'Palestinian rift worse than Israel'

Saudi king urges Palestinians to unite; amid arguments, Fatah parley extended till further notice.

fatah conference 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
fatah conference 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Saudi King Abdullah told Fatah delegates meeting in Bethlehem Wednesday that divisions among the Palestinians were more damaging to their cause of an independent state than the Israeli "enemy." In a letter to the faction's sixth General Assembly, the monarch stressed that all Palestinian factions needed to come together to make an independent Palestinian state possible. "The arrogant and criminal enemy was not able, during years of continued aggression, to hurt the Palestinian cause as much as the Palestinians hurt their cause themselves in the past few months," Abdullah said in the letter. "I can honestly tell you, brothers, that even if the whole world joins to found a Palestinian independent state, and if we have full support for that, this state would not be established as long as the Palestinians are divided." Following a stormy session Wednesday Fatah delegates decided that the conferees would continue holding meetings in Bethlehem until further notice. The conference, which opened on Tuesday, was originally scheduled for three days. However, sharp differences that erupted between Fatah representatives during Wednesday's morning session prompted the faction leaders to change their plans and extend the conference. The conference was nearly suspended following a heated exchange between several delegates. Tensions escalated to a point where organizers ordered all journalists to stay away from the conference hall. The main dispute erupted after Fatah delegates discovered that their leadership had no intention of presenting them with a detailed report about the faction's financial, political and administrative status. Another argument broke out over the representation of Fatah members from the Gaza Strip in the two key decision-making bodies, the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council. Some 400 Fatah members from the Strip were unable to attend the conference in Bethlehem after Hamas barred them from traveling to the West Bank. A handful of Gazan Fatah operatives who did make it to the conference accused the Fatah leadership of trying to keep them away from the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council. Had it not been for the intervention of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the conference would have "exploded into violence and anarchy," delegates told The Jerusalem Post. One delegate said that prominent Fatah representatives from the Gaza Strip, including top operative Samir Mashharawi, had stormed out of the meeting after discovering that elections for the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council would be held despite the absence of their stranded colleagues. Many delegates also expressed discontent over the way the Fatah leadership had chosen participants in the conference. Dozens of people attending the conference were not real members of Fatah, they said. "In some cases, we discovered that veteran and wealthy Fatah officials had appointed their drivers, secretaries and neighbors as delegates to the conference so that they could vote for them in internal elections," one delegate from the West Bank told the Post. "This shows that Fatah is not serious about reforming itself or injecting young and fresh blood into its institutions." Abbas was summoned to the conference hall in a last-minute bid to prevent the failure of the discussions. Abbas told the angry delegates that the Central Committee, which is dominated by old-timers, had not prepared a detailed report about the finances and administrative conduct of Fatah because the policy speech he had delivered at the opening session was sufficient. "My speech was actually a detailed report about Fatah and the general situation," Abbas was quoted as saying. "This was not my private speech. It was prepared in coordination with dozens of members of the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council." He urged the delegates not to boycott the conference so as not to give the Palestinians' enemies an excuse to rejoice. Regarding the grievances of the Gaza Strip's Fatah members, Abbas promised that they would be permitted to vote for the two bodies via alternative means, including e-mail messages and mobile phones. Senior Fatah official Nabil Sha'ath said that to appease the Gaza Strip representatives, the Fatah leadership had decided to increase the number of seats in the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council. Nabil Amr, spokesman for the Fatah assembly, admitted that Wednesday's session had been "particularly stormy." He also denied that Fatah delegates from the Gaza Strip had pulled out of the meeting. He said that during Wednesday's morning session, the delegates had decided to establish 18 working committees to discuss ways of improving the performance of Fatah. Amr explained that the decision to extend the conference until further notice had been taken in light of the sharp differences between the delegates. The Fatah representatives have yet to discuss the repercussions of their faction's defeat by Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary election, and the case of Yasser Arafat's unexplained death in 2004, Sha'ath told the Post. He said that because of the many issues on the agenda, the Fatah leadership had decided that it would take a few more days to conclude the discussions. On the second day of the parley, it was still unclear whether the delegates would be required to vote for a new Fatah platform. A top aide to Abbas said the PA president did not see any need to vote for a new platform because his speech on Tuesday could be considered the Fatah political program.