Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fatah conference - boosting its radical credentials


President Obama's Middle East peace plan faces a key hurdle on Tuesday, when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas convenes the first conference in two decades of his Fatah movement. The conference, to be held in the West Bank city of Bethlehem under heavy Palestinian Authority security, is seen as critical to the prospects of restoring Abbas' waning political legitimacy and authority. But early signs suggest that the conference will, if anything, weaken the Palestinian leader's ability to follow Washington's script.

Since the death of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, U.S. peace efforts have relied on the moderate and relatively pliable Abbas to negotiate a two-state agreement with Israel. But the prevailing view within Fatah is that Abbas has achieved precious little for his negotiation efforts, and that this has been a prime factor in weakening Fatah in the face of the challenge by its more militant rival, Hamas. The Islamists trounced Fatah in the last democratic elections for the Palestinian parliament in 2006, and many fear that a candidate backed by Hamas would likely beat Abbas in presidential elections currently scheduled for early next year. Much of the Fatah rank-and-file, and even many in the leadership, believe that the only way the movement can be saved is to break with American tutelage, and seek to reclaim the mantle of "resistance" from Hamas. The result is that the political statement adopted by the conference is unlikely to please the U.S. and Israel.

Indications from within Fatah suggest that the conference political document will reaffirm the Palestinians right to "resistance," specifying non-violent challenges to the occupation, but remaining silent on the question of armed resistance and the future of the Fatah-affiliated militants of the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade. It will flatly reject Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a "Jewish state," on the grounds that this undermines the rights of Palestinian refugees and of those with Israeli citizenship. It will also insist on a complete freeze on Jewish settlements in occupied territory as a precondition for any talks with Israel, which it will stress must be based on U.N. resolutions — which will include recognition of the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees expelled from Israel in 1948, a demand that Israel deems a deal-breaker.[...]

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