barghouti poster298 88ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti won at least half of the votes in primary elections that were held for the ruling party here on Friday.
His victory is seen as a severe blow to Fatah's "old guard" representatives and is likely to intensify the ongoing power struggle between them and the "young guard."
Jamal Muhaisen, chairman of the committee that supervised the Fatah elections, said preliminary results showed that Barghouti, 46, had won at least 21,500 votes out of a total of 45,500 in the Ramallah district.
Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in jail for his role in attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers, was one of 10 candidates who ran in the primary elections.
In response to his election showing, Meretz head Yossi Beilin called publicly on Saturday for Barghouti to be released from prison, calling him one of the leading Palestinian figures in the process towards peace.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, speaking at a cultural event in Tel Aviv, rejected Beilin's call, saying that Israel must not forget that Barghouti has blood on his hands and is currently serving five consecutive life sentences.
A senior government source said Barghouti's political success would have no impact on his prison sentence.
"I do not see any reason to give him clemency, when others who have committed lesser crimes are not given clemency," he said.
"Barghouti received five life prison terms for murdering Israelis. He was directly involved in planning and perpetrating acts of terror against Israelis," he said. No country in the world would bend the rules under these circumstances and Israel has not intention of doing so either, he added.
"Barghouti is not in prison because of his political activities. He is in prison because of his terrorist activities; sometimes people forget it," the source said. Granting Barghouti clemency would set a dangerous precedent for Hamas members who might also succeed in the upcoming January Palestinian Legislative Council elections, the source added.
"Would you say that Israel should exonerate all those people in Hamas who are now going to be elected?" he asked. "We judge people according to their terrorist activity and not according to their political affiliation."
Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz's spokesman said he did not want to comment on Barghouti's victory, saying that he did not want to interfere with "a matter for the courts."
Altogether, some 463,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip registered for the Fatah primary.
In addition to Ramallah, primary elections were also held in Bethlehem, Jenin and Nablus. Barghouti's followers in these areas are also reported to have made a strong showing.
Similar elections are expected in the Gaza Strip on Monday.
The vote in another 11 districts was postponed indefinitely because of increased tensions between rival Fatah groups and candidates.
Two senior members of Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, secured high positions. The two, who are wanted by Israel for their role in terror attacks, are Jamal Abu Rob of Jenin, who is known by his nickname "Hitler," and Jamal Juma'ah, the group's commander in Nablus.
Barghouti is believed to be one of the founders of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, a militia consisting of several thousand gunmen that started operating shortly after the beginning of the intifada in September 2000.
The primary elections are being held to determine the identity of Fatah candidates who will run in next January's parliamentary elections. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the overall leader of Fatah, will put together the final list from a pool of candidates who got the highest votes.
As such, Fatah officials noted, he won't be able to ignore the results of the primary elections and the growing power of Barghouti and other representatives of the "young guard."
"This is a major blow to Abbas and the veteran leaders of Fatah who were all appointed by [former PA chairman] Yasser Arafat," said Mansour Abdel Hakim, a young Fatah member. "We are witnessing the beginning of a quiet revolution against the old guard and corruption."
The primary elections are the first of their kind since the party was founded by Arafat four decades ago. Arafat used to appoint candidates, repeatedly ignoring demands by grassroots activists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to hold free elections.
"Fatah has taken a big step toward transforming itself into a political party," commented political analyst Hani al-Masri. "Until now, it was a one-man party - the party of Yasser Arafat."
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