Tanzim chief Barghouti leads 'peaceful intifada'

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The Independent Online

As the Middle East watches to see whether the ceasefire agreed between Israeli and Palestinian leaders will hold, the key figure on the Palestinian side may not be Yasser Arafat, but the man many believe is manoeuvring to succeed him, Marwan Barghouti.

As the Middle East watches to see whether the ceasefire agreed between Israeli and Palestinian leaders will hold, the key figure on the Palestinian side may not be Yasser Arafat, but the man many believe is manoeuvring to succeed him, Marwan Barghouti.

The 41-year-old, moustachioed Mr Barghouti, as diminutive as Mr Arafat but a generation younger, has contradicted his nominal leader repeatedly in the past few days.

The Palestinian Authority president ordered his security men to implement the ceasefire deal reached at Sharm el-Sheikh. But Mr Barghouti, West Bank leader of Mr Arafat's Fatah party and chief of its armed wing, the Tanzim, has dismissed the agreement and called for the intifada, or uprising, to continue, though he uses the phrase "peaceful intifada", meaning demonstrations rather than armed attacks.

Israeli security sources say the Tanzim chief is leading a "quiet revolt" against 71-year-old Mr Arafat, leading them to question whether the Palestinian leader can deliver a ceasefire. But Mr Barghouti says he too is unable to order Palestinians to stop. The protests are routinely followed by clashes with Israeli soldiers, which led to more than 100 deaths in the past three weeks, nearly all Palestinian.

When Haaretz newspaper questioned whether he had control over the demonstrators, he said: "Israelis don't understand what a popular uprising is ... If I give an order to stop, they will stop? Are you mad?" Nor would he try to persuade them to quit. "We have reached the limit of our patience," he told the newspaper. "You, the Israelis, can't obtain peace without paying a price. You have to choose - either occupation or peace."

The demonstrators were not soldiers "used to obeying orders", Mr Barghouti said. He insisted he was "loyal to the president [Yasser Arafat]", and their relations were "very good". But he added: "We are not soldiers. I am also active in politics."

From a family prominent in the West Bank town of Ramallah since British Mandate days, Mr Barghouti became politically active at Bir Zeit University, where he was president of the students' union.

Jailed and later expelled by Israel for his part in the first intifada from 1987 to 1993, he went to Tunis, where Mr Arafat was then in exile, and he was taken under his wing. But since the Oslo accords and the formation of the Palestinian Authority, he has frequently been critical of the corruption and authoritarianism of Palestinian ruling figures, many of whom were born in the refugee camps and had never lived in Palestine until the 1990s.

The "Oslo class" has been courting diplomatic backing and financial assistance, but Mr Barghouti has been nourishing his support on the streets, using the Tanzim as his power base. The violence that exploded three weeks ago was not only an expression of anger against Israel, but the result of frustration of ordinary Palestinians with their leaders, who accepted a peace process that seemed to benefit few outside their own ranks.

The Tanzim is considered to be responsible for most of the armed attacks on Israeli forces, leading to Israeli demands that the Tanzim be disarmed. But, among Palestinians, Mr Barghouti's standing has been enhanced, possibly at the expense of his main rival to succeed Mr Arafat, Jibril Rajoub, who, as head of the Palestinian Authority's Preventive Security Service, is an "outsider".

Mr Rajoub's job is to promise the Israelis the territories will be calmed, and to respond to their demands for the suppression of radical organisations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But the Tanzim has been forging links with the radicals since the latest round of violence began. Many of its supporters were present at the funeral of a boy killed by arubber-coated bullet in Ramallah this week, and yesterday a demonstration in support of Hamas was held in the town.

Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights campaigner, said: "According to the street, there is a kind of revolt against Mr Arafat from his own movement. Mr Barghouti is challenging the Palestinian Authority. I think it's dangerous."

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