On Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where Hamas and Fatah recently created a unity government. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti discusses his expectations for Germany and the European Union.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Barghouti, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be traveling to the Middle East this weekend. What do you expect from her visit?
Barghouti: We do expect that she accepts the congression of the new government, which is one of the most democratically representative in the world, representing 96 percent of the votes of the electorate. We hope that she will re-initiate direct contact with this government. We also expect she will support our efforts to implement the Arab Initiative, which is endorsed by all Palestinians and all Arabs and represents a good chance for changing the situation. Now we need to pressure Israel to return to the principle of negotiation.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: As we speak, the Arab summit in Riyadh is in session and the Arab Peace Initiative is being put back on the table by the Arab league. You just said that Hamas endorses this. Are you saying that Hamas is actually thinking about normalizing its relations with Israel in the form of a peace arrangement?
Barghouti: On the condition that Israel will end the occupation and agree to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories. This is what the Arab Initiative says. Khaled Maashal, the head of Hamas, said his organization would accept Arab consensus. Now there is an Arab consensus. It is Israel that is refusing the initiative and is refusing to hold talks about a final status agreement.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: There is an internal debate in the European Union about whether or not official talks should be held with the new Palestinian government. Some representatives say they will only sit together with the non-Hamas ministers. Is that an acceptable compromise for your government?
Barghouti: No. This is an unusual and undemocratic position. We think this is one government, this is one team, this is the government of President Mahmoud Abbas. They cannot seperate the president from his government; they cannot separate one minister from the other. I believe some countries are still influenced too much by the Israeli position and the Israeli government's unreasonable approach. Some even refuse to read our program and only look at us through Israeli glasses. This cannot go on.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Would you count Germany among those countries that are "influenced too much by Israel"?
Barghouti: No, I hope not. But I do hope that Germany will take the right position. I think the idea of differentiating between one minister and another depending on whether one likes him or not will destroy the whole business of international law and international relations.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Chancellor Merkel is currently representing the entire EU. Would you say there is also a special role for Germany to play?
Barghouti: Absolutely. Germany has been very constructive and supportive of the Palestinian people. Germany has played a vital role in supporting Palestinian democracy. We have had excellent relationships with different German representatives, foreign ministers and chancellors. We hope that this visit will consolidate the good relationship.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you believe it is realistic that Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and the Hamas members of his cabinet will be able to agree to the conditions the EU, Israel and the US have laid out anytime soon? They are calling for Hamas to fully recognize Israel, end violence and to observe past accords. Or will these demands be unacceptable to Hamas?
Barghouti: It is unfair to keep putting conditions on the Palestinians. Besides, Hamas was in the delegation of the Palestinian group at the Arab summit, the prime minister was with President Abbas when the Palestinian delegation unanimously approved the Arab Initiative. The Arab Initiative speaks about mutual recognition, if Israel is ready for reciprocity and ready to accept a Palestinian state. What do you want more than that? But if anyone expects the Palestinians to give up their rights and be happy about it, they are mistaken. What we need here is pressure on Israel, which is an occupying power, to end the occupation. I wish that all the international conditions that we hear would be accompanied by demands for Israel to stop its settlements.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Israeli government has reacted coolly to the new Palestinian government. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is prepared to meet with President Abbas on a biweekly basis, but he said no important discussions would take place. Would these meetings be useful or not?
Barghouti: It's useless. And if these meetings continue to be useless, I don't think Mr. Abbas will continue them. Right now Israel is rejecting negotiations with the Palestinians, it is rejecting the Arab Initiative and it is not prepared to deal with a unified democratic Palestinian government. So Israel is taking a very negative attitude. It reminds us of the attitude of the apartheid regime in South Africa. We need to remind the Israelis that they are being counter-productive -- not only towards the Palestinians but also towards their own people.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have helped to create this government even though you are neither a member of Fatah nor Hamas. From an independent perspective: Do you think this government can be effective?
Barghouti: It is the most effective government we have ever had. It is the most democratic and progressive platform on issues of women, welfare and health, social rights and social justice. I hope that in the issue of education it will be neutral. There should be no influence of any ideology in the education system. It actually is one of the most progressive programs in the whole region. It is also the most representative government. I hope this is seen as a golden opportunity to promote democracy, peace and stability in the Middle East.
Interview conducted by Yassin Musharbash