Marwan Barghouti, the West Bank Palestinian leader who is serving multiple life terms in an Israeli jail for orchestrating the murders of Israelis in the second intifada, told Israeli interviewers that he will eventually become the president of Palestine and castigated current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for ostensibly abandoning the demand for a “right of return.”
Barghouti, who is serving out five life terms at Hadarim Prison for the murder of five Israelis, including three who were killed in a bombing in Tel Aviv’s seafood market in 2002, was interviewed in jail for two hours late last month, Channel 10 reported on Wednesday night. Israel’s military censors prevented the TV channel from broadcasting the filmed conversation, whose content was instead presented by Channel 10’s Arab affairs reported Zvi Yehezkeli in the form of quotations and reported remarks.
Noting that Barghouti, the former head of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Tanzim militia, consistently polls as the most popular West Bank Palestinian leader, the TV report quoted him as saying that he bitterly opposed Abbas’s recent intimation of readiness to compromise on the right of return. Abbas told a Channel 2 interviewer two months ago that he personally did not seek the “right” to live in his hometown of Safed in northern Israel.
For the Palestinians, said Barghouti, the right of return is “sacred.” The Palestinians claim a right for millions of Palestinians and their descendants who lived in what is today Israel to return to their homes — an influx that would end Israel as a predominantly Jewish state. The demand, flatly rejected by Israel, has been a key obstacle to peace efforts over the years.
A bitter rival of Abbas’s, Barghouti said the PA president would have been “finished” had he not pushed ahead with what proved to be a successful bid to gain nonmember observer state status for the Palestinians at the UN General Assembly in late November.
Barghouti also said he would not promise that there will be no third intifada — it will be “a popular uprising, not a violent one,” he said. “If the occupation continues, the uprising will come,” he promised. “The Arab Spring won’t pass [Israel] by.”
The TV report said Barghouti had been “broken” when the deal for the release of captured Israeli solder Gilad Shalit went ahead in October 2011 without Israel accepting Hamas’s demand that he be included among the more than 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners released.
It said his visitors all tell him he will not spend the rest of his days in jail, and that he knows he is unlikely to be freed unless Hamas kidnaps more Israelis as bargaining chips.
Barghouti spoke of himself as a future president of Palestine, the report said, talked of a Palestine along the pre-1967 lines but without relinquishing the demand for a right of return, and vowed that under his rule Hamas would not come to power in the West Bank.
Nonetheless, he expressed a certain admiration for Hamas, the report said. “Hamas realizes that Israel only understands force,” Barghouti said. Its rocket fire into Israel from Gaza “is good,” he said, “but I’m not saying that using them all the time is good.”
The interview took place toward the end of last month’s Operation Pillar of Defense, the TV report said, and Barghouti said the conflict had “only strengthened Hamas.”