[Barghouti is viewed by many as the natural leader of the Palestinians and has probably been imprisoned for that reason.  He supports peaceful solutions to the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts. This might represent a real breakthrough. Ed Kent]

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Sep 25, 2007 11:12 | Updated Sep 25, 2007 14:44
Ben-Eliezer calls to exchange Barghouti for Schalit
By JPOST.COM STAFF AND AP

Israel’s planned release of 90 Palestinian prisoners has been pushed back until early next week, the Israeli Prisons Authority said Tuesday, citing “technical reasons” for the delay. Succot begins on Wednesday, and many government offices will be closed.

In a statement, the Prisons Authority said the prisoners would be freed on Monday.

Meanwhile, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on Tuesday proposed releasing former Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti in exchange for kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit, saying that Barghouti could be the next leader of the Palestinians.

“We need to break the cycle,” Ben-Eliezer said in an interview with Army Radio. “Freeing Barghouti could start a process that would succeed in both moving the diplomatic negotiations forward and in freeing Schalit.”

He added that until now, there have been no positive developments in the Schalit case.

Explaining his view, Ben-Eliezer said: “[PA President Mahmoud] Abbas has not delivered anything just yet, and [PA Prime Minister] Salaam Fayad is a well-respected man, but these two gentlemen are just not enough. Releasing Barghouti will help strengthen them.”

On the other hand, Ben-Eliezer said Barghouti was also “well-respected by Hamas. For us he might be a murderer, but I’d like to remind you that Arafat was no less of a murderer, and we approached him as well.”

MK Effi Eitam (NU/NRP), however, opposed the idea, calling Barghouti an “arch-murderer” who did not deserve to be freed.

“That’s great. Let’s see you standing in front of IDF soldiers’ parents who trust and support us, and tell them how an arch-murderer is now Israel’s new hope for peace,” Eitam said. “There is nothing more hallucinatory and fraudulent than this.”

Environment Minister Gideon Ezra brought up the possibility of releasing Barghouti at a cabinet meeting earlier this year, at which time it was decided that because of the political sensitivity of the issue, it would have to be discussed at the security cabinet level.

In April, The Jerusalem Post learned that senior Palestinian officials were opposed to Barghouti’s release.

The Palestinian concern was that Barghouti’s release at this stage from prison would spoil his image and foil Fatah’s plans to run him at the top of its ticket in the next elections.

Barghouti, the Palestinians believed, was extremely popular on the Palestinian street due primarily to his imprisonment.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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