Ever since Israel sentenced Marwan Barghouti to life imprisonment, the spotlight has been focused firmly upon him; will he be released as a hero and the Palestinian Mandela? The challenge to Israel has increased this week when his name topped two election lists. It is likely the Palestinians will vote for him. How will Israel react? Will they leave him an elected leader in prison or will they release him as a political gift and annul the charges against him?
If the Palestinians intend to challenge the Israeli authorities by voting for Marwan, no other candidates will confront Barghouti while he is incarcerated. But the Palestinian scene, apart of the issue surrounding its number one prisoner, is not so uniform. The war of words, the battles on the ground and political splits have already begun. Relying on the ballot box, it is expected that many important figures will fail and historic groupings will be crushed. What we have witnessed in Nablus, with the humiliating failure of Fatah, is an early indication of what could happen in the next few weeks, by the beginning of the new year, to the Palestinian parliament.
I believe all Palestinians agree on Barghouti since he represents two symbols at once; his imprisonment is the imprisonment of all Palestinians and his record as a fighter was a basis for the future of Palestine. He founded the era that forced the Israelis to renounce their policy of rejection and withdraw from the Gaza Strip, as well as the break up the biggest conservative Israeli party.
If Barghouti were to win, while he is behind bars, the U.S. government will be morally responsible for his release. It will not lack the means to satisfy the majority. The Israelis have sought for years to release their spy, imprisoned by Washington D.C, Jonathan Pollard, and the Palestinians want Barghouti to be freed. The swap would not be difficult to implement, despite the US military opposing Pollard’s release under any circumstances and will even stand against a presidential pardon. Politicians are aware that it no use jailing a man, no matter how severe his crime, if his release would grant peace to many.
The symbolic agreement between Palestinians will not prevent important clashes from taking place. This has already started on a municipal level. Parliamentary elections and a presidential vote are set to follow. Fatah, the main sponsor of the Palestinian struggle, is in danger of vanishing in the next election, as long as infighting and rivalry over seats, as well as personal spats, continue. Fatah will defeat itself and not Hamas or Islamic Jihad or any other group. Fatah is an ageing organization. It is suffering from a decade-long inability to administer itself and it is being eaten from the inside and attacked from the outside. Barghouti might be the voting card that will convince the electorate to vote for Fatah, in spite of its problems.