Former Shin Bet Head Calls for Release of Marwan Barghouti as Only Hope for Peace
Admiral Ami Ayalon, former commander of the Israeli Navy and former head of the domestic secret service, Shin Bet, has argued for the release of Palestinian Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who has been serving five life sentences in Israeli prison since 2002. The Admiral’s comments were made in an interview with Haaretz’s Yossi Melman, dealing with the “day after” the fighting ends, and translated into English Jan. 8 by the Teller Report.
Ayalon said that Israel must prioritize the release of Barghouti in return for Israeli hostages. “This is the right move on both sides, firstly because the return of Israeli hostages is the closest to the ‘image of victory’ in the current (military) campaign in Gaza, and second, because Barghouti is the only Palestinian leader who can be elected within a unified and legitimate Palestinian leadership on the road to a peaceful solution … with the Palestinians.”
He excoriated Israel’s current policy, saying that the war is a “military conflict with no political goal, a situation in which victory cannot be defined which is always formulated in political terms, and the great danger is that this is the situation in which war becomes the goal” (cf. also SAS 51-52/23). The failure to address that “is tearing Israeli society apart,” he said, adding that Israel risks “continuing to fight forever” in order “to escape from real debates that we reject or cannot have.”
As we have reported, Marwan Barghouti is widely considered the most popular leader among Palestinians and the only leader capable of reviving the severely diminished credibility of the Palestinian National Authority. The Israeli government, however, instead of releasing him, transferred him to the isolation wing of the prison in early December. He has just filed a petition against the conditions in which he is held, which appear to be life threatening. He is being represented by Israeli civil rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman.
The move occurred after a statement was allegedly released in Barghouti’s name calling for Palestinian Authority security forces to fight against Israel. His wife, Fadwa Barghouti, has denied that he was connected to that statement.
A poll recently carried out by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found Barghouti would win by a large margin against both candidates from his own party Fatah and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, making him an appealing choice for a large swath of the Palestinian electorate. It should be noted that Haniyeh told Al Jazeera on Jan. 2 that his movement is now open to having a single Palestinian administration govern both the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank. A fluent speaker of Hebrew, Barghouti is respected by a significant portion of the Israeli intelligence services, according to our sources.