U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell's recent return to the Middle East marks the tentative resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process through "proximity talks," as U.S. diplomats will shuttle between the two sides in the hopes of establishing the groundwork for direct negotiations. Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti, however, is not sitting on his hands waiting for the United States to fix everything: "We expect that, if the Palestinian Authority took the guide from Obama on the issue of settlements, we expect that the American administration would say to Israel: Enough is enough," he says about the U.S. president.
A longtime campaigner for Palestinian rights whose activism has focused on nonviolent resistance, Barghouti ran in the 2005 Palestinian presidential election, finishing second to Mahmoud Abbas; won a seat in the Palestinian Legislative Council in the 2006 election; and served as minister of information for the Palestinian unity government in 2007. In Washington to meet with U.S. officials prior to the beginning of proximity talks, he sat down with Foreign Policy to discuss the threat posed by Israeli settlement growth, how the Palestinian Authority has lost its way, and why U.S. President Barack Obama is responsible for the poor results of peace talks.
Foreign Policy: What was the message that you received from the United States about what the upcoming indirect talks can accomplish at this point?
Mustafa Barghouti: We're getting two kinds of messages. On one side there is a lot of involvement in lots of little details. That makes us worried that people could get lost in the bushes, especially because the Israelis are very skillful in dividing issues and postponing them. I'm really worried about what could happen to Mitchell -- I don't want him to be lost in the jungle of details.
On the other hand, we got a message from top-level people in the policymaking [community] that Obama is not about incremental, little things. His policy is about the resolution of this issue. That's why I think it's a turning point.
FP: You mentioned that you showed maps to the U.S. officials -- what did they show, and what point did you hope to illustrate with them?
MB: The maps show that Israel has created, over the last 43 years, a matrix of several things, each of which is contributing to destroying the option of potential peace. The matrix includes settlement building and checkpoints to prevent freedom of Palestinian movement. It includes the wall, which is demarcating the borders, downsizing the whole idea of Palestinian statehood from West Bank and Gaza into little clusters of bantustans and ghettos. Israeli military orders that practically make Israel the only source of legislation for Palestinians as well.
That combination of factors together is determining a new reality, which is an apartheid system instead of real Palestinian statehood. When you see the maps, you see the creeping annexation and the creeping apartheid system -- but the most important [facts] are the new geopolitical realities that make the whole idea of the peace based on a two state solution impossible.