Poll: Barghouti top Palestinian presidential candidate

Convicted terrorist is more popular than Abbas, Haniyeh; most Palestinians believe new elections will take place soon

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Imprisoned Fatah leader and convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti is the Palestinians’ favored candidate for their next president, a poll by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion published Thursday found.

The survey was conducted on a sample of 1,015 Palestinians over the age of 18 from East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, and evaluated public expectations of the anticipated Fatah-Hamas unity government.

Barghouti, serving five life terms for involvement in five murders during the second intifada, was measured separately against Hamas Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh, current Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal. He beat each of them by a wide margin. Against Haniyeh, Barghouti won 49% against 16%; against Abbas, the race was closer with 33% for Barghouti against 26% for the current president; the margin widened in the run between Barghouti and Mashaal, at 51% to 16%.

“It is time that Mr. el-Barghouti should be released from prison to give him the opportunity to candidate for the next presidential elections,” Dr. Nabil Kukali, president and founder of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, said in a statement.

A question about the candidates that weighed Abbas’s chances against Haniyeh — and excluded Barghouti from the running — showed the PA president in the lead: 44% would vote for the Fatah leader, while only 17% would vote for the Hamas chief.

Respondents showed high rates of confidence about the supposed upcoming elections, with some 28% saying they will certainly be held, and 52% maintaining they will “likely” be held. The majority of participants also believed that Fatah would most likely win if the elections were to be held right now (39% Fatah list; 15% Hamas list; 11% for the independent list).

Barghouti is the former leader of the Tanzim militant faction and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. He was convicted in 2004 on five counts of murder and one attempted murder, and was implicated and held responsible for four other terror attacks.

In a 2012 interview, Barghouti said he could envision himself as the next president of the Palestinian Authority.

On Tuesday, Meretz MK Zahava Gal-on said, “The only figure who can replace Abu Mazen [Abbas] is Barghouti.”

“Knowledgeable people say that the only one capable of stabilizing the situation after [Abbas] is Barghouti,” Gal-on said.

Gal-on also said Israel had seriously considered releasing the Palestinian leader, but it “never came to fruition.”

Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.

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