RAMALLAH West Bank (Reuters) - The Gaza war was a victory for Palestinians, and the focus must now shift to a boycott that makes Israel’s occupation of the West Bank too costly to bear, says Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader serving life in prison for multiple deadly attacks.
In answers to questions submitted by Reuters via the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, Barghouti urged more confrontation to combat Israel’s 47-year occupation of Palestinian territory, setting out a strategy sharply at odds with the more cautious approach advocated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“The Palestinians must make the price of the occupation dear on Israel,” said Barghouti, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2004 for his part in planning suicide attacks in Israel and other operations that killed at least five people.
“Freedom in Palestine will not be realized until the launching of a broader resistance associated with a broader political, economic and security boycott for the occupation.”
Barghouti, 55, remains a leading figure in the secular Fatah movement and is often mentioned as a potential future leader despite being behind bars. He rose to prominence as an instigator of the first and second intifadas, or uprisings, against Israel from 1987-1993 and in the early 2000s.
For years, supporters have been hoping he might be freed in a prisoner-release deal with Israel, but it remains unlikely.
Even from prison, his views resonate with some sectors of the Palestinian public, and he has support from a variety of factions, not just Fatah.
That cross-party appeal has fuelled hopes that he might be capable of uniting Palestinians under one banner, overcoming the differences that have sharpened since Hamas won elections in 2006 and led to open conflict with Fatah in Gaza in 2007.
Without mentioning Hamas, he praised the 50-day war the Islamists and other militant groups in Gaza fought against Israel, calling it a victory for all Palestinians. More than 2,100 Gazans, most of them civilians, were killed in the conflict, while 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians also died.
“We consider that the battle represents a victory for the resistance,” he wrote. “(It) proved that Israel cannot and does not have the ability to resolve the conflict by military force, and that the only way to end the conflict is to end the occupation in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.”
With Abbas nearing 80 and not expected to run in any future Palestinian elections, Barghouti’s comments were particularly notable in setting out a very different vision of how relations with Israel should be tackled.
Abbas has for years sought a negotiated solution to create an independent Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while also pushing ahead with Palestinian membership of international bodies.
Despite limited progress in peace talks, he has advocated close security coordination between his Palestinian forces and Israeli troops and rejected calls to boycott Israel’s economy or attempt to isolate it on the world stage.
Barghouti, however, backs calls by Palestinian civil society groups and global activists for a boycott of Israel’s economy as part of what is known as the BDS movement.
“The promotion of a campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the occupation (was),” Barghouti said, “a prelude to isolating it internationally and putting international sanctions on it.”
While Abbas has left open the possibility of resuming peace talks with Israel, despite the collapse of the last round after nearly a year of negotiations, Barghouti said it was pointless to go on trying to reach peace with Israel.
“Negotiations with Israel failed over 20 years in achieving freedom, return and independence,” he said, referring to the long-sought right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes lost in the war that followed Israel’s founding in 1948.
“I do not see that Israel is ready for real peace, but wants to use fruitless negotiations to continue its occupation and settlement and to ease its international isolation.”
Writing By Noah Browning; editing by Luke Baker and Will Waterman