The Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai on Monday called for the release of jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian resistance fighters last year.Barghouthi is the most prominent Palestinian being held by Israel in its detention camps. He is a leader within the Fateh party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and was the founder of the Al-Aqsa Brigades, the armed wing of that party. He has widespread support among the Palestinian people, and was a top candidate for the presidency during the last election, until he dropped out before the election took place. An Israeli court convicted him to several life sentences for alleged involvement in ‘terrorist acts’ against Israel.
The current talk of a prisoner ‘swap’ between Israel and the Palestinian resistance involves the release of the one Israeli held by Palestinian resistance fighters in exchange for several hundred of the 10,000 Palestinians being held by Israel. "I am willing to do much to free a soldier like Gilad so he can return home," said Defense Minister Matan Vilnai on Monday. He said that the Palestinians would likely demand the release of Barghouthi as part of any prisoner swap deal, and, “if necessary”, he would allow for Barghouthi’s release.
Other Israeli officials have also come out in support of releasing Barghouthi. Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is among those who have approved of Barghouthi’s release.
But others, including Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, oppose the release of Barghouthi. Said Dichter in a Cabinet meeting on Monday, “He is to remain in prison to his last day on Earth."