July 29, 2013
An Elusive Peace
By Mustafa Barghouti
Nominee, Nobel Peace Prize

It may be the most protracted political conflict in modern history. Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti, who has devoted decades to the struggle for a just peace, argues that a lasting settlement is only possible if Israel is held accountable for its actions.

The biggest obstacle to a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians today can be summed up very simply: Israel’s unwillingness to work for peace. It is benefiting materially and financially from its occupation of Palestinian territories, and it’s getting away with it because important parts of the international community are allowing Israel to operate above international law.

There is, therefore, no balance of power that could lead to peace. Israel is too strong and the Palestinians are too weak. For example, Palestinians can’t stop Israel from building settlements in the West Bank – a part of the occupied Palestinian territories.

The political product of Israel’s occupation – the longest in modern history – has been a de facto system of apartheid.

Israeli policy toward the Palestinians has long been based on discrimination. The political product of Israel’s occupation – the longest in modern history – has been a de facto system of apartheid. The economic product has been control of agricultural land, water, and important sectors of the economy.

There is a certain climate of opinion that entertains the terrible notion that Palestinian statehood is impossible, and that the Palestinians must therefore accept the Bantustan system that now exists in the West Bank and live under a system of discrimination.

This is totally unacceptable.

The best way to deal with the conflict is to end the Israeli occupation, allowing Palestinians to have a true state – not just clusters of Bantustans – within the 1967 borders, and giving full citizenship to Palestinians who live in Israel.

Another way is for Israel to say, “We won’t allow a Palestinian state,” and accept the one-state solution, whereby Israelis and Palestinians would live together in one merged political entity where everyone has equal rights.

The only other way is what’s happening today – a system of discrimination and inequality.

The world has to understand that the possibility of a two-state solution is vanishing because of Israel’s policy of intransigence. If Israel wants a two-state solution, however, it has to remove its settlements on the West Bank.

We in the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party and movement I helped found in 2002, want a two-state solution immediately, without settlements, without discrimination, and with a real state based on 1967 borders. If that’s not going to happen, then the only alternative is the aforementioned one-state solution.

For us, the next 10 years will be a struggle very similar to the one Martin Luther King Jr. faced in the United States and Nelson Mandela faced in South Africa – fighting against a system of apartheid and demanding our rights.

The Palestinian political system has for decades been undermined by nepotism and clientelism – political support given in return for favors.

Of course, the Palestinians have to get their own political house in order, as well. The Palestinian political system has for decades been undermined by nepotism and clientelism – political support given in return for favors. That traditional way of doing things has weakened the system from within because it has opened the door to corruption and internal divisions.

We believe Palestinians need a modern political system based on pluralism, democratic participation, and refusal to allow any kind of one-party rule. Following the 2005–2006 Palestinian elections, we ended up having two one-party systems (Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank) rather than a pluralistic one.

We want a system with separation of powers, a strong judiciary, and the complete depoliticization of the security apparatus. We believe that every party has the right to run, and that every party has the right to govern as long as the people elected it, but that no party has the right to a political monopoly. In other words, we want a properly functioning democracy.

Another important issue is social justice, and our initiative puts a lot of effort into supporting women’s rights, as well as helping groups that are marginalized in society, such as people with disabilities and the poor.

Many people in the region still find it difficult to understand the concepts we are talking about, mainly because they are used to the old way of doing things. And it’s frustrating to see external forces that claim to support democracy and modernization backing those who practice nepotism and use favors to buy political support.

That does not mean that there is no hope for Palestinians. It’s still possible for Palestinians to get their house in order. The world is starting to recognize that the occupation must come to an end, and that Israel must follow international law. Ultimately, it’s not just up to Israelis and Palestinians to make sure that this happens, but also the rest of the world as well.

Photo credit: Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press

Mustafa BarghoutiMustafa Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the legislature of the Palestinian Authority. In 2002, he co-found the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party and movement that advocates for Palestinian human rights. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.