Jailed Palestinian leader remains most popular political figure

30% of respondents said Marwan Barghouthi was the best choice for president, ahead of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Wednesday 04/07/2018
Palestinian women shout slogans, wave their national flags with a picture of jailed Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, on May 4, 2017. (AP)
Palestinian women shout slogans, wave their national flags with a picture of jailed Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, on May 4, 2017. (AP)

TUNIS - A jailed Palestinian leader who played a key role in the first and second intifadas remains the most popular political figure among Palestinians, a recent survey has found. 

According to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, uprising leader Marwan Barghouthi would receive the most votes in an election to replace President Mahmoud Abbas if it were held today.

The group’s research, based on interviews with 2,150 adults in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, showed that 30% of respondents said Barghouthi was the best choice for president, ahead of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who would receive 23% of the vote. 

After Barghouthi and Haniyeh, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and former Gaza strongman Mohammad Dahlan would receive 6% each, the survey found, trailed by West Bank activist Mustafa Barghouthi and former Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, with 3% each, and ex-finance minister Salam Fayyad with 2%. 

The longstanding popularity of Barghouthi, who is serving five life sentences in Israeli prison for his role in the second intifadha, reflects his iconic status in the Palestinian resistance, but also the competing narratives entrenched in Israeli and Palestinian societies. 

Israel claims that Barghouti is responsible for the murder of five people in attacks that he orchestrated, charges he denies. Barghouti refused to present a defence in his 2002 trial, maintaining that it was illegitimate.  

Even from prison, Barghouthi maintains power and influence, enjoying strong grassroots support and good relations with all factions, including Islamist group Hamas.

“Barghouti's clout in Palestinian politics derives from his role in organising and leading the intifadas, but it's his time in prison that has solidified him as a national symbol,” Grant Rumley, co-author of “The Last Palestinian” told the Times of London in 2017.

The recent survey gauging Palestinian opinion on a potential Abbas successor comes as the Palestinian president recovers from recent bouts of ill health and struggles to deal with a protracted political crisis. 

Wednesday's poll found that 61% of the public want Abbas to resign and 33% want him to stay in office.

Abbas became president in 2005 after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and pursued US-led peace talks with Israel. But many Palestinians lost faith in him as his efforts yielded no gains and talks stalled in 2014.

Abbas' democratic mandate expired nine years ago, with no new elections set due to a Fatah-Hamas power struggle that has been exacerbated by Israeli controls on the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

(Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)