Saturday, November 06, 2004

The compleat Barghouti

On Thursday, in the Jerusalem Post, former top Israeli diplomat David Kimche dutifully listed the usual suspects contending for the Palestinian leadership--the Arafat gang, Al Aqsa, and Hamas--then added his "wild card":

The great hope of many Palestinians lies in a person presently incarcerated in an Israeli prison, Marwan Barghouti.

I first met him in January 1997 in Copenhagen, when 100 Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians and Jordanians came together to establish a regional peace movement commonly known, in the Arab world at least, as The Copenhagen Group.

Barghouti made a deep impression on those present, speaking passionately for the need for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. But according to Barghouti, that peace could only come after Israel relinquishes the occupied territories.

After that, he declared, Israelis and Palestinians should be able to live together in peace, fully cooperating as good neighbors.

In those words lies the key to Israeli-Palestinian relations in the post-Arafat era.

Today's New York Times piece by Jerusalem bureau chief Steven Erlanger reviews the same dreary list, then adds:

The support of Marwan Barghouti, currently serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli jail and popular in the street, will also be significant. There is speculation that he might at some point be freed in a prisoner exchange.

This column already sounds like a broken record on the subject of Barghouti. In an October 30 posting, titled "More re Barghouti," it observed:

From the London
Economist editorial "The end of the Arafat era?"; discussing potential candidates to succeed the so-called "chairman":

"Few Palestinian leaders, young or old, are thought to command broad support in the larger West Bank. One possible exception is Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah figure who is currently in an Israeli prison serving five life terms for his role in armed attacks on Israeli civilians (he denied involvement). Many Israelis regard the pragmatic Mr Barghouti as a man with whom they might be able to do business. Mr Sharon could choose to free him, clearing the way for an authentic national leader to don Mr Arafat’s mantle. But almost no one believes this will happen."

That October 30 posting in turn linked to two earlier P&C postings, dated October 29 and September 28. The
October 29 posting:

Yasir Arafat is dying, and the end appears to be near, if not imminent. ... [on October 28] Tel Aviv Ha'aretz columnist
Danny Rubinstein [reports that] control will soon pass ... to "members of [a] younger cadre, among them Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan, [who] will lend their support to the two veterans, [and] who will divide up the governing authority between themselves."

Will control pass to a "younger cadre"? Certainly. But will it go to Rajoub or Dahlan? Perhaps not. ...

paragraph appears in Rubinstein's Friday [October 29] column, titled "Don't interfere, they're looking for an heir":

"The feeling in the Palestinian territories today is such that only a man who is seen as a bitter enemy of Israel may gain popularity. Palestinian Council member Marwan Barghouti, for example, enjoys an especially high status in public opinion polls in the West Bank and Gaza only because Israel sentenced him to life imprisonment. He is called 'the engineer of the intifada,' a title seen as a great honor in the territories."

And that
September 28 posting:

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 ...

The inescapable conclusion: anyone who knows anything is madly leaking the news that Marwan Barghouti is being carefully groomed to succeed Yasir Arafat after some elderly Arafat retainers serve as transition figures. Watch this space for developments.