Rumour has it that some leading figures in the Palestinian Authority are not too keen on the release of Marwan Barghouti, who has spent the past eight years in an Israeli jail without a glimmer of hope of this release actually happening. There is a similar belief that Hamas also fears his release due to his popularity that might overshadow the popularity of Hamas. Barghouti’s political program resembles Hamas’ and so does his language. Above all, he is a serious contender for the leadership position on the other side.
It does not matter what the Palestinians think of him or whether or not they are conspiring against him because the key to his prison cell is in the hands of the Israelis who will not set him free without intense international pressure. Israel is fully aware that there are two very dangerous factors regarding Barghouti: he is a popular leader within Fatah, which no other Fatah member enjoys, and he is accepted internationally, and the same cannot be said about anybody in Hamas.
In his latest interview, Barghouti criticized the ongoing negotiations and the current international stance, insisting that neither is good enough without Israel making a commitment in advance to establishing a Palestinian state; one that is clear on the issues of borders, the capital, and refugees. Of course if Israel had adopted such a policy, there would not have been a Palestinian cause in the first place and peace would have prevailed in Palestine. I consider Barghouti’s position to be a political one; from a leader who believes that Israel is being austere at a time when the entire world expects it to be flexible.
Releasing Barghouti would encourage everyone in the West Bank to take part in the promised parliamentary and presidential elections. However, without his release, the state of leadership incompetence within the Palestinian Authority will persist, though we must admit that despite its shattered image, the PA has accomplished unprecedented administrative achievements. Quietly, the PA worked on building the institutions that would pave the way for the establishment of a Palestinian state. This concerned Israeli extremists to the extent that they likened Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad to a snake.
Perhaps Barghouti’s release would serve as a gateway to reconciliation with Hamas, which has been in a dilemma since its infamous coup. Hamas is now in a much worse position. It has become more of an alien entity that is neither government nor a resistance group. It has stopped fighting, paying salaries, negotiating and reconciling with others. With the participation of Barghouti, Hamas might find a way towards full reconciliation in view of the fact that its opponents are no longer in power. It might be ready to join in under the banner of Fatah and take part in the parliamentary elections once again and recognize Ramallah as a reference for Palestinian decision-making and therefore contribute to unifying the Palestinians.
It is almost certain there is some kind of project going on in Barghouti’s head, which he planned and worked on during his long stay in prison. He is a well-organized man in a confined space who spends his time now reading Hebrew and Arabic newspapers, watching satellite television and exercising. Barghouti has successfully finished his academic studies and obtained his doctorate. No one knows the nature of his actual project or political programme but it is not what he previously announced and came to be known as the Prisoners’ Document and not what he stated in his interviews. Many questions still remain unanswered by both the document and his interviews.
Since everyone – I mean the parties involved in the historical project to end the Palestinian cause – is convinced that the time has come for establishing a Palestinian state, despite attempts by Israeli and Arab extremists to hamper its progress, the release of Marwan Barghouti would definitely tip the scale in favour of that.