'No talks unless Israel frees prisoners'

Fatah delegates also demand settlement freeze, will elect new leaders; young members may break away.

goodwill gesture prisoners 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
goodwill gesture prisoners 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Fatah delegates meeting here Thursday resolved not to renew peace negotiations with Israel until all Palestinian prisoners are released from Israeli jails, all settlement-building is frozen and the Gaza blockade is lifted. Nabil Sha'ath, a Fatah Central Committee said these were some of 14 preconditions for a resumption of peace talks. Analysts noted that the conditions are not binding on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but also that they broadly accorded with the positions had Abbas had himself set out in an address to the gathering on Tuesday. Amid mounting tensions between rival camps, meanwhile, the Fatah delegates are scheduled to vote on Friday for new members of the faction's two most significant bodies, the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council. At least 500 Fatah members have presented their candidacy for the Central Committee (21 seats) and the Revolutionary Council (120 seats). Many delegates participating in the faction's sixth General Assembly here on Thursday expressed fear that the infighting will eventually result in a permanent split in Fatah. The conference, which opened on Tuesday, is the first meeting of its kind in two decades. The key vote had been supposed to take place earlier, but was delayed after sharp differences erupted at Wednesday's session between scores of rival delegates. Eyewitnesses told The Jerusalem Post that at least two delegates, Tawfik Tirawi and Husam Khader, were beaten by security officers for allegedly disrupting the discussions. Scenes of chaos erupted when the 2,200 delegates attending the conference learned that the Fatah leadership was not planning to present them with a detailed report about the faction's financial, administrative and political performance over the past 20 years. Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aide to Abbas, enraged many delegates when he announced that they should consider Abbas's opening speech a substitute for the report. Khader, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and an outspoken critic of financial corruption in Fatah, said he and many of his colleagues had managed to foil Abbas's "plot" to market his speech as a comprehensive report. Khader, who was released from Israeli prison less than a year ago, also said that Abbas and his old-guard friends in Fatah were continuing their efforts to block the emergence of new leaders. Similar charges were leveled against Abbas and the old guard by Fatah operatives from the Gaza Strip, headed by Muhammad Dahlan, and supporters of jailed West Bank operative Marwan Barghouti. Both Dahlan and Barghouti are viewed as representatives of the young guard in Fatah. Dahlan and scores of Fatah delegates from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday had threatened to pull out of the conference under the pretext that Abbas and veteran leaders were seeking to keep them away from the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council. Hundreds of Fatah representatives from the Gaza Strip were unable to attend the conference because Hamas refused to allow them to travel to the West Bank. "The old guard of Fatah is trying to exploit the absence of the Gaza Strip to tighten their grip on Fatah institutions," said a young-guard Fatah representative. "If they succeed in their scheme, we will withdraw from the conference and form our own Fatah faction in the Gaza Strip." As the conference entered its third day Thursday, it became evident that three major camps were competing for control of Fatah. The first camp consists of old-guard leaders such as Abbas, Ahmed Qurei, Ahmed Ghnaim and Saeb Erekat. The second, which represents the young guard of Fatah, is headed by Barghouti, Jamal Shobaki, Kadoura Fares and Muhammed Hourani. The third camp belongs to Dahlan and many of his supporters, especially those living in the Gaza Strip. Delegates said it was obvious by now that the old-guard leaders had prepared well for the conference by appointing hundreds of their loyalists as delegates to the General Assembly of Fatah. They pointed out that Barghouti's name was hardly being mentioned at the conference, whose leaders refused to distribute a letter Barghouti had sent to the assembly from his prison cell. The delegates also noted that many of the key speakers at the parley had refrained from mentioning Barghouti by name. Other delegates told the Post that Dahlan was also facing an "organized campaign" to distort his image and distance him from Fatah's main institutions. Many delegates have gone as far as demanding Dahlan's expulsion from Fatah, holding him responsible for the faction's defeat at the hands of Hamas in the summer of 2007. Conference spokesman Nabil Amr said that unlike Wednesday's stormy session, the atmosphere at Thursday's meetings had been "relatively calm." He attributed the quiet to 18 committees, established a day earlier to look into various issues concerning Fatah, starting their work.