Convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti, who last week announced he may run in the Palestinian presidential elections as an independent candidate but 24 hours later withdrew his bid, struck a deal with Fatah that may make him the PA vice president and would ensure Fatah launches a campaign to secure his release, a senior Palestinian source told WorldNetDaily.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “[interim PA President Mahmoud] Abbas has the popularity within the Fatah Revolutionary Council to be nominated as their presidential candidate. Barghouti doesn’t. But Abbas needs the backing of the street to carry out his policies, and Barghouti can bring this for him.”

The source said in exchange for his last-minute agreement not to run for PA President, Barghouti would be nominated by Abbas as a vice president of the PA, and Fatah would launch a large-scale campaign to secure Barghouti’s release from Israeli prison.

“Fatah is preparing to launch a pressure campaign to have Barghouti released that will coincide with the upcoming PA elections,” said the source.

Reports had listed Barghouti, who was recently sentenced in Israel to five life terms for planning gun ambushes and a suicide bombing, and is a founder of the terror group Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, as the widely favored candidate for PA president, and his bid to run in the Jan. 9 election would have posed a major challenge to Abbas, who does not enjoy widespread popular approval.

The deal now makes Abbas, who is part of the “old guard” establishment of the Palestinian leadership that returned to Gaza from Tunis with Arafat, the front-runner in the upcoming elections. While Abbas has the backing of the Fatah legislative council, he is widely disliked by the younger generation of Fatah activists, who favor Barghouti.

The source would not elaborate on the specific strategy of Fatah to campaign for Barghouti’s release, but his appointment as vice president could itself lead to increased international pressure on Israel to release Barghouti in the immediate future.

Israeli officials have said they may release several jailed Palestinians as a “goodwill gesture” toward the future PA leadership. Even with most in Jerusalem officially dismissing the possibility of releasing Barghouti, Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz said, “We are looking for a partner for the Gaza withdrawal. It seems that this will have to include releasing prisoners … [perhaps even] including Barghouti.”

There have been talks in diplomatic circles of a three-way prisoner exchange deal that would release Barghouti, and also involve America releasing Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard and Egypt freeing imprisoned Israeli textile engineer Azzam Azzam.

In an explosive development last week, Pollard told WorldNetDaily Israel has held clandestine meetings with Barghouti throughout the Palestinian leader’s imprisonment, and has been grooming Barghouti as a candidate to succeed the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

In a speech delivered on his behalf at a Jerusalem rally, Pollard claimed, “Officially, Israel insists it will never free Marwan Bargouhti. He is a murderer sentenced to multiple life sentences. Freeing him, they claim, would undermine the rule of law. Unofficially, sources, including one very close to the prime minister, admit that Israel has been grooming Barghouti in prison to be the next leader of the Palestinian people.”

Pollard says that “when news of the proposed three-way deal broke, my close contacts began to investigate, and learned important things from reliable sources in the U.S. and Israel.”

Pollard told WorldNetDaily he is “completely opposed” to the possibility of being released from prison in a deal that would also release Barghouti, whom he refers to as “a mass murderer of Jews.”

Barghouti is serving multiple life terms for his role in the killings of four Israelis and a Greek monk. Israeli security sources also tell WorldNetDaily Barghouti was one of the architects of the current intifada, the terrorist war waged on Israel after Arafat, at Camp David in 2000, turned down an offer of a Palestinian State in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Barghouti has been arrested and jailed several times, including a four-year stint that began in 1978 for planning terror attacks against Israelis. He was arrested again in 1985 before being deported to Jordan in 1987, where Israel says he played a key role in starting the first Palestinian intifada.

Barghouti was among hundreds of Palestinian deportees allowed to return to the West Bank upon the signature of the Palestinian-Israeli interim Oslo peace accords in 1993. But Israel says he continued to plot several Palestinian attacks, and was instrumental in the founding and supporting of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terrorist group that carried out many suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.

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