Barak denies trial balloon on Barghouti

Defense minister's associates: Ben Eliezer comments not made on behalf of political ally Barak.

September 25, 2007 22:01
1 minute read.
binyamin ben eliezer close up 298

binyamin ben eliezer. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer was not speaking on behalf of his political ally, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, when he called for the release of jailed Fatah Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, Barak's associates said Tuesday. In return for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, Ben-Eliezer said, Israel should "take a creative step" and offer to release Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for murder during the intifada. Ben-Eliezer said he expected Barghouti to be the next Palestinian leader and said Israel could negotiate a peace deal with him. National Union MK Effi Eitam accused Ben-Eliezer of floating a "trial balloon" on behalf of Barak. He said Ben-Eliezer was using the same strategy as Vice Premier Haim Ramon, who he said tested public opinion on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's behalf when he announced his support for dividing Jerusalem and giving up holy sites in the Old City. "Fuad [Ben-Eliezer] was not speaking for anyone and does not represent anyone," Ben-Eliezer's spokesman said. "Fuad has known Barghouti for many years, since he was the IDF's coordinator in the territories. He ordered Barghouti's arrest when he was defense minister. They have a history. It's not a trial balloon of Ehud Barak." A source close to Ben-Eliezer and Barak said Ben-Eliezer had informed both Olmert and Barak of his support for releasing Barghouti before he started talking about it in the media. Asked for Barak's opinion on the issue, Barak's associates said they could not say. Asked why Hamas, which is holding Schalit, would release Fatah's Barghouti, Ben-Eliezer said Barghouti was respected by top Hamas officials. Hamas demanded in April that Israel release Barghouti as part of any prisoner exchange for Schalit.

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