Report: Fatah to oppose recognizing Israel as Jewish state
Arab press: Leaked draft of new platform calls for limited armed 'resistance,' dialogue with Iran.
The Palestinian Fatah faction plans to oppose recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and consider opening a strategic dialogue with Iran, according to details from a proposed draft of its political platform that were leaked to the Arab press on Saturday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has conditioned the establishment of a Palestinian state upon recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as a Jewish state.
Various drafts outlining Fatah's party platform will be voted on by Fatah delegates at its general summit that is scheduled to take place on Tuesday in Bethlehem.
The draft leaked on Saturday also calls for Fatah supporters to use civil disobedience in its struggle with Israel, including limited violence against settlements and the West Bank separation fence, as well as against what it calls the Judaization of Jerusalem.
The draft proposes that Fatah weigh alternatives to negotiations with Israel, including the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state along 1967 lines, or the creation of a bi-national state, should talks with Israel fail.
Fatah, the divided and demoralized movement of the late Yasser Arafat and the West's best hope for delivering a Middle East peace deal, is trying to stage a comeback.
Fatah to hold first convention in 20 yearsOn Tuesday, Fatah is supposed to open its first convention in 20 years, hoping to clean up its corruption-tainted image and transform itself into a vibrant alternative to the Islamic militants of Hamas.
The international community, including U.S. diplomats, is watching anxiously, since Fatah is the only mainstream Palestinian champion of compromise with Israel.
Yet there are signs that the movement, paralyzed by infighting and generational power struggles, is incapable of reform. And because of a bitter standoff with Hamas, it's not even certain the three-day convention in the West Bank city of Bethlehem will open on schedule.
Failure or cancellation could further weaken the already poor standing of Fatah's leader, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and hurt the Obama administration's peace push.
"Any blow to Fatah at this convention will be a blow to the international vision of solving the conflict," said Khaled Hroub, a Palestinian analyst.
In the 20 years since the last convention, Middle East peace hopes have seesawed wildly. Arafat launched an internationally acclaimed peace effort with Israel in 1993, oversaw a violent uprising in 2000 and died in 2004. Hamas emerged as a major spoiler, seizing control of the Gaza Strip, and this year a relatively moderate Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was replaced by Netanyahu, a hawk.
Fatah seems wholly preoccupied with its internal pre-convention maneuvers and little attention is being focused on the new party program, a thorough rewrite of the document adopted 20 years ago.
The 1989 convention called for armed action against Israel. The new one firmly commits the Palestinians to peace talks, although it still mentions armed struggle as a theoretical right, said its author, veteran Fatah leader Nabil Shaath.
He said the Fatah program is setting 20 rules for its peace negotiators.
For example, it states that negotiations cannot be held as long as Israel expands settlements. Abbas has said he will not resume talks without such a freeze, and such a clause could strengthen him should he come under international pressure to bend on the issue.
Shaath would not elaborate further on the program, but the Palestinians' chief demand has remained constant - a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. We are dedicated to the peace process, we are dedicated to negotiations, provided we are not taken for a ride, Shaath said.
One thing going for Fatah is a nascent economic recovery in the West Bank, helped by a relaxation of Israeli security measures under Netanyahu.
But on the larger issues, the Israeli leader has been less forthcoming. He has said no to a settlement freeze, no to a redivision of Jerusalem, and only a qualified yes to statehood.
It seems unlikely the convention - and adoption of a revised program - will do much to sway Israeli public opinion. A majority in Israel support an eventual peace deal, but are reluctant to give up land now because of fears it will be used by the Palestinians to launch attacks.
Still, Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher says Israelis should root for Fatah as the only viable force for a peace settlement.
"All those Israelis who find fault with it have to ask themselves what the alternatives are," he said. "They don't look very good."
Abbas' job as party leader is not on the line, but support by his party can help shore up his political legitimacy. His term as president expired in January, and he has simply stayed on, saying the rift with Hamas left him no other option.
Potential successors are not challenging Abbas now, but their relative strengths will be measured when the more than 1,500 delegates from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the diaspora elect new party committees.
Marwan Barghouti, who led the last Palestinian uprising, is running for the 21-member Central Committee from the Israeli prison where he is serving five life terms for his role in shooting attacks. A strong win could help a future bid for the presidency, once Abbas steps down.
A Barghouti rival for a committee seat, Mohammed Dahlan, has had Western support but is a polarizing figure who lost influence after Hamas seized his native Gaza Strip from Fatah rule in 2007.
'A chaotic, big-tent movement'In contrast to secretive and disciplined Hamas, Fatah is a chaotic big-tent movement that draws activists ranging from academics and entrepreneurs to scruffy militants.
The convention pits old against young, West Bankers against Gazans, Palestinians from those territories against representatives of the diaspora.
Since its founding, it has been the standard-bearer of the Palestinian cause, but once Arafat achieved limited autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza, the Fatah leadership came to be seen as using its power for self-enrichment.
While Hamas earned popular support with its network of clinics, schools and welfare services, some Fatah leaders drove big cars and built ostentatious villas.
Fatah activists say Hamas beat Fatah in the 2006 election largely because of its clean-cut image rather than its refusal to recognize Israel.
Nabil Amr, the Palestinian ambassador to Egypt, frankly acknowledged Fatah's tarnished reputation during a recent campaign stop in the northern West Bank town of Qalqiliya.
Fatah is full of thieves, spies and corrupt people, enough to destroy any country, said Amr, 61, who is seeking a committee seat. But Fatah survived because it is close to the people.
But in Gaza, Fatah is barely hanging on. In the past two years, Hamas has systematically dismantled the party's organization there, closing offices and arresting scores of activists.
Meanwhile, the two territories that would become the Palestinian state are heavily at odds, especially since Hamas seized control of Gaza.
New presidential and parliamentary elections won't be held unless Fatah and Hamas reconcile, and months of talks have gone nowhere. Now Hamas is saying it won't let Gaza's Fatah delegates travel to the convention unless 900 of its followers are freed from West Bank prisons.
Syria and Egypt are mediating, but its not clear if the conference can proceed without the Gazans.