Hamas’ leadership demanded the release of Marwan Barghouti on February 2nd as mediators push for a peace agreement in Gaza, according to AP.
Seen as a notorious terrorist in Israel, convincing the country’s authorities to consider his release will be challenging. However, many Palestinians consider Barghouti a freedom fighter and a prime candidate to become their future president.
A militant leader in the occupied West Bank during the second Palestinian intifada, in the early 2000s, Barghouti is serving five life sentences for his role in deadly suicide bombings and shootings on Israelis during the period.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faces immense domestic pressure to secure the release of over 100 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza, having been captured during their October 7th attack on Israel. Hamas demands an end to Israel’s military campaign and the release of thousands of Palestinians currently held in Israeli jails, including Barghouti.
Over 100 of Hamas’ hostages were released during a week long true in November, with an estimated 136 still in captivity. However, 20 of the hostages have already been pronounced dead, some by indiscriminate Israeli fire.
With domestic protests, demanding the government secure the hostages’ release, pressure is mounting on Netanyahu to come to the table with Hamas.
Since his 2002 arrest, Barghouti has maintained a high profile, registering for parliamentary elections from behind bars, and leading over 1,500 of his fellow prisoners in a 40-day hunger strike, while calling for reform within the Israeli prison system.
Many Palestinians see Barghouti as a natural successor to the 88-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who leads the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority, that administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
A recent opinion poll showed the imprisoned leader to be the most popular politician among Palestinians, ahead of both Abbas and Hamas’ leader, Ismail Haniyeh. With past demands for Barghouti’s release denied, a future deal could lay the groundwork for his eventual election to national office.