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Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress Dashes Palestinian Hopes of a Just Mideast Peace Agreement

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The future of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations remains in doubt after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address Tuesday before a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Netanyahu insisted Jerusalem will not be divided and that Israel’s internationally recognized 1967 borders are “indefensible.” He also said Israel must “maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River” and condemned the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal. Netanyahu’s speech came five days after President Obama called for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps. We speak with Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative. “Netanyahu yesterday blocked every possibility for negotiations for a two-state solution,” Barghouthi says. “Practically, he took away any possibility for peaceful resolution, because he wanted to impose unilaterally the outcome on every issue… He wants us to live as slaves in a system of apartheid and segregation.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The future of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians remain in doubt following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address on Tuesday before a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu insisted Jerusalem will not be divided and that Israel’s internationally recognized 1967 borders are “indefensible.”

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise. This compromise must reflect the dramatic demographic changes that have occurred since 1967. The vast majority of the 650,000 Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines reside in neighborhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and greater Tel Aviv. Now these areas are densely populated, but they’re geographically quite small. And under any realistic peace agreement, these areas, as well as other places of critical, strategic and national importance, will be incorporated into the final borders of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Netanyahu also said Israel must, quote, “maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River,” and he condemned the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal. Netanyahu’s speech came five days after President Obama called for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps.

Joining us now in Washington, D.C., is Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative. He’s the president of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Your response to Prime Minister Netanyahu in this joint address before the U.S. Congress, Dr. Barghouthi?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: Well, First of all, let me say that what Mr. Netanyahu did yesterday was a presentation of — or actually, misrepresentation of the facts, a lot of lies. Obviously he believes that if he lies a lot and continues to lie, the lies become facts. He was falsifying history and falsifying facts and misleading people in the United States. When he said that Israel is too small, all he needed to say is to compare it with Palestine. I mean, what we are calling for here in two-state solution is a situation where Israel will be four times the size of Palestine, and still he speaks about it as if it’s a small country, but — and then comparing it with the United States.

In my opinion, Netanyahu yesterday blocked every possibility for negotiations for a two-state solution. Practically, he took away any possibility for peaceful resolution, because he wanted to impose unilaterally — he wanted to impose unilaterally the outcome on every issue — on the issue of Jerusalem, on the issue of borders, on the issue of settlements. And practically, his plan is clear: he wants us to live as slaves in a system of apartheid and segregation, he wants to continue the military occupation of the Palestinian territories, and he wants to block any possibility for a Palestinian statehood or Palestinian freedom.

More than that, I think some of what he said sounded totally delusional. When he spoke about the fact that the only place where Arabs can enjoy freedom and democracy is when they are ruled by Israel, I think this is something like saying that the place where women’s rights are most respected is Afghanistan. It’s totally delusional. He fails to see the fact that his country is practicing apartheid and segregation against the Palestinian population. He failed to see the fact that they have taken away the homes, the lands of the people who live under Israeli control and that Israel is practicing the worst form of violence against peaceful, nonviolent resistance that Palestinians are adopting today in trying to defend their rights for freedom and for dignity.

What is most shameful, in my opinion, really, was the response of the Congress to what Mr. Netanyahu said. In my opinion, the fact that he got 29 standing ovations and so many applause by the Congress people reflects an act of irresponsibility by the Congress, because by supporting such extremists, like Netanyahu, in this manner, by supporting such extreme positions by this Israeli government, which is nothing but a government of settlers that is falsifying history and reality, by doing so, they are practically supporting an act that is aiming at killing any possibility of peace. And that is irresponsible, not only towards Palestinians, not only towards peace; it’s an act of irresponsibility towards even the future of Israelis themselves, because the plan that Netanyahu proposed is nothing but a plan to assassinate and kill any opportunity for peace based on two-state solution. It’s a plan of enslavement of Palestinians. And we, as Palestinians, will never be accepting to be slaves of occupation or apartheid or the system of occupation that Mr. Netanyahu wants to consolidate on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barghouthi, I wanted to ask you about the comments that President Obama made last Thursday when he became the first U.S. president to explicitly call for Israelis and Palestinians to seek a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. This is what he said.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves and reach their full potential in a sovereign and contiguous state.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barghouthi, your response to President Obama?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: Well, unfortunately, I think Mr. Obama, President Obama, retreated from any of his comments in his speech in front of the AIPAC. And because he got criticized for identifying ’67 borders as the borders between Palestinian state, future state, and Israel, because of that criticism, he went further to describe what swaps mean. And according to him, swaps should take into consideration demographic realities, new demographic realities. But these demographic realities that he speaks about are about settlers, and these settlers are violating international law. And any presence of Israeli settlements in the occupied territory is in violation of international law, in violation of the International Court of Justice resolutions, and as such, could not be considered as facts that should be accepted.

The problem with the issue of swaps is that they could mean taking away any possibility for the viability of the Palestinian state, not only because of the size of these areas that would be swapped, but also because these areas include at least 85 percent of the water resources that Palestinians need in the West Bank. They take away water resources. These settlements blocs, if they are annexed to Israel, will definitely destroy the contiguity of territory in the Palestinian state, and they would destroy any possibility of the viability of the states. That’s why I think what President Obama said in his speech in the State Department is contradictive to what he said in front of the conference of AIPAC.

And when Mr. Netanyahu comes up with the plan he proposed, explaining that the Israeli army must remain on the borders, and then explaining that Jerusalem will never be divided again, and explaining that Israel will have to annex all these settlements, then practically we are not talking about a viable Palestinian contiguous state, but about a structure that would be nothing but clusters of bantustans, disconnected from each other and under a system of apartheid controlled by Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barghouthi —

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: The Israelis are calling it a state, but that means nothing because it has nothing that makes it a real state. It’s just clusters of bantustans. This is the plan that Netanyahu has, and the American president failed to pressure him to change this plan.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the significance of the Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell, quitting?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: I believe now, in retrospect, when we see what has happened after his resignation, I think he has resigned because he failed. And he realized that his opinion was not taken into consideration, obviously, especially on issues like settlements. And I feel sorry for him, because he had done a good job with Ireland. Unfortunately, in the case of Palestine, he failed to pressure Israel. Maybe he did not have the support from his own administration to exercise any form of pressure on Israel. Especially that now, when we see this conflict growing, nobody is telling Israel at least stop the building of settlements on the ground, at least stop the facts on the ground. And that’s why I consider that Mr. Mitchell’s resignation is just a reflection of the fact that his mission failed, and probably that his views were not taken into consideration, and that the Israeli lobby is practically imposing the American policy in the Middle East. And that is something very dangerous. Again, I say this is something irresponsible, irresponsible in terms of the future of both Palestinians and Israelis, and irresponsible policy in terms of the future of stability in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Barghouthi, you were in Cairo, with the coming together of Hamas and Fatah. The U.S. has criticized any group that would ally with Hamas. Your response to that, and the significance of this, how you see this fitting into the destiny of Palestine?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: It is totally un-understandable why they are criticizing the unity agreement between Palestinians. We’ve managed to convince Hamas to accept two-state solution, to accept the compromise of two-state solution. We’ve managed to convince Hamas to abstain from any form of violence and to abstain from any form of military actions and to stick totally with all of us to nonviolent form of resistance. We managed to convince Hamas to authorize President Abbas to represent all Palestinians. Isn’t that what they wanted? If we have managed to convince everybody to adopt nonviolence as a form of struggle for Palestinians, and if we managed to have a unified Palestinian camp that agrees and accepts two-state solution, then why this agreement is rejected?

Let me remind you that Mr. Netanyahu and his government has been saying that they cannot make a deal with President Abbas or move forward with negotiations, because President Abbas could not represent all Palestinians since he could not control Hamas or could not control Gaza. Now, President Abbas is allowed to represent all Palestinians, and Netanyahu is responding by saying, “You have to break up with Hamas, or we will not talk to you.” What does that mean? He’s playing games here. This man is an expert in lying. This man is an expert in falsification. This man, Netanyahu, is an expert in misrepresenting facts.

AMY GOODMAN: Prime Minister Netanyahu, he has —

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: And I am so sorry that people don’t see that.

AMY GOODMAN: He has been interviewed repeatedly on the networks in the United States, and he has repeatedly said, “We accept a Palestinian state. They do not accept a Jewish state. That is the problem,” he said. “How do you negotiate with these people?” What is your response to that?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: That’s another big lie, because the problem with the Oslo agreement has been that the Palestinians, represented by the PLO, recognized Israel as a state. They recognized Israel. Israel did not recognize Palestine as a state. Up 'til now, Israel is not recognizing Palestine as a state, because what does it mean to say, “I accept you as a state, but I don't accept that you have borders, and I don’t accept that you have a capital, and I don’t accept that you have free trade, and I don’t accept that you have free economy”? This is just a false representation of reality. In reality, Palestinians have accepted Israel and have recognized Israel, and in exchange, all Israel did was to recognize PLO as a representative of Palestinians rather than recognizing the Palestinian state as such. If Mr. Netanyahu wants really to recognize the state, he should declare tomorrow that he agrees with what President Obama said, which is that we will have two-state solution on the basis of ’67 borders.

AMY GOODMAN: He said —

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: That, he negated.

AMY GOODMAN: Netanyahu said —

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: That, he is refusing.

AMY GOODMAN: Netanyahu said, “It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, 'I will accept a Jewish state.'”

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: Well, Mr. Abbas has said repeatedly that he is recognizing Israel. And if we — if Israel is recognized as a Jewish state, then what happens to the one-and-a-half million Palestinians that Netanyahu is claiming have equal rights in Israel? They are not Jewish. This state should be democratic. A democratic state should fulfill the needs of all its people. Do you think — what would happen if somebody comes out and says the United States should be declared as a Catholic state or as a Protestant state? What will happen to the Jewish community in the United States then? In my opinion, each country should be recognized as a democratic state, which means all its citizens have equal rights. And that does not negate the needs of the Jewish population. That does not negate the history of the Jewish people and their suffering. On the contrary. If you want them to last in a good state, that state should be democratic and not based on discrimination and racist differentiation between people, as is the situation today in Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re saying that you accept —

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: In Israel today, you have apartheid discrimination against Arabs in Israel who are citizens of Israel. You have another level of discrimination against Palestinians living in Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem, where a Palestinian will not be allowed to marry a woman from a nearby city or village and live with her, because if he moves to live with her, he will lose his citizenship, and he would not be allowed to bring her into Jerusalem because he cannot give her citizenship. That’s a system of racial discrimination.


DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: And there is a third level of apartheid which exists in the West Bank and Gaza. Yes, please?

AMY GOODMAN: So, Dr. Barghouthi, you’re saying you accept Israel as a state, but not as a Jewish state?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI: I am saying that pushing the issue of Jewishness of the state of Israel today is one way of putting the Palestinians again on the defense, while their state is not recognized. What is missing today is not Israel as a state. Israel is already a state. It is already a member of the United Nations. Israel now is the third largest military exporter in the world. It has the fifth largest army in the world. It has 400 nuclear weapons. It is not threatened. The people who are threatened are the Palestinians who are under occupation for 44 years, who have been dispossessed from their land since 63 years, and who don’t have freedom, don’t have democracy, and don’t have self-determination. The country that needs to be recognized today is Palestine. And Netanyahu is doing everything he can to obstruct us from going to the United Nations to ask for implementation of the same resolution that was taken in 1947 that gave Israel its legitimacy and said there should be a Palestinian, which never materialized. He is trying to block that. So, practically, the country, the state that needs to be recognized today is Palestine, because Israel is already recognized.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, I want to thank you for being with us. Dr. Barghouthi, speaking to us from Washington, D.C.

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