RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Firebrand uprising leader Marwan Barghouthi has decided to run for Palestinian president from his Israeli jail cell, an official of his Fatah faction said on Thursday.
The candidacy could throw the Jan. 9 election wide open and pose a dramatic challenge to current front-runner Mahmoud Abbas, a former prime minister now caught in the glare of the charismatic Barghouthi's popular appeal with Palestinians.
Barghouthi's behind-bars bid to succeed the Yasser Arafat (news - web sites) as president also raised the specter of a split in the late leader's historic Fatah movement, which went ahead and endorsed Abbas as its candidate despite Barghouti's challenge.
"He has decided to run for president," the Fatah official, who said he had spoken with Barghouthi's lawyer, told Reuters. "An official announcement will be made within 24 hours."
But Fatah ruled out running Barghouthi on its ticket by approving the candidacy of Abbas, 69, three days after a Fatah panel nominated him in a race that has also drawn several lesser-known figures.
It's truly unfortunate that Barghouti can't do this from outside of jail. It'd be nice to have a new generation of Palestinian leaders rather than Arafat's old Tunisian crowd. But I also wonder if this will divide the Fatah vote to the benefit of other factions, unless it's just a ploy for Barghouti's group to gain more influence among PLO elders.
Here is the New York Times' take on it, too:
Palestinian officials said Thursday night that Mr. Barghouti, upset with the vague role Mr. Abbas has offered him in a future Palestinian government, apparently wanted to run. But some Palestinians close to Mr. Barghouti say the Palestinians do not need an incarcerated president, that Fatah must remain united and that his time will come if he makes peace with Mr. Abbas.
Mr. Barghouti could run as an independent, but his candidacy would probably split Fatah. Until his name appears on the ballot, some Palestinians suggest, Mr. Barghouti may simply be reminding Fatah that his supporters, especially young militants, need to be heard and that the intifada should not be halted without Israeli concessions.
One Palestinian official said that Fatah had secured Israeli permission to send Qadura Fares, a minister without portfolio, to Mr. Barghouti to learn his intentions.
They also report that Moshe Katsav, Israel's president, has said he would consider a pardon for Barghouti. Note that Katsav also recently said that Israel should stop building its "security fence" if Palestinians stop terrorist attacks.