RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sept 1 (Tom Perry/Reuters) - Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti
said peace talks with Israel
were destined to fail and the Palestinians must instead focus on ending their deep national divide.
In written answers to questions from Reuters, Barghouti said he supported negotiation in principle but the Palestinians had only agreed to direct peace talks now under foreign pressure.
The U.S.-backed talks, the latest phase in the 17-year old peace process, begin on Thursday in Washington.
These negotiations are destined to fail, as happened in the past two decades, wrote Barghouti, a leading figure in the second Palestinian Intifada
, or uprising, that erupted when a previous round of U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed in 2000. The alternative to failed negotiations is not more of the same, he added.
For many Palestinians, Barghouti remains a symbol of their national struggle. His supporters portray him as a Palestinian Nelson Mandela -- a charismatic figure who could unite Palestinians and galvanize their quest for statehood. He was convicted of murder for his role in attacks on Israelis and sentenced to life in jail by Israel in 2004. Born in the West Bank
, he was a grass-roots organiser in the first Intifada
, which erupted in 1987.
Before his arrest, Barghouti had been seen as a contender to succeed Yasser Arafat
as Palestinian leader -- a position assumed by Palestinian Authority
(PA) President Mahmoud Abbas
after Arafat's death in 2004.
He is still a leading figure in Abbas's Fatah
Abbas meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
on Thursday to open talks aimed at ending the six-decade conflict. The aim is the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel on land it occupied in 1967.
Barghouti has been a strong advocate of reconciliation between Fatah, which dominates the West Bank-based PA, and the Hamas
group which took control of the Gaza Strip
in 2007. The two movements are in a state of open hostility.
The problem is not in the principle of negotiations, which we accept, but that without a popular foundation and action on the ground which supports negotiations, they will not reach any results, Barghouti said.
The alternative is achieving national reconciliation and unity and in wider participation in popular resistance to the occupation, he said.
By popular resistance, Palestinians mean forms of activism such as protests that are not military in nature. In the last year, the Palestinian Authority has taken steps such as banning goods produced in Jewish settlements
built on occupied land.
Barghouti urged a wider boycott of Israeli-manufactured goods and said the Palestinians must mobilize international support to impose the sort of isolation on Israel that South Africa faced under its apartheid regime.
Like Abbas, he believes the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel is the only realistic way to end the conflict, though he said Israeli actions, such as settlement building, had put the two-state solution in more danger than ever before.
The Palestinians aim to found their state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem
as its capital.
Barghouti said Israel must commit to withdrawing from those territories and to cede the Palestinians sovereignty over East Jerusalem. It must also agree to a resolution to the plight of Palestinian refugees in line with U.N. resolutions.
Without Israel's commitment to these principles, negotiations will remain a tool that serves the occupation, settlement and the Judaization of Jerusalem, he said.
The Palestinian people do not benefit from them, he said. (Editing by Angus MacSwan)