A “Game Changer” in the Middle East:Interview with Toufic Haddad

Toufic Haddad: A prisoner exchange would be a real game changer in the Middle East if it is actually able to take place.  I’m less optimistic that it will.  The fact is it would be the first time that a political faction would be able to win such concessions out of Israel.  We’re talking about right now, according to recent press reports, 980 Palestinian political prisoners who would be released.  That has never taken place before in the past.  It’s unprecedented, at least in terms of the demands for the prisoner release coming from a Palestinian faction that is located in historical Palestine.  There are other prisoner exchanges that took place when the struggle was taking place in Lebanon and whatnot.  But we’re talking about Hamas holding an Israeli military soldier in Gaza, making demands from Gaza. . . .  There are other elements that are unprecedented too and would be important if they actually took place.  It would essentially release large sections of Palestinian leadership.  We’re talking about, of course, Marwan Barghouti, who is one of the most popular figures inside Fatah in the occupied territories.  We’re talking about Ahmad Sa’adat, who is the head of the Popular Front, which is a leftist faction, who holds considerable legitimacy and respect amongst all Palestinian factions and could potentially inject the Palestinian Left into the political game in a way that they haven’t really been in before.  We’re talking about the release of the remaining Palestinian legislative council members who are being held by Israel, who were arrested to try and cripple Hamas from being able to implement a government project after they won the elections.  And then we’re also talking about field leaders and militant leaders who engaged in struggle against Israel and are imprisoned. . . . Marwan Barghouti is probably the most popular Palestinian leader in the occupied territories and within Fatah.  He is young, tested, a kind of field leader from a village outside of Ramallah.  He’s not tinged by the kind of corruption and self-promotion that took place under Oslo so much.  When the intifada broke out, he was very quickly on the frontlines of demanding an end to any negotiations and demanding the implementation of international law that would be the only thing the Palestinians should be negotiating — how to implement the UN resolutions.  And he also advocated for the resistance approach with Israel. . . .  He brings with him a kind of popular credibility, street cred if you will, to the game and also one that is less sectarian, I think, than the way the Palestinian Authority has been running things in the previous game: he is interested in unifying the Palestinian position; and he has a pretty good relation with all Palestinian factions including Hamas.  Hamas basically sees the prisoner release as a way to reassert the stream of the resistance — tayyar al-moqawama is what is called in Arabic.  They know many other political factions, including people from Fatah, have the same interests and desires because they don’t feel negotiations under the current asymmetrical conditions of power balance can really achieve very much.

Toufic Haddad is a Palestinian-American writer based in Jerusalem.  He is the co-author and editor of Between the Lines: Readings in Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S “War on Terror”.  This video was released by The Real News on 11 December 2009.  The text above is an edited partial transcript of the video.

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