Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti submitted Wednesday evening an independent list of parliamentary candidates to the Central Election Commision of the Palestinian Authority, in a major shake-up to the Palestinian political map in the upcoming May election.
At the top of the slate, called "Freedom," will be Dr. Nasser Al-Qudwa, nephew of Yasser Arafat. Al-Qudwa was expelled from Fatah this month after announcing his intention to run independently. In second place will be Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan Barghouti's wife.
Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences and another 40 years in an Israeli prison for his involvement in murders and terror attacks in the second intifada. Due to his imprisonment, the decision to turn in the election is a symbolic act, and the slate will be managed by its other members.
Al-Qudwa and Barghouti agreed Wednesday morning on a joint run. The announcement is an official declaration of a major split in Fatah and a challenge to its current leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, and his supporters from the movement's veterans.
In the hours following the statement, many Fatah activists have announced their support for Barghouti.
Unlike the removal of Al-Qudwa from Fatah's central committee, no action has yet been taken against Barghouti in fear that such a move would only increase tensions and further reduce support for Abbas.
Associates of Barghouti told Haaretz that his decision to run in the parliamentary election was made to prepare the ground for another announcement – that he will run for Palestinian president in July. The motive for the declaration, they said, stemmed from policy disagreements with Fatah and Abbas, including the PA's Israel policy and a disconnect with the Palestinian street.
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Before his imprisonment, Barghouti was previously known as the commander of the Tanzim, a militant faction of Fatah. After his arrest in 2002, during Israel's Operation Defenseive Shield, he was prosecuted, acquitted of 32 charges but ultimately convicted for the murder of four people.
His former political home, Fatah, has sought to persuade Barghouti not to run, while rival factions have attempted to lure the popular prisoner onto their slate.
President Abbas announced earlier this year that Palestinians will head to the polls for the first elections in more than a decade. After May's parliamentary elections, presidential elections are set for July.
Though Parliament members and presidents are voted in for four-year terms, this year's vote would be the first parliamentary elections in 14 years and first presidential ones in 15.