Marwan Barghouti: firm but flexible

Marwan Barghouti is considered the protégé of Yasser Arafat, and his possible successor


Marwan Barghouti was arrested by
the Israeli government for his
role in the current intifada

A man to watch in the Palestine conflict is the dapper and highly popular 42-year-old Marwan Barghouti.  The “old man” of the Palestinian resistance, Yasser Arafat, still holds all the keys, but Barghouti is a front-runner in the shortlist of candidates touted to succeed him.


Charismatic and admired by the Palestinian diaspora, Barghouti belongs to the new generation of Palestinian leaders, the “insiders” or the “Intifada elite” who speak Hebrew and have a more intimate knowledge of Israel.


Barghouti evokes awe as he is one of the few leaders to have publicly challenged shortcomings in Yasser Arafat’s administration. His campaign against misuse of power by Arafat’s officials and security services was watched with much admiration among Palestinians.


Barghouti graduated into Palestinian politics during the first intifada in 1987. But he was arrested and deported to Jordan. He joined the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as its liaison officer in Amman and Tunis. After the 1993 Oslo peace accords with Israel, he returned to the West Bank and took over as secretary-general of Al-Fatah, the dominant bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council.


Here Barghouti was considered the protégé of Yasser Arafat,  and analysts believe that there exists a special relationship between them – one reason why Palestinians say he could get away with criticising his mentor.


His popularity on the Palestinian street was confirmed when he won a seat on the Palestinian Legislative Council standing as an independent candidate.  


Once Arafat had publicly renounced terrorism as part of the Oslo peace accords, his hands were tied. It is believed that Barghouti took over the reins, though not formally, of  Fatah’s armed offshoots, Tanzim and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.  While the parent Al-Fatah was involved in running the administration,  Tanzim and Al-Aqsa took over the task of defending Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.


Barghouti is widely renowned as a key player in the latest uprising which began in September 2000, known as the “Al-Aqsa intifada”. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, Barghouti was arrested during a raid by Israeli security forces on March 29, 2002, and is now being held in Israeli custody. Israeli prosecutors are attempting to link him to a spate of bomb blasts by Palestinian fighters. Human rights organisations have reported that he has been tortured.



Ramallah’s children demonstrate
 for the release of Marwan Barghuti

A pragmatist,  Barghouti is of the view that a permanent solution to the Middle East conflict can be found only if the mediator is changed. According to him, the US is too close to Israel to be an honest broker.


Broadly, Barghouti’s stand on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is flexible but firm. In his several interviews to the media, Barghouti has clearly expressed his support for the idea of coexistence of two separate states: Israel and Palestine.


But he insists this must be on the condition that Israel withdraws completely from the West Bank and Gaza including all settlements. The Palestinians recognised Israel’s right to exist in 1993, says Barghouti, but there has been no reciprocal acknowledgment from the Israelis.


As per the Oslo accords, the Palestinians were supposed to control more than 80 to 90 percent of the occupied territories and the remaining land would be decided at the final talks. The Israelis, according to him, never implemented their part of  the deal and the Palestinians were  left with only 18 percent.


Barghouti said he will fight with Israel to get the peace accords implemented. In a media interview at a safe house in West Bank, even as Israeli security forces were hunting for him, he pointed out that since the intifada did not start with a political order it could not be stopped by one either. The uprising was a spontaneous popular response to the Israeli occupation which would cease only when occupation ended, he said.