Fatah seeks rejuvenation
Bethlehem, August 9, 2009
The congress of the leading Palestinian party, Fatah, voted on Sunday for a new executive body and assembly filled with fresh faces to regain the lost trust of the Palestinian people.
The movement led by the late Yasser Arafat for 40 years wants to shed a reputation for corruption and cronyism that led in 2006 to a stunning election loss to its Islamist rival Hamas, which opposes peace with Israel.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in a civil war a year later, splitting the Palestinian independence movement.
Ninety-six candidates, six of them women, are standing for election to the 21-member central committee and 617 party members, including 50 women, will vie for the 80 places open in a 128-seat Revolutionary Council, the body's parliament.
Voting by secret ballot for these positions was launched on Sunday afternoon in a process expected to take at least 10 hours. Tabulating results could take about a day.
Delegates passed a motion earlier reaffirming that 'the aim of Fatah as a liberation movement is to end the Israeli occupation and achieve independence for the Palestinian people in a state with East Jerusalem as its capital'.
'Despite our commitment to the option of a just peace and our efforts to accomplish it, we will not drop any options and we believe resistance in all its forms is a legitimate right of occupied peoples in confronting their occupiers,' it said.
The congress of 2,355 delegates in Bethlehem -- Fatah's first in 20 years -- began last Tuesday, marked by reformists' charges of vote-buying and nepotism by the 'old guard'.
If stalled peace talks with Israel resume, Fatah's leader, the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, will be Israel's main interlocutor, a position Hamas is certain to continue challenging whatever the convention's outcome.
Holding its first meeting on Palestinian soil in 44 years of existence is part of Fatah's efforts to underpin Abbas's personal authority as the voice of all Palestinians.
Abbas would create a Palestinian state alongside Israel, roughly along borders created by the 1967 Middle East war.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak deplored Fatah's anti-Israel rhetoric but stressed that 'it must be understood there is no Middle East solution other than a comprehensive, broad settlement including us and the Palestinians'.
Abbas, 74, won unanimous endorsement by a show of hands on Saturday, telling the congress it must mark a new beginning.
'We've had many launches and setbacks. Sometimes we have reached the edge of the abyss but we have always emerged stronger,' he said to applause.
All eyes were on the competition for leadership places by members of the younger generation of Fatah members, who say the top ranks of the movement are long overdue for an overhaul. But expectations must not be too high, Fatah veteran and Central Committee candidate Sami Musallam said.
'The chance of new faces coming into the Central Committee, I believe, are pretty slim. However I expect new faces to be well represented in the Revolutionary Council.'
Fatah is dominant in the West Bank, separated from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip by Israeli land. Together the territories would form a future Palestine in a peace deal with Israel -- except that they are now governed by two hostile rivals.
Hamas stopped 300 Fatah members leaving Gaza to attend the Bethlehem convention, creating a procedural headache. The 299 Gaza delegates have said they would vote by phone or email. - Reuters