By Catrina Stewart, Wednesday 28 March 2012
Marwan Barghouti, the jailed Palestinian leader seen as a favoured successor to President Mahmoud Abbas, has declared the death of the peace process and called for a civil revolt and a severing of all ties with Israel.
Serving five life terms in an Israeli jail, Mr Barghouti’s prison cell appeal is likely to resonate deeply within Palestinian society, where many are profoundly disillusioned with the current leadership’s failure to wring concessions from Israel and end its decades-long military occupation.
“The launch of large-scale popular resistance at this stage serves the cause of our people,” said Mr Barghouti, who enjoys huge support across the Palestinian political divide.
“Stop marketing the illusion that there is a possibility of ending the occupation and achieving a state through negotiations after this vision has failed miserably,” he said in a message read out to supporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
His call for non-violent resistance comes amid a stagnating peace process, and as Palestinians prepare to mark an annual protest against Israeli land policies on Friday with marches across the occupied West Bank and Gaza, as well as on the Lebanese and Syrian borders.
Sometimes described as the “Palestinian Nelson Mandela”, Mr Barghouti, convicted in 2004 for orchestrating a deadly bombing, is highly influential among Palestinians, who see him as a unifying figure able to bridge the bitter divide between political parties Fatah and Hamas that has hampered efforts to negotiate with Israel. Many Israelis also support him, seeing him as a pragmatist who has indicated he would recognise a Jewish state alongside an independent Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders.
In his message, marking a decade of incarceration, Mr Barghouti said that the peace process has led nowhere under the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose right-wing coalition has supported the expansion of Jewish settlements across the West Bank, a policy widely viewed as the greatest barrier to a two-state solution. “It must be understood that there is no partner for peace in Israel when the [Jewish] settlements have doubled,” Mr Barghouti said. “It is the Palestinian people’s right to oppose the occupation in all means, and the resistance must be focused on the 1967 territories.”
Mr Barghouti was arrested by Israel in 1978 for membership of an armed group and jailed for four years, during which time he learned Hebrew. Exiled in the late 1980s for leading West Bank resistance in the First Intifada, or uprising, he returned to his homeland only after the signing of the Oslo peace accords in the mid-1990s.
He entered politics upon his return, and used his position to fight against the corruption in Yasser Arafat’s government, a crusade that earned him adulation on the street. When the more violent Second Intifada erupted in 2000, Mr Barghouti, then leader of Fatah, emerged as commander of its armed wing, Tanzim, propelling him to greater prominence. After his arrest in 2002, he was tried for killing 26 people, but eventually convicted for a bombing that killed four Israelis and a Greek monk, earning him consecutive life terms in prison that would ensure he would not be freed unless pardoned.
Mr Barghouti’s supporters had hoped he would be included in a prisoner swap deal last October for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza-based militants five years previously, but Israel reportedly refused on the grounds that his case was “political”. Israeli President Shimon Peres has, however, indicated that Mr Barghouti would be released if elected Palestinian leader.
Mr Barghouti’s call to end all economic and security co-operation with Israel and work towards reconciliation is also likely to strike a chord among Palestinians, whose common complaint is that they have received no reward for ending terror.