Palestinian politician Marwan Barghouti, who is believed to be the leader of the first and second Intifada, is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison. His intention to run for president in the upcoming Palestinian elections has rocked the Palestinian political scene. If he comes and wins, as recent polls have suggested, his victory could reshape the Palestinian cause with big implications for the Israeli occupation.
Not surprisingly, Barghouti faces stiff opposition from octogenarian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is planning a rerun, and his clique of loyalists from the Fatah party, who have ruled the PA for more than two decades. .
They tried to dissuade Barghouti from running, as they did the last time, but to no avail. The popular 61-year-old seems adamant, as this may be his last chance to step up and restore revolutionary zeal to the Palestinian cause.
Critics of Barghouti, however, say he may be prompted by personal, non-revolutionary motives to seek to win the presidency, as this may secure his release from prison.
It is rich in those who for years have benefited from the management of the Palestinian Authority and its security services, while the rest of the Palestinians have suffered under occupation.
Yet whatever his reasons and motivations, the idea of a longtime Palestinian political prisoner being elected president is a definite change for Palestine and Israel.
Symbolically, nothing represents the bitter Palestinian reality under occupation more than the thousands of political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails. And nothing personifies the struggle for freedom more than people like Barghouti, who has spent much of his adult life in an Israeli prison or in exile, including the past 19 years.
During the decades of the so-called “peace process,” Palestinians have been called upon to hold elections to nurture democracy and pave the way for independence.
They did, but in return they got more occupation, more illegal settlements, more repression and, yes, more division.
Indeed, after more than 70 years of occupation and dispossession, Palestine remains a prisoner of its Israeli jailer.
Therefore, in the absence of sovereignty and independence, the holding of elections in the shadow of the occupation is not a democracy; it is a dispute between prisoners for the management and, at best, the improvement of their imprisonment.
Therefore, politically speaking, future elections should aim to overturn the status quo, not prolong it.
But it requires a new, younger and bolder leadership to replace the old and jaded one that failed to achieve freedom and justice for Palestinians.
While Barghouti and his growing supporters represent change, Abbas and his lieutenants have come to represent the political impasse and the marginalization of the Palestinian question.
It may be too late for Abbas to step aside, not only because of his old age and poor health, but also because his political and diplomatic project is at an impasse.
He failed to secure liberation and independence, and failed to prevent illegal Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian lands from multiplying and expanding since Abbas signed the Oslo Accords in 1993.
He may be hoping to revive the “peace process” with the advent of the Biden administration, but this unbalanced process is destined to produce more political paralysis in the absence of a new popular strategy that prompts Israel to reconsider. his position.
Diplomacy reflects the balance of power; it doesn’t change anything.
The tenacious Abbas may have done all he could, but he failed to safeguard Palestinian unity. It was under his leadership that the Palestinians experienced the worst and most violent split in their history after the 2006 elections, which culminated in Fatah’s ruling on the Palestinians in the West Bank and Hamas’s Islamist ruling on Gaza, until this day.
Last but not least, Abbas has already served 16 years as president, even though he was elected in 2005 for a term of just four years.
All of this begs the question: why would 85-year-old Abbas again insist on running, when more than a few younger and more experienced Palestinians are ready and able to lead?
Clearly, the Palestinian political regime suffers from the same disease that has long plagued Arab regimes throughout the region. It is no coincidence that Abbas has vehemently opposed the Arab Spring since its inception.
But unlike other Arab countries, Palestine suffers from both autocracy and dictatorship, otherwise known among Palestinians as the colonial occupation of Israeli settlers.
This is why a change of leadership is urgent and why the candidacy of a political prisoner like Barghouti is terribly attractive to so many Palestinians.
But what if Barghouti runs and wins? How would he get out of an Israeli prison?
In everyday life, the prime minister is responsible for managing the Palestinian Authority, and Barghouti could appoint any of the competent Palestinian parliamentarians to lead his government.
Regarding the national cause, Israel, the United States and others may have to deal with him directly in prison, underlining the harsh reality of the Palestinian cause, or be forced to release him, which would be a victory for them. Palestinians.
The Palestinian consensus around their own Nelson Mandela is sure to underscore the flawless parallel with apartheid South Africa that a growing number of Israelis, Americans and South Africans have already recognized.
In fact, apartheid was officially established in South Africa in 1948, the year Israel was founded on the ruins of Palestine. But when it was finally dismantled when Mandela became president in May 1994, apartheid took hold in Palestine, as Israel used the Oslo accords on Palestinian “autonomy” to institutionalize segregation and divide Palestine. in Bantustans, all “in the name of peace”. .
Many Israelis believed in this kind of peace and might be outraged at the prospect of dealing with a political prisoner convicted, fairly or unfairly, for organizing attacks on Israelis.
But Israeli leaders know better. With so much Palestinian blood on their hands, they are the last to try this freedom fighter for his record of resisting the occupation.
For many years, apartheid South Africans also referred to Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) as “terrorists” and saboteurs. Mandela himself was not taken off the US “terrorism” watch list until 2008.
But when South Africa came under international pressure and its leader, President FW de Klerk, showed the wisdom necessary to free the ANC leader, Mandela overnight became an acceptable and credible interlocutor.
But it wasn’t just Mandela: many freedom fighters, accused of terrorism for fighting colonialism, became respected statesmen after independence. Their value was only measured by the value of their cause.
Barghouti, who is fluent in Hebrew and even supported the Oslo Accords until disillusioned, just like Mandela, also believes in peaceful coexistence based on freedom, justice and equality.
The Palestinian people are ready to present their own Mandela to the world. But is the world ready to put pressure on Israel, as it pressured apartheid South Africa, to produce its own de Klerk?