Jailed Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti, the charismatic leader of a younger generation of militants, has agreed not to run in the January 9 general elections. The decision paves the way for greater unity among Palestinians in the vote to choose a successor to Yasser Arafat.
Marwan Barghouti's isolation in his Israeli prison cell near the southern city of Beersheva was interrupted Friday by a visit from Palestinian Cabinet Minister Kadoura Fares. The visit was aimed at getting Mr. Barghouti to agree to drop his plans to run in the elections. The message from the top Palestinian leadership was clear - don't run, don't divide the party and don't ruin its chances for success at the ballot box.
Mr. Fares later told journalists in the West Bank city of Ramallah that after several hours of discussions, Marwan Bargouti agreed, saying that in the interests of unity, he would support Mahmoud Abbas, the man chosen by the ruling Fatah faction as its candidate to succeed Yasser Arafat.
Mr. Barghouti is currently serving five consecutive life sentences for involvement in terrorism. He has always denied the charges, saying he is a political activist and was not involved in violence. His detention by Israel never diminished his appeal among many Palestinians, particularly among the younger generation of activists.
Because of Marwan Barghouti's grassroots appeal, any indication that he might run in the January elections posed a threat to unity within Fatah, especially against the far less charismatic Mahmoud Abbas.
The potential rift is between members of the old guard, those close to Yasser Arafat, who came back with him from exile and who have run things ever since, and the younger generation, whose members led two uprisings against Israel from within the Palestinian territories, and who feel they should have more say.
Mahmoud Abbas represents the old guard, Marwan Barghouti the new.
In what may be an effort to placate the younger generation, Mr. Abbas apparently agreed to meet one of their long-standing demands, that a general party conference be held, in which all factions can compete for seats on the important committees.