Analysis / Throwing down the gauntlet
Just days ago, Barghouti had promised to support Abbas and not run against him - but even then, his supporters continued gathering the thousands of signatures needed to register an independent candidacy.
Marwan Barghouti's surprise announcement that he plans to run for chairman of the Palestinian Authority sent shock waves throughout the PA leadership.
Barghouti's entry into the race, mere hours before the candidate lists closed, is a severe blow to the status of Fatah's official candidate, Mahmoud Abbas. Just days ago, Barghouti had promised to support Abbas and not run against him - but even then, his supporters continued gathering the thousands of signatures needed to register an independent candidacy.
Not all of Barghouti's supporters backed this turnabout. PA Cabinet Minister Kadoura Fares, one of Barghouti's closest associates, refused to take phone calls, but was apparently deeply upset by the reversal. Another associate, Palestinian legislator Hatem Abdel Kader, said that he would try to persuade Barghouti to withdraw his candidacy so as not to undermine Abbas and the Fatah movement to which Barghouti also belongs.
But others, such as Fatah activist Ziad Abu Ayin, said that Barghouti had no choice but to run after thousands of people begged him to do so.
One widespread explanation among the PA leadership was that Barghouti's attorney had urged him to run as a means of pressuring Israel to release him from prison.
But whatever the reason, Barghouti's candidacy turns him into a key player in the Palestinian leadership. Moreover, his statement that he plans to follow Yasser Arafat's path implies criticism of Abbas. His candidacy is thus the first serious challenge to Abbas' leadership.