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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Why the Palestinian Authority Opposes Marwan Barghouti’s Potential Prison Release

Filed under: Hamas, Operation Swords of Iron, Palestinians

Why the Palestinian Authority Opposes Marwan Barghouti’s Potential Prison Release
Barghouti’s portrait on the Palestinian side of the security wall. (Ben Siesta/CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • The Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership opposes the release of Marwan Barghouti from prison due to his perceived challenge to the authority of Mahmoud Abbas.
  • There are concerns within the PA that the release of hundreds of Hamas military wing operatives, as part of an anticipated deal between Israel and Hamas, may destabilize the PA.

Marwan Barghouti, a principal figure behind the second intifada alongside Yasser Arafat, was recently transferred from the Israeli Ofer prison to another facility, where he is now held in isolation, according to the Israeli prison authority.

Security sources believe that Barghouti is working through various channels to incite unrest in Judea and Samaria ahead of the month-long Ramadan, scheduled to begin March 10, potentially aiming to spark a third intifada.

Barghouti believes his release is imminent as part of a deal between Israel and Hamas and seeks to bolster his position among Palestinians while incarcerated.

Sources within the Fatah movement suggest that senior PA figures, such as Hussein al-Sheikh and Majed Faraj, close associates of Mahmoud Abbas, informed Israel about Barghouti’s activities.

Barghouti vs Abbas

Marwan Barghouti poses a significant threat to Mahmoud Abbas’s leadership and enjoys substantial support in Palestinian public opinion; he is often seen as Abbas’s potential successor and head of the PA. Barghouti is 64 years old; Abbas is 88.

In 2011, the PA successfully blocked Barghouti’s release as part of the Shalit deal, convincing Israel and the United States that his release would jeopardize security cooperation with Israel and undermine the Oslo Accords.

Barghouti also challenges Fatah’s leadership in the PA succession battle. Notably concerned about his potential release are Hussein al-Sheikh, the secretary-general of the PLO’s executive committee, and Majed Faraj, the head of Palestinian intelligence, both of whom see themselves as leading candidates to succeed Mahmoud Abbas.

At the highest levels of the PA, there is also apprehension about the large-scale release of hundreds of Hamas military wing activists into Judea and Samaria as part of the Israeli-Hamas deal. Such a release could bolster Hamas’s influence and further destabilize the PA.

Hamas has promised Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, that his release would be a priority in any deal with Israel regarding the release of security prisoners. Hamas aims to demonstrate its commitment to releasing prisoners from all factions, highlighting the PA’s perceived failure in this regard.

Fadwa Barghouti meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on October 7, 2021
Fadwa Barghouti meeting with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on October 7, 2021. (

Barghouti, known as the architect of terror during the second intifada and a key figure under Yasser Arafat, was sentenced to five life terms for his role in attacks against Israelis.

Sometimes referred to by Palestinians as the “Palestinian Nelson Mandela,” Barghouti enjoys significant popularity in both Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Barghouti receives substantial support from former senior Fatah official Mohammad Dahlan and Fatah Secretary-General Jabril Rajoub in Judea and Samaria.

The release of Marwan Barghouti depends primarily on Israel’s consent, with political sources in Jerusalem reporting strong opposition within the right-wing government to his release as part of any deal with Hamas.