Before you shoot down the idea consider this. Trump has to do something pretty spectacular soon for him to be viewed as anything other than a liability to world peace and, having an ego his size, he will almost certainly want history to judge him with a mixture of admiration and awe
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE view on Donald Trump’s first 100 days from this side of the Atlantic has been a bit like watching a car crash in slow motion.
We’ve had the bombing of Syria and the beating of ever louder war drums towards North Korea, an on-off love in with Russia and China and a few u-turns over Muslim immigration and let’s not forget the big, beautiful wall which will probably not be built.
Women’s rights and the environment are just two major issues which have seen Americans take to the streets to protest and then there’s been the unpicking of many institutions and deals brokered by previous administrations. It has, on the whole, proved to be a negative start to his presidential term.
However, what we have learned from the US President’s first 100 days is not to be surprised by anything he says or does. He’s certainly not afraid of ruffling feathers of allies or making friends with his friends’ enemies which is why he could kickstart the Middle East process by unconventional means.
The good thing about Trump is that he is prepared to think outside the box and do the unthinkable; on the other hand the bad thing about your US President is that he’s prepared to think outside the box and do the unthinkable.
Trump and his rookie team are preparing to sit down with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for what, in any other US administration prove to be nothing more than a meaningless photo opportunity. Or he could do something crazy like cancel the meaningless visit and, instead, order the Israelis to release the Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouthi.
Before you shoot down the idea consider this. Trump has to do something pretty spectacular soon for him to be viewed as anything other than a liability to world peace and, having an ego his size, he will almost certainly want history to judge him with a mixture of admiration and awe.
History will not be kind to Barack Obama and he will be harshly judged for trampling over the many to help the Wall Street privileged few. Not one banker was, I believe, ever prosecuted for dodgy deals. Obama called for the closure of Guantanamo and the prosecution of those who tortured innocent Muslims before he was elected but once in The White House these pledges disappeared.
He presided over more drone strikes than his predecessor George W Bush and sanctioned extra judicial killings with the casual manner of a third world dictator. The emergence of the Black Lives Matter group in response to what appeared to be racially motivated killings by police failed to get the justice it demanded. BLM members were sent to prison having been arrested during rallies and protests and Baltimore’s black youth were labelled by the president as “criminals and thugs”.
Then there was the war on Gaza in which 550 children died in 50 days in a blitz on the tiny Palestinian strip on the edge of the Mediterranean. In all more than 2000 Palestinians were slaughtered by weapons of mass destruction but Obama’s response was silence other than to throw an additional $225m in financial support to Israel’s military. Obama maintained the status quo – in other words, the turmoil – in the Middle East but who knows … Trump might just surprise us all and the ace up his sleeve could be Palestine’s own version of Nelson Mandela.
Israel might hate the comparison, but the truth is that just about everyone is comparing Barghouthi to the South African icon these days. Barghouthi is very possibly the only hope for a peace deal that the Zionist State claims to want so much. The hunger-striking Palestinian has shown he is willing to sacrifice his life for his beliefs and his nation, in the prison cell which has been his home since his arrest 15 years ago.
With each day that passes, much to Israel’s frustration, Barghouthi’s status as a dove is growing as he challenges a brutal apartheid system which has tried and failed to crush him. His voice is becoming louder, and even the New York Times gave him a platform earlier this month to break the news that he would lead hundreds of fellow prisoners in their protest against prison conditions within Israel. It was an incredible moment in American newspaper history and I’m not sure any of the British mainstream newspapers would have published such an op-ed.
Like Mandela before him, Barghouthi realizes the power of peaceful resistance and he is one figure within the complex, often corrupt, Palestinian political landscape who has the trust of all of the usually divided factions. If Israel is really serious about wanting peace, then it should release him today and let him lead his people through the minefield of Middle East peace negotiations to reach a fruitful outcome.
I am not alone in being convinced that he is the only man who can do this, and with each day that passes with him still locked up by the Israelis, his reputation and stature at home and abroad continues to grow. As is often the case with such monumental figures, of course, whether you see him as an honest broker capable of delivering peace or the most dangerous enemy of a hawkish Zionist State depends on which side of the apartheid fence you sit.
Despite Israel’s allegation that Barghouthi has the blood of its citizens on his hands, his reputation as a Fatah political leader is one of a man opposed to violence against civilians. He is serving five life sentences for his alleged involvement in five murders; although it is widely accepted he did not pull the trigger, he was adjudged guilty of helping to organize the killings.
If there was a free and fair election in Palestine tomorrow, though, Marwan Barghouthi would probably win the presidential vote by a mile, such is his popularity among the Palestinians. They regard him as a giant among men compared to current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has achieved so little for his people during his 12 impotent years at the helm.
Like so many octogenarian rulers in the Arab world, Abbas refuses to resign or seek re-election. Not surprisingly, Israel seems content for Abbas to remain in power as it is clear that nothing will change under the 82-year-old’s rule. This begs two questions: whose interests does Abbas really represent, Israel’s or Palestine’s, and does Tel Aviv really want change that will bring about peace?
Israel appears to fear seeing a seemingly incorruptible, energized force like Barghouthi in charge in Ramallah. It prefers instead to deal with the shambolic, corrupt ruling Fatah officials running the PA who are comfortable with the status quo which, naturally, favors the occupying power.
Now Barghouthi has decided to rock the boat and remind both sides that complacency is the enemy of peace. The prison hunger strike involving around 1,200 political prisoners was embarked upon ostensibly to improve visitation rights, medical treatment and educational access, but there are bigger issues at stake and the global spotlight is now shining on Marwan Barghouthi.
The world is becoming increasingly fatigued by the inactivity of the Israel-Palestinian road map to nowhere; indeed, the doves within the Zionist State are equally frustrated. Nelson Mandela and his anti-apartheid stalwarts taught the world that even prison bars and the darkest dungeons cannot silence great men and women. Their voices will be heard and now, it seems, many of those who could possibly bring pressure to bear on Israel to seek a genuine peace deal are listening to Barghouthi.
Pressure from Donald Trump on Tel Aviv could force the Israelis’ hands; if they are serious about peace, they must prove it and release the one man capable of delivering both a deal and political unity in Palestine. Without a united front, the Palestinians have been weak negotiators but, given the chance, Barghouthi could prove to be the strong, inspirational leader that they need.
Even as a prisoner, Barghouthi has achieved something that Abbas — as a free man, as president — has never done; he has become the symbol for peaceful Palestinian resistance to achieve freedom, justice and peace. It is no use Israel dismissing Barghouthi by calling him a terrorist; that was also said of Nelson Mandela by South Africa’s apartheid regime and its apologists in Washington and London — the same governments which back Israel, right or wrong, by the way — to little or no effect.
As Israel contemplates its next move to try and silence the most powerful and popular leader in Palestine today, perhaps it should embrace the idea of releasing Marwan Barghouthi on the grounds that peace always follows freedom. Let him go to Washington next month to meet US President Trump instead of Mahmoud Abbas and change a useless photo opportunity into something far more tangible.
Trump clearly wants to do something amazing and be looked up kindly by the historians when his time in the Oval office comes to an end. Surely he’d rather be remembered as a man of peace; a man who tore down walls instead of building them? He could achieve this if he has the will and determination.
Sounds crazy? Let’s remember the words of the late, great Nelson Mandela when he said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Yvonne Ridley’s latest book is called TORTURE: Does it work? Interrogation issues and effectiveness in the Global War on Terror. You can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Torture-Interrogation-issues-effectiveness-Global-x/dp/1782668306