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December 2, 2004
Palestinian Leadership Opposes Barghouti

In a sign that the Palestinians may finally be getting serious about making peace and establishing a stable state in the West Bank, leading Palestinians spoke out against the announced candidacy of Marwan Barghouti, the terrorist mastermind currently serving multiple life sentences in Israel. The New York Times reports in tomorrow's edition that influential Palestinians openly rejected Barghouti's entry into the presidential election:

Senior Palestinian figures in the main political group, Fatah, closed ranks on Thursday against the on-again off-again presidential candidacy of the popular Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison.

The old guard was joined by some prominent younger Fatah militants of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, who once saw Mr. Barghouti, 45, as their leader, but now criticize him for putting himself above Palestinian unity.

Outspoken opposition from Israel, including a refusal to release Barghouti and to use him as a negotiating partner, surprises no one. More surprising was the rejection by Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. But the reactions of leading Palestinians have proven most shocking, as they reject a chance to put Israel in a highly defensive position by forcing Barghouti on them. Instead, they've reacted almost angrily at Barghouti's late candidacy and intent on pushing him to withdraw:

Senior Palestinians said there would be new efforts to persuade Mr. Barghouti to withdraw his candidacy. Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian foreign minister, said, "He might later on decide to withdraw in favor of the Fatah candidate, Mahmoud Abbas, to whom he has already pledged his support and total cooperation."

Hatem Abdel Kader, a Palestinian legislator who is close to Mr. Barghouti, said, "We will do all we can in coming days to convince Marwan to remove his candidacy to avoid a split in Fatah."

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, who ran Mr. Arafat's cabinet and is a member of the Fatah central committee, said Mr. Barghouti would have to quit Fatah if he ran as an independent.

Clearly Mahmoud Abbas gets the support for his ability to open doors with Israel, even with the hated Ariel Sharon. This may well vindicate Sharon's insistence on a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Even if internal Israeli politics derail or delay the pullout, Sharon's signal made it clear that he and Israel are ready to deal with the right Palestinian leadership to finally resolve the four-decade standoff. It also vindicates the Bush Administration's refusal to meet with Yasser Arafat, as his own organization after his death appears to be pressing for a complete reversal of Arafat's strategy, showing that Arafat himself had been the chief obstacle to a peace agreement.

Unfortunately, if Fatah cannot convince Barghouti to withdraw, the Palestinian electorate may not share the Fatah ambition to cut a deal with Israel as quickly as possible. Barghouti enjoys tremendous popularity as a living martyr for the cause, while Abbas did little to affect the suffering of Palestinians during his short tenure as prime minister. With Fatah's endorsement and the Hamas boycott, Abbas may squeak it out -- but such a result would call any mandate for negotiations into doubt. Abbas needs a landslide, and Barghouti would at the least rob him of that. Expect to see more explicit calls for Barghouti's withdrawal over the next few weeks.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 2, 2004 10:04 PM

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