tibi 248.88 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Palestinians will not resume peace talks with Israel unless Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government accepts a two-state solution and halts settlement construction "in the West Bank and Jerusalem," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated on Tuesday.
He said that while the Palestinians supported the peace process, they reserved the right to pursue the "resistance" against Israel.
Addressing the sixth General Assembly of his ruling Fatah faction, Abbas said that the "popular resistance" against the security fence, settlements and the confiscation and demolition of houses would continue in a bid to attract worldwide support.
"Our adherence to the peace option does not mean that we will remain helpless in the face of continued Israeli violations that sabotage the peace process," Abbas told more than 2,000 Fatah delegates who came from around the world to participate in the conference, the first in 20 years.
"And while we stress that we have endorsed the path of peace and negotiations on the basis of international legitimacy, we also reserve our authentic right to legitimate resistance as guaranteed by international law," he declared.
Abbas emphasized, however, that the Palestinians rejected "all forms of terrorism" and any attempt to label their struggle as an act of terror. He also cautioned against referring to methods that could distort the image of the Palestinians' cause.
Abbas boasted that the PA had succeeded in mobilizing the world to exert pressure on Israel to halt construction in the settlements, accept the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and fulfill its obligations in accordance with the road map for peace in the Middle East.
He added that the Palestinians had also earned the backing of the international community for their refusal to resume peace talks from where they ended under the previous government of Ehud Olmert.
Abbas accused Israel of waging an "ugly campaign to wipe out the Arab character of Jerusalem as part of an ethnic cleansing plan aimed at driving the Arabs out of their city."
He warned that Israel's measures in Jerusalem, as well as continued construction in settlements, would lead to increased tensions and "endless cycles of violence."
The PA president also launched a scathing attack on Hamas, whose government had barred some 400 Fatah delegates from leaving the Gaza Strip to attend the conference.
Holding the Islamic movement responsible for the schism among Palestinians, Abbas noted that Hamas militiamen had executed scores of Palestinians and thrown others from high towers in the center of Gaza City.
He said that Egyptian efforts to end the rift with Hamas were evolving into a vicious cycle. The divisions created by Hamas posed the most serious threat to the Palestinian cause since 1948 and gave Israel an excuse not to fulfill its commitments under the agreements reached with the Palestinians, he said.
Delegates are expected to vote for Fatah's two most significant institutions, the Central Committee (120 seats) and the Revolutionary Council (120 seats). In addition, they would be asked to approve Fatah's political platform and a series of steps to reform the faction's various institutions.
Fatah spokesman Ahmed Abdel Rahman told The Jerusalem Post that the political platform, which would be presented to the conference on Wednesday, rejected demands for recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and resettling Palestinian refugees in Arab countries.
However, he said the new platform was not final and could be subject to last-minute changes. A draft of the new-old political program of Fatah calls for preserving the Palestinians' right to resist the occupation in all forms, including armed struggle.
The draft program talks about liberating the Palestinians' homeland and establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. It also mentions the Palestinian refugees' right to return to their former villages inside Israel.
Large posters featuring Palestinian children brandishing rifles decorated the conference hall and public squares in Bethlehem. Fatah signs and placards vowing to pursue the armed struggle against Israel were also visible in many parts of the city.
Many Fatah delegates said they would oppose any attempt to drop the armed resistance option from their faction's political program. They warned that such a move would damage Fatah's standing among a majority of Palestinians and play into the hands of Hamas and other radical groups.
Nabil Amr, a top Fatah operative and PA ambassador to Egypt, defended calls for sticking to the armed resistance as a "legitimate right." But he added that when the Palestinians talked about resistance, they were not necessarily referring to violence.
"Political actions are also a form of resistance," he said.
Another senior Fatah representative, Azzam al-Ahmed, told the Post that while the revised political program would declare support for the two-state solution, it would also emphasize the Palestinians' right to pursue all forms of struggle against Israel to achieve their goals. He said that the program would also make it clear that Fatah remained a "national liberation movement."
The Fatah conference, which is being held for the first time without Yasser Arafat, is taking place amid growing tensions inside the faction, especially between old-guard representatives and young members who are demanding a greater say in the decision-making process.
Already on the first day of the gathering, there were indications that Abbas and his old-guard colleagues were determined to block young leaders from rising to power.
Several delegates expressed fear that veteran Fatah leaders with unlimited resources had already secured seats in the Central Committee and Revolutionary Council. They pointed out that the absence of hundreds of grassroots activists from the West Bank and Gaza Strip would ensure the continued hegemony of the old-timers in Fatah.
The old-guard camp in Fatah has been strengthened thanks to the attendance of hundreds of veteran operatives from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and other countries. At the request of the Fatah leadership in the West Bank, Israel permitted these Fatah outsiders to attend the conference, with the hope that their participation would bolster the "moderate" camp headed by Abbas.
Some representatives of the young guard in Fatah, including former security commander Muhammad Dahlan and former PA minister Hatem Abdel Kader, registered their protests against the attempts of the veteran leaders to retain control over the faction by announcing that they would not run for elections to the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council.
Echoing the grievances of the young generation, jailed Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti called on his colleagues to punish all those who caused damage to the faction.
Barghouti's criticism was clearly directed against Fatah old-timers, who, he said, should be held accountable for the mistakes they had committed over the past few decades.
In a letter to the assembly, Barghouti assailed the old guard's ongoing efforts to suppress the emergence of a new leadership and called for "creative balance in Fatah and its institutions, both inside and outside" the West Bank and Gaza Strip.