Is Marwan Al-Barghouti Returning to the Political Arena? 

Senior officials in Fatah report the willingness of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to reconcile with his bitter political rival, Marwan Al-Barghouti, and designate him as his future successor. Mahmoud Al-Alul, vice chairman of the Fatah movement, expresses concern about the decline of the movement's standing on the Palestinian street. He states that the movement is seeking a candidate from the younger generation to succeed Mahmoud Abbas.


Senior officials in the Fatah movement have observed a change in PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ attitude towards his bitter political rival, Marwan Al-Barghouti, who is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for the murder of Israelis. 


Al-Barghouti, known as the architect of the second intifada and Yasser Arafat’s right-hand man, enjoys significant popularity among Palestinians. He consistently leads the Palestinian public opinion polls as the favored candidate to succeed Mahmoud Abbas. 


For a long time, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas feared Marwan Al-Barghouti, viewing him as a political threat. Senior Fatah officials claim that Abbas even prevented Al-Barghouti’s release from Israeli prison as part of the “Shalit deal” in 2011. Abbas convinced Israel and the US that Al-Barghouti’s release would lead to renewed terrorism in Judea and Samaria, and that it would cause Al-Barghouti to sever security coordination between the PA, Israel, and the US. 


However, it now appears that the PA chairman recognizes the need to appoint an important successor from the Fatah leadership who is untainted by corruption. This decision stems from the declining position of the PA on the Palestinian street and concerns over losing security control in Judea and Samaria to armed terrorist groups, potentially leading to its collapse. 

According to an associate of the PA chairman, Mahmoud Abbas aims to leave a “national legacy”.  

This sentiment was echoed by Mahmoud Al-Alul, the deputy chairman of the Fatah movement, during a briefing with reporters in Ramallah on June 7th. 


“The popularity of the Fatah movement in the Palestinian street has diminished due to its adoption of the peace option and its failure to fulfill promises made to the people. We will search for a successor from the younger generation within the movement,” Al-Alul said. 


After receiving reprimand from the PA chairman, Mahmoud Al-Alul issued a statement claiming that his words were taken out of context. 

Senior officials in Fatah assert that the PA chairman understands that the collapse of the PA would be considered his personal failure and acknowledges the public criticism of the corruption surrounding him. Consequently, Abbas is fostering a closer relationship with Marwan Al-Barghouti through his wife Fadwa. He is seriously considering the possibility of designating Al-Barghouti as his successor. 


A few months ago, Marwan Al-Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa Al-Barghouti, visited Cairo where she met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and later with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Both assured her that they would make all necessary efforts for Marwan Al-Barghouti’s release as part of the next prisoner exchange deal between the Hamas movement and Israel. 


The United States is deeply concerned about the potential collapse of the PA. Last week, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar was invited to Washington for discussions on the matter with senior administration officials. 


Senior Fatah officials claim that the Biden administration will support any candidate endorsed by Mahmoud Abbas as his successor, someone capable of preventing the West Bank from falling into the hands of the Hamas movement. 


PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is furious with Hussein Al-Sheikh, the secretary-general of the executive committee of the PLO, who is spreading information suggesting he will succeed Abbas. 


Earlier this year, the Hamas-affiliated “Shihab” news agency published an audio recording of Hussein Al-Sheikh accusing Mahmoud Abbas of creating anarchy and cursing him and the head of Palestinian intelligence, Majed Faraj. 


According to Fatah sources, the release of the tape eliminated Hussein Al-Sheikh’s chance of being appointed as Mahmoud Abbas’s successor. Some even claim that Abbas himself leaked the tape to create an excuse to distance Al-Sheikh from him. 

Marwan Al-Barghouti enjoys the support of the Hamas movement and other Palestinian factions. However, it is highly doubtful that the right-wing Israeli government will agree to release him from prison due to his involvement in the second intifada. In recent years, Al-Barghouti has refused to renounce the principle of armed struggle against Israel. 


The Palestinians will not accept any successor to Mahmoud Abbas who has not been elected through general elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The last presidential elections took place in 2005 when Mahmoud Abbas assumed the position of PA Chairman after the death of Yasser Arafat. In 2006, parliamentary elections were held, resulting in the Hamas movement defeating Fatah. 


However, if Mahmoud Abbas designates Marwan Al-Barghouti as his successor, the Palestinian political arena predicts that the Palestinian street will accept Al-Barghouti as the interim chairman of the PA until general presidential elections can be held. 


The Israeli security establishment anticipates a bloody battle for succession within the Palestinian Authority following Mahmoud Abbas’s departure from the political stage. It could even escalate into a civil war. 


Fatah senior officials, who consider themselves potential successors to Mahmoud Abbas, have formed armed private militias. Additionally, new armed terrorist groups have emerged in northern Samaria since May 2021 (Operation “Guardian of the Walls”), and they are expected to participate in the succession battle. 


We must now wait and see whether Mahmoud Abbas truly intends to reconcile with Marwan Barghouti and groom him as his successor, or if this is yet another political maneuver by the PA chairman as part of his “divide and rule” strategy to strengthen his control over the Fatah movement. 

Yoni Ben Menachem Senior Middle East Analyst

About Yoni Ben Menachem

Yoni Ben Menachem is a Middle East senior analyst ,a journalist and
the former CEO of the Israel Broadcasting Authority(IBA). He has
decades of experience in written and video journalism. Ben
Menachem’s path in the media world began as a producer for
Japanese television in the Middle East. After that, he held many key
positions in the media The Israeli: CEO of the Israel Broadcasting
Authority, director of “Kol Israel” Radio, reporter on West Bank and
Gaza Strip affairs, political reporter and commentator, commentator
on Middle East affairs and editor-in-chief and presenter of the
program “Middle East Magazine”. 

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