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Palestine elections: Marwan Barghouti announces independent election list

Jailed Palestinian leader's list is 'essentially Fatah in nature' but also includes national figures and independents
Graffiti depicting popular Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti can be found throughout the occupied West Bank (AFP/File photo)

Palestinian political prisoner and veteran Fatah party leader Marwan Barghouti has put together his own independent list of candidates to run in the Palestinian legislative elections, in the latest sign of turmoil raging in his party.

Barghouti's decision, announced on Monday, comes after the central committee of the Fatah party, which he is a member of, was reportedly unable to come to an agreement with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on a selection of candidates. 

Barghouti's list is "essentially Fatah in nature", according to sources that spoke to the Arab48 news website, but also includes "national figures and independents".

Barghouti's list will be the fourth that has come from Fatah, adding to the official list headed by Abbas, Nasser al-Qudwa's National Democratic Assembly list and Mohammed Dahlan's Democratic Reform Bloc list.

'There will be no elections without Jerusalem. It is a key partner in the democratic process'

- Azzam al-Ahmad, PLO and Fatah party

Legislative elections are slated to take place on 22 May, but that date has come into question, as two members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's (PLO) executive committee on Monday announced that the elections cannot take place without the inclusion of Palestinians living in Jerusalem.

Israel has repeatedly denied attempts to hold such elections in Jerusalem, which it considers to be Israeli territory despite the contested nature of the city.

"There will be no elections without Jerusalem," said Azzam al-Ahmad, who is also a member of the ruling Fatah central committee headed by Abbas, during an interview with Palestine TV on Monday. "It is a key partner in the democratic process."

Ahmad said the Hamas movement, which governs the Gaza Strip, agreed that elections should not be held without Jerusalem residents. 

Such postponement has been commonplace under Abbas's leadership. While Abbas's term officially expired in June 2009, no presidential elections have been organised by the PA in 16 years.

Presidential elections are scheduled to take place on 31 July, though it is unclear if the same demands of a Jerusalem vote will cause delays.

Barghouti for president? 

Despite his imprisonment, Barghouti remains one of the most popular Palestinian leaders and is set to be a major rival to Abbas, if he chooses to run.

Public opinion polls by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research have regularly shown that Barghouti would win the presidential elections, whether he runs within Fatah or with a new party.

One Fatah official familiar with talks of a Barghouti election run told MEE in January that it is estimated that were he to run, half of current Fatah supporters would side with Barghouti over Abbas, noting that the rivalry between the two veteran leaders could stoke further divisions within the party.

Barghouti was last arrested in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah in 2002 and sentenced to five consecutive life sentences for his alleged role in a series of attacks during the Second Intifada. His imprisonment is largely considered political among Palestinians who have long called for his release. 

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While his candidacy poses an obvious threat to Abbas, 85, his possible victory would also complicate the PA's ability to govern, given his imprisonment in Israel. 

According to MEE's sources, there have been talks on how to compromise Barghouti's political ambitions without creating an internal clash within Fatah, of which Abbas is the chairman.

Options reportedly presented to the imprisoned leader have included him running for the position of head of the Palestinian Legislative Council, of which he has been a member since 1996.

Another alternative floated has been for Barghouti to create his own party and run for president under that banner.

Barghouti's family told MEE they could not confirm whether he intended to run, saying that his stance on the issue would become clearer after a planned meeting in Cairo this week between Palestinian political factions to discuss the election.

Barghouti was born in 1958 in the central West Bank village of Kobar. He was the president of the Fatah Youth Movement while he studied history and political science at Birzeit University. He was first arrested by Israeli forces in 1976, three years after he became a Fatah member.