November 9, 2011


Release Marwan Barghouti (AVINOAM BAR-YOSEF, 11/08/11, NY Times)

[W]hile he always made clear to his counterparts that a Palestinian state would have an Islamic character, and was proud of being a Muslim, he also expressed contempt for Islamic fundamentalists.

Above all, he has never been associated with the corruption of the Palestinian establishment that formed around Yasser Arafat. While a student at Ramallah's Birzeit University, his main efforts were invested in the refugee camps: social work, aid to the ill and the poor, cleaning the streets.

In 1987 he was deported by the late Yitzhak Rabin, then minister of defense, because of his role in preparing the first, less violent, intifada. Barghouti spent seven years in exile, keeping his distance from Arafat's corrupted entourage in Tunis. He was allowed back in 1994, under the Oslo Accords signed by the same Rabin, and in 1996 elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council, where he was a strong critic of the corruption in Fatah. In 1995 he was among the founders of Tanzim, an armed, grassroots offshoot which played a significant role in the second intifada, far more violent than the first.

So why would Israelis, including some from the intelligence community, seriously consider releasing Barghouti?

For one thing, he and Tanzim represent the next generation of secular Palestinian leaders. One of the biggest mistakes of the Israeli establishment and American envoys over the past two years has been their failure to open back channels to Tanzim, a group also ignored by Abbas and his officials.

Barghouti would also form a powerful leadership team with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Like Barghouti, Fayyad is regarded as being above any dirty dealings. He has structured an impressively efficient bureaucracy. He is rightly courted by the Obama administration and many Israelis. It is well known that there is no love lost between him and Abbas, but the Palestinian president needs Fayyad to ensure a flow of funds from the West.

The trouble is that Fayyad is regarded by the Palestinians as a professional, as the C.E.O. of the Palestinian Authority, but not as its leader. Many experts believe that Israeli and Western negotiators should encourage cooperation between Fayyad and Barghouti. The endorsement of Tanzim would bring Fayyad and his reforms critical support from the Palestinians.

This may be why some in the Israeli leadership, those who are interested in achieving a two-state solution to the conflict, see Barghouti as a possible partner, even if his sins are not forgiven.

Posted by at November 9, 2011 6:06 AM

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