Now Marwan Barghouti's freedom is at stake in cease-fire negotiations between Hamas and Israel. Hamas leaders demanded Friday that Israel release Barghouti, a leader of the militant group's main political rival, as part of any deal to end the fighting in Gaza.
The demand brings new attention to Barghouti, who plays a central role in Palestinian politics even after spending more than two decades behind bars. His release could lay the groundwork for his eventual election to national office.
Hamas' gambit to free him appears to be an attempt to rally public support for the militant group as well as a recognition of his status as a uniquely unifying Palestinian figure.
“Hamas wants to show to the Palestinian people that they are not a closed movement. They represent part of the Palestinian social community. They are trying to seem responsible,” said Qadoura Fares, who heads the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoner Affairs in the occupied West Bank and has long been involved in negotiations over prisoner releases.
Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan called for Barghouti's release as international mediators try to push Israel and Hamas toward an agreement after nearly four months of war.
Israel is seeking the release of more than 100…