Marwan Barghouti and his fellow Young Guard have beaten the Old Guard decisively in a vote for positions on the Fatah executive committee. Barghouti, in an Israeli prison for allegedly directing terror attacks against Israelis, and his cohort won 13 of 18 positions and half the Old Guard candidates lost. Most prominent among them was Ahmed Qureia, who saw himself as heir apparent to Mahmoud Abbas.
Barghouti’s new role places him in a strong position to assume leadership of Fatah if Abbas falters or retires. That, of course, would require the Israelis to release him from prison. Many Israeli politicians have urged this prospect, among them today Avishay Braverman, a minister in the Israeli government. Given the rightist complexion of the current government that seems unlikely.
If the Israeli government really does believe that Fatah is its last best hope for a real peace partner, then releasing Barghouti is almost a necessity since there are no other leadership candidates who enjoy overwhelming support as he does. As long as it keeps him in prison, analysts and observers of the conflict may justifiably maintain that Israel talks a good game (and little more than that) when it says it supports Fatah.