Fatah officials in the West Bank have accused Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad of quietly staging a "bloodless coup" against PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile, Azzam al-Ahmed, a prominent Fatah figure closely associated with Abbas, declared that Fatah had never recognized Israel's right to exist and would never do so.
"Fatah is a liberation movement," he said. "Fatah cares only about the interests of the Palestinian people."
Ahmed's remarks came in response to charges by Hamas and other Palestinian factions that Fatah had not gained anything after its leaders signed the Oslo Accords with Israel.
The remarks also came amid increased tensions between Fatah and the prime minister.
The Fatah officials claimed that Fayad was seeking to replace Abbas, with the help of the US and some EU and Arab countries. The allegations were made during a series of meetings of Fatah representatives in Ramallah over the past few days.
Fatah's Central Committee and Revolutionary Council, the faction's two most significant bodies, have been holding daily meetings since Thursday, when Abbas announced that he had "no desire" to run again for president.
On Sunday night, members of the Revolutionary Council held a stormy and tense meeting in Ramallah, where some members launched a scathing attack on Fayad and accused him of paving the way for a "bloodless coup" against Abbas.
The London-based Palestinian daily Al-Quds al-Arabi reported that several Fatah representatives had also criticized Fayad's latest plan for establishing a state within two years, because he had not consulted with them about it in advance.
One senior Fatah official was quoted as saying that Fayad's plan appeared to be linked to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's "economic peace" initiative.
The official said that the Revolutionary Council considered Abbas to be the only and most suitable candidate to run in the presidential election, slated for January 24.
Earlier, the Fatah Central Committee endorsed a similar decision in what is being viewed by many Palestinians as a "warning" to Fayad not to challenge Abbas or present himself as an alternative leader.
Some Fatah leaders in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that tensions between Abbas and Fayad had been mounting in recent months over a number of issues related to the financial and administrative conduct of the PA.
One of the leaders said Abbas and his top aides were worried that the Americans and Europeans were plotting to turn Fayad into the next president of the PA.
In a clear message to the international community, Abbas loyalists have been staging daily rallies in the West Bank in support of the president. The demonstrators, mostly PA civil servants and policemen and Fatah activists, have been urging Abbas to reconsider his decision not to seek reelection.
PA-controlled newspapers have also been publishing paid advertisements by individuals and various bodies declaring support for Abbas and urging him to seek another term.
The pro-Abbas campaign, which insiders say is being orchestrated by Abbas's senior advisers and henchmen, is seen as a preemptive measure aimed at foiling Fayad's alleged coup conspiracy. It is also aimed at showing the international community that the Palestinian masses would not accept any leader other than Abbas.
Fatah members have long been waging a campaign against Fayad, accusing him of cutting off salaries to many of them and retiring thousands of Abbas loyalists in the PA security forces.
Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, has also distributed several pamphlets over the past year accusing Fayad of being a pawn in the hands of the Americans and Israelis.
A sign of the crisis in relations between Abbas and Fayad was provided by Tuesday's PA cabinet meeting in Ramallah. At the end of the weekly meeting headed by Fayad, the cabinet issued a statement in which it refrained from calling on Abbas to reconsider his decision not to run for another term.
The statement, however, expressed support for Abbas's decision to call presidential and parliamentary elections for January and warned against Israeli attempts to "hinder" the voting process.
Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Palestinians and Fatah had no alternative to Abbas.
"We won't search for replacements for President Abbas, not now and not in the future," Erekat said. "President Abbas represents the Palestinian national program and the aspirations which Fatah struggled for over the past decades."
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