Two senior Israeli officials traded barbs over a proposal to free jailed Palestinian militiaman Marwan Barghouti.
Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer called Sunday for Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for orchestrating terror attacks, to receive clemency so that he might bolster the Palestinian Authority’s flagging peace negotiations team.
Barghouti is a senior member of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction but regularly surpasses him in popularity polls. Fatah has been hard pressed to make progress among fellow Palestinians or in diplomatic contacts with Israel since rival Hamas Islamists took over Gaza last year.
Ben-Eliezer’s proposal was rebuffed publically by Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon.
“We already have two partners,” Ramon told Israel Radio, referring to Abbas and P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. “Such proposals only serve to undermine them.”
Ramon, who is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s senior deputy, said freeing Barghouti is not on the government’s current agenda.