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Omar’s beautiful, dark, twisted—political fantasy

Last night a bizarre answer to a reasonable question popped into my head. And all glory be to the blog, I am able to compose this little articulation-of-no-consequence knowing clear well that it will be published, even if it is just by me.

It all began after an intense evening of ‘trivia-night’ at a local Ramallah restaurant—yes, we are all nerds in our own fashion—my mind feeling especially limber, I began to think to myself, why would Mahmoud Abbas decide to call for elections now, and so soon?—Abbas having recently announced his desire to hold elections in January.

Hamas, his mortal enemy, has just concluded a monumental prisoner exchange that no doubt has their street credibility at a recent high. Moreover Abbas, with no clear successor within Fatah, will likely not run for president this time around, leaving a political vacuum in the incumbent party.

What in God’s good name could possess Abbas to make this ill-advised political calculation?? Then, like a lightning bolt from the ether, or from the pint of San Miguel I had just drained, it occurred to me that in the Palestinian President’s fit of madness—having just given the bird to the United States and Israel by marching to the United Nations to demand statehood—reeling off a new-found sense of freedom and independence, having tossed off the shackles of the moribund peace process, he decided to stick it to the Israelis just a little further by clearing the path for the election of none other than Marwan Barghouti!!!

Barghouti, serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison, is the most popular political leader in all of Palestine and the only man that can potentially bridge the factional schism that has divided the Palestinian body-politic for nigh six years. In the last election in 2006, Marwan Barghouti was on the presidential ballot from his prison cell and stood a damn good chance until he was convinced to remove his name so as not to divide Fatah supporters from Mahmoud Abbas.

If Abbas, who in my humble opinion has spent the last year in an extravagant effort at shoring up his political legacy, were to bring Marwan Barghouti back from the brink—something even Hamas’ prisoner exchange could not do—then his mission to salvage his image will be complete. Israel will be holding the new President of the Palestinian Authority in prison—a man that the world considers could be the Palestinian Nelson Mandela. Israel may be pressured to release him, which regardless of its response, could usher in a new era. If nothing else it is a PR coup equally as effective as the 1000/1 prisoner swap and the stage will be set for…

…and this is where my imagination gave out. If anyone is interested in finishing this analytical fantasy, please feel free. If we are right, I am happy to share the credit!

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    1. DeeDee

      Nicely put.. I agree with you Omar, If elections do happen and Marwan Barghouti runs for president he is for sure winning and will be good to see the world reaction to it, I mean we Palestinians are sick of worlds dypocricy when it comes to dealing with us. And this might push the last botton!

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    2. RichardNYC

      That would be nice. However, Mandela did not control elements of a terrorist organization. It seems likely that, if MB were elected, the Israeli government would say “Look. Now these people have elected a murderer as their leader. We have no partner.” Despite his two-state declarations, MB is probably responsible for Israeli deaths. So I don’t think the world will be as sympathetic to him as they were to Mandela. There might be more pressure from the Europeans, but ultimately Israel’s chief allies will not take sides with MB in any serious way.

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    3. @Richard
      1. You are missing the point of the post
      2. Conviction in Israel’s kangaroo courts does not mean Barghouti is a terrorist or supporter of terrorism.
      3. Mandela did in fact start the armed wing to the ANC, was called a terrorist by the Afrikaaners and the United States, before he was arrested and thrown in jail for 27 years.
      4. Every Israeli PM in their history has been responsible for Palestinian deaths. You don’t think Palestinians look at Ben-Gurion, Sharett, Eshkol, Meir, Begin, Shamir, Rabin, Peres, Barak, Sharon, Olmert, Netanyahu and think, “murderer”?
      5. I did not speak exclusively about pressure from the international community, although i suspect their would be some, but also internally when the people’s elected president is in prison.
      6. Palestinians no longer care if Israelis believe they have a partner or not, because Israelis have shown that the only real partner in Israeli eyes is someone who will get down on his knees.

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    4. The fantasy (which far too many participate in) is that Israel will ever (ever ever ever) negotiate for a peace deal which any Palestinian could accept. Settler-politics alone make this impossible.

      Therefore ABBAS and BARGHOUTI must have their eyes on the international community. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY. If Barghouti appears a multiple murder/terrorist to the world community, then probably better not to elect him. APPEARANCE MATTER. Bibi may be a multiple murder, and all Israel’s recent governmental, military, and intelligence leaders as well — or not — but the world is content to view them as normal politicians.

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    5. RichardNYC

      You wrote:
      “Israel will be holding the new President of the Palestinian Authority in prison—a man that the world considers could be the Palestinian Nelson Mandela. Israel may be pressured to release him, which regardless of its response, could usher in a new era.”
      –>My point is valid even if we leave the issue of MB’s guilt off the table. MB is not a sympathetic character internationally, so there won’t be international pressure to release him. The world does not and will not consider him to be a Mandela figure because they believe he has blood on his hands. Betting the PA’s prestige on MB is a dead end, even if electing MB boosts PA’s popularity in relation to Hamas. I agree that Palestinian pressure for MB’s release would increase substantially, but I don’t see this manifesting itself in a way that would force Israel to release him. Maybe you can elaborate on how you see this coming to pass? I wish you were right, and that MB would consolidate the Palestinians in order to reach a historic deal with Israel. I just think Israel understands the game too well, and has the means to prevent this from happening.

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    6. RichardNYC

      On a side note, it is probably worth considering that it might not be accurate or pragmatic to question MB’s guilt, since this will be interpreted as condoning his acts. Likewise, it is not accurate or pragmatic to argue that Israel does not have the authority to convict Palestinians generally because it is a belligerent occupier (I’m not sure whether this was your point; was it?). Under international law, belligerent occupiers have the right to try and convict occupied civilians for crimes like those MB was tried for. Whether the Israeli trial was up to international standards is a different question. I’ve not read anything about it, have you? The more Palestinians show good faith in interpreting international law, the more credibility you’ll have.

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    7. AYLA

      I need to learn about this Marwan Barghouti. Lately, every peaceworker I know–and I don’t mean the everyday activists; I mean the ones who’ve been working on a policy level and getting paid for it for decades through this conflict–is talking about this guy. I’m talking Europeans, Americans, many of them Jewish, none of them Arab. And they all think this guy is our hope! Yes, *our*. And yet Israelis think of him–if they think of him at all–as an A-list terrorist. I know nada, but I’m much more interested in why everyone I respect is excited about him than in his (Israeli) criminal record. Thanks for the vision. I love a good vision :).

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    8. RichardNYC

      Sorry, I made an error in my second-to-last post. I meant to say that its true that Mandela was once condemned for participating in violence, but there are two important distinctions to make.
      (1) Palestinian terrorism is viewed more abhorrently than the ANC’s activities ever were.
      (2) Apartheid was viewed more abhorrently than Israeli occupation is.

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    9. Ben Israel

      Barghouti the “Palestinian Nelson Mandela”? Barghouti is sitting in prison for 5 counts of First Degree Murder. One of his victims was a girl who had attended my synagogue. Mandela was never convicted of murder, as far as I know. Barghouti is right where he belongs and he should rot there.

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    10. Piotr Berman

      (1) Palestinian terrorism was viewed ….
      (2) Apartheid was viewed …

      I observed it a while ago, and therefore I propose to have a group dedicated to the comparative rehabilitation of Apartheid, a system that while obviously was limited in its historical scope, was definitely more admirable that detractors are claiming.

      Chapter I: the right of people who enacted Apartheid to do so

      Apartheid Laws were enacted by DULY ELECTED parliament, elected in free multiparty elections where members of all races were allowed to participate. (Not ALL members of all races but at the time these were perhaps most democratic elections in all Africa.) Moreover, the right to conduct the elections, the powers of the South African parliament etc. were granted UNEQUIVOCALLY AND UNAMBIGOUSLY by British Parliament. Unlike some very ambigous but widely quoted statements about “National home” etc. (and who knows what national home is and who is allowed to enact laws there and how?).

      Chapter 2. White South African had long and undeniable historical bond with the land. It so happened that both Whites and Bantu arrived in South Africa around 1700, and Whites arrived before. In any case, Bantu people had no documentation about their prior arrival (and descendants of Khoi-San people who were actually first were given nice status of Colored).

      Chapter 3. White South African were God’s chosen people. (some Calvinist theology is required)

      Chapter 4. White South African deserve enormous sympathy on the account of their historical suffering. You may check that “concentration camps” were invented by the British specifically to confine Dutch-speaking South African during their struggle to retain independence. Boer Wars were heroic, Boer Treks were legendary etc.

      Chapter 5. Blacks of South Africa had the highest standard of living in the entire Africa.

      Etc. I think that EVERY hasbarah claim applies to Apartheid South Africa, and often the case for the latter is more solid. E.g. compare magnificent national parks of South Africa with Israel. And they were fighting Communists when USA really cared about fighting Communists (Cubans, no less!). Very good allies. I also find it refreshing that they did not try to pretend that Apartheid is not Apartheid.

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    11. RichardNYC

      “Etc. I think that EVERY hasbarah claim applies to Apartheid South Africa”
      –>except for all of the political disenfranchisement stuff, which is pretty much what got the world’s attention w/r/t SA.
      –>You people have had years to make this argument, and its not sticking too well. Maybe it has something to do with things like Holocaust revisionism (“You may check that “concentration camps” were invented by the British specifically to confine Dutch-speaking South African…”) that keep slipping in there. Fortunately, credibility isn’t your only problem. The substance is lacking as well.

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    12. AT

      1. Nelson Mendela WAS portrayed as a murdering terrorist in much of the Western press, and many of you forget the antics of his wife Winnie before he was released, which did NOT play well at all in the Western press, and tarred his image and the ANC as well.

      2. Barghouti is no more or less a criminal than Shamir or Begin, and the latter were still practically persona non grada in the UK after they were elected PMs even.

      The fact is, if Barghouti is elected President there will be enormous pressure on Israel to release him and negotiate with him. Don’t underestimate the power of a person as symbol. Omar is dead on.

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    13. Ben Israel

      We’ve heard all of this before….”He is the only one who can make peace”. This was said about Arafat. We were assured by the Israeli peace mafia that he would impose peace on his recalcitrant people, by force if necessary. Well, he didn’t. So now they want us to gamble on Barghouti, the next one in line “who is the only one who can impose a peace agreement on the Palestinians”. Well, since we are constantly be assured here that the Palestinian people are pining for a peace agreement with Israel, why should there be a need to impose it on them? In fact, should a “top-down” peace agreement, Sadat-style, by imposed on them by a Barghouti-type figure, wouldn’t this be called an anti-democratic peace agreement, like they are saying about the Egypt-Israel treaty which would be nullified as soon as “the people” get control of the government.
      Also, who says that “Barghouti is the only one who can bridge the divide in Palestinian society”. Why should HAMAS roll over and play dead for him any more than for Arafat or Abbas?

      Finally, I don’t agree that the world would view Barghouti as a “Palestinian Nelson Mandela”. The Palestinian don’t have anywhere near the support in the world that the anti-apartheid forces did in South Africa. The bloody suicide bomber war and rocket attacks on Israel have given the Palestinians a different image in the world.

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    14. AYLA

      @Ben Israel–who pays you to comment here?
      You don’t think Israelis support the release of Gilad Shalit, you don’t believe that Palestinians have a water crisis or that Israel controls their water, and now you don’t believe that Palestinians have overwhelming global support. I could go on, but then I’d have to read all of your comments, and I hope others will join me in ignoring them. your ideas amount to pure propaganda.

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    15. Ben Israel

      I see you have suddenly changed your tone. What happened to all the reasonableness and attempting to understand “the other”?
      Why do you assume I am paid to write here? Maybe you are paid to write here, maybe Deir Yassin is a paid Arab propagandist?
      The Palestinians do NOT have overwhelming global support. There was a poll published during the hot September and it claimed that in several countries, the average was about 50% supported a Palestinian state. That is not “overwhelming support”. To be honest, when you say “Palestinian” to a lot of people in the West, the first thing people will think of is not “pathetic victim” (as the “progressives” like to do), but rather “terrorist”.

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    16. Ben Israel

      I meant to say that the first thought of many (not all) people in the West when you say “Palestinian” is “terrorist”. Not all people are “progressives” who have the “pathetic victim” response.

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    17. AYLA

      stop putting words in our mouths, Ben Israel. I don’t know a single person who thinks of Palestinians as “pathetic victims”. Re that poll, I’d like to see it. who conducted it, who was polled. and yes, my tone has changed. i’ve come to understand that you are here with a job to do, and you’re in the way of any actual dialogue. if I ever see you change your mind about anything, or learn anything here, I’ll stand corrected. you make a lot of lists of general assertions about what israelis want or feel, and they are either pure propaganda, or the result of living an extremely insular life. I find that to be dangerous. speak for yourself.

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    18. Great discussion – only shows that you’ve touched a nerve, Omar – touche! Certainly, Israel is “terrified” by this “terrorist”. Certainly, a rule of People Power is to discount what “the Israelis think” or what any other government thinks. I’d say the huge West Bank Palestinian marches (that I hope include thousands of Israelis too) that some thought would happen during Abbas’ UN push, should happen now, with signs like “YOUR TERRORIST IS MY HERO” etc… With Olmert’s promise to release Fatah prisoners recently in the press again, and huge West Bank marches happening – yes, international opinion (and international eyes) would be glued to these thousands of demonstrators, and to the unjustness of keeping Barghouti in prison when 100s convicted of similar charges were just freed. All this is EXACTLY what we need to pressure an ultra-right Israeli government into what might be the last chance for a successful 2-state solution.

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    19. Philos

      I know how the “Chosen People” affect has warped both Jewish Israeli and Palestinian perceptions of themselves and their “unique” conflict BUT just look at Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams of Northern Ireland. These men were certainly responsible for kneecappings, killings of informants, killings of Protestant paramilitary people as well as British police and army personnel and today they are the only thing standing between peace in Northern Ireland and a return to anarchy. A return being threatened by (surprise, surprise) the Protestant’s (also known as settlers even though they’ve been there for 600-years). So! Release Marwan Barghouti or even better don’t and have him be an imprisoned leader of the Palestinian people! They’ll be t-shirts and posters of him all over the world I assure you all.

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    20. RichardNYC

      “All this is EXACTLY what we need to pressure an ultra-right Israeli government into what might be the last chance for a successful 2-state solution.”
      –>What makes you think that pressure on Israel, before anything is negotiated, is a good idea? This approach (e.g. Obama’s settlement fiasco) seems to result in entrenchment, not appeasement, from the Israeli government. Don’t conflate antipathy towards the Israeli government with historical questions about what actually makes it tick.

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    21. AYLA

      @Philos–just thought you might find this interesting: the “chosen people” actually originates from the fact, or idea, depending on your orientation, that Jews were chosen to keep the Torah. Meaning, to keep the mitzvot (do good…), and to keep the tradition of Torah alive, AND, to spread it in the world, which, sadly, is not what all the people keeping the Torah are doing… But anyway, it never had anything to do with being chosen for the land (though someone will come in and say that’s what the torah is about), nor did it have to do with being God’s children any more than anyone else. Just a fun fact :).

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    22. AYLA

      ps. @Ben Israel–some of what contributed to my change in tone was over the last few posts we’ve commented on together, and I wouldn’t want to do this on Aziz’s thread, because it’s the opposite of what that thread stands for. The Barghouti thread seems like a good enough place for it. Sorry, Omar :).

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    23. AYLA

      and lastly, @Ben Israel–how do you know that I’m not paid to be here? That Deir wasn’t? Because: there is no such thing as people with my comments nor people with Deir’s being paid to write on comment threads. At least in this conflict, that insanity is unique to Israel’s hasbara machine. And why did Israel come up with this idea, to pay for right wing commentary, as well as to pay ring wing commenters to pretend to be Arabs spewing hate (an insidious, disgusting practice that should be charged as criminal when money is involved, or maybe even when it isn’t)? Because that’s how scared they are of us thinking for ourselves and breaking out of old scripts.

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    24. Bronxman

      Interesting point you raise here, Omar. If Israel could work out a deal with Hamas for the release of Gilad Schalit and 1,000+ Palestinians it seems that there are situations when Israel can “accept” pragmatic approachs. MB just might be occupying such a position.

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    25. @RichardNYC – do you have any other suggestions? Please share! Global attention to massive West Bank protests, with 100s or 1000s of Israelis marching, might make cowards like Bibi get more entrenched. But it would enliven Israeli progressives and maybe even unite with the social justice movement here. I’m not suggesting one leader (like Obama) trying to pressure Israel. I’m talking about 1000s or 10,000s of humans, watched eagerly from around the world. Think Cairo and Wall Street, and then add Kalandya Checkpoint. Personally, I think it’s the only way. People power is the engine.

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    26. AYLA

      @Harvey Stein–YES. Now. How to ignite/educate more Israelis in order to mobilize them, and fast. Right now, 100’s seems more realistic than thousands. But I’m convinced we’d have thousands if they knew more, and if that information came to them in the right way–a way they could hear (or see…).

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    27. Ben Israel


      Perish the thought that the Arabs would use their massive oil wealth to affect public opinion, only “hasbarists” would do that, right? And the accusation that Israeli was bribing and threatening UN Security Council Members to vote against the Palestinian state resolution….the Arabs would NEVER bribe or threaten those countries, rigth? And only the evil AIPAC would attempt to influence the US Congress, the Arabs, perish the thought, would NEVER use their immense wealth to influence Congress, Right. Only corrupt, immoral hasbarist Jews like us do things like that. NEVER THE ARABS. The Arabs are all innocent sweethearts who only play by the rules, unlike the corrupt, degenerate Jews, right?

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    28. AYLA

      @BenIsrael–you are so exhaustingly scripted. no one here thinks or reflects that arabs are innocent sweethearts. that’s your M.O. on this site: to counter all the liberal who think israel is bad bad bad and Palestinians are good good good. But it’s a faulty, superficial premise, and it’s exhausting and boring.

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    29. Ben Israel

      But isn’t that the impression that is gained by a new surfer coming here to 972? I am sure you saw the thread about the “racist” Orthodox/religious Jew who only wants to rent his apartment to another religious Jew. A very natural thing, it happens all the time. It is also very trivial, yet I saw comments there…”see what a racist country Israel is, how the US support such a racist country?”.
      The basic assumption of almost all those who post here is that the reason there is no peace is entirely Israel’s fault, and if only Israel would get rid of the settlers and somehow finesse the “Right of Return” demand of the Palestinians, then everything would be fine.
      This is a very wrong view of what is going on and I am trying to point that out. I guess you would find it boring if you don’t want to confront the reality of the situation.

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    30. AYLA

      no, BI, that is NOT the basic assumption of almost all who post here, and that is not the “reality of the situation”. It’s not my basic assumption, it’s not the basic assumption of any of the writers who are excellent critical thinkers, and if a few commenters do have that simplistic belief (I’ve seen a few on the fb thread comments and have in fact called a few out on it, but I don’t recall any on the site), then I’d recommend not dropping to their level. But you are here with an agenda. I’m tired of responding to you in ernest, because you aren’t here in ernest.
      shabbat shalom. I see parashah Noach as God’s way of revising his work. He’s created everything, and he’s not happy with it, so he decides to completely delete it all, but then he reconsiders and decides to keep the essential best of what he’s created. he floods the rest, and begins again. May we all flood out the majority of our basic assumptions to clear a way for regrowth.
      I for one know nothing about Marwan Barghouti. When I read a post like this, I think: that’s so interesting; I wonder why Omar Rahman feels this way about someone most Israelis consider an A-list terrorist (and probably, most didn’t know his name til the prisoner exchange. I, for one, did not)? Gee, there must be a lot I don’t know. I’d like to learn more about him/this, from a Palestinian perspective, and then see what I think. It also makes me feel hopeful, because if the only solutions existed within my realm of knowledge, we’d all be in big trouble, because my ideas alone don’t work for everyone. on that, I’m sure we can agree.

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    31. AYLA

      ps. I actually didn’t read that apartment blog–I don’t read every blog post here. I don’t have time. but I will say, without having read it, that although of course people are welcome to rent only to people who keep kosher or whatever, I know a LOT about the african refugee situation (I’m a non-journalist with a beat), and when the Rabbinate ruled that it was against the torah to rent to non-jews (I’m sorry I’m not going to find the names and places right now), and put pressure on residents in a community to evict non-jewish residents, many who had lived there for years, I was ashamed of Israel. As I wrote in a Ha’aretz op ed on the subject, surely, we have forgotten.

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    32. Mitchell Cohen

      Ayla, I second Ben Israel’s frustration with you, an otherwise intelligent poster (disagree as I might with your politics), falling for the virtual pro-Israel conspiracy theory (i.e. Israel “hasbarists” are paid to comment on forums). Haval, as they say here….

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    33. AYLA

      Mitchell–I already apologized to Ben Israel for making that assertion about him being paid (on Lisa Goldman’s thread). Still, he is here with an agenda, and that agenda, and that agenda clouds everything. I choose this magazine because the politics of the writers are generally aligned with mine, and they are excellent, critical thinkers from whom I learn a lot, even if we disagree. If I read a news outlet that’s further to the right of me, I don’t choose ones that I’ll always disagree with and spend half my life posting to try to change the minds of their readers. I read to offer myself balance. I do not respect people being here just to fight some fight that is really in your imagination. Everyone here with Israeli citizenship cares about Israel, and certainly does not think that Israel can do no right and Arab nations can do no wrong. It’s such a slanted assertion, there’s nothing to say in response. And now, we’ve completely hijacked this post–one of the most interesting posts I’ve read on 972, exactly because I know so little about it. Imagine that.

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    34. Bronxman

      Mr. Rahman, see Carlo Strenger’s editorial in today’s (electronic) Haaretz. There’s strong support for your position plus his opinion on what’s holding it back. See summary below:
      “The missed opportunity to free Marwan Barghouti
      For Netanyahu, the greatest danger is a strong Palestinian leader who unifies the Palestinian people behind the two-state solution.”

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    35. AYLA

      @Bronxman–thanks for the heads up.

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    36. Snark78

      If this were to happen it would on some level restore my faith in politics – a beautiful move. It would be a very interesting reversal, and I would watch happily as Israel had to swallow the toad, or perhaps find itself in the same position as South Africa vis a vis Nelson Mandela. It would be good to show the world that politics can actually take the place of force…

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