Sat, Aug 08, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Palestinians receive Saudi scolding over internal divisions

REUTERS , BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK

Reformists kept up pressure for leadership change in the dominant Palestinian party Fatah on Thursday, and Saudi Arabia said no Palestinian state could emerge unless internal divisions were healed.

Fatah’s first congress in 20 years got off to a rocky start this week, with charges by reformists that a well-entrenched but aging and politically discredited “old guard” had stacked the convention with loyalists to safeguard the status quo.

Internal feuding and the risk of an open split in the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in addition to the deep rift between Fatah and Islamist rival Hamas, provoked a warning from Saudi King Abdullah in unusually blunt language.

“Even if the whole world agreed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with all the needed support and backing, it will not be established as long as the Palestinian house is divided,” Abdullah wrote in an open letter to Abbas.

“I’ll be honest, brothers. The criminal enemy [Israel] could not over long years of continued aggression have inflicted as much damage to the Palestinian cause as did the Palestinians themselves in a matter of a few months,” he said.

The letter was published in the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat.

If a Middle East peace agreement can be negotiated to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel, it would be signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is recognized by Israel and the UN, dominated by Fatah and headed by Abbas.

Unity within Fatah is crucial to a successful peace process.

Western backers of Abbas hope this congress can restore credibility to Fatah ahead of an election expected early next year, when the US may lead a new push for a peace deal with Israel.

Discredited by years of failed peace talks and the taint of corruption under the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, humbled at the polls by Hamas in 2006, Fatah is in need of an overhaul and a re-launch, reformists say.

On Thursday, there were signs of some room at the top for new blood, as aging members of Fatah’s Central Committee said they would not seek re-election.

Only eight of 16 incumbents of the ruling Central Committee were re-standing. But critics said the “old guard” could still cling to power with the vote of a congress packed at the last minute with 700 of their supporters. The youngest is over 70.

Some delegates reported a heated discussion, with participants shouting at each other and cursing.

An official from the Ministry of Finance said some had used state money for their own families and spoke of “nepotism” by officials who appointed sons, daughters and friends as delegates.

“This is part of democracy, as long as we do not get into a fist fight,” one participant said.

The Central Committee was last chosen in Tunis in 1989. It normally numbers 21, 18 of whom are elected and three appointed.

Nomination of a new lineup was to begin on Thursday evening and end yesterday. A vote was due by today.

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