Sunday, November 14, 2004

Barghouti steamroller picking up speed ...

From Donald Macintyre's piece in today's London Sunday Independent:

The jailed Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, could emerge as a kingmaker in the succession to Yasser Arafat, even if he eventually rejects growing advice to run for the Palestinian presidency himself, his supporters suggested yesterday.

With recent polls showing that, before Mr Arafat's death on Thursday, Mr Barghouti was the second most popular Palestinian politician after him, Mr Barghouti's wife Fadwa yesterday issued a pointed warning that the transitional Palestinian leadership should be "more aware of their need to have Marwan Barghouti standing beside them".

From a Saturday Associated Press report:

JERUSALEM - Imprisoned uprising leader Marwan Barghouti has decided to run for president in upcoming Palestinian elections, a source close to the popular politician said Saturday.

Barghouti, widely seen as the strongest candidate to replace Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, will only bow out of the race if his ruling Fatah movement selects a different candidate in internal voting, the source said on condition of anonymity. That is unlikely as Fatah is not expected to hold a primary.

And from an analysis by Jason Burke in Saturday's London Guardian:

The greatest challenge to the old guard - who may yet look for a reason to postpone the poll - comes from Marwan Barghouti, a firebrand leader currently serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison. Barghouti, who was deeply involved in running the recent al-Aqsa uprising, is hugely popular among Palestinian youth and is seen as a potential leader by many.

P&C has watched closely as Barghouti has prepared his ground well. The particularly startling and Machiavellian angle involved here is that the Israelis may be among Barghouti's strongest and most influential supporters, but they must cover their tracks extremely well because the public disclosure of their approval would be fatal to any Palestinian's chances.

Among the nearly dozen P&C posts on this unfolding story:

Friday (11/12), P&C linked to a Tel Aviv Ha'aretz column written by left-wing Israeli journalist Amira Hass:

Palestinian security detainees [ie terrorists in Israeli prisons] are waiting to hear what prisoner Marwan Barghouti has to say: What is his position on the emerging leadership? Does he intend to contend in the planned elections? According to a lawyer who met with prisoners at Nafha prison this week, the security detainees, particularly those belonging to Fatah, speak of Barghouti as the Palestinian people's new leader. They await his pronouncements as they waver between wanting to give the collective leadership now taking shape a chance and mistrusting it.

P&C's conclusion:

The Palestinian hard cases in Israeli prisons instinctively respect and defer to Barghouti. If, as has been reported, the Israelis also like him, and grabbed him up primarily to prevent rival Palestinians from clipping him--then Marwan Barghouti is the future of Palestine. You read it here first.

Monday (11/8), P&C linked to a Jerusalem Post column written by Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, who described the widespread support Barghouti enjoys on the Palestinian street.

And on
September 28, P&C introduced the subject with this post, under the title "Marwan Barghouti":

A significant development buried in
Mark Lavie's Associated Press piece about the latest carnage in the Middle East:

"The wife of jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti said her husband will run in Palestinian parliamentary elections expected next year."

Until he was captured in Ramallah by an elite Israeli commando unit in April 2002, Barghouti was the area chief of the "Tanzim," an Al-Fatah offshoot that Yasir Arafat ordered established after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. Arafat needed the Tanzim because he was too closely identified with Fatah and required plausible deniability for future terrorist actions that he might personally order. Barghouti also founded the notorious Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, another terrorist group responsible for dozens of murderous attacks.

Before the newest Palestinian terror campaign started in 2000, Barghouti got along well with the Israelis and gained their respect. He speaks fluent Hebrew (he did time in Israeli prisons) and is regarded to be an opportunistic moderate. The Israelis believe that Barghouti helped to plan terrorist actions--including suicide bombings--during the two years before his capture primarily to maintain his position within the Palestinian hierarchy.

The word is that the Israelis captured and jailed the charismatic Barghouti to protect him from jealous rivals who wanted him dead--a list which included Arafat. Had Israel intended to eliminate Barghouti, it would have killed him in a targeted attack with little potential risk to the Israelis. Instead, the Israeli generals sent an elite "Duvdevan" unit deep into the West Bank to snatch him.

Then the Israelis broke with longstanding practice and held Barghouti's trial in open court--not in the closed military court where Palestinian terror suspects are usually tried. And in his trial, with the world media watching and reporting, Barghouti offered a spirited and colorful defense that in practical terms kicked off his political campaign: he shouted his defiance; he characterized himself as a patriot in a kangaroo court; he denied that the Israelis had any jurisdiction to try any Palestinian for any act committed on his own land. The performance was a great hit in the Palestinian-controlled areas.

There is talk that Israel took great care to provide Barghouti with this forum for the purpose of building his street cred among the Palestinian public. And there are whispers that Israel and the US are carefully grooming Barghouti to succeed Arafat--and that Arafat knows it.So yesterday, safely ensconced in an Israeli prison, Barghouti kicked off his formal campaign ...

And one last extract, from David Aaronovitch's column in today's London Observer. After listing a series of "solutions" broached here or there, but which he dismisses as impossible (in some instances more because he dislikes them than due to any inherent impracticability), he concludes:

In an Israeli jail, convicted of complicity in murders, sits Marwan Barghouti, hero of the camps, planner of the intifada, condemner of suicide bombings and - quite possibly - the only man who could deliver a peace. If he were brave enough to try, if the Israelis were brave enough to let him. He won't be elected this time, but he is, many think, the Nixon for this China. Remember the name.

This is just beginning ...