08/04/2009, 00.00
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Fatah holds first party congress in 20 years

by Joshua Lapide
Party remains open to dialogue with Israel but armed struggle still a possibility. Movement faces many internal problems like corruption, nepotism, inefficiency and youth marginalisation.
Bethlehem (AsiaNews) – More than 2,000 delegates are convening in the town of Bethlehem for Fatah's first congress in 20 years under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. The three-day meeting should see delegates discuss a new party platform, rejuvenate the movement and launch a path for dialogue with Israel.

Under its rules Fatah has to hold a congress every five years, but the last one was celebrated in 1989. After that Arafat, who avoided challenges to his authority, kept postponing the meeting.

In its 41-page draft proposal, the movement looks at the dramatic events in the last 20 years. It proposes to push to the sidelines a call to "armed struggle" against Israel, without dropping it altogether.

It calls for an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank, a condition also demanded by the United States but which has fallen on the deaf ears of Israel’s hard line Netanyahu government.

But the movement has even greater challenges. It is plagued by corruption, nepotism and inefficiency, which led the former ruling party to lose ground to the radical Islamist Hamas movement, now ruling Gaza.

Some 400 Fatah delegates from Gaza may in fact not be able to attend the congress because Hamas wants the release of its militants imprisoned in Fatah-controlled West Bank.

Party renewal is also a difficult proposition. Since Arafat’s death in 2004 members of Fatah's younger generation have met the opposition of the movement’s old guard, who are reluctant to easily step aside.

Only about one-fourth of the more than 2,000 delegates were elected by the rank-and-file. The rest were picked by Abbas and a small committee, in what could turn out to be an obstacle to sweeping leadership changes.

Delegates will elect two leadership committees, one with 18 seats and the second with 120.Abbas' job as party leader is not up for a vote.

Young delegates hope to elect Marwan Barghouti, the charismatic former leader of the Palestinian uprising who is now in an Israeli jail.

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