Fatah officials negotiate with Barghouti

Jailed leader remains determined to form a new party led by young activists.

barghouti poster298 88ap (photo credit: AP)
barghouti poster298 88ap
(photo credit: AP)
Efforts were under way on Thursday to persuade jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti to abandon his decision to run in next month's parliamentary elections at the head of a new list. Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in Israel for his role in terror attacks, dropped an electoral bombshell late Wednesday night when he announced, through his wife, Fadwa, that he would contest the vote at the head of a new list called al-Mustaqbal (The Future). The list consists solely of representatives of the young guard in the ruling party and is seen as a response to attempts by veteran Fatah leaders to keep grassroots activists away from power. Barghouti's decision is also seen by many Palestinians as an attempt to stage a bloodless coup against the representatives of the old guard, including Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other top Fatah officials. Fatah's problems appeared to be worsening on Thursday night, when exit polls and initial counts following municipal elections in several major West Bank cities predicted big victories for Hamas. In Nablus, Hamas was heading for as much as 80 percent of the vote. In El-Bireh, Hamas was at 53%, with Fatah on 27%, according to the Palestinian Center of Policy and Survey Research. In Jenin, Hamas was on 43%, compared to 42% for Fatah and other groups. Only in Ramallah was Fatah maintaining a narrow lead, 34% to 31%. Some Fatah officials have been trying over the past 24 hours to mediate between Abbas and Barghouti in a bid to avoid a final split in the party. One of the ideas being floated among Fatah officials calls for merging Barghouti's list with the one that was formed by Abbas and the Fatah central committee, a decision-making body dominated by the veteran officials who were appointed by Yasser Arafat. Only minutes after Barghouti's list was presented on Wednesday night to the PA central elections commission in Ramallah, Abbas announced his own Fatah list. Surprisingly, Abbas's list is also headed by Barghouti. However, it also includes representatives of the old guard such as Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, former minister Intisar al-Wazir and Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council Rouhi Fattouh. Ziad Abu Ein, a top Fatah operative in Ramallah, said he was acting as a mediator between Abbas and the rebels in an attempt to resolve the crisis. He added that the decision to form two separate Fatah lists was taken on the basis of "misleading and inaccurate" information fed to both Abbas and Barghouti. But Sufian Abu Zaidah, who has joined Barghouti's list along with Jibril Rajoub, Mohammed Dahlan, Ahmed Ghnaim, Kadoura Fares and other young-guard rebels, said he and his friends were determined to run as part of the new list. "The decision to form the new list is irrevocable," he stressed. "We have no intention to accept any compromise on this issue." Abu Zaidah claimed that Barghouti's list represented the aspirations of the majority in Fatah, especially those who won in the last primary elections for the party. He pointed out that Abbas had phoned Barghouti on Wednesday night in a last-minute bid to sway him from forming a new list. Barghouti, he added, rejected Abbas's offer to join the official Fatah list together with old guard leaders. The power struggle has both embarrassed and alienated many Fatah members who fear that the ongoing squabbling will have a negative impact on the party's performance in the parliamentary vote. Samir Dawabsheh, a senior Fatah activist from Nablus, on Thursday became the latest candidate to withdraw his candidacy in protest against the internal strife. "Some opportunists in Fatah are afraid of unity," he charged. "They want to split the party to serve their private interests at the expense of our people." In a related development, Qurei submitted his resignation to Abbas, as required by the PA law, so he could run in the parliamentary elections. Sources close to Qurei denied that the resignation was linked to the Fatah crisis. Information Minister Nabil Shaath will serve as caretaker prime minister until the elections.