Barghouti to challenge Abbas in parliament, ahead of possible presidential bid

Fatah heavyweight is serving five life sentences for masterminding terror attacks against Israelis; surveys say a list he backs would beat an Abbas slate of candidates

A Palestinian child stands in front of a mural of jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti at the Kalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem. (Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)
A Palestinian child stands in front of a mural of jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti at the Kalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem. (Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti, convicted by an Israeli court of several acts of terrorism, has decided to run his own list of candidates in the upcoming election to challenge Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s official Fatah list, Barghouti’s associates said on Tuesday night.

“The decision came after it was confirmed to Marwan Barghouti that the Fatah movement did not comply with what was agreed upon with regard to choosing the names on the movement’s list,” Barghouti’s brother Muqbil told Qatar-based Al-Araby TV.

Barghouti’s decision to assemble an independent list comes just one day before the deadline to submit slates of candidates for the upcoming Palestinian legislative elections. He had reportedly been considering the issue for months.

Officials in Ramallah have speculated that Barghouti would not himself run in the upcoming legislative elections, instead keeping his eyes firmly locked on the presidential vote scheduled to follow them. So far, however, he has yet to make a statement on the matter.

According to opinion polling, aging PA leader Abbas — who is his Fatah movement’s presumptive nominee — would likely lose to Barghouti in a faceoff.

Abbas issued an electoral decree in mid-January ordering the first Palestinian national elections in over 15 years. While he has canceled election pledges before, anticipation is building that, this time, the Palestinians might actually head to a national vote.

A Palestinian man gestures in front of a poster bearing the portrait of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, during a rally marking Palestinian Prisoner Day in Gaza City on April 17, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS)

The Palestinian legislative elections are scheduled for May 22, while presidential elections are set for July 31.

Some 25 Palestinian groups have registered electoral lists with the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, including the Hamas terror group and exiled Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan.

Barghouti was convicted by Israel of masterminding several terror attacks during the Second Intifada and is currently serving multiple life sentences in Israeli prison. Nonetheless, he enjoys widespread popularity among Palestinians, many of whom see him as a symbol of resistance untainted by corruption.

A recent survey found that if Barghouti formed a breakaway political faction within Fatah, his candidates would defeat Abbas’s bloc: 28% of those polled said they would vote for Barghouti’s list while 22% said they would vote for Abbas’s list.

Many Palestinians draw unfavorable comparisons between Barghouti and the 86-year-old Abbas. The Palestinian Authority is widely seen as corrupt and ineffectual by many Palestinians; Ramallah is also regularly assailed for its coordination with Israel. Opinion polls consistently find a majority of Palestinians demand the PA leader’s resignation.

In a 2014 letter from prison, Barghouti said that Palestinians should “support total resistance and the rifle.”

“There must be a reconsideration of the choice of resistance as the shortest path to extinguishing the occupation and achieving freedom,” Barghouti wrote.

Fatah has delayed submitting its own list of candidates, but officials have said they intend to send the list to the commission before Wednesday’s deadline.

Barghouti was elected as a Fatah member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996. He announced his intention to run independently as a presidential candidate in 2005 but later withdrew his candidacy. That withdrawal was also said to come after pressure from officials in the name of party unity.

Barghouti has launched separate runs before in an attempt to put pressure on the leadership in Ramallah, only to return to the Fatah fold once his demands were met.

During the 2006 legislative elections, Barghouti briefly started a new Fatah breakaway party known as al-Mustaqbal. The party’s list included former Palestinian legislator Qaddura Fares, current Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub, and Dahlan.

The party wound up rejoining Fatah before the elections, once the main faction agreed to submit a revised list of candidates that would move Barghouti’s associates into positions of power

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