Moderate? Or just pragmatic?

Marwan Barghouti

Marwan Barghouti

This idea seems to return every year or so, with the regularity of a flu epidemic:

There is growing support in the government and in the Knesset for the release of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is considered a top contender to replace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the future, and who is possibly the most popular figure on the Palestinian street.

Following the election of Barghouti to Fatah’s powerful Central Committee, Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman [Labor, of course — ed.] said Tuesday that “In light of the election results, we must consider releasing him in order to create a moderate and strong political leadership among the Palestinians…”

National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer [also Labor — ed.] has in the past also expressed support for the notion. Channel 10 reported Tuesday that the minister said in closed conversations earlier in the day that Barghouti “is the only one” who can bring the Palestinians to a final status peace deal with Israel…

Barghouti is seen as a relatively moderate force in the Palestinian leadership. In 2006 Barghouti was involved in shaping what became known as ‘the Palestinian prisoners’ document,’ which called for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. It was signed by prisoners representing of all major Palestinian factions including Hamas.

It is strange to hear this about someone who is serving five life terms for masterminding an equal number of murders (and those are just the ones of which he was convicted). But stranger things have happened — Israel invited Arafat back from exile in 1993 (and we know how that turned out).

The fact is that while Barghouti does have a lot of support among Palestinians, it is precisely because he is not moderate. Remember, 77% of Palestinians say that “the rights and needs of the Palestinian people cannot be taken care of as long as the state of Israel exists” (Pew survey, 6/27/07).

Barry Rubin explained the popularity of Hamas as follows:

[G]iven the cult of violence and total victory dominating Palestinian political culture Hamas is inevitably seen as heroic because it fights and rejects compromise … Compromise is treason; moderation is cowardice. This is the daily fare of Palestinian ideology and politics, purveyed by leaders, clerics, media, and schools.

The spate of militant resolutions recently passed by the Fatah convention also illustrates this. Now imagine that you could have the militancy of Hamas without the Taliban-like religious coercion, and Fatah’s international acceptance without the corruption. Add a person with intelligence, a good strategist with organizational ability, and one who can talk to all factions. This is why Barghouti is appealing to Palestinians. If he were in the opposition in any Arab country, he would have been hanged long ago.

Barghouti is not moderate: he is pragmatic. There is a difference. Barghouti’s “Prisoner’s document“, as I’ve written before, is not a ‘moderate’ document. It calls for a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem; the joining together of Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad into a unified PLO which will lead the Palestinians, the return of refugees and release of prisoners “on the land of the fathers and grandfathers” — Israel proper; and “the right of the Palestinian people in resistance and clinging to the option of resistance with the various means”. There is a suggestion of limitations on violence — but just between Palestinian factions! It makes no mention of recognition of Israel. Indeed, the word ‘Israel’ does not appear in any of its 18 points.

Thus we come to a reductio ad absurdum of the ‘peace process’. Here we have someone who is in jail for multiple murders of noncombatants (one victim was a Greek monk).  He’s a proven terrorist, committed to violent ‘resistance’ against Israel. Indeed, because of his militant credentials, he is the only one that Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, etc. could agree to follow. He is likely to be an effective leader of the Palestinian ‘struggle’.

One would think  that this is the last guy that Israel should let out of jail. But it is considered necessary for the peace process that there be a unified Palestinian entity to negotiate with.

What does this tell us about the ‘peace process’?

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One Response to “Moderate? Or just pragmatic?”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    The distinction made here between being moderate and being pragmatic provides a real understanding of who Barghouti is. Time and time again makes the right definition and distinction of a Middle East reality in the way almost all other political commentators fail to do.
    Thanks for this illuminating piece.