The government won't allow jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti to serve as a minister in the Palestinian Authority following Wednesday's elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
"He won't be a minister from prison. How can he be a minister from prison?" Ezra said. "There is someone sitting in jail who has been elected mayor of Kalkilya. [Do you think] he serves as the mayor of Kalkilya? He is in jail."
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Ezra also said the government had no intention of releasing Barghouti in the near future. "He has been sentenced to five life terms [for murder]," he said.
However, he denied charges that Barghouti received special privileges because of his leading position in Fatah, and said that the interview he gave on Sunday to Al-Jazeera from his prison cell was not something the government could deny him.
"The High Court has forbidden the government to stop Barghouti from giving interviews," Ezra said, adding that until now he has not wanted to give them. The one he gave to Al-Jazeera was the first since his arrest in 2002.
Ezra also said the government was receptive to requests regarding prisoners if they didn't endanger Israel's security.
"He wants his wife to visit him, she wants to meet him... This doesn't hurt the security of the state. Why not allow it?" he said.
He added that Barghouti's telephone privileges are the same as those of any other prisoner. "He is not the only one. Everybody can have telephone conversations," he said.
His statements echo those of Prisons Service head Ya'acov Ganot, although he also indicated that Barghouti's position meant that his case was different.
He added that by law Barghouti was allowed to receive visits from several lawyers, but dismissed as "nonsense" that he'd been allowed the use of the prison offices.
While making a definitive declaration about Barghouti's future, Ezra wouldn't be drawn out on what Israel would do should Hamas gain a majority in the elections.
"The person who leads the government is Abu Mazen [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas]. Even if Hamas has a majority, he can choose the government he wants.
We will wait and see what he does," he said.
"Everything is theoretical. Why do we need to speak about theoretical things? Wait until after the elections," he said, adding that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had appointed a team to discuss the implications of the results.
Ezra was similarly reticent about discussing plans for stopping Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, saying only that it was an international problem.
He also declined to comment on the investigation into the death of the Israeli Arab who was shot by the police in the village of Wadi al-Kassab in Wadi Ara on Thursday, saying that he would wait for the results of the investigation being carried out as part of police procedures.
Ezra said he hoped that Olmert would allow him to return to the Internal Security Ministry, but said he would welcome any appointment. He said he intended to stay in politics for as long as he could.
After Prime Minister Ariel Sharon went through several coalitions, Ezra said he would recommend that Olmert create a narrow coalition. Sharon had always said that he believed in building the widest coalition possible, but Ezra said that a coalition of only two parties would make the government more stable.
"The fewer parties the coalition has, the better the government will function," he said. "The more we have to think about other parties' needs, the harder it is. Sharon had to mediate between Shinui and the National Union, and he did it with skill. But it is better now when we are left with only Kadima."
Ezra said that Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu harmed the country by quitting the government at a critical point, before the passage of the budget. He called Labor chairman Amir Peretz "a failed union leader who messed up the Histadrut."