How to Tame Hamas

By Barghouthi, Mustafa | Newsweek International, February 23, 2009 | Go to article overview

How to Tame Hamas


Barghouthi, Mustafa, Newsweek International


Byline: Mustafa Barghouthi

This time is different because Labor has just 13 seats! Where is the left in Israel? Where is the moderate peace camp?

You'd think that Mustafa Barghouthi, the Palestinian cardiologist-cum-reformist legislator, would be a lonely man, having abandoned both Fatah and Hamas to form his own party. Instead, he's among the only Palestinians in touch with both factions. He brought them together in a unity government in 2007, and he swears that, after the Gaza war, Palestinians can lure Israelis back to the negotiating table only with another one. He chatted with NEWSWEEK editors in New York about politics and war in the Middle East. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What is most pressing issue for you personally and for the government generally?

BARGHOUTHI: Ending the conflict! I've seen horrible things. I don't think this conflict should last longer, and it's awful for both people. And the result of the elections in Israel, in my opinion, reflects how dangerous this conflict is for Israel, too. I look at it as a cancer that is eating our lives.

Do the Israeli elections fill you with despair?

This is not just a move to the right; this is a move towards extremism. When you have a person like [the new parliamentary kingmaker] Avigdor Lieberman, who openly advocates ethnic cleansing, that is an unhealthy sign. Occupation corrupts Israel, and it corrupts the Israelis.

This has happened before, where the idea of "transfer"--expelling Israeli Arabs--finds a home in Israeli politics. But it usually dissipates in times of relative stability. Is it different this time?

This is different because Labor has just 13 seats now! Where is the left in Israel? Where is the moderate peace camp? The idea of ethnic cleansing is a reflection of the fact that Israel, because it sustained occupation, has become apartheid.

Yet even as the traditional left shrivels, most Israelis still support a two-state solution.

They don't mean it. What is a state? That is the question. Do they mean a state with Israel leaving the occupied territories to the '67 borders? If this were the case, then we are OK, but they don't.

Isn't the left so weak because Israelis think they don't have a bargaining partner?

No, because 78 percent of the Palestinians support the two-state solution.

But you don't have a unified leadership to offer it.

We had a national unity government in 2007, which I myself brokered.

But you don't have one now.

But we can have one again.

How do you achieve that?

Last week things got better, and we are trying to negotiate release of political prisoners on both sides.

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