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Leaders of Belgium's parliament nominate Marwan Barghouti for Nobel Peace Prize

May 18, 2016 10:58 P.M. (Updated: May 19, 2016 4:44 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Leading members of Belgium’s parliament from across the national political spectrum nominated Marwan Barghouti for the Nobel Peace Prize on Wednesday, referring to the imprisoned parliament member as the “Palestinian Mandela” and a symbol of peace in Palestine.

“Peace requires the freedom of Marwan Barghouti and all of the political prisoners, and more generally the freedom of the Palestinian people living for decades under occupation,” the nomination letter sent to the Norwegian Nobel Committee stated.

“By granting the Nobel Peace Prize to someone who embodies the Palestinian people's struggle for freedom, but also their aspiration to achieve peace, a leader who can unite Palestinians around a political project that clearly includes a two-state solution on 1967 borders, more threatened than ever by colonization and the absence of a political horizon, the Committee for the Nobel Prize would be helping to resurrect the indispensable hope of creating a way out of the current [political] impasse.”

The statement continued with references to the Robben Island Declaration for the Freedom of Marwan Barghouti and all Palestinian Prisoners, launched by the veteran South African politician, Ahmed Kathrada, and signed by eight Nobel Peace Prize recipients inside Nelson Mandela’s old prison cell on Robben Island in 2013. The organizers and attendees sought to refocus the world’s attention on the plight of Palestinians and call for the release of Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel.

Referring to Barghouti's “unique position among Palestinians and on the international stage,” the parliament members quoted the Robben Island Declaration and called the political prisoner “a symbol of the Palestinian people’s quest for freedom, a uniting figure and an advocate of peace based on international law.”

The Belgian Parliament members' decision marked the third nomination Barghouti has received since the start of this year, with nominations coming from former Nobel Peace Prize recipient Adolfo Perez Esquivel -- an artist and leading figure of the struggle against Latin American dictatorships -- and the Arab Parliament following an unanimous decision to nominate the imprisoned politician.

The campaign to buttress Barghouti as a potential nominee for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize was launched in April and included the participation of various Palestinian rights groups, parliament members and party officials, who aimed to draw attention to the 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners currently held in Israeli prisons.

Earlier in April, the Tunisian Human Rights League gave the Nobel Peace Prize won by the country’s National Dialogue Quartet last year to Barghouti, handing the award to his wife Fadwa Barghouti in a ceremony at the Palestinian embassy in Tunisia.

The Tunisian parliament has also reportedly expressed its support for the Palestinian politician’s nomination.

Barghouti, a leading politician in the Fatah party, entered the 15th year of his prison sentence this year.

After being detained in 2002, he was later handed five consecutive life sentences after Israeli authorities charged him with the founding of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a group Israel designates as a “terrorist” organization, and being involved in several murders during the Second Palestinian Intifada, charges he has consistently denied.

The imprisoned parliament member was politically active for several decades before being elected to parliament in 1996. However, he ascended to prominence as a powerful leader against Israeli military occupation amid the political upheaval of the Second Intifada.

He has remained politically active from behind bars, including assisting in the drafting of the Mecca agreement in 2007, which paved the way for a unity government aimed at ending internal political conflict in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Barghouti remains one of the most popular politicians in Palestine, receiving a wide range of support among various political factions. Many see him as an indispensable component of hope for the possibilities of obtaining a viable peace process and a renewed unification throughout the Palestinian political landscape.

As a result of the widespread respect held for Barghouti, the politician was named a strong contender for President Mahmoud Abbas’ replacement, as a recent poll revealed Barghouti having more popular support than any other politician as a potential presidential replacement, and the only Fatah member to receive more support than Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh, according to a survey conducted this year by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, while the majority of those polled supported the resignation of Abbas.

The nomination letter included a quote from an article Barghouti wrote for the Guardian last year in order to highlight the political prisoner’s commitment to peace and the ending of the Israeli occupation: “I joined the struggle for Palestinian independence 40 years ago, and was first imprisoned at the age of 15. This did not prevent me from pleading for peace in accordance with international law and UN resolutions. … I have spent 20 years of my life in Israeli jails, including the past 13 years, and these years have made me even more certain of this unalterable truth: the last day of occupation will be the first day of peace.”

Israeli forces routinely detain Palestinians for their political opinions in an attempt to disrupt and suppress the Palestinian political process. The several thousand Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons are being held in contravention to international law and despite Israeli court rulings stating that no person can be detained for their political views, according to the Palestinian prisoners' rights group Addameer.
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