A Palestinian official who is close to President Mahmoud Abbas paid a visit to jailed Marwan al-Barghouti, a prominent Fatah leader detained by Israel, to discuss the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
Minister of Civilian Affairs and member of the Fatah Central Committee, Hussein al-Sheikh was granted permission by Israel to visit Barghouti.
Israeli media said the approval was exceptional given the current security and health conditions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
It reported that Sheikh was seeking to persuade Barghouti against running in the presidential polls, set for July, amid statements from his associates that he was bidding for the presidency.
Should he run, he would face off against Abbas, who is reportedly vying for reelection. The president has yet to declare his nomination.
Barghouti, himself, has yet to announce his candidacy. He had previously bid for the presidency in 2005, running against Abbas, before withdrawing from the race.
His associates confirmed that he was determined to run again this year, viewing himself as a “rightful” candidate, or because it is his only way out of jail.
He is currently serving a life sentence after Israel convicted him of planning deadly attacks against Israelis during the Second Intifada.
In theory, no one in Fatah could pose a challenge to Abbas, except Barghouti, who is widely popular in the movement, especially among the youth.
Barghouti, 61, hails from the village of Kobar in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He has been imprisoned by Israel since 2002, serving five life sentences, for leading Fatah’s military wing and killing Israelis during the Second Intifada that erupted in 2000.
Fatah is seeking to reach an agreement with Barghouti on all aspects of the elections, in acknowledgement of his influence.
Officials within Fatah believe that electing a detainee held by Israel is not at all practical, regardless of his stature. To that end, it is expected that the movement would offer Barghouti to lead its electoral list in the parliamentary elections or perhaps even help in selecting its candidates in exchange for abandoning his presidential ambitions.