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The Fatah conference's unanimous resolution Thursday to hold Israel responsible for the death of Yasser Arafat left Israeli officials annoyed and bemused, with Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai remarking there was a better chance of negotiations on Mars than in the region, and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon saying the conference was a "serious blow to peace."
"This was another lost opportunity for the Palestinian leadership to adopt moderate views," Avalon told The Jerusalem Post. "Instead, it reverted to making extreme statements. This has raised suspicions that the Palestinians do not want a two-state solution, but rather a one-state solution."
Yishai said that the decision relating to Arafat was "pathetic," testimony to the Palestinians' true intentions. "There is no room for any negotiation here," he said.
The sixth General Assembly of Fatah unanimously adopted a proposal on Thursday calling for the establishment of a committee to investigate the death of Arafat. The panel will abide by the following guidelines: Israel bears full responsibility for Arafat's death, the issue continues to remain open, and the investigation will enlist international support.
One Foreign Ministry official quipped that if the convention already determined that Israel was guilty, what exactly was it going to investigate? The proposal was raised by Bassam Abu Sharif, Arafat's former political adviser, and was motivated both by demands from a number of Fatah delegates at the gathering, and by estranged PLO leader Farouk Kaddoumi, who in an interview in mid-July claimed he possessed a document proving Arafat's death was the result of an Israeli-Palestinian conspiracy.
In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Abu Sharif was adamant that Kaddoumi's theory was incorrect, but nonetheless said the circumstances surrounding the death warranted further inquiry.
"Kaddoumi is mistaken concerning the uncovered document, and his inference of [PA President Mahmoud Abbas's] involvement in Arafat's assassination is wrong," Abu Sharif said. "Mahmoud Abbas had no hand in the matter."
However, not all share Abu Sharif's sentiment. Husam Khader, a Fatah legislator from the Nablus area, told the Post he was confident that Palestinians were involved in the "assassination of Arafat."
He called for the interrogation of all members of the Fatah Central Committee in this regard.
The investigative committee will be headed by Nasser el-Kidweh, a nephew of Arafat.
Kaddoumi dropped a bombshell last month when he told reporters in Amman that Arafat had handed him before his death a protocol of a meeting where Abbas, former PA strongman Muhammad Dahlan, former prime minister Ariel Sharon and US intelligence officers allegedly planned to assassinate the former PA chairman.
Kaddoumi presented the reporters with a summary of the ostensible protocol in which Sharon allegedly told Abbas and Dahlan that they must also work toward eliminating the political and military leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Last month, Dov Weissglas, bureau chief to Sharon, firmly denied Kaddoumi's allegations that the former prime minister and Abbas conspired to kill Arafat.
"I was present at all the meetings between President Abbas and Sharon," Weissglas told the Post, "and I would like to state in the clearest possible terms that nothing like this was ever discussed - not directly, not indirectly; not explicitly; not implicitly. The accusation is a complete lie."
Information Minister Yuli Edelstein said that "the weird attempt to blame Israel for Arafat's assassination and commemorate him as a martyr is aimed at justifying the Palestinians' ongoing armed struggle against Israel, which is extending its hand in peace to them."
And Ynet quoted Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz as saying the government should declare that the Palestinians would not be negotiating partners until they canceled the Arafat resolution, recognized Israel as a Jewish state, and gave up on the refugee "right of return."
Katz said that the Palestinians have revealed their "true face," and that Abbas and "his friends have proven with the conference, as well as with their renewed call for armed struggle against Israel, that they don't want peace, but rather are looking for any way to destroy Israel as a Jewish state."
Even as Ayalon, Yishai, Katz and Edelstein responded harshly to the conference, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have stayed relatively quiet about the proceedings.
One official said a decision was taken not to respond until the significance of what was said at the conference was carefully weighed and measured. Israel did not want to formally respond, the official said, until it determined whether what was said in Bethlehem was "all talk" for domestic consumption, or rather signified a change of policy.
Alex Sorin contributed to this report.