Hamas has said that it will prioritise the release of senior Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti in any prisoner exchange deal with Israel. This was revealed after a meeting between the head of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement's political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, and Fadwa Barghouti, the wife of the 62-year-old who is entering his 20th year in an Israeli prison.
Haniyeh spoke with Barghouti's wife in the presence of several prominent leaders of the movement earlier this month in Cairo. A senior Hamas source who was present at the meeting told Al-Monitor that Haniyeh has prioritised Barghouti's release. Fadwa Barghouti received assurances that her husband will be at the top of the list in any future prisoner exchange deal with Israel.
According to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Haniyeh and Egyptian officials discussed the possibility of a new deal with Israel. The Egyptian mediators believe that the time is not yet ripe to make progress in talks with the Israelis, and suggested postponing the issue until the new government gets to work.
It's not at all clear, however, if the government led by far-right nationalist Naftali Bennett will be open to a prisoner swap. He is even more extreme than his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu.
"I think the new Israeli prime minister, who is known for saying that terrorists should be killed and not released, will be more cautious about concluding an exchange deal that might result in the release of prisoners who have a history of planned military operations that killed many Israelis," said Talal Oka of Al-Ayyam newspaper.
Hamas claims that it holds four Israeli soldiers who were captured during the 2014 Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip during which over 2,200 Palestinians were killed, and over 17,000 were wounded. Israel, however, questions that figure. It also continues to hold 4,500 Palestinians in its prisons.
Barghouti is seen as a natural successor to 85-year-old Mahmoud Abbas and the ideal person to unite the Palestinian political factions. According to recent polls he is the most popular Palestinian leader, which means that he would stand a good chance of winning a presidential election. That, though, could work against him. Critics argue that one of the means by which Israel can sustain its brutal occupation is to keep Palestinians divided politically and geographically.