Unlike the Palestinian resistance movements that joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) after the war of June 1967, the Palestinian National Initiative Movement (al-Mubadara) was established at a later stage, during the second Palestinian intifada known as the al-Aqsa Intifada. It did not officially join the PLO until 2018.
Foundation, Objectives, and Methods of Struggle
On 17 June 2002, Haydar Abd al-Shafi in the Gaza Strip, Mustafa Barghouti in the West Bank city of Ramallah, and Ibrahim Dakkak in East Jerusalem simultaneously announced what they referred to as a “Palestinian National Initiative to advance the Palestinian people towards freedom and independence, for the sake of justice, good governance, a decent life, to protect the independence of Palestinian decision-making and to achieve a just peace.” Columbia University professor Edward Said is also thought to have been one of the founders of the initiative.
The Palestinian National Initiative adopted the form of a “broad-based democratic nationalist movement open to participation by all those who agree to its objectives.” Mustafa Barghouti, who had previously been a leading member of the Palestinian People’s Party and a founder and chairman of the Medical Relief Committees, held the office of secretary general. The movement has focused on achieving three main objectives:
- achieving freedom for the Palestinian people, ending the occupation, setting up a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and securing the return of Palestinian refugees who were displaced from their homes in 1948;
- bringing about internal democracy and building an effective democratic system that ensures public participation, free elections, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, the right of the Palestinian people to choose their leaders in a way that is free and wholly democratic, freedom of political expression and organization, and strengthening Palestinian civil society; and
- achieving social justice by supporting the rights of women and marginalized sectors of society, combating poverty, creating jobs for the unemployed, and ensuring the rights of the disabled and those with special needs.
Al-Mubadara opposes the Oslo accords and calls for changes to the Palestinian political system, which is based on bilateral negotiations sponsored by the United States. It calls for implementation of the resolutions approved by the Palestine National Council in March 2015, first and foremost the suspension of security coordination with Israel. It also calls for strengthening and reactivating PLO institutions and installing democracy in PLO structures, including through elections for the Palestine National Council. It believes that if Israel undermines the option of an independent Palestinian state by constantly expanding settlements, “there will be only one option—one democratic state that includes Palestinians and Israelis, living together with equal rights and obligations in all the land of Palestine.”
Al-Mubadara asserts the right of the Palestinian people to resist occupation by all possible methods, provided that international humanitarian law is respected, but it believes that the best and most effective method under these circumstances is popular resistance. It advocates encouraging the movement to boycott and impose sanctions on the Israeli occupation apparatus, which it believes has turned into a fully apartheid regime that includes all components of the Israeli system. This regime carries out racial persecution against Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel in 1948 and 1967 and against Palestinian refugees displaced by force and denied their right to return to their homeland. The movement believes in visual and audio newsmedia as an effective means of struggle against the occupation and to achieve the movement's objectives.
Participation in Legislative and Presidential Elections
After the death of President Yasir Arafat and the call for elections to the presidency of the Palestinian National Authority (PA), al-Mubadara Secretary General Mustafa Barghouti announced on 26 November 2004 that he would run for the presidency against Fatah candidate Mahmoud Abbas. He said the elections were not being held for the sake of an office, since the whole PA was under occupation, but in order to choose a program and a leadership in a national struggle for freedom and independence and for the sake of a national and popular struggle program that “expresses the will and the rights of the majority in Palestinian society.” In those elections Barghouti won just under 20 percent of the votes. In the legislative elections that took place in January 2006, al-Mubadara put forward an electoral list headed by Barghouti under the name Independent Palestine. It won two seats, one for Barghouti and one for Rawya Shawa in the Gaza Strip.
Legislative elections were called for 22 May 2021, and al-Mubadara formed an electoral list entitled For Change and an End to Division. The list named 50 candidates, activists in the movement and independent national figures. Women made up 32 percent of the list, and more than two thirds of the candidates were young. When President Abbas decided to postpone the elections, the movement expressed its opposition and declared they should take place on time and should include Jerusalem residents. It rejected what it described as giving the occupation authorities a veto over democratic Palestinian elections and said the elections should be “a battle of popular resistance and an instrument for national unity against the occupation.”
The Movement's Position on Participating in the PA Government
Barghouti was appointed information minister in the PA government formed by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in 2007. But the movement later decided not to participate in any Palestinian government that does not reflect complete national unity. After President Abbas declared the dissolution of the Legislative Council in December 2018, the movement said it would assume executive responsibilities only as a result of the free will of the Palestinian people, expressed through democratic general elections. In this context the movement announced in April 2019 that it would not participate in the 18th Palestinian government, which was led by Mohammad Shtayyeh. It said it would support this government’s efforts to achieve its mandate to “end the division [between Fateh and Hamas] and restore national unity, strengthen Palestinian resilience, extend popular resistance and the boycott movement, hold democratic presidential and legislative elections and elections for a Palestine National Council in all parts of the country.”
Priority #1: Ending the Palestinian Division
After Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007 and the divide between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip became a fact, al-Mubadara declared that “what does most harm to the Palestinian situation and prevents the Palestinian struggle from achieving tangible results is the division between Fatah and Hamas movements. There is no task more important than ending the division rapidly and forming a united national leadership.” Mustafa Barghouti was one of the signatories of the reconciliation agreement between the two movements in April 2014, known as the Shati’ agreement after the name of the refugee camp in Gaza, and he expressed his regret when the agreement failed to end the division. He said the only solution to the division was that “both Fatah and Hamas should recognize that they cannot lead the scene alone” and that the disagreement between them was “a disagreement over an authority that operates under occupation, in other words a disagreement over something without sovereignty, and that this conflict is therefore unjustifiable, and it would be best to agree to unite in a common national liberation struggle to achieve freedom for the Palestinian people.”
Al-Mubadara is also campaigning to “break the unjust blockade of the Gaza Strip by the occupation authorities, relieve the suffering of Gazans, abolish all forms of discrimination against all those who live or work in the Gaza Strip, and protect Gaza from repeated barbaric attacks.” It affirms as a binding principle “the unity in destiny between the West Bank, including Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and all of Palestine.”
Joining the PLO and the Palestinian Democratic Coalition
In March 2105 al-Mubadara submitted to the central council of the PLO a request for recognition as a member group within the PLO. The request was approved and was endorsed by a session of the Palestine National Council held in late April and early May 2018. Though Secretary General Mustafa Barghouti has not yet been elected as a member of the PLO executive committee, he has frequently been invited to take part in meetings of the Palestinian leadership.
Because it describes itself as a Palestinian democratic force, in late 2018 al-Mubadara worked with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the People’s Party, FIDA, and independent figures to form the Palestinian Democratic Coalition, which was formally made public on 3 January 2019, during a joint conference held simultaneously in Gaza and Ramallah. The coalition aimed to “work within the framework of the PLO and at the popular level to build a growing popular coalition that helps to stimulate popular resistance against the occupation, instigate mass opposition to the policies that sustain the factors that weaken our national movement by perpetuating and embedding division and obstructing democracy and national partnership.” But the experiment did not last long: the coalition formula unravelled, like previous attempts to unite the activities of democratic and leftist forces on the Palestinian scene.
Al-Mubadara is an unusual experiment on the Palestinian scene. It was announced as “an initiative” to advance the Palestinian people toward freedom and independence, for the sake of justice, good governance, and a decent life. It then turned into a political movement that has not clearly articulated its ideological identity, although it describes itself as a Palestinian democratic force. Its leaders have not gained widespread prominence, except for its secretary general, Mustafa Barghouti.