety who seek a real peace, who reject the occupation. They are our future interlocutors”.
Translation, and all errors therein, by Lawrence of Cyberia.