Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader serving out five life terms over his involvement in murderous terror acts against Israelis during the Second Intifada, is the only personality capable of replacing Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority, Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-on said on Tuesday.
Speaking to a group of young professionals in Jerusalem known as Forum Bira, Gal-on said that following conversations with Palestinian officials she came to understand that the militant leader is the only viable alternative to the current Palestinian leadership.
“If I properly understand the Palestinian arena, the only figure who can replace Abu Mazen [Abbas] is Barghouti,” she said.
She proceeded to quote a conversation with Abbas around the start of the latest, failed round of negotiations, in which the Palestinian leader said, “I am 78 years old and not getting any younger. I need to stabilize the situation in the PA.”
“Knowledgeable people say that the only one capable of stabilizing the situation after [Abbas] is Barghouti,” Gal-on said.
Abbas, who may serve as prime minister of an interim unity government with Hamas pending general elections in the Palestinian territories, has never appointed a successor, leaving the scene rife with speculation.
Barghouti, 55, who headed Fatah’s militant Tanzim offshoot and speaks fluent Hebrew, consistently receives high approval ratings in Palestinian polls and has even told Israeli journalists in 2012 that he sees himself as a future Palestinian president. Abbas, for his part, has voiced his interest in seeing Barghouti freed along with other Palestinian leaders with the relaunching of peace negotiations with Israel.
During a radio debate with Housing Minister Uri Ariel in March, Gal-on supported a deal in which the US would release Israeli-American spy Jonathan Pollard in return for Barghouti in order to boost talks.
“If the Americans are interested in extending the negotiations, they should give Netanyahu and Abu Mazen immediate achievements and bring about the release of Pollard in return for Barghouti,” she said. “Such a move will strengthen both sides ahead of talks.”
On Tuesday, the left-wing leader told The Times of Israel that the Israeli government seriously considered the swap, but it “never came to fruition.”
Unlike her predecessor Haim Oron, who paid regular visits to Barghouti behind bars, Gal-on never visited him in jail and said that she had no inclination to do so.