Abbas emerges stronger from Fatah conference
The mainline Palestinian party elected a new guard in its first leadership vote in 20 years, revamping a council whose youngest member was 70.
Bethlehem, West Bank
As the Fatah party convention wrapped up Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas emerged stronger, signaling a comeback for the US-backed peace proponent after his party was trounced by Hamas.Skip to next paragraph
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His success in shepherding the long-anticipated congress, which updated Fatah's political platform and ushered in a new guard of leaders in the first party elections since 1989, enabled him at last to come out from under the long shadow of Yasser Arafat – the late party founder and icon of Palestinian nationalism.
"Abbas is the main winner. He is leaving the conference much, much stronger than when he entered the conference. It is a historic achievement; he did the impossible," says Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister who is not a member of Fatah. "So far he has been a weak leader.... He seems to be coming out of the conference as a leader who is much less in need of using the memory of Yasser Arafat as a tool."
Despite being marred by fractious bickering, the Fatah conference has been hailed as key to jump-starting badly needed democratic reform in Palestinian government and politics. Palestinians have long complained of corruption in the party, and criticized the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority – under pressure from Israel to bolster its security forces as part of an eventual peace deal – for setting up a police state.
Rival Palestinian faction Hamas, the militant organization in charge of Gaza, lambasted Fatah on Monday for unjust detention and torture after Hamas activist Fadi Hamadne committed suicide in his West Bank cell.
Hamas's criticism came as the votes of 2,000 delegates were being counted for a new slate of politicians expected to revive moribund institutions of the mainline Palestinian political movement.
New guard ushered in
Winners for the 23-member central committee came largely from a younger generation and include Marwan Barghouti, an occasional critic of the party establishment who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail. Ahmed Qureia, a prominent former prime minister and peace negotiator, failed to get reelected. The outgoing central committee included 10 members who were either deceased or unable to serve. The youngest member was 70.
Results for the 125-member revolutionary council, which is like a parliament for the party, have not yet been released.
The newly elected central committee and revolutionary council will be responsible for carrying out the governing principles of Fatah, which were refined at the conference. While the political program reflected Mr. Abbas's preference for Western-backed peace talks with Israel, nostalgia for Fatah's original role as leader of the armed struggle against Israel was evident. A huge poster of Arafat served as a backdrop to the conference, which revisited the party's charter but left intact a call to "liquidate the Zionist entity." The congress adopted a resolution that all of Jerusalem be returned to the Palestinians and asserted the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes left before the 1948 war over Israel's independence. In addition, a Fatah policy statement issued during the conference reserved the right to exercise "resistance" in "all its forms" if future peace negotiations were not successful.
Israel dismayed by congress results