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Why does Mahmoud Abbas want Marwan Barghouti to stay behind bars?

May 10, 2024 at 8:47 am

A big mural shows jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip on 16 April, 2023 [Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto]

Traitors are vile, reptilian creatures and, in many ways, they are even more despicable than the most ruthless of enemies. The trouble is that those who betray the cause are usually hidden in plain sight; the one sitting silently at the table sharing and breaking bread with you and your family while the enemy is circling, loudly, outside and banging on the fortress door.

It is perhaps the one and only redeeming feature of Israel that it no longer attempts to hide its evil intentions. Despite committing some of the most heinous atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity, Israelis stand in defiance and are almost inexplicably proud of what they have done — are doing — whether it’s an illegal land grab; bombing schools and hospitals; executing innocents with shots to the back of the head; using women and children for target practice; and dumping their victims in mass graves, hands still cable-tied. And we mustn’t forget the disinterring of recently-buried corpses.

Nothing’s too sick for Israelis to get their kicks.

Throw in deliberate famine and weaponisation of starvation, and is there any wonder that the International Court of Justice is investigating the Zionist State for genocide in Gaza right now?

The Palestinians must be wondering when God’s plan will deliver the justice that they are long overdue after 76 years of Israel’s brutal occupation. That day will come, sooner or later.

While they know only too well who their enemy is, though, when it comes to treachery they are either blind or careless about whom they trust. Flawed as he was, the first Palestinian Authority President, Yasser Arafat, loved his people and was prepared to die fighting for Palestine; in return, the people were prepared to do the same for him. The same cannot be said about Mahmoud Abbas, his unworthy successor, known disparagingly in most circles in Ramallah as “The Old Man”.

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It emerged earlier this week that during the height of the delicate negotiations for a ceasefire in Gaza and prisoner exchange deals, mediators were told by the PA leadership to exclude imprisoned Marwan Barghouti from any potential prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas.

“The request was made by Majid Faraj, the director of Palestinian general intelligence, and Hussein Al-Sheikh, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee,” according to a report in Middle East Eye on 5 May. The report added that senior PA officials believe that, “Barghouti’s release would threaten the leadership of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.” At 88 years old, death and senility pose the greatest threat, not only to Abbas, but also to good governance. The president’s electoral mandate ran out in 2009 and with it went any pretence of belief in democracy, and Israel and its Western allies have played their part in this farce willingly.

Barghouti is thus the sort of revolutionary leader feared most by the PA’s old guard and despite his overwhelming popularity with most Palestinians, Abbas and his cronies feared that Hamas would insist on his release from prison as part of a hostage deal. It will come as no surprise that those also opposed to his release include Israel and that other “old man”, US President “Genocide Joe” Biden.

The last thing they want is a Palestinian Mandela-figure revered by the Palestinians and feted around the world. A poll in March by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research revealed that if there was a presidential election “tomorrow”, Barghouti would win hands down. Needless to say, Abbas got his way. He clearly sees himself and the presidency in a “till death us do part” relationship; a job for life. Which does nobody, least of all the people of occupied Palestine, any good whatsoever given Abbas’s desire to maintain what he has called the PA’s “sacred” security collaboration with the occupation state.

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Barghouti is also ahead of Hamas leader and former elected Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in the popularity stakes. The survey showed that in a two-man competition between Barghouti and Haniyeh, the former would take more than 60 per cent of the votes. The poll suggests an 11-point increase in support for Barghouti and an eight-point drop for Haniyeh. Unlike Abbas, Haniyeh does not seem to be alarmed or feel threatened by this. Those who know him say that he is pragmatic about such matters and simply wants what is best for the people of Palestine in the quest for freedom and justice. Indeed, Hamas has sought to repair the widening political division with Fatah — headed by Abbas, as is the PLO — on many occasions; Fatah has always sabotaged such efforts, at the behest of Israel, no doubt, and the donor states which keep the octogenarian and his Palestinian Authority propped up.


A man lifts a placard depicting imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti during a demonstration in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, outside the International Committee of the Red Cross headquarters in Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank, on August 2, 2022 [ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images]

The former Fatah official Barghouti has been in Israel’s Megiddo Prison serving a life sentence since 2002. He was a supporter of the group’s legitimate armed resistance against the Israeli occupation back in the days when the PLO-Fatah-PA actually believed in resistance against, rather than complicity with, Israel’s brutal military occupation.

While parallels are frequently drawn between Barghouti and the late Nelson Mandela, the similarity ends with the Palestinian freedom fighter’s betrayal by the old guard in Ramallah. It would have been inconceivable in Mandela’s day for him to have been undermined by his own people. Abbas and his accomplices have no such qualms.

Sadly, such a betrayal by Abbas was encouraged by Washington and Tel Aviv, who are appalled at the idea that the Palestinians might have another free and fair democratic vote, in case they elect the “wrong” people again. That’s what happened in 2006 — the last time that the Palestinians had an election — in which Hamas was persuaded against its better judgement to participate. Israel and its allies thought that Fatah would wipe the Islamic Resistance Movement off the electoral map, but it didn’t, and contrary to everyone’s expectations, including its own, Hamas won. The Palestinians in occupied Gaza and the West Bank have been punished by the West for exercising their democratic right ever since.

They deserve much better than the shower in charge at the moment, and Marwan Barghouti must be the best chance they have to change the oppressive status quo. If he isn’t, then why is Abbas so determined to keep him in an Israeli prison? Free Marwan Barghouti!

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.