Palestinian mega-terror outfit Hamas is looking for getting terrorist Marwan Barghouti with the aim of bolstering influence of Hamas within the “Palestinian” society which would ultimately make Fatah or Palestinian Authority as worthless entities. In fact, with support from Qatar and Iran, Hamas leaders have become ambitious of knocking-out Fatah and other fractions.
Israel arrested Barghouti in 2002 for orchestrating terrorist attacks and held him directly responsible for the deaths of at least fourteen Israelis.
Jerusalem subsequently sentenced Barghouti to five consecutive life terms plus forty years. Yet Barghouti’s appeal and influence have only increased during his incarceration.
According to media reports, Hamas is pushing Israel to release Fatah arch-terrorist Barghouti from prison, a step that would further inflame already volatile tensions with chief rival Fatah. By championing Barghouti’s release, Hamas hopes to increase fissures within Fatah, apply pressure to an already stressed Palestinian Authority (PA), and bolster Hamas’ standing within Palestinian society—all with minimal risk of unleashing a potential opponent.
It may be mentioned here that, Hamas=Fatah feud dominated Palestinian politics since the mega-terror outfit Hamas violently expelled Fatah from Gaza in 2007. In November 2021, Hamas conducted a provocative funeral procession in the West Bank, which the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) controls for a fallen Hamas member. The public demonstration teemed with Hamas flags and terrorists wearing jihadist bandana and waging weapons, challenging Fatah primacy in that territory. In response, PA police cracked down on Hamas members, arresting several and preventing similar outbreaks. And on December 12, 2021, at a funeral for a Hamas member in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, a Hamas-Fatah clash left four dead.
In the eyes of Palestinians, terrorist Marwan Barghouti is considered as a national icon. He has been active within Fatah since the early 1970s and rose to prominence as a field leader during the late 1980s in the so-called First Intifada. Barghouti led Fatah’s armed wing Tanzim when Palestinians launched the so-called Second Intifada in 2000. According to analysts, during this period, Barghouti became “more popular” than former Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and former PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
Seeking to capitalize on Barghouti’s popularity and his iconic image within the Palestinians, current Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has prioritized his release. Since the Hamas-Israel war in May 2021, Egypt has attempted to secure a long-term truce that would include a prisoner exchange. According to media reports, in late June, Haniyeh promised Fadwa Barghouti that her husband would be included in any future prisoner swap with Israel. Ismail Haniyeh wants to get Barghouti released so that Hamas can convince him that when he was abandoned by Fatah or PA did not succeed in getting him released, Hamas has done that. With such approach, Ismail Haniyeh wants to wage a new war against Israel by uniting the Palestinian people under the leadership of Marwan Barghouti and invade Jerusalem and fulfil their dream of a Palestinian state. Ismail Haniyeh even wants to use Barghouti’s image in better serving Iran’s agenda of eliminating the Jewish State from the world map.
But experts of the Middle Eastern issues said, Ismail Heniye or Hamas’ demands may seem unrealistic in light of Barghouti’s exclusion from previous prisoner exchanges and his prison sentences. Yet the 2011 prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit that freed 1,027 Palestinians, which included many with blood on their hands, seemed far-fetched at the time.
They further said, Palestinian polls have Barghouti beating Haniyeh, calling into question Haniyeh’s judgment in campaigning for the release of a possible rival. Hamas is taking this risk for several reasons. First, Hamas would get credit as the main Palestinian leadership even if Barghouti is not released. Second, Barghouti could be a potential ally to Hamas given its shared vision of annihilating Israel. And third, Barghouti’s isolation in Israeli prison and lack of political infrastructure to help actualize his political goals minimize the threat he poses to Hamas.
In my understanding, Marwan Barghouti could be a major headache for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and would like defeat Abbas in an election. Fearing such challenge, Mahmoud Abbas and his loyalists have reportedly persuaded Israeli and Egyptian negotiators not to release Barghouti.
Adding to Barghouti’s isolation, in March 2021, Abbas expelled Barghouti’s most notable supporter, Nasser al-Kidwa, from Fatah when al-Kidwa announced he would run on his own slate during the Palestinian elections that were scheduled to take place in May.
It may be mentioned here that, Barghouti’s release would bolster a Fatah breakaway camp, increasing the divide within Mahmoud Abbas’ party. Before the aborted Palestinian elections in May this year, three slates were set to divide Fatah’s base – Al-Kidwa and Fadwa Barghouti led one of them. Sensing defeat, Abbas canceled the elections three weeks before their scheduled occurrence.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas is already facing unprecedented criticism from Palestinians over corruption, the Palestinian security service’s killing of social justice activist Nizar Banat, and the PA’s overall political ineptitude. And Abbas’ disapproval rate stood at 71 percent in October. Cashing on public disapproval of Mahmoud Abbas and his corruption-plagued party being known as a band of looters and thieves, mega-terror Hamas may now attempt to initiate simultaneously two missions – assassinating Mahmoud Abbas and his confidantes – and mobilizing Palestinian masses towards an all-out war against the State of Israel. Hamas is under pressure from Iran and Qatar – two of its main patrons, to begin a “full-fledged war” against the Jewish State and begin collaborating with Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah and Houthis in exerting pressure on Saudi Arabia. Iran wants to accomplish its two goals through Hamas – annihilate Israel and topple-down Saudi government. Meanwhile, top leaders of Hamas as well its patrons believe, whatever they have to do against Israel has to be done during the tenure of Joe Biden.
An internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, research-scholar, counter-terrorism specialist, and editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter Salah_Shoaib