As the Palestinian Authority election campaign draws to a close, no
candidate can have campaigned harder - or made greater impact - than the
independent civil society activist Mustafa Barghouti.
He has emerged from a pack of six as the most notable challenger to Mahmoud
Abbas, and claims, in some districts, to have even edged ahead of the PLO
chairman and Fatah candidate.
Mr Barghouti has pledged to organise a major peace summit if he wins
"I feel proud to be the leader of a democratic trend doing something that
hasn't been done for 1,000 years here in the Arab world, challenging the
existing authority in free elections," he told a press conference at the
beginning of the last day of campaigning.
Among his other feats, he counts coalition-building between his Palestinian
National Accord movement and radical parties such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and speaking
for the "silent majority" of Palestinians he says are not represented by the
existing Arafat-Abbas regime or the Islamists of Hamas.
He pledges to end corruption, use PA resources more effectively and deal
with Israel not through faltering interim agreements but with a major
international peace effort like the Madrid summit of 1991.
A large crowd of journalists has gathered at an East Jerusalem hotel to hear
him, and there is some excitement because a rumour is going round he will go to the al-Aqsa mosque later for Friday prayers.
I had arranged with his campaign headquarters to spend the whole day with Mr
Barghouti, to get a candidate's-eye view of this election.
So, after the press conference, I was bundled into a four-wheel drive for the next
We sped along the steep, winding streets at breakneck speed to another hotel
on the Mount of Olives for a meeting with former US President Jimmy Carter,
who is here to monitor the elections.
"Dr Mustafa's chauffeurs are all ambulance drivers," explains Pamela Olson,
the candidate's foreign press liaison officer, as we are thrown from side to
side in the back of the vehicle.
Israel said Mr Barghouti had violated an agreement not to visit the al-Aqsa mosque
The meeting with Mr Carter takes about 15 minutes - time for the press corps to
catch up with us.
When the candidate emerges, he claps his
hands together and says: "Right, we are going to the mosque."
It is meant to be the photo-opportunity highlight of the day - but the
Israeli security services have other ideas.
As Mr Barghouti's car reached an Israeli police barrier about 200m
from al-Aqsa, he was stopped by the officers on duty.
Within moments an unmarked pick-up truck carrying plain-clothes officers
arrived and, after a short exchange of words, Mr Barghouti was arrested.
Although Sunday's election includes East Jerusalem, Israel - which has
occupied the east half of city since 1967 and claims it all as its exclusive
capital - has set tough restrictions on Palestinian election activity there.
Candidates must take permission from the Israeli authorities to campaign there. Only a few electors are being allowed to cast "absentee" ballots at post offices and the rest must vote outside Jerusalem's boundaries.
The last time Mr Barghouti came here to campaign he was arrested for not
This time permission had been granted - until 1400 that
day - but it seems that going to al-Aqsa mosque was not part of the deal.
So the campaign team relocates to outside the Russian Compound police
station, where Mr Barghouti was taken last time.
Eventually, news came from his lawyers that the candidate was not being brought to the Russian Compound, but was being expelled from Jerusalem to the
West Bank instead.
In truth, Mr Barghouti's programme was not unduly affected by the detention,
because his next engagement was not scheduled until 1330.
I could be wrong, but that - rather conveniently - left ample time for his
headline-grabbing brush with the Israelis before moving on to meet the
Reunited with his team at the Dahiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem, the Barghouti bandwagon heads for Abu Dis - a Palestinian residential area East of Jerusalem through which the West Bank barrier runs - and then south to villages around Hebron.
It's the first chance I get to see him interact with the voting public, or
at least the male voting public, as there is hardly a female face here except
for foreign election observers and campaign workers.
Palestinians certainly make a tough audience. These are people who have
heard so many promises from politicians and yet their lives under military
occupation seem to get inexorably worse.
But some of the candidate's message gets through at the Abu Dis meeting -
despite the sporadic chanting and flag-waving displays from a group of young
PFLP supporters in the hall.
"Nothing has changed for the last 10 years under our leadership, so we need
new leaders... like Mustafa Barghouti," says Adel Jaffal in Abu Dis.
"He has a reasonable programme and he has a good chance of being able to
On to Beit Ummar and Sureef - large but out-of-the-way agricultural
communities that no candidate has visited yet in five weeks of campaigning.
There is a party atmosphere. Dozens of young boys pushing and shoving.
Enthusiastic clapping at Mr Barghouti's policies.
Mr Barghouti's day of campaigning ended with media interviews
It's after 1700 and getting dark when we leave. A group of Fatah supporters
arrive and chant Mr Abbas's nom de guerre, "Abu Ma-zen, Abu Ma-zen", as we
At his last stop in Hebron, Mr Barghouti meets the widow of Marwan Zalloum, a
well-known Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades commander killed by the Israelis there, to whom he promises
support for her campaign to get state pensions for families such as hers.
Nearly 12 hours after his first press conference of the day, the candidate
rounds off with two final TV interviews in Ramallah's Muqata compound - with
the BBC and CNN - before returning to campaign HQ.
Before getting in the car, he says a prayer at the grave of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whose death on 11 November triggered these elections to find
Given the decades-old dominance of the Fatah in Palestinian politics, very few people give Mr Barghouti a chance of succeeding Arafat.
But, as he said several times on the campaign trail, he feels he has won
Either he is elected president of the Palestinian Authority, Mr Barghouti says, or he emerges
the leader of a vibrant and confident opposition.