Disillusioned with Fatah and Hamas, a group of Palestinian businessmen and academics has decided to establish a new political party to run in the next Palestinian Authority election. Some 120 leading businessmen and academics gathered in Ramallah over the weekend to discuss the formation of the new movement, in the first meeting of its kind in recent years. PA officials welcomed the initiative, saying Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had given his blessing to the organizers.
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The group is led by the widely-respected billionaire Munib al-Masri of Nablus, who does not belong to any political faction. Other prominent businessmen who have joined the initiative include Mazen Sinokrot, Bassem Khoury, Muhammad Hirbawi, Maha Abu Shusheh and Said Kan'an.
"We want to offer the Palestinians something different and a new way," said a meeting attendee. "We are actually trying to set up a Palestinian version of the Israeli Kadima Party, which attracted voters from both Likud and Labor. We are aware of the fact that many Palestinians are disenchanted with Fatah and Hamas and would like to see a new party that can offer them a better future."
Participants at the gathering decided to take gradual steps toward the formation of the new party. The first step calls for establishing a forum that would lay the foundations for the movement. At a later stage, the forum would declare itself the Association of Businessmen and Academics, which will eventually transform itself into a party.
Hani al-Masri, a Palestinian columnist who serves as spokesman for the new group, said he and his associates were seeking to "test the waters" before making a final decision to run in elections.
"In the past, we had many new parties that disappeared very quickly," he said. "First, we want to see what the reactions are. That's why the forum will operate as a lobby only. If we succeed in selling the idea, we will declare ourselves as a political party."
Masri said one of the main goals of the party, which would be formally announced in October if all went well, would be to reunite the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
"We have no choice but to reunite the West Bank, which is under Fatah control, with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip," he said. "We condemn the coup that Hamas staged in the Gaza Strip and urge Hamas to reverse the situation there so that we can resume national dialogue between all the factions."
Participants also drafted a document stressing the need to focus on boosting the Palestinian economy. "Politics have been dominating our lives for too long," Masri said. "It's time to focus on other issues such as the economy, culture, music and sports."