The significant news to come out of Israel is not the drivel about Ehud Barak telling the IDF to ensure the temporary freeze on construction projects in the West Bank. As I said only yesterday, this so-called freeze is a farce and as Saeb Erekat, thePalestinian chief negotiator, has stated, there is nothing new in this announcement that would justify a return to the negotiating table. On the other hand, the news that Israel will include Marwan Barghouti in those to be freed as part of the deal to get the captured Israeli soldierGilad Shalit back is most interesting although it has been a possibility for some time.
It is interesting because only about a year and a half ago the then Israeli Infrastructure Minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, said that “Hamas will soon take over the West Bank. The only person who could put a stop to that is Barghouti.” Yet, here is Hamas putting Barghouti at the top of their list of prisoners to be exchanged for Shalit. Now, that might be because Barghouti has won the respect many of those Hamas leaders who are also in prison and it might even be that Barghouti, who was recently elected to Fatah’s Central Committee, can regenerate Fatah, become the next PA president and heal the bitter rift with Hamas.
Now, why Palestinians should want this is obvious. However, why Israel would be willing to release the man who can bring life into the dying Fatah while bringing about a reconciliation with Hamasand who, unlike Abbas, sees the armed struggle as an option to achieve his aim of a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital, is beyond me. Moreover, all the more so as Barghouti will most definitely not compromise on these goals. Indeed, if nothing else, the evidence would seem to suggest that one Barghouti is worth 1,000 Schalits and not the other way around.
The next few days and weeks are going to be interesting and it looks as if we will be hearing a lot more of Marwan Barghouti who some are beginning to see as Palestine’s Nelson Mandela. It is there, however, that our optimism should end with Barghouti himself saying that Israel does not have a Frederik Willem de Klerk.