While Hamas leaders have already promised Marwan Barghouti’s family that the former Tanzim leader in the West Bank would be included in a prisoner exchange deal with Israel, some Fatah members would rather see him remain in jail.
Barghouti is at the top of the list of senior prisoners the Palestinian Authority is demanding Israel free in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, but some Fatah members fear his release would boost support for rival faction Hamas.
Senior Fatah officials are trying to convince Barghouti’s family to back efforts to release him as part of a more comprehensive deal with Israel for which Hamas does not get all the credit.
The Islamic group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of Shalit in a cross-border operation near Gaza in June of last year.
Fatah prefers to see Barghouti released as part of a goodwill gesture by Israel to President Mahmoud Abbas.
'Release would spark changes within the party'
Barghouti’s associates have accused Fatah members opposed to his release of being concerned with Barghouti’s ‘threatening status within Fatah.’
Barghouti, whose relations with Hamas’ leaders are excellent, was instrumental in the drafting of a document drafted by Palestinian prisoners, which urged the formation of a Palestinian unity government and to end internal strife.
Along with Hamas, he also helped devise a ceasefire between rival Palestinian factions, which was declared in March 2005 in Cairo.
Several Fatah leaders fear that Barghouti’s release would spark the beginning of changes within the party, some of which they may not approve of.
In the past Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was opposed to releasing Barghouti in exchange for Shalit, but no final decision has been made.
Barghouti was captured in Ramallah in April 2002 during Operation Defense Shield. He was arrested not far from the office of former Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat after a long manhunt by IDF and Shin Bet forces.