"The only solution is the initiation of a true peace process"

Mustafa Barghouti addresses the media
Mutual recognition: "Hamas is ready for a two-state solution if Israel is ready to recognise a Palestinian state," says Barghouti (image: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty Images)

Mustafa Barghouti, general-secretary of al-Mubadara – the Palestinian National Initiative – and leading civil rights activist, talks about the ongoing war in Gaza and his vision for peace

Interview by Irene Anastassopoulou

Thank you, Dr. Barghouti, for joining us from Ramallah. Do you have any information about when Hamas will release the hostages?

Mustafa Barghouti: We know that Hamas is ready to release civilian prisoners and all those Israelis with dual nationality immediately, in exchange for nothing, if there is a ceasefire, so they can be released without harming anybody, like the four hostages who were already released.

But how can there be a ceasefire if Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organisation by several G7 countries, as well as by Israel and a number of other states, continues to fire rockets?

Barghouti: They are ready to stop if Israel stops its bombardment of Gaza. But I don't think Benjamin Netanyahu cares about prisoners – after all, the bombardment goes on. Hamas says that during the initial strikes, 60 of the hostages lost their lives. More hostages will doubtless die if the bombardment continues.

But Israel cannot negotiate with an organisation that refuses to acknowledge its right to exist. 

Barghouti: Hamas will not recognise Israel until Israel recognises a Palestinian state. Hamas is ready for a two-state solution. But Israel doesn't want a two-state solution. Don't forget that the PLO also used to be classified as a terrorist organisation, just as Hamas is now. Then, when Fatah, the PLO and all the Palestinian leaders recognised Israel as a state, Israel for its part decided only to recognise the PLO as a negotiator, never as the governing body of a Palestinian state. What Hamas is now saying is that they are not going to make the same mistakes as Fatah. Hamas is ready for a two-state solution if Israel is ready to recognise a Palestinian state. It has to be a mutual recognition and not only from one side. That is the real position. I know very well that they are ready to accept a two-state solution, which naturally includes Israel's right to exist.

But Hamas militants committed a horrific, brutal massacre killing 1,400 innocent people, most of them civilians.

Barghouti: I don't agree with the killing of any civilians – Palestinians or Israelis. I am totally against it. And yet, Israelis have been killing us the entire time and nobody cared. Prior to the Hamas attack on 7 October, Israelis had already killed 248 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 40 children, this year alone. And Israel is also holding a considerable number of Palestinians in detention, some of them minors, without charge. The fact that Israelis were killed on 7 October does not justify – in my opinion – the killing of more than 10,000 Palestinians in the resulting airstrikes over Gaza, including 6,000 children and over 2,500 women.

On ABC News, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed his plan for Gaza after the war for the first time, saying that Israel will assume overall "security responsibility" for Gaza for an indefinite period.

Barghouti: I understand that to mean he wants to reoccupy Gaza from the inside. He has already occupied it from the outside, because he controls the sea, the airspace, the crossings to Gaza, the checkpoints. Now he is seeking to enter Gaza and occupy the territory for a second time. He knows very well there will be resistance. That's why I believe he is aiming at more than reoccupation of the Strip. He wants to force everybody to leave across the border with Egypt. But Egypt won't accept it, Jordan won't accept it, nor will the Gazans themselves: they don't want to be refugees again. Seventy percent of the people in Gaza were forced to become refugees when the state of Israel was created in 1948.

Do you personally see any long-lasting solutions?

Barghouti: The only solution is the following: an immediate ceasefire, an exchange of prisoners, free elections for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and then the initiation of a true peace process. The United States is the only country in the world capable of changing the course of what is happening today and stopping the violence – if it wants. Up until now, the U.S. has not supported a ceasefire. They only speak about humanitarian pauses. In effect the Palestinians are being told: we won't kill you in the next two hours, but after two hours, we’ll start killing you again.

There have been allegations that Hamas is using civilians as human shields, preventing them from moving south …

Barghouti: That's not true. You can see the people on the TV. Nobody is preventing them from moving. And every time they try to move, they get bombed. People don't have any place to go – there is no place in Gaza that is safe. They are striking the north, the centre and the south. It is simply not safe to move in Gaza.

Visiting the West Bank, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas should retake control of the Gaza Strip. 

Barghouti: How can Abbas take responsibility for Gaza if Netanyahu insists on maintaining control over security there? He cannot. Israel won't allow it. Israel doesn't even allow Abbas to have control in the West Bank.

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But Mahmoud Abbas is old. The people in the West Bank don't trust him anymore.

Barghouti: The only way to emerge from the current situation is to have free, democratic elections involving all Palestinians.

Yet it was Abbas who cancelled the most recent elections, and not for the first time

Barghouti: ... because Israel did not want elections, Abbas didn't want elections. The USA didn't want elections to take place either, because Fatah would not have won a majority and nor would Hamas. 

So, you don't see any future?

Barghouti: I see one future, where we are free from occupation. It is the only future that can work. The Israelis have to choose whether they want one-state solution, or a two-state solution in peace with a Palestinian state. If they want a two-state solution, they will have to remove the illegal settlements in the West Bank. If they don't remove the settlements, it means they don't want two states. The only solution is a Palestinian democratic state with equal rights for everybody in a two-state solution, side by side.

Is there any space in this democratic Palestinian state for Hamas, which the EU, USA and other countries have classified as a terrorist organisation?

Barghouti: Hamas can either be part of the problem or the solution. It is better to have a unified Palestinian leadership with all parties together, which would allow Hamas to be part of the solution.

Irene Anastassopoulou

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