Senior members of the ruling Fatah party are demanding that Marwan Barghouti, who scored a landslide victory in primary elections last week, be appointed deputy chairman of the Palestinian Authority.
The latest demand came as the veteran leadership of Fatah suffered yet another blow in primary elections that were held in east Jerusalem on Tuesday. Results published Wednesday showed that representatives of the young guard, who are affiliated with Barghouti, won most of the votes.
Hatem Abdel Kader, a Fatah legislator and a close ally of Barghouti, came in first. Four other candidates, also belonging to Fatah's young guard, made a strong showing.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's preferred candidate, Rafik Husseini, received only a few hundred votes.
"I present my victory to Marwan Barghouti," Abdel Kader told The Jerusalem Post. "This is a big victory for the young guard in Fatah."
The elections were held in villages located outside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem after Israel announced it would not allow the voters to cast their ballots in the city. The results are seen as a severe blow to veteran Fatah leaders in retribution for rampant corruption and monopolizing of power.
Earlier this week, the Fatah leadership was forced to suspend elections in the Gaza Strip following a wave of violence and charges of massive irregularities.
Sakher Habash, a representative of the old guard in Fatah, announced Wednesday that he had proposed to Abbas to name Barghouti deputy chairman of the PA. Habash, who suffered a humiliating defeat in the elections, said Barghouti deserved the post following his victory.
"It's obvious that Marwan Barghouti enjoys a special status because he represents many people and the prisoners in Israeli jails," Habash told the Post. "He's the most suitable candidate for the job."
Habash said he met with Abbas Tuesday night and told him it was only natural that Barghouti be appointed deputy PA chairman.
A number of Fatah officials here expressed their support for the initiative, pointing out that such a move would end the fierce power struggle in Fatah.
"This is the best way to end the dangerous crisis in Fatah," one official said. "Otherwise Fatah will lose many of its supporters."
The primary elections are being held ahead of next January's parliamentary vote.
Candidates wishing to run in the elections are required to register with the PA Central Elections Commission by December 14. The number of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council has been raised from 88 to 132.
In a related development, Hamas announced that three of its senior officials were planning to contest the January vote: Mahmoud Zahar, Ismail Haniyeh and Hasan Youssef. It said its lists would include several women and even some Christians.
Rasha Rantisi, the widow of slain Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, is the most prominent woman to run in the elections.