The man Israel didn't release from prison: Marwan Barghouti
Palestinians originally hoped that Marwan Barghouti, compared by some to former South African prisoner-turned-president Nelson Mandela, would be included in a prisoner swap finalized today.
(Page 2 of 2)
Such promises make Barghouti appealing to young people like Ahmed Moussa.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“The younger leadership needs to take its place. We need new blood,” says Younes of Barghouti, who is two decades younger than Abbas. “We will have new elections and there should be new people in these elections, especially for Fatah.”
But Ahmed's father, Samir Moussa, is among a generation of older West Bank residents who suffered through two intifadas, or uprisings, and don't want to jeopardize the economic benefits of stability they're now enjoying, helped by Abbas's message of moderation and compromise.
International aid money has poured into Ramallah under his leadership and that of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and the economy has been steadily growing. When Abbas defied Israel and the US and made a bid for full Palestinian membership at the United Nations, his popularity spiked; one poll showed him trouncing Barghouti for the first time.
“I think Abu Mazan is the man of these days, because now we need negotiations and he is the man who can lead us in these negotiations,” says the elder Moussa.
Barghouti's potential strengths at the peace table
Barghouti is considered a leader of the second intifada, which began in 2000. While he has opposed attacks on civilians inside Israel proper, he has maintained the Palestinian right to resistance in the occupied West Bank.
"And while I, and the Fatah movement to which I belong, strongly oppose attacks and the targeting of civilians inside Israel, our future neighbor," wrote Barghouti in a 2002 op-ed in the Washington Post. "I reserve the right to protect myself, to resist the Israeli occupation of my country and to fight for my freedom. If Palestinians are expected to negotiate under occupation, then Israel must be expected to negotiate as we resist that occupation."
But while Barghouti is remembered as a man of resistance – he is the leader of Fatah's armed wing, Tanzim – he has advocated from prison for a two-state solution and for negotiating a settlement with Israel.
“Marwan was for violence,” says Hassan Hamdon, who works in the real estate sector. “But when he gets out of jail, if there is a road to peace, he will take it.”
Hani Masri, director of the Palestine Media, Research, and Studies Centre in Ramallah, says Barghouti is better suited to making peace with Israel than Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.
"Barghouti can solve the problem better because he believes in resistance and negotiation," says Mr. Masri. "And Abu Mazen [Abbas] believes just [in[ negotiations. And it failed because the Israeli government didn't give him anything.... Until now, negotiations failed and the peace process is still without peace."
Although Barghouti's violent past gives Israel pause, his overwhelming popularity – which stems partially from his past as a resistance fighter – may enable him to make compromises and gains in negotiations for peace that Abbas cannot. Documents leaked by the Arab satellite TV network Al Jazeera earlier this year showed negotiators under his leadership offering compromises to Israel that many Palestinians are unwilling to accept.
“Arafat was a strong man. He could make peace. If Marwan comes out, he will be a strong man, too. A lot of people will vote for him. […] But if you have a weak person he cannot make anything,” says Mr. Hamdon. “Abbas thinks well, but he is not strong enough to change things and the Israelis see him as weak person, and that’s why they are not going to make peace with him.”
Get daily or weekly updates from CSMonitor.com delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.