A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Could a Shalit Deal Make Marwan Barghouti President of the Palestinian Authority?

I haven't posted on it, but if you follow Israeli-Palestinian issues you'll be aware that there's a major flurry of speculation of a deal on Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas since 2006. There have been many false starts before, so I'm treating this with caution until it actually happens; apparently a Hamas paper has said it will happen after ‘Id al-‘Adha, next weekend.

But this Who Wins and Who Loses? piece by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in today's Ha'aretz raises an interesting potential result (you have to read down a bit for it): apparently imprisoned Fatah figure Marwan Barghouti's family have said he will be part of any prisoner swap the Israelis make with Hamas for Shalit.

Now Marwan Barghouti is, by most accounts, the most popular of the "internal" leaders of Fatah in the West Bank and a man who, if he weren't serving in an Israeli prison, would likely have a strong chance of being elected President of the Palestinian Authority, assuming Mahmoud ‘Abbas sticks to his intention of stepping aside (or even if he doesn't).

So a deal between Israel and Hamas could actually help the Palestinian Authority solve it's present existential crisis and find the sort of leadership it desperately needs.

There are a lot of ifs here: there have been close calls on a Shalit release before; it's not certain Barghouti is part of the swap; and Barghouti's popularity as a martyr in an Israeli prison may not translate well into actual political leadership.

But a Shalit deal that frees Barghouti would rearrange the chessboard. (I optimistically hope that's the right metaphor, as opposed to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.)

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