ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Marwan Barghouti’s wife launches international campaign for his release

Amid discontent over PA President Abbas’s leadership and looming struggle for succession, terrorist jailed in Israel for deadly attacks is widely seen as candidate to replace him

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Fatah terror chief Marwan Barghouti, serving five life terms for murder during the Second Intifada, is escorted by Israeli police into Jerusalem's Magistrate Court to testify as part of a US civil lawsuit against the Palestinian leadership, in January 2012. (Flash90)
Fatah terror chief Marwan Barghouti, serving five life terms for murder during the Second Intifada, is escorted by Israeli police into Jerusalem's Magistrate Court to testify as part of a US civil lawsuit against the Palestinian leadership, in January 2012. (Flash90)

Meeting the Jordanian foreign minister in Amman last week, Fadwa Barghouti, wife of jailed Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti, announced the launch of an international campaign for the release of her husband.

The campaign, called “Freedom for Marwan Barghouti, the Mandela of Palestine,” is scheduled to be launched in Europe, Latin America and South Africa by “solidarity groups” in the next few months. It will attempt to put pressure on the international community for the release of the convicted Fatah leader, who was arrested by Israel in 2002 and is currently serving five life terms for planning three terror attacks during the Second Intifada that killed five Israelis.

At the meeting, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi reiterated Jordan’s support for the Palestinian cause and expressed his appreciation for the “struggle and sacrifices” of her husband.

Fadwa Barghouti’s trip to Amman is the latest stop in a lobbying tour that took her to Cairo two weeks ago to meet with the secretary general of the Arab League, Ahmad Abu al-Ghait, and previously included meetings with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in March and with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Bogdanov.

Barghouti supporters within the Fatah party said to the Haaretz daily (Hebrew) that the only chance for his release from prison was for international pressure to be brought to bear on Israel, since a prisoner exchange deal is nowhere in sight; hence Fadwa Barghouti’s tour to lobby the international community to become involved.

Marwan Barghouti, 64, is often touted as one of top candidates to succeed octogenarian Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the Palestinian Authority. He is especially favored by the younger generation, who perceive him as untainted by the PA’s corruption and collaboration with Israel. The latest series of meetings held by his wife were intended to consolidate international support for his possible future candidacy.

Image taken during a meeting between Marwan Barghouti’s wife Fadwa and Egyptian foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry during an official visit in Cairo on March 13, 2023 (via alghad.tv)

According to a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Barghouti would win by a large margin against candidates from both his own party Fatah and against Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, making him an appealing choice for a large swath of the Palestinian electorate.

Palestinians have known no other leader than Mahmoud Abbas since he took power in 2004 following the death of Yasser Arafat, even though his term officially expired in 2009. Elections that were scheduled to be held in 2021 were canceled by the PA leader, who blamed Israel for allegedly refusing to allow East Jerusalem Palestinians to vote. Observers believe Abbas has avoided holding elections for years due to fears of defeat.

The question of who will replace the aging president has been debated for years in local, regional and international circles. There is unanimous agreement that the decision on the successor will be made internally inside the Fatah movement.

Israel and the US have an obvious interest in the outcome of that choice, and have expressed a clear preference for Hussein al-Sheikh, 61, a more moderate figure than the combative Barghouti. Al-Sheikh has risen swiftly through the ranks of the Palestine Liberation Organization to be appointed in 2022 as secretary-general of the executive committee of the PLO.

A picture taken on March 31, 2021, near the Israeli Qalandiya checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, shows a mural of Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti on a section of the security barrier. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

But Al-Sheikh is perceived by many Palestinians as an agent of the Israeli occupation, given his close ties with Israeli officials.

Another frontrunner is Mahmoud Aloul, 73, deputy chairman of the Fatah party. He is considered part of the old guard of the Palestinian leadership, and is expected to pursue the same policies and strategies as Abbas, namely that the Palestinians should stick to “popular resistance,” and not “armed struggle,” according to Bishara Bahbah, vice president of the Washington-based US-Palestinian Council.

Second-tier candidates to the leadership include Major General Jibril Rajoub, 69, secretary general of Fatah’s Central Committee; Majed Faraj, 61, the head of the General Intelligence Service; current prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, 65; and Mohammed Dahlan, 61, a former Fatah chief and security minister exiled to the United Arab Emirates after falling out with Abbas. Each one of the candidates has his own network of supporters in the Palestinian territories.

In two recent meetings in Turkey and Egypt, the PA and Hamas agreed to launch a reconciliation process that would eventually lead to a unity government. The conclusive statements have not been followed by a practical roadmap, and according to some Palestinian commentators, they are unlikely to bear any tangible results.

Observers agree that if no decision on a successor is made within Fatah and among Palestinian factions before Abbas’s demise, the West Bank is likely to fall into chaos, with competing armed militias fighting each other for supremacy.

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