(photo credit: AP)
The Fatah central committee has authorized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate with Hamas to form a national unity government, Fatah officials said over the weekend. The decision was taken at the end of its three-day meeting in Amman.
Meanwhile, former PA security chief Muhammad Dahlan, a representative of Fatah's "young guard," issued a scathing attack on the committee, accusing its members of impotence and calling on them to retire.
All the members of the committee belong to the "old guard" and many have been linked to corruption.
Dahlan warned that he and young Fatah activists would not hesitate to revolt against the committee members if the crisis in the party continued.
"We won't allow anyone to keep Fatah in its state of paralysis," he said. "It's time for the committee members to retire because they are all old. Fatah needs young leaders to fill the vacuum."
The 16-member committee also asked Abbas to present the UN with a new proposal to revive the peace process, based on the resolutions of the Arab summit that was held in Beirut in 2002.
The committee rejected Abbas's request to form a government of independents and technocrats and insisted that a new coalition include representatives of as many factions as possible, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Earlier talks over the formation of a national-unity government failed after Hamas set a number of conditions, first and foremost that a new coalition be headed by a Hamas prime minister. Moreover, Hamas turned down Abbas's demand that it recognize Israel's right to exist.
Last week, Fatah leaders said they were ready to join a Hamas government even if the Islamic movement did not recognize Israel or agreements that were signed between the Palestinians and Israelis over the past 12 years.
"The committee has agreed on the need to form a national-unity government that would be accepted by the international community," said Abbas Zaki, a central committee member. "The new government's political program should reflect the spirit of the reconciliation document that was drafted earlier this year by representatives of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails."
Hani al-Hassan, another committee member, said after the meeting that this was the most appropriate time for the Arabs to launch a political initiative. "The equation in the Middle East has changed in the wake of Hizbullah's victory over Israel," he said.
"Israel and the US are no longer in control over the region. Now we need to strengthen our ties with Russia, China and the European Union to counter the influence of the US and Israel. A new era has begun in the Arab world and we are very optimistic."
Hassan said the decision to authorize Abbas to join forces with Hamas was taken "out of concern for strengthening the internal front so that we could face the serious challenges of the next phase."
He added that Abbas would soon launch talks with representatives of other factions in an attempt to persuade them to join a broad government that would win the recognition of the international community.
A statement issued by the central committee said a national-unity government was needed "to strengthen and develop" Palestinian national institutions and to end the power struggle between the Hamas government and Abbas's office.
It also pledged to work to end lawlessness and anarchy in the PA-controlled territories and urged the international community to pressure Israel to halt military operations and reopen all border crossings between the Gaza Strip and the outside world.
In addition to Dahlan, several other Fatah representatives criticized the central committee members, accusing them of failing to make real reform in the party in the aftermath of its defeat in January's parliamentary elections.
Former PA minister Nabil Amr described the Amman meeting as a "routine gathering" that came too late. "The fact that the meeting was held several months after the election defeat shows the extent of indifference among the committee members," he said.
Hatem Abdel Kader, a senior Fatah activist from Jerusalem, also criticized the committee for meeting several months after the parliamentary election.
"If it took them seven months to meet to study the implications of the election, I wonder how long it will take them to find solutions to the problems facing Fatah," he said. He also lashed out at the committee for failing to set a date for a Fatah general assembly to elect new leaders.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in Gaza City that any national-unity government would be headed by his movement. He said Hamas would invite representatives of all factions to participate in the new coalition, whose main task would be to end the international sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority since Hamas took over.
Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel emphasized that his movement would not recognize Israel's right to exist even if Fatah and other factions joined the government. "This will never happen," he said. "Israel wants to impose its will on our people by telling them that even Hamas is ready to recognize its right to exist."
Bardaweel welcomed the decision by the Fatah central committee to start negotiations with Hamas on the formation of a national-unity government as a positive step.