Exile and the Prophetic: Barghouti’s warning – the alternative to two states is ‘persistent conflict’ without any middle ground

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

If nations are defined by the people they jail, check out a recent interview with Marwan Barghouti.

I begin with Barghouti’s words about his abduction and imprisonment over the last eleven years. It’s worth quoting Barghouti to let his treatment at the hands of the Jewish state of Israel sink in.

In his words, I hear the legacy of the state of Israel. In his words I hear the legacy of the Jewish people. Is this what we have become?

I was abducted on April 15, 2002, in Ramallah, in the central West Bank, after several failed assassination attempts conducted by the Israeli occupation forces. I underwent a 100-day interrogation in three different centers in al-Masqubia in Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, and the secret internment facility No. 1391. I spent several years in solitary confinement, completely isolated from the world in a small cell where soil was falling off the ceiling and where cockroaches, mosquitoes and rats were rife. The cell was windowless, lacking direct sunlight and aeration. I used to go out handcuffed for one hour a day to a small yard where sun rays occasionally infiltrated, depending on the weather….

After a period in solitary confinement, I was moved to mass solitary confinement, where I currently am. I spend my time exercising in the morning, then reading local news, analyses and current developments in the daily Al-Quds — the only newspaper allowed in. We are allowed to watch 10 satellite channels, selected by the Israeli prison services, three of which are in Hebrew while the rest are in Arabic. We use these channels to follow up on political developments and general events. Additionally, I teach and lecture a number of detainees on politics, economics and history…

I was given five life sentences and sentenced to 40 years in prison. I refused to plead before the Israeli court or to be defended by a lawyer, because I’m a Palestinian member of parliament and I have enjoyed parliamentary immunity since 1996. Also, I was re-elected in 2006.

Initially there was speculation that Israel abducted Barghouti in order to negotiate the establishment of a Palestinian state. Israel was exploring the Nelson Mandela terrorist-to-statesman model as ripe for Israel and the Palestinians.

It’s more likely that Israel wanted to sideline a popular resistance figure in the West Bank. Perhaps the Palestinian Authority wanted the same.

I find it amusing when well-meaning outsiders desperately search for the Palestinian Nelson Mandela. They assume Mandela was the leader of a non-violent struggle against apartheid. For the record, Mandela was not the Martin Luther King of South Africa.

Mandela supported armed resistance against the South African regime. Mandela also insisted on an integrated, one person, one vote, non-racial state for South Africa. This is another contradiction for those who typically endorse a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.

So what in the world are these Mandela two-state, nonviolence advocates thinking?

But that’s another story. Barghouti is a “by any means necessary” Palestinian freedom advocate within the framework of international law. This means a variety of Palestinian resistance strategies are possible, including armed resistance.

However, Barghouti still prefers a two-state solution. His rationale is worth considering, as are his comments on the recent land-swap strategic (dementia) of the Arab League:

Until now, the only possible solution — in light of international, regional and Palestinian considerations — is the two-state solution. This solution must not be abandoned, and efforts should be exerted to put an end to the occupation and establish an independent, sovereign state. The Israelis must know that the day peace reigns in the region, the occupation will cease to exist. That’s why, what is first required from Israel is to announce its readiness to end the occupation, withdraw to the 1967 borders and accept the Palestinian right of self-determination — including their rights to establish an independent, sovereign state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Yet, the two-state solution is facing the threat of being crushed by the occupation’s tanks and the settlements’ bulldozers. Palestinian politicians and intellectuals, including figures from the Fatah movement, are voicing their opinions in favor of giving up on the two-state solution, given Israel’s intransigence and opposition to this plan. These figures favor focusing the struggle on achieving a single, binational state, based on citizenship, equality and eliminating the discriminatory Israeli regime that is based on occupation, settlement and discrimination.

I still believe that there is a chance to achieve the two-state solution, if Israel honestly and explicitly agrees to withdraw to the 1967 borders and commits to it and recognizes a fully sovereign state. If the two-state solution fails, the substitute will not be a binational one-state solution, but a persistent conflict that extends based on an existential crisis — one that does not know any middle ground.

Barghouti’s warning – that the substitute for a two-state solution isn’t one state but rather a “persistent conflict that extends based on an existential crisis – one that does not know any middle ground” – isn’t easy to decipher. Nonetheless, it is extremely important.

Whether Barghouti is simply unclear here or is using coded language, I can’t be certain. Is the “existential crisis” he refers to a description of Israeli Jews within the state should the Jewish character of the state collapse? Or would such a crisis affect Jews and Palestinians because, in the end, both communities are so stuck in a divided politicized reality they wouldn’t know what to do if the Apartheid Wall (and boundaries) came tumbling down?

More important I think is Barghouti’s sense of the “middle ground” giving way to a “persistent conflict.” Since the conflict is already persistent is the middle ground Barghouti wants to maintain the buffer that keeps Israel/Palestine from becoming an Armageddon battleground like Syria?

The shame of it all is that the middle ground collapsed a long time ago, though as yet, without the final Armageddon forces being unleashed. This is because Israel still has the militarily decisive upper hand. If Israel’s military control slips away then Barghouti’s middle ground that isn’t will be exposed.

So Barghouti is arguing for a restored middle ground to regain political traction and avoid the persistent conflict he predicts. The problem is that Israel doesn’t want Barghouti’s middle ground. Nor do the Arab powers in the region. Perhaps no political player of any significance wants a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and thus prefers Israel’s version of the middle ground – the status quo – as long as stability in the Middle East can be maintained.

So everyone agrees that the unjust status quo – the middle ground that isn’t really middle ground – is a must.

Is this the middle ground being negotiated right now by the powers that be in the Middle East with the prompting of Russia, Europe and the United States?

Persistent conflict. Anyone who has lived it can’t recommend it under any circumstances. Then, again, isn’t Barghouti himself a testimony to the fact that the conflict persists?

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The IDF loves conflict. It can manage this indefinitely.

What it is afraid of :

Mass civilian peaceful protest

So what in the world are these Mandela two-state, nonviolence[*] advocates thinking? That’s easy: we would like the Palestinians to have leaders who conduct a struggle that in no way threatens the status quo or makes us feel uncomfortable, and with whom there is no need for compromise, because they are already on our side! [*] Does not include boycott, divestment or sanctions (with the exception of the settlements where neither we nor any of… Read more »

With the Third Intifada in its early stage, look for the leadership to be decentralized and to emerge from the grassroots, as per the first Intifada, because such a leadership is more suitable for the long haul, less likely to be immobilized by the IDF’s picking off a few top leaders. The more it resembles Tahrir Square’s and the Occupy Movement’s leaderless, yet everyone a leader , the closer it’ll be to the people. And… Read more »

I wonder if Barghouti’s time has passed along with that of his jailers. It doesn’t matter how many times the bots were warned. You fucked up for the last time as David Guetta put it. They wanted yesha and they have to live with it now. Burston’s letter to alicia keys says it all. Jewish framing of the conflict is as pointless now as Palestinians hoping for the 2SS. The road ahead is unmapped. Zionism… Read more »

Too, imagine the blot on the legacy of America for future generations. Most Germans had no real clue either, back in the day. Consider they had no access to info except the paper press, and, once Hitler was installed, a radio with one channel, courtesy of Hitler. Now they pay endlessly both in cash and internal angst for what their forefathers did. With the onset of the internet, it’s going to be very hard for… Read more »