Can Marwan Barghouti, the ‘Palestinian Mandela’, bring peace to Gaza?

© Abbas Momani, AFP

Hamas has said that the group would only release all 240 Israeli hostages held in Gaza if Israel agrees to free all Palestinian prisoners. Among those locked up is Marwan Barghouti, sentenced to life imprisonment in 2004 for deadly attacks against Israelis. For many Palestinians, their “Nelson Mandela” is a leader-in-waiting.

After the gruesome attacks on October 7 that killed 1,400 Israelis and saw 240 men, women and children taken hostage by Hamas, a spokesman for the group’s military wing stated that the “price to pay” for the return of hostages was to “empty [Israeli] prisons of all Palestinian prisoners”.

Marwan Barghouti, nicknamed “Palestine’s Nelson Mandela”, is one of the most famous among them. Arrested by Israeli forces in 2002, the former leader of Tanzim, a militant faction of Fatah, was sentenced to five life terms in prison for multiple accounts of murder and membership of a terrorist organisation.

“Every time there’s an internal crisis or a flare-up with Israel, his name comes up,” said Jean-Paul Chagnollaud, head of the Institut de Recherche et d'études Méditerranée Moyen-Orient (iReMMO), a Paris-based think tank.

In recent years, Barghouti has emerged in Palestinian polls as the most popular figure among young people, far ahead of Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

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