|Leading MPs from all parties have signed a parliamentary motion calling on the Israeli parliament to release the Palestinian MP Marwan Barghouthi who has been in jail continuously for the last 14 years.They call for his release so that he can “play a part in the process of reconciliation, unification and negotiation that will be needed before Palestine achieves its independence”.
They cite the precedent of South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was released from prison so he could take part in negotiations for majority rule, and India, where Gandhi and Nehru were released by the British so they could take part in negotiations for independence.
They point out that Barghouthi, now 56, “is still the candidate in the strongest position to win a presidential election to succeed Mahmoud Abbas, according to a recent poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research”.
The parliamentary motion was tabled by Tommy Sheppard of the Scottish National Party and its signatories include the Conservative chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt, and the current Father of the House of Commons Sir Gerald Kaufman.
Marwan Barghouthi is seen as one of the few political leaders who could unite the country, winning support from both Fatah and Hamas, and who would have the moral authority to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians and to preside over a process of “truth and reconciliation” in a newly independent state.
He has often been called the “Mandela” of Palestine and there are certainly many paralllels both in his life so far and in the role he could play in a newly independent Palestine. He has spent a total of 20 years inside Israeli prisons and he has been for many years now in Cell 28 in Hadarim prison, a few miles from the Meditarranean beaches of Netanya.
He has regular visits from his wife Fadwa, but is allowed very little other contact with the outside world. Yet he still plays an important role and the occasional statements smuggled out of prison carry a great deal of authority.
Eight winners of the Nobel peace prize have signed the “Robben Island declaration” calling for his release, including President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. and the Argentinian Nobel laureate Adolfo Esquivel has nominated him for the Nobel peace prize this year.
Israel’s former president Shimon Peres said in 2007 that he would sign a pardon for Marwan Barghouthi, but it would have to be approved by the Israeli parliament and very few Israeli politicians have backed his release.
Barghouthi was an MP and the general secretary of Fatah during the Second Intifada when he was abducted in broad daylight on the streets of Ramallah by Israeli secret service agents, dressed as ambulance workers, and taken to Israel.
He refused to plead to an Israeli court on the basis that both his abduction and the trial were illegal and was duly found guilty of the deaths of five Israelis in military operations carried out by an armed wing of Fatah, known as “Tanzim”.
Outside the court he has always maintained that he was secretary of the political party only and had no involvement or foreknowledge of military operations. He never supported violent actions targeted at civilians and, unlike Nelson Mandela, he never carried arms himself. He always insisted that Palestinians had the right to resist the occupation of their country, by force if necessary, but he believed in a political and not a military solution.
However the campaign for his release, and for the release of all the 6,204 Palestinian conflict-related prisoners currently held in Israeli jails, is not based on an argument about the innocence or guilt of individual prisoners or the legality of their trials, but on the argument – in the case of Marwan Barghouthi and other political leaders – that their release is necessary for the process of negotiation leading to a peace settlement and in other cases on the argument that the release of political prisoners must necessarily precede a political solution.