The Forward details yet another harebrained scheme suggesting the Olmert government has proposed to the U.S. that it release Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Israel releasing Marwan Barghouti. Here is Haaretz‘s slightly different take on the matter. There are many reasons why this seems utter foolishness: first, the rumor possibly arose from the circle of Pollard’s supporters making it automatically suspect. Second, prisoner exchanges always involve two enemies who swap prisoners that each mutual side wishes freed. But in this case, Israel gets Pollard but what does the U.S. get? Nothing. So where is the motivation for the U.S. to agree? More cloud cuckoo land stuff.
But the Forward raises some interesting issues regarding what might be Barghouti’s political role in Palestinian politics should Hamas fall:
…Sources said that while a swap is implausible, Israeli officials are considering the possibility of releasing Barghouti under certain circumstances. Barghouti, considered the most popular and charismatic figure in the younger generation of Fatah leadership, was sentenced in 2004 to five consecutive life terms for leading the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and for ordering the murder of Israelis. While in prison, he led Fatah’s parliamentary slate in the Palestinian legislative elections this past January. He is widely seen as the only figure that could regroup Fatah and provide legitimacy to future negotiations with Israel if and when the Hamas government falls.
“Most senior officials in the political system and in the security apparatus realize that at some point, this man will have to be released because he’s probably the only one with whom we could sign an agreement,” said Shlomo Brom, a former top intelligence analyst now serving as a scholar at the congressionally funded United States Institute of Peace. “If the imperative is to bring about the collapse of the Hamas government as soon as possible, then it is also imperative to prepare for the day after.”
I can’t say that I’ve ever felt that Israel had enough foresight or acuity to look on Palestinian politics in such a rigorous or focused way. The idea that someone in Israeli intelligence is actually thinking that freeing Marwan Barghouti might lead to a way out of the current impasse between the Palestinian and Israeli governments seems overdoing it. To my mind, Israel’s calculations are usually much more short-term and therefore short-sighted.
To me this is yet another improbable means for Israel to dream of an alternative to Hamas. Instead of figuring out a way to create a modus vivendi with the new Palestinian government, some spooks in the Shin Bet are betting that Barghouti is the answer to their prayers. Let ‘im loose, sic him on Hamas and let Barghouti clean up the Palestinian mess for Israel. Wouldn’t it be nice if it could be so neat and tidy??
I’d bet that if Israel DID free Barghouti and he did take over the next Palestinian government he would be no pushover for the Israelis. He’d be just as tough a nut for Israel to crack as Hamas only different.