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Can Marwan Barghouti Be the Palestinian Nelson Mandela?

A well-known and widely respected Palestinian leader might soon be released from an Israeli prison as part of a ceasefire deal with Hamas. A look at his record – including the leadership he has shown from behind bars – suggests that he could well be the key to reviving the two-state solution.

RAMALLAH – Hamas leaders have declared that any ceasefire deal in Gaza must include the release of Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader who has been in an Israeli prison since 2002. In fact, Barghouti might be the key to more than a ceasefire; he may well be the best hope of reviving the two-state solution.

Now 64 years old, Barghouti has been a member of Fatah, the dominant faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), since he was a teenager. He co-founded Fatah’s shabiba (youth movement) decades ago, before rising to lead the Tanzim, Fatah’s grassroots cadres that uphold the organization’s local-level leadership. Though he has spent more than two decades in an Israeli prison, he remains well-known and widely respected among Palestinians.

I first met Barghouti in the 1980s with my cousin, Mubarak Awad, an advocate of nonviolent activism. Given his interest in the effectiveness of nonviolent struggle, Barghouti had been given the Arabic edition of Nonviolent Soldier of Islam, a translated biography of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, an ally of Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian independence movement. Barghouti was keen to learn not only about Khan, but about anyone, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., who might offer useful insights into how to achieve Palestinian liberation.