PLO to Arafat’s Popular Successor: Stand Aside for the Puppet

Palestinian freedom fighter Marwan Barghouti is Arafat’s likely popular successor. But due to intense political pressure, he is standing aside in upcoming elections and urging support of moderate candidate Mahmoud Abbas — favorite of Sharon and the US.

Marwan Barghouti has been Fatah Secretary-General since 1994 and played a key role on the street in both the first Intifada and the present Intifadat al-Aqsa. Marwan sits in Nafha prison in the al-Naqab/Negev desert, sentenced last June 6 and now serving five life terms plus 40 years on trumped-up charges of multiple murder.

At the present critical juncture, anti-authoritarians should be part of a broad international movement to ensure the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership with strong ties to the Palestinian masses — a leadership that isn’t a compliant puppet of the Israeli ruling class and the West, overseeing a vassal state totally controlled by Israel.

Freedom Now!

Elections for the Palestinian president to succeed Arafat have been called for January 9, 2005. In the name of Palestine Liberation Organization unity, Barghouti has, apparently under great pressure from the PLO old guard, decided not to enter the fray as an independent and has called on supporters in the PLO new guard — and in effect on the Palestinian masses in the West Bank and Gaza — to support the PLO moderate candidate Mahmoud Abbas. That decision — which came after various ‘informed’ reports that Barghouti had indeed opted for making a presidential bid from his prison cell — may help keep the PLO externally unified over the months to come, masking what is already a fierce power struggle for authentic directions within.

Yet it is widely acknowledged in the Palestinian street, where Marwan earned his credentials as the leader of the Intifada, that he is Abu Ammar’s popular successor. He is probably also the only man who can end the Intifada. It is also clear that Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), whatever his stature as a senior PLO leader, is the candidate of choice of Sharon, his cabal and the Euro-Atlantic power axis — a man whom they hope to wind around their political finger in any future ‘negotiated’ settlement.

Marwan’s decision takes him out of what would have been intense international limelight, returning him to the limbo of his cell in the desert. At this crucial conjuncture, Israeli and international progressives should raise two demands: for Barghouti’s immediate release from prison and for his safety. There is a definite danger the Israeli government may decide — before or after the election — to liquidate him if they think he is the true popular choice of the Palestinian masses. They have him in custody; his assassination, or a staged fatal ‘accident,’ would be child’s play.

When sentenced last June, Barghouti stressed: “The continuation of the intifada is the only path to independence. No matter how many they arrest or kill, they will not break the determination of the Palestinian people. I don’t care whether I am sentenced to one life sentence, or 10 or 50; my day of liberty is the day the occupation ends. [...] The Israeli courts are a partner to the Israeli occupation. The judges are just like pilots who fly planes and drop bombs.” During his trial, the Israeli peace bloc Gush Shalom protested demanding: “Barghouti to the negotiating table, not to jail!”

In an article in the Washington Post in January 2002, Marwan stressed: “I am not a terrorist, but neither am I a pacifist. I am simply a regular guy from the Palestinian street advocating only what every other oppressed person has advocated — the right to help myself in the absence of help from anywhere else.”

Marwan was apprehended by the Israeli army in Ramallah on April 15, 2002, and has been illegally held in Israeli jails since then. He is kept in solitary confinement, separated from all other prisoners in Nafha, many of them Palestinian freedom fighters like himself. Marwan has repeatedly denied any involvement whatsoever with the deaths he has been charged with. During the proceedings against him, which began in 2003, he denounced the “show trial” as illegal, the Israeli court without any right to try him.

Permanent State of Emergency

Many Palestinians believe Barghouti is the only man who can end the Intifada. But key figures inside the Israeli political-military elite may fear precisely that: they do not want to see an end to the violence and actively scheme to engineer its repeated ‘churning,’ provoking militant groups. They may well want a weak president who will be increasingly discredited in the eyes of the Palestinian masses, thus strengthening the hand of Hamas, the Aqsa Brigades and other militant organizations. As Giorgio Agamben has written: “How could we not think that a system that can no longer function at all except on the basis of emergency would not also be interested in preserving such an emergency at any price?”

That permanent state of emergency is the subterfuge under which to continue the expansion of existing settlements, the demoralization of the Palestinian masses, and the incessant expropriation of ever more of their land in the West Bank.

Election Doomed From the Start?

The poll itself can easily turn out to be a sham. We have no example of a supposedly democratic election under the extraordinary conditions of a massive and oppressive Occupation. The West Bank today is a mazeway of road blocks and checkpoints that have earned the Occupation the name in Arabic Ihtilal, the Suffocation.

The Israeli short-term strategy will be to pressure Mahmoud Abbas toward a set of compromises that will in effect produce what Arafat refused to agree to: an Israel-dominated Palestinian Bantustan, an archipelago of enclaves, behind a Great Wall and a high Gaza fence: the 0.5-state solution. The Palestinian refugees will continue to rot in their camps, half a nation in limbo with nowhere to go.

Israel itself has probably already destroyed the geographic basis for any viable two-state arrangement. What exists de facto is indeed two states: Israel and its settler state exclave on the West Bank, with prospects for Gaza to become a fully quarantined isolate under Israeli spatial and economic control. This reality, culminating in the Great Wall of Palestine, reflects the radical separation of Jews and Arabs at all scales which has remained the fundamental principle of mainstream Zionist-nationalist policy since the earliest period of Jewish colonization in Palestine.

he Path Forward

The real need over the longer haul is to build a mass non-violent movement of Israelis and Palestinians toward a single democratic non-national state, a “politics from below,” forging bonds of ta’ayush (togetherness) in common struggle, and the return of refugees in massive numbers. Inside Israel, there remains the absolute necessity to move beyond the ‘ethnocracy’ of apartheid that Zionism has created for the 20 percent of its citizenry that is Palestinian [1], and the ‘decolonizing’ of the consciousness of the Jewish-Israeli masses. As historian Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin has stated: “Bi-nationalism, in the broad sense, is the question of the Arab-Jew, and its aim is to counter the Orientalist paradigm that pits one of these identities against the other […] As long as Israeli discourse is premised on the dichotomy Arab vs. Jew, it will be impossible to frame an alternative. Arab-Jew is, thus, a call for partnership based on the decolonization of Jewish identity in all senses and contexts” [2].

Direct democracy can only spring from mass and massive unity of purpose and action among Palestinians and Israelis in direct action. Working in stages over say 15 years: from two (or even 1.5) states to one state and on to ‘no state’ — forward to a Cooperative Socialist Commonwealth of Canaan in federation with a radically democratized Jordan [3].

Over the shorter term, I would argue pragmatism, or a kind of utopian realism: press now for the “best deal” option for a Palestinian statelet, recognizing that such a Palestinian 0.5-state inevitably controlled by Israeli nationalists, international Capital and its elites is a short-term compromise and not a solution. Yet its nominal creation holds out a desperately needed space for Palestinians in which to breathe inside the Ihtilal and its orchestrated nightmare.

1. See interview with Uri Davis: http://mumbai.indymedia.org/en/2004/10/209807.shtml

2. Quoted in Yael Lerer, “The Word in Times of Crisis,” http://oznik.com/words/041116.html

3. B. Templer, “Tanks & Ostriches,” The Dawn, August 2004, http://the-dawn.org/2004/08/ostriches.html