Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas revealed a new demand this week: the release of arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison for his role in several deadly terrorist attacks.
Abbas is reportedly defending the demand as a step that will be popular with the “Palestinian street,” thus reducing opposition to talks with Israel.
In a conversation with Arutz Sheva, analyst Baruch Yadid revealed a deeper reason behind Abbas’ request: the aging Fatah leader is seeking to replace himself, and sees the highly popular Barghouti as a likely candidate.
Abbas’ term in office expired several years ago, and the PA Chairman has already announced that he does not plan to run in new PA elections, if and when elections are held. In addition, Yadid noted, the PA Chairman is nearing age 80 and is in poor health.
Barghouti appears to be the closest candidate to approach a “Palestinian consensus,” he said. Polls in Judea, Samaria and Gaza have revealed that Barghouti enjoys support among members of both Fatah and Hamas, and would be likely to defeat both Abbas and Hamas head in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh if the three were to compete in elections.
Barghouti is widely perceived as having turned down the temptations of power and remained loyal to the cause, Yadid explained.
In Barghouti’s absence, Abbas is facing pressure from the growing popularity of Mahmoud Dahlan, he continued. Dahlan, a former leading member of Fatah, fell from grace in the movement after leading Fatah to defeat against Hamas in Gaza.
Abbas put Dahlan's life on the line when he accused him of involvement in Israeli assassinations, Yadid explained, but his rival continues to grow more powerful.
“Dahlan takes care to transfer funds from various sources in the Arab world to those living in Gaza, and his wife is active on behalf of [Palestinian] refugee camps in Syria,” he noted, adding, “In Hamas, there is already talk of not ruling out the possibility of allowing him back into Gaza.”
Winning Barghouti’s freedom would simultaneously win Abbas renewed popularity, reduce the odds of Dahlan taking power, and provide Abbas with a successor, Yadid concluded.