Arafat death probe may appease Fatah's divided delegates

The Palestinian party also extended its historic summit to try to ease disputes that have marred the gathering.

JERUSALEM and BETHLEHEM – Fatah officials holding their first party-wide conference in 20 years on Thursday extended the meeting after disagreements prompted a walk-out on Wednesday. As the Monitor reported earlier this week, the party – long the dominant force in Palestinian politics – is seeking to regain face after being trounced by Hamas in Gaza.

Intra-party tensions have been running high as members sought to agree on a new political platform and to elect new leaders for two councils meant to govern Fatah’s activities: the 21-seat Central Committee and the 120-member Fatah Revolutionary Council. The last-minute addition of about 700 new West Bank delegates to the convention, bring the total to nearly 2,300 participants, has fueled complaints from many about having an equitable party election while as many as 400 are stuck in the Gaza Strip – barred by rival Hamas from traveling.

Investigation into Arafat's death may appease critics

On Thursday party members also adopted a proposal calling for the establishment of a committee to investigate the death of Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, amid a renewal of charges by Fatah renegades that he was the victim of assassination plots of both Israeli and Palestinian officials. The proposal said that Israel bears responsibility for his death and said that the investigation team would need to enlist international support.

The proposal may be a way of satisfying voices of critique – in particular that of Fatah co-founder Farouk Kaddoumi, who lives in exile in Tunis – and therefore quieting his recent incendiary statements. The Arab TV satellite network Al Jazeera recently aired an interview with Mr. Kaddoumi, in which he implicated Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah’s chairman, in Arafat’s death. In response, the Palestinian Authority briefly banned Al Jazeera television from operating in its territory.

Do Gaza delegates deserve a seat?

One of the other main points of dispute involves a movement among the delegates to reserve a proportional quota of seats on the two councils for Fatah members in Gaza who were unable to attend.

Should that proposal be passed, the empty seats would be filled later when the situation allows.

“We are working to resolve the issue of Fatah members in Gaza, and we are just putting the final touches on it,” Nabil Amr, a senior member of Fatah and Palestinian ambassador to Egypt, told reporters Thursday.

Some Fatah members are adamantly opposed to such a plan, and say that Fatah’s focus should be ideological and practical, and not geographical.

“I disagree with linking Fatah to the question who’s from the West Bank and who’s from Gaza. Think, when they last met in 1989, it was in Tunis, and it didn’t include any of us from the inside,” Sudqi al Hassan, a Fatah leader from the West Bank city of Tulkarem, told the Monitor on Wednesday.

“My colleagues in Gaza were calling us on a daily basis and saying please, have the conference,” he said. “What I’m interested in is to bring back the self-esteem of Fatah, and we shouldn’t be wasting time on things we can’t yet fix.”

Related stories:

'Stormy' start to Fatah's historic summit (8/5/09)

Abbas's big move to revamp Fatah (8/4/09}

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