Report on Barghouti explains why his release is a non starter

Every once in a while, a voice calling for the release of former Fatah Tanzim commander Marwan Bargouti is heard in the Israeli media.

The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center released an interesting report in recent days, addressing calls by some to release Bargouti, and their hope that he might succeed Mahmoud Abbas as PA President and be prepared to work towards a two-state solution.

Demonstration in the West Bank during the hunger strike of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, led by Marwan Barghouti. (Arabs48, May 16, 2017). Borrowed from ICIT

The Meir Amit Center is a part of the Israeli Intelligence and Heritage Commemoration Center, founded by leading members of the Israeli intelligence community.

It regularly reases solid and reliable data on regional threats, trends, and developments. Its report on Bargouti is worth reading.

The report sets out the arguments by some who believe in releasing Bargouti. The following are excerpts:

a. “Argument number oneMarwan Barghouti is not a terrorist but rather a pragmatic political leader who lost his way during the second intifada. His release will encourage the moderates in Palestinian society.

b. Argument number twoMarwan Barghouti’s political program is moderate, and is based on the solution of two states living side by side with the 1967 borders.

c.   Argument number threeMarwan Barghouti is a strong figure. He will be able to lead the Palestinians to peace, despite his actions during the second intifada because you make peace, as the argument goes, with enemies, not friends.

d.   Argument number fourIt is not worth Israel’s while to keep Marwan Barghouti in prison because he will probably win the Palestinian presidential election. Once he does, Israel will be subjected to extreme pressure to release him as the president-elect of Palestine, and the Israeli government is liable to be forced into releasing him.”

The report then provides a point by point rebuttal, which is thoughtful and compelling:

“a. Marwan Barghouti is not a leader who went astray but rather a terrorist convicted by a court of law which determined he was ‘personally and genuinely involved in terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli civilians,’ all of them carried out inside the Green Line…

b.   After the 1990s (and especially during 2000), Barghouti formed the extremist concept that the use of terrorism and violence was key to conducting the conflict with Israel. According to what he has said and done while in jail, he has not changed the concept and his days as a peace activist belong to history (the years immediately following the Oslo Accords). One of his most prominent talking points is that while negotiating with Israel, the Palestinians must also exert pressure on Israel through terrorism and violence (the so-called “resistance”). Moreover, according to Barghouti, any agreement with Israel must include the implementation of the so-called “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel. Thus there is no way to define Barghouti as a peace activist or pragmatist. Rather, he is motivated by an extremist worldview which can only interfere with genuine Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

c.   Marwan Barghouti is not as powerful a figure as the supporters of his release claim.

1)  However, he is important and influential, leads public opinion polls and enjoys considerable popularity. In addition, he has a very good chance of being Mahmoud Abbas’ successor(or of being elected to virtually any other senior political position). However, there is apparently a great discrepancy between his popularity and his genuine influence: as opposed to the era of the second intifada, he does not currently have an organized support network or a firm foothold on the ground…

2)  Barghouti has no significant influence on Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Even if he becomes the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), it is unlikely that PA will be able to enforce its authority on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

3)  Thus even if he is elected to succeed Mahmoud Abbas, in ITIC’s assessment it is very unlikely that his power in Fatah, foothold on the ground, or status, as compared with Hamas and the other terrorist organizations, will enable him to lead the Palestinians to peace negotiations in which any Palestinian leadership will have to make controversial and difficult historic decisions.

d.   It is also argued that if Marwan Barghouti is chosen to succeed Mahmoud Abbas, Israel will receive requests and be under pressure from international agencies to release him. However, his terrorist record may make it easy for Israel to deny the requests: he was convicted on five counts of murder and played a key role in the second intifada (which caused the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis, most of them civilians), both weapons in Israel’s arsenal of reasons not to release him.

In addition, his extremist political views and blatant support for continuing anti-Israel terrorism (“resistance”) may help Israel resist pressure to release him.”

The report carries the following conclusion:

Marwan Barghouti’s extremist concepts regarding the conflict with Israel, coupled with his problematic position within the Fatah movement and with the leaders of the Palestinian street, would seem to indicate that the expectations of those who regard him as a potential partner for a peace agreement, a kind of Palestinian Nelson Mandela, are somewhat exaggerated. Given his criminal terrorist record from the era of the second intifada and his extremist views on Israel, which he has continually voiced while in jail, there is every reason to assume that releasing him would not contribute to or promote peace negotiations. Rather, releasing him may undermine the negotiations’ chances of success because he would raise extremist, unrealistic demands and encourage the continuation of the campaign of terrorism and violence against Israel. Thus, in ITIC’s, assessment, Marwan Barghouti is in no way a suitable partner for peace negotiations with Israel.

Full report available here.