By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has emerged victorious from the elections for Fatah's Central Committee, as almost all his preferred candidates won seats in the key decision-making body.
The elections were held in the context of Fatah's sixth General Assembly, which convened for the first time in 20 years in Bethlehem last week.
The results of the vote were hailed by many Fatah officials as a victory for young guard activists who have long been engaged in a power struggle with old guard leaders.
Last week, Abbas's standing was enhanced when the more than 2,000 delegates attending the conference unanimously reelected him as head of Fatah. He was the only candidate.
Although final results were not formally announced by late Tuesday, sources in Fatah said that more than half of the Central Committee's new members were new faces.
These include jailed Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti and former security commanders Muhammad Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub and Tawfik Tirawi.
All four were among a group of young guard representatives backed by Abbas.
Other new faces included Hussein al-Sheikh, a PA minister and top Fatah activist in the West Bank, and Nasser al-Kidweh, a nephew of former PA chairman Yasser Arafat.
Prior to the vote, Abbas urged many old guard candidates to pull out of the race to pave the way for the emergence of new leaders. Most of those targeted by Abbas complied.
But others who refused to step aside, such as former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), suffered a humiliating defeat when they were not reelected as members of the Central Committee.
Another victory for Abbas was seen in the apparent reelection of his most trusted aide, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, to the committee. However, some reports suggested that Abdel Rahim was among those who were not reelected.
Three other staunch Abbas loyalists who did make it to the committee are Saeb Erekat, Nabil Sha'ath and Ahmed Ghnaim.
Ghnaim is a veteran leader of Fatah who moved to the West Bank from Tunis only two weeks ago. He is widely seen as Abbas's successor as head of Fatah. He is believed to have gained the highest number of votes in the election.
The Central Committee has 23 seats. Only 18 members are elected by Fatah's General Assembly. Abbas is automatically a member, and he appoints the remaining four in coordination with the elected committee members.
A source close to Abbas said he may have to appoint a woman as a member of the committee since no female was elected. He may also have to appoint more members from the Gaza Strip to appease critics who accused him of sidelining the Fatah activists living there.
"The conference was in fact Abbas's battle and he seems to have won," said political analyst Ayman Taha. "Apart from being reelected, Abbas managed to secure spots for his main allies in Fatah."
The election of Dahlan came as a surprise to many delegates, particularly in wake of the fact that most of his loyalists in the Gaza Strip were either not present at the conference or did not cast their ballots.
Dahlan, who is banned by Hamas from entering the Strip, is reported to have established new bases of power in the West Bank over the past two years. Fatah activists said Dahlan poured millions of dollars on them in anticipation that they would support him in his bid to conquer the faction.
During the conference, many delegates condemned Dahlan and held him responsible for Fatah's defeat at the hands of Hamas in Gaza in the summer of 2007. Some even demanded that he and other senior Fatah figures be put on trial for the fiasco.
Husam Khader, a Fatah legislator from the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, expressed disappointment over the results of the election for the Central Committee.
"We were hoping to see new leaders whose hands are clean and were not involved in financial corruption," he said. "I don't think this new leadership is clean and sincere about reforming Fatah."
Ahmed Nasr, a top Fatah operative from the Gaza Strip, accused Abbas loyalists of stealing the vote. He said that the results don't reflect the general atmosphere that prevailed at the Bethlehem convention.
"What happened in Fatah is a real tragedy," he said. "Every Palestinian will pay a heavy price for this horrible political deterioration of our movement. The results show that massive fraud did occur."
He added that the results of the election would not only bury Fatah, but the entire Palestinian issue as well.
Sha'ath, who was one of the few old guard members who were reelected to the Central Committee, told The Jerusalem Post that the new leadership now faces three major challenges: reuniting Fatah and drawing conclusions from its previous mistakes, seeking reconciliation with Hamas, and working toward establishing a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.â€¢
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