From behind the bars
Barghouti's reach extends even as far as Mecca, where Hamas and Fatah were attempting to arrive at agreement this week.
This week the palace of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia became the second most important pilgrimage site in Mecca, after the Kaaba at the Great Mosque, of course. Delegations from the Hamas and the Fatah arrived at the palace on Tuesday, and the holy site was supposed to envelop them in an atmosphere of unity and reconciliation.
However, the details of the agreement that the sides reached even before the start of the summit were formulated far from there, a few kilometers from the city of Ra'anana. Like the "prisoners' document," the draft of the latest unity agreement was born in Wing 3 of the Hadarim Prison, in the cell of the leader of the Tanzim, Marwan Barghouti, the most famous Palestinian prisoner of all. If a unity government does arise in the end, Barghouti's emissaries, Kadoura Fares and attorney Khader Shkirat, will be able to be considered the ushers of the agreement, those who succeeded in bringing Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and Fatah head Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) into a political marriage.
However, none of the Tanzim commander's representatives was given the privilege of being included in the large Fatah delegation that came to Mecca. The PA chairman chose to take along with him to Saudi Arabia opponents of the idea of unity, and left behind Barghouti's close associates. The prevailing assumption in Ramallah is that Abu Mazen preferred to take along the "problematic ones," the troublemakers who are liable afterwards to attack him for having agreed on unity with the Hamas. Another assumption, however, has it that the great suspicion in the movement of the power of Marwan Barghouti and his people motivated many of the heads of the organization to pressure the chairman not to take representatives of the Tanzim leader with him. Barghouti maintained official dignity and did not get excited by the fact that his people were forgotten at home. "Don't worry," he said to them. "If, heaven forbid, the negotiations fail, the role of mediating will be delegated to us another time. In any case, we will yet receive our recompense."
The shoe war
Many Fatah people are not keen on the status of "supreme neutral leader" that Barghouti has taken on himself of late. Only on Wednesday he issued a statement by means of his attorney that "The Palestinian people will not forgive any element that causes the talks in Mecca to fail. Nor will history take pity on him," without emphasizing the camp to which he belongs. The disgruntlement was already manifested at the beginning of the week, at a meeting of members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, the organization's leadership. The commander of General Intelligence, Tawfiq Tirawi, who lost many of his people in battles with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, requested the floor. He harshly attacked Fares, Shkirat and their associates, but in the opinion of many people in the hall, his remarks were really aimed at Marwan Barghouti. "Senior people in the movement have decided to join the Red Cross," he said. He criticized "the mediators" between Hamas and Fatah, who choose to "join hands with Hamas people and march with them hand in hand to Manara Square," hinting at Jibril Rajoub, of Ramallah.
Rajoub interrupted Tirawi, saying to those present, "I think I'm being talked about," and requested the floor. At this stage, as was reported this week in the mass-circulation daily Maariv, Tirawi shouted, Rajoub answered him back and the commander of General Intelligence took off his shoes and threw them at Rajoub, who has been the bane of his existence for many years now. "This is your present for having forgotten the deaths of the children of the Ba'alousha family," Tirawai shouted at Rajoub, referring to the children of one of his officers who were murdered in December, apparently, by armed men from the Hamas. "In Gaza there is a civil war raging, and in Ramallah there is a shoe war," one of those present at the quarrel told Haaretz.
However, despite the worry in Fatah about the increasing strength of the Barghouti camp, both inside and outside the organization, the Tanzim commander is successfully demonstrating what leadership is at a time when it has become a rare commodity. After having both led the first intifada and initiated the second, Barghouti is focusing his activity from prison on the intra-Palestinian plane, and finds that he is being asked to express an opinion before "important diplomatic moves."
Relative to that of a prisoner behind bars, but also relative to that of any top Palestinian, his involvement is extensive. For example, on the morning of the meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas last December, advisor to the PA chairman Akram Hanieh was sent to the prison to ask Barghouti whether the chairman should set out for Olmert's residence in Jerusalem or not. Marwan gave his blessing. The latest unity agreement was born at the end of November, with the failure of the "government of technocrats" initiative. A few days later, the first firing incidents between Fatah and Hamas began in Gaza, and Barghouti realized that Hamas saw in the proposal to appoint an independent prime minister an admission of the organization's failure, and that there was an urgent need for a unity government. Therefore he decided to propose to Hamas that it continue to hold the prime ministership, and in return the most senior portfolios - finance, interior and foreign affairs - would be put into the hands of independent figures. In addition, all the diplomatic negotiating authority would be put into the hands of the Palestine Liberation Organization institutions, with the "prisoners' document" as the basis for the government's platform.
Meshal gave a positive answer, in principle, to Barghouti's proposal, and Akram Hanieh was to have persuaded Abu Mazen to agree to the new formulation, but in the meantime the shooting started again in Gaza and the PA chairman listened to the advice of senior PLO people who negated the idea of unity.
Barghouti did not give up. During a lull in the Fatah-Hamas battles about a month and half ago, his people met with Muhammad Rashid, Yasser Arafat's economic advisor, who, together with Ziyad Abu Amar, the candidate for foreign minister, became the main mediator between Meshal and Mahmoud Abbas. About a month ago Rashid paid a historic visit to Ramallah, during which he presented Abu Mazen with the details of the agreement he had reached with Meshal. There were only a few disagreements remaining, but Abu Mazen was not convinced that Meshal's intentions were serious.
Feeling of urgency
The latest round of battles in Gaza and the grave violence gave Abbas and Meshal the feeling of urgency and the realization that war between the organizations isn't going to serve anybody. Abbas understood that he would not be able to hold elections or continue with the civil strife. Though he will have to accept Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister of the unity government, at least the threat to his life will be lifted for a while.
As of Thursday morning, it was not yet known whether the Hamas and the Fatah delegations would reach an agreement in Mecca. But even if a unity government does arise, it is clear that now it will not meet the demand of the Quartet to recognize Israel. Will the economic boycott of the PA continue? Possible, though it is hard to envision a scenario in which Salam Fayed, the darling of the Americans and the Israelis, will serve as finance minister while at the same time the United States is demanding that monies not be transferred to the new government.
Apart from the issue of the siege, a far more basic question is hovering: Will a Palestinian unity government succeed in stopping the violence between the organizations, to which must be added the tens of thousands of armed men in the Gaza Strip who do not listen to the commands of Hamas, Fatah or Barghouti, and who want above all to preserve the interests of the clans to which they belong? On Tuesday evening, when the truce was at its height, a Hamas activist was shot and killed by armed men from the Durmush clan. The negotiations in Mecca, the truce and the unity government did not interest the clan. They wanted blood revenge for the killing of two members of the family by Hamas people more than a month ago.
The incident in Gaza is just one example of what is liable to happen there even if if a unity government does arise. The distance from here to the renewal of the battles between Hamas and Fatah will be very short, and even the prisoner in his cell at Hadarim Prison will find it difficult to stop the next outbreak of violence.