MARK COLVIN: Direct formal Middle East peace talks begin in Washington tomorrow, after the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had separate meetings with Barack Obama at the White House today.
President Obama is pushing hard for a return to a real peace process, and the leaders of Jordan and Egypt are also there to push things forward.
But Hamas killed four Israelis in the West Bank as the conference was being prepared, and the history of these processes is not particularly optimistic.
Mustafa Barghouti is an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
He finished second to Mahmoud Abbas in the 2005 Palestinian presidential election.
He told me he was still deeply sceptical because of the Israeli refusal to freeze settlements while the negotiations go on.
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: It’s like a situation where two people are sitting negotiating over a piece of cheese and while one side is talking the other side, the Israeli side, is eating it.
How can we have products or produce results if one side is taking over the land and the water and the roads and creating a system of apartheid on the ground and refuses even to freeze these processes while we talk?
I think this is just a way of gaining time from their perspective to impose their unilateral outcome which is nothing but an apartheid segregation system that will not create peace but will create more violence and more conflict.
MARK COLVIN: But from the Israeli perspective it’s surely just as unhelpful to have four Israelis killed by Hamas?
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Yes. Because Hamas is not part of this process and Hamas could have been part of this process if Israel and the United States did not oppose our efforts to have a national unity government. You see now they have Mr Abbas who is alone; he’s not representing the majority of the Palestinians.
Most Palestinians are against these talks. Most political forces are out of the system and when we said we should be there on a democratic basis, that democratic elections should be respected like they were respected in Israel, nobody listened.
MARK COLVIN: Should Hamas be part of the process even if they don’t sign a piece of paper admitting that Israel has a right to exist?
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: Yes. We want to sign a piece of paper where Israel recognises Palestinians and Palestinians recognise Israel. That’s what was done in ’93 but Palestinians recognised Israel and Israel never recognised Palestinian state. Now the Israelis say you have to change your declaration and recognise us as a Jewish state.
So it’s an endless story with the Israelis. We need equality. We need a system, a terms of reference that gives equal rights to equal people. What is happening here is that he Israelis want to say security before peace.
You speak about four Israelis that I feel very sorry that they have been killed, but nobody speaks about the 1,400 Palestinians who were killed in Gaza, including 410 children. Are we equal human beings in this conflict or not? That is the problem and the Israelis insist on treating us in a way of racism; not accepting Palestinians as equal human beings.
MARK COLVIN: But I return to the point that you have to start somewhere; how would you propose to get the Israelis to come to a table and to freeze the settlements?
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: I think the right way to do it is to apply the road map; a complete freeze of Israeli settlement activities and clear terms of reference would see that this conflict would be resolved on the basis of international law and UN resolutions.
What we want is international legitimacy. What we want as people who have been under occupation for more than 43 years now and who have been dispossessed and deprived of our rights for more than 100 years; all we want is freedom. All we want is that we and the Israelis live in peace and coexistence, respecting each other; respecting each other’s security. This is what we want.
MARK COLVIN: I know that you preach a non-violent approach to all this, but Mr Abbas also does; where are the big differences between you?
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: The difference is that Mr Abbas is going into negotiations without any guarantees that they will work or give results. I have myself been before the Madrid process, which was based on international law. The difference is that we say we should struggle peacefully and non-violently; while he doesn’t believe that struggle would make any difference. I believe in people’s power. I believe that people can make a difference. And when I say people I don’t mean only Palestinians, I also mean the Israeli peace activists who come and demonstrate with us every week. I think that the people have a say in this process and this should not be an elitist process. I also believe in democracy. I believe peace cannot be achieved without it being held between two democracies and that means respecting democratic rights of Palestinians and their freedom of choice.
MARK COLVIN: But wouldn’t it be the case that most Palestinians still believe that they can’t get what they want without armed struggle? You’re in a minority in other words.
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: No. This was the case before and I think in the last polls that were conducted in the last few months, 70 per cent of the Palestinians have a belief in non-violent resistance, in non-violent struggle. And I think we could lose that majority as a matter of fact if these talks fail again.
That’s why we warned and said don’t lose this opportunity because this seems to be the last opportunity to have a two-state solution. In my opinion there is a process of destruction of the last potential for a Palestinian state because of settlement activities and because of the building of apartheid wall which is three times the length and twice as high as the Berlin wall used to be.
MARK COLVIN: What you’ve just said though does indicate that you have some small flicker of hope that this could produce something, these talks?
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: I never give up hope and I never say we should close doors for good things. If these talks come up with a real Palestinian state and a real peace based on coexistence and mutual recognition and a respect of each other’s right, I would be the first to welcome them.
MARK COLVIN: Mustafa Barghouti, an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, on the phone from Ramallah.