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Changing course, Fatah officials call for Palestinian protests against Israel

After years of muting Palestinian rhetoric of 'popular resistance,' senior officials in Fatah, which governs the West Bank, are calling for protests against Israel's settlement expansion and construction of its separation barrier.

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Growing protest attendance

That may be changing. On Tuesday, senior Fatah members met and declared that they would "be visible at all the popular struggle sites." Even PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an independent, attended a "Land Day" demonstration on Tuesday, Palestinian media reported.

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Waleed Asaf, a Fatah member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, says that recent Israeli actions in East Jerusalem have been rallying Palestinian opinion. Israel announce last month that it plans to expand housing developments for Jews in East Jerusalem, in primarily Arab areas that Palestinians claim as their future capital. The UN does not recognize East Jerusalem, which Israel seized from Jordan in 1967, as Israel's.

"The Fatah Movement has called for a strong wave of popular resistance in order to combat the Israeli plans in Jerusalem," says Mr. Asaf. "Since the Fatah Convention, the Central Committee has vowed to lead the people – politically and in the street – toward national salvation."

Mr. Zaki's arrest on Sunday represented the first time a top-ranking Fatah official was arrested by Israel since the first intifada (1987-93). It prompted protests outside the Ofer Prison. On Wednesday, in a protest attended by about 200 Palestinians, three Israeli border policemen were injured when demonstrators tried to break through a checkpoint to reach the prison. On Thursday afternoon, Zaki was released.

Fatah's actions are helping to garner new credibility with the young generation of the party, which has sometimes been disappointed by the negotiations-only approach taken by Abbas. Despite his stance, there have been no functional peace negotiations since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office a year ago, nor was much headway made under his predecessor, Ehud Olmert. US attempts to get the parties to come together – or more specifically, to come close enough for proximity talks to take place – have still not yielded fruit.

"We are not against negotiations, but the best strategy that Fatah can have right now is to pursue logical negotiations along with popular resistance," says Moheeb Awad, a 40-something PLC member who describes himself as part of the young generation of Fatah leaders. "However, at this point, the Israelis are not giving us any opportunity to resume negotiations because of their settlement policy."