For the first time since the Hamas victory in the parliamentary elections earlier this year, the Fatah central committee, a key decision-making body in the Palestinian Authority, began a three-day meeting in Jordan on Wednesday to discuss internal reforms and relations with Hamas.
Meanwhile, a radical Islamic group called Hizb al-Tahrir (Liberation Party) is planning to declare the birth of an Islamic caliphate in the Gaza Strip on Friday. The relatively small party, which is seen as more extreme than Hamas, is said to have increased its popularity following what is perceived as a Hizbullah victory over Israel.
On Tuesday, thousands of the party's supporters staged a demonstration in Gaza City to mark the anniversary of the end of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It was the first demonstration in the Gaza Strip in which demonstrators called for establishing an Islamic caliphate that would rule not only in the PA territories, but the entire world.
Buoyed by the large turnout, the party's leaders are now considering declaring an Islamic caliphate in the Gaza Strip during Friday prayers, sources close to the party said.
Jordanian security forces recently foiled a similar attempt by the party's followers in the kingdom and arrested most of their leaders. Ramzi Sawalhah, the leader of Hizb al-Tahrir in Jordan, was arrested shortly after he delivered a sermon in a mosque in which he called for replacing the monarchy with an Islamic caliphate.
The Fatah meeting is being held under the chairmanship of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the leader of Fatah.
Sixteen members of the committee, which is dominated by veteran officials representing the "old guard" in Fatah, are participating in the discussions. The meeting is being held in Amman so that Fatah leaders living abroad like Farouk Kaddoumi could attend, sources close to Abbas said.
Khaled Musmar, a member of the Fatah "revolutionary council," another one of the party's influential bodies, said Abbas was expected to brief the committee members on the results of his talks with Hamas over the formation of a national-unity government and demands for implementing major reforms in Fatah.
He said the Fatah leaders were also expected to set a date for holding a general conference to elect a new leadership. The last time such a conference was convened was in 1989 in Tunis.
"We will discuss the internal situation in Fatah and ways of reforming the party," Musmar said, referring to demands by representatives of the "young guard" to inject new and younger blood into the party and to get rid of corrupt officials.
Abbas and other veteran leaders of Fatah have been under immense pressure from grassroots activists to reform the party following its failure in the parliamentary elections. However, Abbas did not invite representatives of the "young guard" to participate in the discussions - a move that has raised eyebrows among many disgruntled Fatah activists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Many of the Fatah leaders who are attending are former cronies of Yasser Arafat whose names have been linked to financial corruption and mismanagement in the PA over the past decade.
"We're sick and tired of seeing the same old faces talk about the need for reforms in Fatah," a top Fatah activist in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. "How can they talk about reforms in Fatah without consulting with the young leaders, especially those who are in Israeli prisons?"
Former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei said participants would discuss ways of repairing Fatah after its defeat in the election.
Abbas is also hoping to win the backing of the committee for his plan to form a "national-salvation government" once talks with Hamas over the establishment of national-unity government failed. PA officials in Ramallah said on Tuesday that Abbas was seriously considering the possibility of forming a government of technocrats after failing to persuade Hamas to establish a joint Fatah-Hamas government.
Fatah leaders claimed Hamas was not interested in such a government because its leaders had no intention of changing their political agenda. They said Abbas warned Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh that unless he recognized Israel's right to exist, the international community would not resume financial aid to the PA.
Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah central committee, said Hamas should copy the the model of Hizbullah, which, he added, was keen to attribute its victory over Israel to the entire Lebanese people. "Hizbullah cares very much about national unity in Lebanon," he said. "We are hoping that Hamas will learn from the experiences of Hizbullah, which enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of Lebanese."