Barghouti’s possible candidacy confuses Abbas’s calculations
RAMALLAH – Palestinian sources revealed to The Arab Weekly that Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving several life terms in an Israeli prison, is insisting on running in Palestinian presidential elections, in a move that could threaten President Mahmoud Abbas’s chances of securing reelection in August.
A few days ago, Abbas reportedly sent Hussein al-Sheikh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, to meet Barghouti to try to persuade him to abandon the idea of running for elections by offering him a package of incentives. However, the political concessions did not enchant the leader, who is currently serving five life sentences in Israel.
An informed Palestinian source told The Arab Weekly that Barghouti’s insistence on running in the upcoming presidential elections may push Abbas to backpedal and cancel the elections if he feels he could lose and leave office. Such a scenario, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, is currently raising serious concerns among Palestinians.
The source added that Barghouti believes that winning presidential elections is the only way for him to leave Israeli prison, in which he has been held for nearly 18 years. Barghouti, the source noted, is convinced that he will be released due to international pressure if he is victorious.
The same source pointed out that they are in possession of “documented information about President Abbas offering some incentives to Barghouti to abandon the idea of running for president, including naming Barghouti as the head of the Fatah bloc in the next parliament.” Barghouti, however, refused the offer and insisted on running for president, the source said.
“The results of the legislative elections next May will determine Abbas’s moves concerning the next presidential elections. If Fatah suffers a heavy loss in parliament in the face of the Reform Movement led by Muhammad Dahlan, and the group affiliated with Barghouti within Fatah, the Palestinian president may cancel the presidential elections,” the source said.
“Barghouti might well win the presidential elections, and this is largely expected, in light of the fragmentation of the Fatah movement and the decline in the popularity of its candidates at a time when the popularity of the current opponents of the Palestinian leadership is on the rise,” the source added.
Many Palestinian figures have expressed support for Barghouti’s candidacy. This comes from a conviction that Abbas no longer has the ability to introduce reform or change at a time when the Palestinian cause as a whole appears to be at stake.
These figures, including a member of the Fatah Central Committee Nasser al-Qudwa, recently criticised what they considered a deal between Abbas and Hamas to preserve personal interests.
During a virtual video seminar titled “The International Conference: Implications of the Change of the US Administration on International Affairs,” Qudwa, who is also the nephew of former Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat, stressed the need to depart from the existing dichotomy “and to take the Fatah organisation back to its natural function through a respectable and understandable political arrangement that is acceptable to the public and open to all political forces, whether independents, leftists, businessmen or members of the civil society.”
He called on “Barghouti (to) play an essential role in this effort, as he cannot overlook such a responsibility under the pretext of focusing solely on the presidency.” Qudwa explained that “if he [Barghouti] wants the presidency, then we all support him, but he must be an essential part of this process.”
Tariq Fahmy, a researcher specialising in Palestinian affairs, said that Barghouti’s insistence on running in the elections will confuse the calculations of both Fatah and Hamas.
Barghouti, Fahmy said, wants to impose his name on the Palestinian political scene, taking advantage of his supporters’ presence on the ground and their strong promotion of his candidacy.
He explained to The Arab Weekly that Barghouti’s candidacy in the upcoming presidential elections has not yet been decided and that things could change at any moment, but even the idea being floated has provoked the concerns of the Palestinian Authority and its president.
Observers say campaigning for Barghouti’s candidacy in the Gaza Strip in particular may be an attempt to confuse the Fatah and Hamas movements so that they are not viewed as the two main powers on the political scene. Such campaigning, the observers argue, could prompt the two rivals to review their calculations in the presence of a new strong contestant.
Fahmy indicated that Hamas views the presence of Abbas alone on the scene as a blessing that serves the interests of the Islamist movement and adds to its weight. A Barghouti candidacy, however, might reverse the current political balance.
The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, is now facing a dilemma that would probably push it to search for alternatives so as to prevent Abbas’s chances of dwindling.
Israeli Channel 12 previously revealed that Abbas presented the detained leader with a set of incentives in exchange for giving up his presidential ambition.
The channel stated that the offer was presented during the visit of Sheikh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, to Hadrim prison, where Barghouti is serving five life sentences and a further 40 years.
Last month, Abbas announced dates for the first Palestinian elections in more than 15 years, setting legislative polls for May 22 and a July 31 presidential vote.
Hamas welcomed Abbas’s announcement.
The 2005 Palestinian presidential vote saw Abbas elected with 62% of the vote to replace the late Yasser Arafat.
A rare poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research carried out last year said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat Abbas in a presidential election.
Some 2.8 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, while the densely populated Gaza Strip is home to two million.
The last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 saw Hamas win an unexpected landslide.
The polls resulted in a brief unity government but it soon collapsed and in 2007, bloody clashes erupted in the Gaza Strip between the two principal Palestinian factions, with Hamas ultimately seizing control of Gaza.
Numerous attempts at reconciliation, including a prisoner exchange agreement in 2012 and a short-lived coalition government two years later, have failed to close the rift.
But experts have said intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks have taken on greater urgency following a series of US-brokered normalisation agreements signed between Israel and four Arab states.
The deals to normalise ties with Israel signed by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan broke with decades of Arab League consensus against recognition of Israel until it reached an agreement to end the Palestinian conflict that included the creation of a Palestinian state, with a capital in east Jerusalem.
Palestinian leaders have also voiced hope that the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden will lead to renewed diplomacy on the Palestinian cause.
The PA cut ties with former US President Donald Trump’s administration, accusing it of bias towards Israel.