Imprisoned Terrorist Marwan Barghouti Enters Palestinian Presidential Race
Marwan Barghouti, the fiery Palestinian leader imprisoned in Israel, reversed an earlier decision and entered the race for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority tonight. The surprise move instantly transformed the Jan. 9 vote into a competitive election that is potentially divisive for the Palestinians.
Mahmoud Abbas, 69, is the official candidate of the dominant Fatah movement, and it appeared he would face only token opposition in the campaign to replace Yasir Arafat, who died on Nov. 11. But with the window for the registration of candidates closing at midnight, Mr. Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, returned from a prison visit and announced that her husband would run for president despite his incarceration in the southern Israeli town of Beersheva. “After receiving hundreds of letters of support from cadres and ordinary people, he authorized me to register him,” said Mrs. Barghouti, who spoke at 9 p.m. outside the Central Elections Commission in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “Marwan is running in solidarity with the uprising and out of loyalty to President Arafat.”
Israel has made it clear it has no intention of releasing Mr. Barghouti, who was convicted in May of involvement in the killings of five Israelis, and received five life sentences. His candidacy raises a host of complications at a time when the Palestinians are attempting to establish a new leadership and both Israelis and Palestinians are reassessing their tortured relationship after four years of almost daily violence. “Barghouti is a charismatic leader and many Palestinians see him as the man who orchestrated the current intifada,” or uprising, said Mokhaimer Abusada, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza City. “But what will happen if he wins the election while he’s in prison? I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to that.”
Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who refused to deal with Mr. Arafat, says he is prepared to meet Mr. Abbas. In recent weeks, the two sides have raised the possibility of restoring a dialogue and have been speaking in tones of moderation rarely heard in recent years. But Israeli leaders routinely describe Mr. Barghouti as a “terrorist,” and if he were to win the Palestinian election, there seems little likelihood that Israel would work with him, even from his prison cell.
One hopes the Palestinians aren’t stupid enough to elect an imprisoned criminal as their president, given that it would put them in no better position than they were in under Arafat. It’s about time for them to turn the corner and get the best possible deal, rather than continuing to get nothing while holding out for an ephemeral dream of a Greater Palestine that replaces Israel.