Mustafa Barghouti joins Frost Over The World from
the Dead Sea in Jordan

Sir David Frost: During the past week over 40 people have been killed in Gaza in internal fighting between the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah.

Now in the last two days Israel has re-entered the equation - they were never very far away - by bombing Hamas targets in Gaza, which they blame for the rockets that were fired by Hamas into Israel. 

Joining me from the Dead Sea in Jordan is the information minister of the Palestinian National Unity Government, Mustafa Barghouti. 

We will come back to the basic Palestinian dispute but starting with today's news - here is one headline from The Guardian Online today, 'Israeli Air Strikes Kill Ten In Gaza'. Does this change the situation or is the basic dispute still the same and is Israel always a cloud on the horizon?

Mustafa Barghouti: Well it does not change the situation as much as it confirms the reality of the situation which is that all of us, the Palestinians, are under Israeli occupation still whether we are in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip, and that we are all the victims and targets of Israeli aggression. 

As you said today there were attacks that took the lives of ten people. Last year there were attacks that took the lives of seven other people. In general since this government was established Israel has killed more or less 45 Palestinians, while no Israelis were killed.

And to us this Israeli attack is a reminder that we should all be united and we should put aside our internal differences. But also it is a reminder that this is the real Israeli response to our four initiatives; the initiative for prisoner exchange, a peace initiative for a holistic peace, and our initiative for a complete, comprehensive and reciprocal ceasefire. 

This Israeli attack is practically the response to any of these initiatives and it shows there is no Israeli partner for peace at the moment. I am very sad to say so.

DF: At the same time I suppose when Israel has said: "Hamas fired more than a hundred rockets in the last few days into Israel and we will respond if that continues."  I mean that was not a very wise move?

MB: Well if they want to stop the missiles the route is very simple. We have done that already in November. And we are offering them complete Palestinian total abstention from any form of violence, both in the West Bank and Gaza, any time for Israelis. We are offering absolute and complete total elimination of violence.

They are responding with attacks. They have rejected constantly for the last two months our offer for a mutual and reciprocal ceasefire. What they want is unilateral abstention of any form of resistance from the Palestinian side, while Israel continues invading Palestinian cities, killing Palestinians, assassinating people.

Really in the last two months there were many missiles, you are right, but not a single Israeli was killed. Not a single one. Wherein the same period of time, as I said 45 Palestinians were killed including many women, many children. At least seven children were killed in the Israeli attacks.

DF: And in the same time lets just come back a day or two to the thing we thought we would be talking about first, which is the dispute that is going on between the two Palestinian forces in Gaza.

You said on one occasion that if the two parties wanted to sort this out they could. Why don't they? What do they have to do to sort out this very damaging battle with again more deaths?

MB: I think there are three reasons and I will explain them very quickly since I think I know why [as] I have [been] the mediator between them for a long time and recently in the last agreement two days ago. 

The main and first reason is that each side still thinks they can dominate and run the Palestinian show alone, which is impossible. We are now a democracy. No single party can single-handedly and alone run the Palestinian life. They have to accept the rule of democracy. 

The second reason is this prevalence of a terrible violent culture where people think that by using violence they can impose what they think. And here there is a serious handicap which we have to work on, because some people on both sides, on both factions, still think that democracy is not the way. 

I believe there is nothing wrong with [pluralism], with having differences. What is wrong is to try to serve these differences in a violent way and in an undemocratic and violent way. 

My last point is that there are lots of external interventions in the Palestinian issue. Original interventions, international interventions; there are countries in the world that try to supply us with more weapons, that want us to have more security forces although we have 90,000 people in the security operators. 

This is so large that we can enter Guinness Record for being the only country in the world where the number of people employed in the security operators is larger than the whole public and civil sector. 

This large security operation is consuming 32 per cent of our budget, 44 per cent of the salaries of the Palestinian Authority, and these same security forces are divided and shooting each other.  There has to be a complete and total reform. 

What we need from the world community is not more weapons, is not more guns, is not more incitement so that Palestinians would kill each other. What we need is money for health, for education, for infrastructure. What we need is to lift this embargo that is killing us and driving 90 per cent of the people under the line of poverty. 

Nine out of every ten families in Gaza live below the line of poverty. That is why there is so much violence. What we need is to lift the embargo, allow health to develop, provide humanitarian needs for Palestinians, allow development to take place. What is happening is that many forces outside are trying to use the Palestinian issue for their own regional or international interest.

DF: And in terms of the dispute that we have seen in the last few days and the disputes between Fatah and Hamas, and you I know are effectively there in the cabinet as an independent figure, not particularly Hamas, not particularly Fatah. What we have seen in the last few days, would you say that Hamas and Fatah are equally responsible for that, or is one a bit more responsible than the other?

MB: Well I don't have the right to measure that, but to be honest with you during the last dispute in general I think both sides are responsible. 

It is not important if one side is responsible 51 per cent and the other side is 49 per cent. Both are responsible and both must respond to our calls to end this terrible dispute and accept the rules of democracy to organise our differences. There is no way but to keep democracy. There is no way but to resort to democratic non-violent means. And we are working on that, and I hope we will succeed. 

But at the end of the day life has also shown how important it is for Palestinians to have a fair democratic force in Palestine that is independent from both Hamas and Fatah, because this terrible polarisation could destroy our future.

We are a learning, young democracy, but the future is ahead of us. And I hope these disputes will stop immediately and people will learn through experience that when they make a democratic choice, when they put a paper in the ballot box, they decide what happens to them in every aspect of life. It is a great experience if hopefully we manage to stop this violence, we manage to stop this dispute as soon as possible.

DF: How long will it be before you think you will see a viable, independent Palestinian state?

MB: When the world community understands that Israel has created an apartheid system as President Jimmy Carter said worse than the apartheid system in South Africa, and when the world decides to pressure Israel to end the occupation.

This interview aired on 18 May 2007.


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Source: Al Jazeera