Egyptian Official: Israelis Might Free Barghouti in Future

Senior Egyptian involved in negotiations says that unlike Barghouti, Israel was adamant that Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader, Ahmed Saadat, not be let go.

Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti appearing in court in Tel Aviv in 2002.
Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti appearing in court in Tel Aviv in 2002. Archive / AP

Marwan Barghouti, the head of Fatah's Tanzim armed wing, will not be among the Palestinian prisoners freed in the Shalit deal, but a senior Egyptian official involved in the negotiations said Israel had not ruled out his release in the future.

"They talked about a decision that would have to be reached in the inner cabinet, and the international situation that might be suitable for such a move," the official said.

Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti appearing in court in Tel Aviv in 2002.
Archive / AP

He said that in contrast to Barghouti, the Israelis were adamant that the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmed Saadat, would not be let go. Saadat helped organize the killing of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001. Saadat has been on a hunger strike for 19 days, and his family has appealed to the international community.

Barghouti's long-time attorney, Elias Sabag, met with his client Sunday in the Hadarim prison. "Marwan heard about the deal in the media and wasn't aware of the details," Sabag said. "He clarified that throughout the negotiations no one consulted with him and no offer to free him was ever made."

Sabag said Barghouti welcomes the deal because it guarantees the release of 1,000 Palestinians, but that a close analysis shows that many of the prisoners to be freed in the second phase were about to be let go anyway.

Others were sentenced to short terms and others are criminal, not political, prisoners. Meanwhile, there are dozens of prisoners with life sentences still behind bars after 20 or 25 years. "I can't see any of them being freed in the near future, and that's a shame," Sabag quoted Barghouti as saying.

Qadura Fares, a PLO official and director of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, also criticized the deal because it does not include senior political leaders. "It's a mixture of joy and a missed opportunity," he said. "I'm happy that a thousand prisoners are being freed, but I feel that it's a missed opportunity that many political leaders - both local and military commanders - will remain in prison despite promises to the contrary."

Mahmoud al-Zahar, a top Hamas official, rejected the criticism. "Fatah and the Palestinian Authority cannot criticize the deal. Some time ago Abu Mazen offered to free Shalit in exchange for the removal of the Gaza blockade, without setting free even one prisoner," he told the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "Of course, we rejected that idea."