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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?

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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13 Responses

  1. seafoid
    June 4, 2013, 10:13 am

    The IDF loves conflict. It can manage this indefinitely.

    What it is afraid of :

    Mass civilian peaceful protest

  2. Shmuel
    June 4, 2013, 12:00 pm

    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 our friends live), because such measures, although “technically” non-violent, make us feel uncomfortable and sometimes inconvenienced (we love Alicia Keys!), and so cannot possibly be legitimate.

    • seafoid
      June 4, 2013, 12:59 pm

      Only Jews can be trusted with violence because of their long history of tolerance, philanthropy and chicken tikkun masala.

  3. yourstruly
    June 4, 2013, 12:19 pm

    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 considering the fact that only 2 years ago the self-immolation of a poor Tunisian street vendor struck a fault line that was felt throughout the Arab/Islamic world & beyond, and that aftershocks are still occurring, imagine the potential, right now, of a third uprising on the balance of power throughout the world. Power to the people? Let us hope so.

  4. seafoid
    June 4, 2013, 1:06 pm

    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 is not going to make it.

  5. Citizen
    June 4, 2013, 2:06 pm

    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 parents and grandparents to justify how America backed Israel’s rogue, regressive conduct, after Nuremberg, after the fall of apartheid S Africa, and in the 21st Century.

  6. clenchner
    June 4, 2013, 3:21 pm

    I’m chuckling when I think of all the folks who must be is cursing under under their breath and calling this guy a soft Zionist.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      June 4, 2013, 4:10 pm

      “I’m chuckling when I think of all the folks who must be is cursing under under their breath and calling this guy a soft Zionist.”

      Nonsense. Barghouti’s statement that the alternative to the two-state fantasy isn’t a single state but a “persistent conflict that extends based on an existential crisis – one that does not know any middle ground” is a simple truth, recognizing that the Jews who run israel (and by the extensions all the Jews who elect them) are incorrigibly racist and evil and will employ a racist and evil system of Judeo-supremacy and apartheid over one which respects the Palestinians’ human rights. And he is correct. There is nothing in the history of that state that indicates that more than a small percentage of the Jews who make up the electorate have any consideration for principles of human rights.

      • Ecru
        June 5, 2013, 7:04 am

        …and by the extensions all the Jews who elect them…

        I think that can be extended to include all the Jews around the world that support Israel, apparently no matter what it does. So called “Liberal” Zionists too.

    • Sycamores
      June 4, 2013, 7:25 pm

      @ Newclench
      not cursing but chuckling – it’s the zionist that kill the 2SS and now they are left with a one state solution with the 6 million Palestinians already there and another 6 million returnees in waiting. beginning to look like the greed of the zionist will be the end of the Jewish majority in Palestine. within one year of the one state one vote i reckon going by what happen in South Africa about one fifth of israeli white Jews will leave Palestine making the Jewish minority even smaller. hopefully present day israelis pay heed to this and stop abusing the human/civil rights of the Palestinians because maybe one day the remaining israelis will need to depend on the same human/civil rights that is entitle to everyone, especially when they are in a minority.

  7. DICKERSON3870
    June 4, 2013, 7:04 pm

    RE: “In his [Bargouti’s] words [about his aduction and imprisonment over the last 11 years], 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?” ~ Marc Ellis

    “IDF Skunk Cannon Odorizes West Bank”, by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 3/06/13

    [EXCERPT] The IDF routinely uses a truly disgusting weapon of war to maintain the Occupation: a skunk cannon. To the uninitiated, imagine instead of fire hoses and police dogs, Sheriff Bull Connor used a massive stream of raw sewage mixed with skunk oil and let it fly not just on the civil rights marchers but all the citizens and businesses in town. Then imagine you’re one of the victims and it’s flying at you from a truck the size of a small tank. The ostensible purpose of this vehicle is to disrupt protests on the West Bank. Keep in mind, that these are for the most part totally non-violent incidents in which demonstrators are expressing their legitimate opposition to issues like building the Separation Wall, which in itself is an illegal project under international law. In short, the purpose of the skunk cannon is not to break up violent rallies or protect the IDF from the wrath of Palestinians. It is purely meant to suppress the political will of the Palestinian people.
    Ynet reports (Hebrew) that in addition to spraying protesters, those who operate the vehicles randomly spray residential homes and businesses having nothing to do with the demonstrations. This is collective punishment . . .


    *P.S. FROM WIKIPEDIA [Skunk (weapon)]:

    [EXCERPT] “Skunk” is a malodorant, non-lethal weapon used for crowd control by the Israeli Defense Forces. Deriving its name from the animal of the same name, “Skunk” is dispersed as a form of mist, fired from a water cannon, which leaves a terrible odor of rot or sewage on whatever it touches. It does not wash off easily and is said to linger on clothes for up to five years.[1] First attempts at developing a scent-based form of crowd control began in Israel in 2004; Skunk was first used for crowd control in September 2008.
    According to David Ben Harosh, head of technological development for the Israeli police, the recipe is based entirely on natural organic ingredients, including yeast and baking powder, does not include any harmful materials, and may even be ingested without causing harm. The inventors plan to market Skunk to other forces worldwide. . .

    SOURCE –

  8. DICKERSON3870
    June 4, 2013, 7:19 pm

    RE: “So what in the world are these Mandela two-state, nonviolence advocates thinking?” ~ Marc Ellis

    MY COMMENT: I wouldn’t waste a lot of time trying to figure that out since, in reality, most of them are just “two state fakers”*! ! !

    * REGARDING “TWO STATE FAKERS”, SEE: “Flotilla 3.0: Redeeming Obama’s Palestine Speech with Gaza’s Ark”, By Robert Naiman,, 3/25/13

    [EXCERPT] . . . Bibi doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state; Bibi’s government doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state; AIPAC doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state; and Congress – which defers to AIPAC – doesn’t want an independent Palestinian state. Of course, many of them mouth the words – not Bibi’s government, they don’t even do that – but those who mouth the words oppose any practical measure that would help bring an independent Palestinian state into existence. They’re “two state fakers.” Settlement freeze? Impossible. UN membership for Palestine? Can’t be done. No, according to the two state fakers, the only option on the menu in the restaurant for the Palestinians is to return to negotiations without a settlement freeze, negotiations that for 20 years have brought more land confiscation, more settlements, more restrictions on Palestinian movement and commerce, more oppression. . .


  9. SQ Debris
    SQ Debris
    June 5, 2013, 5:03 pm

    It’s pretty weird that Barghouti posits withdrawl to the 1967 lines as the single imperative to preventing an (already) endless conflict. Did he say a word about the refugees? If millions of people are prevented from exercising their rights, then ending the occupation of the WB and Gaza is not going to end this conflict.

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