Israel May Trade Jailed Palestinian Leader for Kidnapped Soldier

Many Israeli politicians see firebrand Marwan Barghouti as preferable to the rising power of Hamas.

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Israel may trade key Palestinian leader for soldier

Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned Palestinian militant leader seen even by many prominent Israeli politicians as offering the only viable alternative to Hamas, may be on the verge of gaining his freedom. Israeli newspapers, quoting the London-based Al Hayat newspaper, report that Barghouti is high on the list of Palestinian prisoners who would be released in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since June 2006. Barghouti is a popular leader in the Fatah movement headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and he is seen as a possible successor. He was arrested in 2002 during the violent Palestinian uprising and is serving five consecutive life sentences after being convicted by an Israeli court for a role in attacks that killed four Israelis and a Greek Orthodox monk. He has denied involvement in those attacks. The prisoner exchange is being negotiated in Cairo as part of an Egyptian-mediated truce between Israel and Hamas. The Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reports:

Al-Hayat stated that Israel has agreed to free 250 Palestinian prisoners out of the 450 men named by Hamas. The release of 230 people has been secured, while 20 named are still debated.

Hamas is demanding Israel include eight of its senior operatives on the list, while Israel is adamant on deciding on the makeup of the list independently.

The newspaper added the Israel has essentially agreed to release four of the eight men, including former Fatah Secretary-General in the West Bank Marwan Barghouti, who was sentenced to five consecutive life terms (125 years) in prison [for intifada terrorist attacks].

Shalit's release is a cause c é l è bre in Israel, with outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert putting this at the top of his remaining agenda. Against this background, Barghouti's attorney is confident he will be released. The daily Ha'aretz reports:

Hader Shkirat, attorney for jailed West Bank intifada field commander Marwan Barghouti, told Haaretz that there will be no deal for Shalit without the release of his client. Shkirat added that he believes that a prisoner exchange deal will be formulated within days, and that his client will be among the Palestinian prisoners freed in the exchange. "I can't say for certain whether Marwan's release will happen as part of the exchange, before it or after it, but in any case, he will be released," Hader told Haaretz.

Netanyahu and Livni in tug of war

Nearly a week after Israeli elections, a new coalition government is nowhere on the horizon. The two rivals for prime minister, right-wing leader Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud and left-center leader Tzipi Livni of Kadima, both favor joining forces in a national unity government but can't agree on terms and are only hardening their positions. The Israeli daily Jerusalem Post reports:

The impasse between Livni and Netanyahu intensified on Sunday when Livni said she would not join a government under his leadership and hinted that the least she would accept was a rotation whereby they would each serve as prime minister for two years. But Netanyahu has made clear that to bring Kadima into a government led by him, he would offer anything except for the premiership itself.

When asked whether Netanyahu preferred a rotation with Livni or the formation of a narrow, rightist government, a source close to him said the Likud leader was convinced that once he succeeded in forming a government with parties on the Right, Kadima would decide to join, too.

Yossi Verter, political analyst for Ha'aretz , wonders whether in the end, Netanyahu will have to bite the bullet and share power with Livni rather than be boxed in by a purely hard-line right-wing government.

Netanyahu is afraid to invite Kadima without being in the company of his partners to the right, and he is afraid to be left with only his partners to the right. But Livni will demand a rotation, and for now, Netanyahu won't allow this word to be spoken in his presence. Will this be his position at the end of the 28 or 42 days the law gives him to form a government? It's still too early to say. The best (or the worst) is yet to come.

Israeli peace camp in tatters

The most devastating loss in the election was suffered by the peace camp, led by the Labor Party and Meretz. The two parties led Israel to a historic peace accord with the Palestinians in the early '90s, but they won just 16 out of 120 Knesset seats last Tuesday—down from the 56 they enjoyed in their heyday. Ha'aretz , the newspaper of the Israeli left, says the two parties have been in a long ideological decline, and it urged both to reinvent themselves in the opposition, starting by replacing Labor leader Ehud Barak and Meretz leader Haim Oron.

Labor's identity crisis has been known for many years. Ever since Yitzhak Rabin's murder [in 1995], the differences between this party and Likud have been indiscernible. Twice its leaders (Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz) made an ideological move for peace and social change, and twice party members refused to back their chief and let him fail. This time around Barak led the Labor Party to the election on the flimsy argument that he was capable and the most qualified to "answer the phone at 3 A.M."

Meretz has other problems. From the moment it was formed ...its ideology has been dissolving. Its gifted, inspired and courageous leaders have retired, leaving the party without a leadership to keep it from sinking.

Both parties failed to provide a convincing alternative. They must rehabilitate and rebuild themselves in the opposition as a serious left alternative to the right-wing bloc that won the election. Their leaders are responsible for this failure—Barak and Oron must move aside.