(photo credit: AP)
There is growing support in the cabinet and in the Knesset for the release of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is a top contender to replace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the future, and who may be the most popular figure on the Palestinian street.
Following the election of Barghouti to Fatah's powerful Central Committee on Tuesday, Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor) said, "In light of the election results, we must consider releasing him in order to create a moderate and strong political leadership among the Palestinians."
"Barghouti can probably deliver the goods and strengthen the moderate current, that supports a diplomatic solution and an accord with Israel," Braverman said.
National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) has in the past also expressed support for the notion. Channel 10 reported on Tuesday that the minister said in closed conversations earlier in the day that Barghouti "is the only one" who can bring the Palestinians to a final-status peace deal with Israel.
Ben-Eliezer reportedly said he was discussing the issue with other ministers and with the prime minister.
Meanwhile, Kadima MK and former deputy head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Gideon Ezra told the NRG Web site that should the Palestinians demand the release of Barghouti as part of a prisoner swap for abducted IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, "Israel should not be inflexible and [should] oblige the Palestinians in Barghouti's case."
Ezra called Barghouti a "charismatic and popular leader" and said he was not surprised by his election to a key position in Fatah.
Not everyone was supportive of a release, with National Union MK Arye Eldad saying "the calls for Barghouti's release are made by leftists, who continue to repeat obsolete catchphrases, and still believe the murderous terrorist organization Fatah should be strengthened in order to fight Hamas."
In 2004, Barghouti was convicted for his involvement in terrorist attacks during the second intifada and sentenced to five life sentences for the murders of four Israelis and a Greek monk and 40 years imprisonment for an attempted murder.
However, Barghouti is seen by some as a relatively moderate force in the Palestinian leadership.
In 2006, he was involved in shaping what became known as "the Palestinian prisoners' document," which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders and for the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. It was signed by prisoners representing of all major Palestinian factions, including Hamas.