Saturday, July 25, 2009

Palestinian Affairs: The Rocky Road to Bethlehem

By Khaled Abu Toameh
25 July 09

Barring a last-minute change of plans, the PLO's largest and oldest faction, Fatah, is finally expected to hold its sixth general conference in Bethlehem on August 4.

The mere fact that the conference is being held is an achievement for Fatah's leaders and members, because the last time the conference was convened was about 20 years ago.

Since then, Fatah's veteran old-guard leadership has done its utmost to delay the gathering, mainly out of fear that it could pave the way for the rise of young grassroots activists.

Succumbing to internal and outside pressure earlier this year, PA President Mahmoud Abbas decided - contrary to the advice of many of his aides - to hold the general assembly in Bethlehem.

Abbas's aides expressed concern that holding the conference at this stage would only deepen divisions between Fatah's young and old guards. They also warned that convening the conference in the West Bank would mean that hundreds of Fatah representatives living in the Gaza Strip and Arab countries might not be able to attend.

Indeed, Abbas's decision has already triggered a crisis in Fatah. Many operatives living abroad - including one of Fatah's founders, 78-year-old Farouk Kaddoumi - have come out publicly against the decision to hold the conference "under the Israeli occupation."

Kaddoumi and his supporters had initially sought to hold the conference in an Arab country, but were turned down by most of the Arab governments, including Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

It's still not clear whether they are planning to boycott the conference in Bethlehem. Abbas is hoping to bring together about 1,500 Fatah members and leaders in what is expected to be the faction's most significant meeting since its founding 45 years ago.

The reason it is so important is because it will determine the identity of Fatah's future leaders, and lay out its political and security strategy. And since Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, whatever decisions its members make at the conference will impact the status of the peace process with Israel.
(For full article)

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