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Barghouti release would likely be bad news for Abbas

Palestinian demonstration for the release of prisoners, Ofer military prison (photo: Activestills)

Update, midnight [Israel time]: Emerging reports suggest that Barghouti will not be among those released. Stay tuned for updates.

As of writing, it’s been one hour since the Israelis and Palestinians announced a deal on the release of Gilad Shalit and a thousand-plus Palestinian prisoners. And so far, there’s been no response from the Fatah leader, PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbbas. Perhaps his silence is appropriate. He exerts little-to-no control over the Gaza Strip, where the French-Israeli corporal has been held for half a decade. Nor does he exert any control over the body that governs the territory.

What is clear is that if the cameras were turned to Abbas, they’d probably see an unsettled man. Why? Not because he doesn’t want Shalit released. But rather because Abbas will probably emerge as the weakest party in this whole deal. Netanyahu will show that he is though because he was able to secure a homecoming from Shalit, as he promised. Hamas will show that it is tough because it was able to successfully release one-thousand prisoners from Israeli jail. And Abbas? What does he have to show for? Statehood? Not quite.

Worse yet for Abbas, the preliminary reports suggest that Marwan Barghouti will be among those released. Barghouti is considered one of the key choreographers of the First and Second Intifadas against Israel. His is literally a child of the Fatah party, having served as a co-founder of its youth wing, Shabiba. He’s been influential in Fatah’s politics for years, even from behind Israeli prison bars. Hamas has always demanded Barghouti’s release. And Israel feared doing so would essentially make a hero out of him a la Nelson Mandela. (One a number of occasions, Israeli left-wing activist Uri Avnery referred to him as the Palestinian Mandela.)

So what changed?

Binyamin Netanyahu made it very clear that he will punished Abbas for pursuing his goal of Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly in September. Abbas essentially embarrassed Netanyahu in the international arena, and Netanyahu vowed to make him pay for it. This might be a political “price tag” for last month’s actions. Or it might just good negotiating and mediating. Either way, Abbas is not likely to survive the challenges he’ll ultimately face from Barghouti.

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    1. aristeides

      Abbas has frequently said he’s ready to retire. He might welcome someone to turn the whole mess over to.

      If the UN statehood move is successful, he can depart on a note of victory. If it fails, he can say, “to hell with it.”

      The question I have is whether Barghouti will back the move in the UN – or was this the price he had to pay for release?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lee Diamond

      Shallow analysis.

      Abbas is old, wants to retire. Barghouthi represents the future. He believes in a two-state solution. He might be the bridge between the PLO and Hamas. Perhaps, Hamas believes that Barghouthi will get the best deal possible from Israel because Barghouthi will rouse the people and lead them in the streets till the objective is achieved:

      A Palestinian state in the West Bank & Gaza, limited land swaps, East Jerusalem the capital. I have no clue how they will handle Right of Return, but it has to be negotiated.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Deïr Yassin

      “What is CLEAR is that if the cameras were turned to Abbas, they would PROBABLY see an unsettled man”.
      How can something be ‘clear’ and ‘probable’ at the same time ?
      With or without Marwan Barghouti, Mahmoud Abbas applauds the prison deal from Venezuela where he’s visiting our friend, El Commandante:
      http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=428399

      Reply to Comment
    4. Abu Mazen

      I find it interesting that not matter what Netanyahu comes out the Evil puppet Master in your analyses. Maybe it was the right time when all the planets aligned and a deal could be struck? Maybe what’s changed is Hamas’s relationship with Iran and Syria due to the unrest there and knowing that maybe now was their chance to play the Gilad Shalit card? and Netanyahu took advantage of that? Maybe after years of propping up Abbas’s regime the Israeli Government realized it was not worth the risk of freeing Shalit? Abbas is in a Unity government with the organization that’s holding Shalit. Is he so powerless to not have been able to mediate or get something moving? All questions that have nothing to do with anyone cynically punishing anyone.

      Reply to Comment
    5. ToivoS

      As an outside observer of the political dynamics it does seem that including Marwan Bourghothie in this exchange would be a major change. If Netanyahoo thinks that this is to his advantage he must be deluded. (eh, what else is new).

      This would mean that the old PA leadership is yielding to a new Palestinian liberation leadership. That cannot be good for the goal of annexing the WB. It seems to me that the Israeli right is now willing to compete in a one-state solution environment. Sorry boobs, they will lose big time there, that means one person – one vote. No way Zionism can survive in that environment.

      Reply to Comment
    6. aristeides

      Ha’aretz reports that Marwan Barghouti is not on the list to be released.

      Reply to Comment
    7. RichardNYC

      Marwan’s rejuvenated Fatah might also rival Hamas – so there is good reason for Meshaal to keep him on the bench

      Reply to Comment
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