(photo credit: AP)
Fatah has never recognized Israel's right to exist and it has no intention of ever doing so, a veteran senior leader of the Western-backed faction said on Wednesday.
Rafik Natsheh, member of the Fatah Central Committee who also serves as chairman of the faction's disciplinary "court," is the second senior official in recent months to make similar statements regarding Israel.
Natsheh is also a former minister in the Palestinian Authority government who briefly served as Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Earlier this year, Muhammad Dahlan, another top Fatah figure, said that Fatah had never recognized Israel's right to exist despite the fact that it is the largest faction in the PLO, which signed the Oslo Accords with Israel.
Natsheh's remarks came days before Fatah's general assembly that is slated to take place in Bethlehem on August 4.
The assembly, the first in two decades, is expected to bring some 1,500 Fatah delegates together to discuss ways of reforming the faction and holding internal elections.
One of the topics on the conference's agenda is whether Fatah should formally abandon the armed struggle and recognize Israel's right to exist.
"Fatah does not recognize Israel's right to exist," Natsheh said, "nor have we ever asked others to do so." His comments, which appeared in an interview with Al-Quds Al-Arabi, came in response to reports according to which Fatah had asked Hamas to recognize Israel as a precondition for the establishment of a Palestinian unity government.
"All these reports about recognizing Israel are false," Natsheh, who is closely associated with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said. "It's all media nonsense. We don't ask other factions to recognize Israel because we in Fatah have never recognized Israel."
Asked about calls for dropping the reference to armed struggle from Fatah's charter, Natsheh said: "Let all the collaborators [with Israel] and those who are deluding themselves hear that this will never happen. We'll meet at the conference [in Bethlehem]."
Natsheh stressed that neither Fatah nor the Palestinians would ever relinquish the armed struggle against Israel "no matter how long the occupation continues." He said that Fatah, at the upcoming conference, would reiterate its adherence to the option of pursuing "all forms" of an armed struggle against Israel.
Another senior Fatah representative, Azzam al-Ahmed, confirmed that his faction would renew its pledge to pursue the armed struggle against Israel during the conference.
"The Fatah conference won't obliterate the "resistance option," he said."Fatah has been the target of a conspiracy to liquidate it ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority. The elimination of Fatah means the end of the revolutionary era which began in 1965 [when Fatah was founded]." He said that, more than four decades later, Fatah's main strategy and goals remain unchanged.
The decision to convene the conference in Bethlehem has triggered a crisis in Fatah. Many Fatah living in Arab countries have protested Abbas's decision, saying it was inconceivable that the parley be held under "Israeli occupation." They are still demanding that the conference be held in an Arab country to avoid a situation where Israel would try to prevent some delegates from arriving in Bethlehem.
Meanwhile, there is growing concern in Fatah that Hamas would not permit hundreds of Fatah activists from leaving the Gaza Strip to attend the conference. Senior Fatah officials said that the conference would be called off if Hamas stopped the Fatah members from leaving the Gaza Strip.
The officials said that Fatah leaders have been talking to Syria and Egypt about the possibility that Hamas might prevent their men from traveling to the West Bank. "We made it clear to the Egyptians and Syrians that the conference would not be convened without the Fatah members from the Gaza Strip," a Fatah official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post.