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Mustafa Barghouthi’s 2-state/1-state straddle

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Yesterday the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran a fine piece by Mustafa Barghouthi, the Palestinian leader, saying that he could support a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders– but forget about this land-swaps business. As he explains:

Our best West Bank land and aquifers would go to Israeli settlements in exchange for sub-standard land elsewhere. Already, Israel uses 80 percent of West Bank water resources and on a per capita basis Israeli settlers use approximately 48 times more water than Palestinians. The current unjust water distribution is likely to be made permanent if Israel keeps settlements, all of which are illegal under international law.

Israel’s retention of settlement blocs and a military presence in the Jordan Valley will make our state noncontiguous and nonviable. Our state would be little more than disconnected Bantustans.

Barghouthi is on an American swing and I saw him last Thursday at the Nation. He’s a very impressive statesman– tough, thoughtful, seasoned, charming, goodlooking. The sort of person you hope will help to lead a country before long. 

During that session Barghouthi said that Netanyahu’s speech to Congress was the “death sentence of the two-state solution” because it promised Bantustans and ghettoes. And if Netanyahu really believes that life for Palestinians inside Israel is such a paradise– Israel offers the best political conditions for Arabs anywhere in the region, Netanyahu said– then why not extend those freedoms to all the other Palestinians, in a one-state solution?

I found Barghouthi’s position a little too clever, and during the Q-and-A, I asked this question: Two years ago I heard you speak in Palestine, outside the Ofer prison, and say that if Israel can’t give Palestinians a viable state, why can’t we try living in one democratic state. Well now it’s two years later, there are tons more settlers, and I hear you saying the same thing. Why don’t you tell us what your vision is of the future?

To his credit, Barghouthi didn’t pause. I think the one state solution is the best idea, he said. (This isn’t an exact quote; I was taking occasional notes, the session was recorded but has not yet been posted at the Nation site).

I said, Well why not make that your program?

He said, “We will not fall into the same trap [as we did in the past]… of allowing them to accuse us of destroying the two state solution.” If Israel really does leave the occupied territories, then we can talk about a two-state solution and talk about a federated agreement between states. But that, he said, would be a “miracle.”

So isn’t it just rhetoric, I said, when you talk about the two-state solution?

Barghouthi said, “The first day we declare that we are giving up on a two-state solution… they will say, you are the ones who want to destroy Israel.”

I left the meeting with enormous sympathy for Barghouthi. He knows what happened to Arafat after Camp David. Clinton blamed the failure of the talks on him, and even today Eliot Spitzer echoes that theme on his cable show. (Yes and when will a Palestinian have a cable show?) Barghouthi knows how slanted the American discourse is in favor of the Jewish state, so he can’t be seen to oppose it, and yet he surely doesn’t believe in a Jewish state– as a man born in Jerusalem who can’t even go to his birthplace!

As always, I thought about American Jews. Barghouthi cannot be clear about his program, I believe, because American Jews are wed to the idea of the need for a Jewish state. If they were not wed to this idea– if they accepted the possibility that they might not need a second state to run to when things get hot here– it would liberate Barghouthi to discuss these issues frankly in the U.S., and surely lead to more flexible American policymaking overseas.

But maybe that’s another miracle?

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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