An Urgent Search for Palestinian Leadership

A senior Hamas leader this month declared that any deal to end the fighting in Gaza must include the release of Marwan Barghouti. Three weeks before, a former Israeli security chief had identified Marwan Barghouti as “the only leader who can lead Palestinians to a state alongside Israel.”

His name may not be familiar to many Americans. But most Palestinians, whether in the West Bank or in Gaza, know it well. So do many senior Israelis. Thirty or so years ago, Mr. Barghouti was among the most promising of a new generation of Palestinians poised to succeed Yasir Arafat, the revolutionary who had led the Palestinians through armed resistance to a measure of self-rule.

For most of the years since, Mr. Barghouti, a figure in Mr. Arafat’s Fatah party, has been in an Israeli prison, serving several consecutive life sentences for murder and for membership in a terrorist organization. During that time, his popularity among Palestinians has continued to grow; today he consistently leads surveys of Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza on who should lead them next.

It is hard to imagine that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a hard-line opponent of Palestinian statehood whose government includes virulent Israeli nationalists, would ever assent to the release of Mr. Barghouti. And in their fury and anguish over the vicious Hamas attack on Oct. 7, most Israelis would probably agree.

But the search for a Palestinian leader has become more pressing, as the attention of Israel’s allies and its Arab neighbors turns to “after Gaza,” as Israelis refer to what will follow the extraordinarily destructive and deadly war there. Negotiations involving the United States and Arab states for a way to stop the fighting are intensifying, and one crucial unresolved question is whether there is anyone not linked to Hamas or the corruption in the Palestinian Authority who could take charge in a ravaged Gaza and replace the unpopular leader in the West Bank, the 88-year-old Mahmoud Abbas.

In an interview with The Guardian last month, Ami Ayalon, a highly decorated Israeli official who had served as naval commander in chief, head of the internal Shin Bet security service and cabinet member, said that man is Marwan Barghouti, now 64. “Look into the Palestinian polls,” Mr. Ayalon said. “He is the only leader who can lead Palestinians to a state alongside Israel. First of all because he believes in the concept of two states, and secondly because he won his legitimacy by sitting in our jails.”

We are having trouble retrieving the article content.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.

Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.

Thank you for your patience while we verify access.

Already a subscriber? Log in.

Want all of The Times? Subscribe.

Back to top button