Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Did anyone notice this item from earlier in the week on the proposed prisoner swap deal with Hizbullah?
I keep my eye out (to the extent I can) for news about Barghouti. Barghouti was, at one time, a favored "successor" name of Israelis interested in a deal with the Palestinians. He is a native Palestinian, not an exile. He has street cred from his time in Israeli jails. And he has for a number of years advocated a two-state solution (albeit he has not actually said the so-called "right of return" is a dead letter, or even negotiable). Many hard-headed but deal-minded Israelis considered him the most plausible next-generation leader of the Palestinians, a rare individual who might have the credibility to close a deal and the interest in doing so.
Then, in 2000, he was front and center in supporting Arafat's new intifadah, the campaign of murder that continues today under the auspices of Fatah as well as Hamas and Jihad Islami. As a consequence of his support for Arafat's terror war, Barghouti was arrested by the IDF last year, and is in the process of being tried for conspiracy to commit murder.
Now, when he was first arrested, there was a lot of speculation as to *why* Israel decided to arrest him. If he was certainly compromised by involvement in the terror campaign, then Arafat was equally or more so. Was his arrest an attempt to signal Arafat? And if he was viewed as a possible successor to Arafat, then why remove him from the game? Or (as DEBKA speculated at the time) was this part of a complicated plot to both increase his street cred and remove him from the field of battle as Israel waged war on the terror groups?
No scenario was terribly satisfying, and some speculated that the Israelis were making things up as they went along - that they had no plan to arrest Barghouti but, having captured him inadvertently, they could hardly just let him go, and they certainly couldn't kill him.
So now the rumor is that he's to be part of the prisoner exchange with Hizbullah. There are a few interesting things about this prospect.
For one thing, if Barghouti still has stature among the Palestinians (and all evidence is he does), then his release represents a big coup by Hizbullah. Why would Israel want to grant them such a coup?
Relatedly, if Israel was planning to build Barghouti up as an alternative to Arafat, what does trading him to Hizbullah portend? An end to that strategy? Or is Israel actually contemplating bringing Hizbullah into the circle of legitimate players in the territories?
Most importantly, this is a warning to those who, like me, have advocated the trial and conviction of Arafat for conspiracy to commit murder. Israel is in danger of demonstrating yet again that its assertions of serious, criminal behavior ultimately amount to politics. If Israel really wanted to ultimately make a deal with Barghouti, they should never have put him on trial. If they now trade him away with Hizbullah, they've given him - and Hizbullah - the kind of credibility they don't need, and they've damaged Israeli justice and Israel's deterrent in the process.