Fatah Election Could Make Peace Talks Tougher

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JERUSALEM, Israel - A younger generation of leaders will apparently replace the so-called old guard as a result of the Palestinian Fatah movement's first Central Committee elections in 20 years, according to reports from the gathering. But the "young guard," as they are being called, will not necessarily make Israeli-Palestinian negotiations any easier.

The elections were seen as a key to reviving Fatah, which the West sees as its best hope for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Preliminary results showed at least 13 of the 18 elected members are part of the younger generation of Fatah members, though Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas remains the group's leader.

The results come just weeks ahead of President Barack Obama's promised unveiling of a new plan to bring about Israeli-Palestinian peace. But analysts said the change in Fatah players does not necessarily mean there will be progress in negotiations.

There is a change in names but not in the "guard," Dr. Hillel Frisch of the Tel Aviv-based BESA Center for Strategic Studies told CBN News.

Rather than drawing the line between younger and older Fatah members, Frisch said he prefers to make a distinction between those who are "statists" and those who are "revolutionaries."

"Statists" are those who support Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and who say they want the PA to eventually evolve into a Palestinian state.

"Revolutionaries" on the other hand are those who, like jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, joined forces with former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to launch the violent uprising against Israel in 2000.

According to Frisch, more statists than revolutionaries were elected to the council -- that is those who support Abbas. Frisch said he believes that will mean a continuation of the status quo as far as Israel is concerned.

But Pinhas Inbari, senior analyst with the conservative Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, says the whole idea of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is even more difficult from the Palestinian side.

Obama and European leaders may come to the conclusion that Fatah is once again a partner for negotiations with Israel, Inbari said.

The Fatah resolution could be seen as a partial success for Obama. He wanted the language of the Fatah resolution changed. The pledge to continue the "armed struggle" was dropped. But it was replaced with a vow to leave "all options" of struggle open, which would include the armed option, Inbari said.

Washington might also see the replacement of the "old guard" with a "new generation," as success, but the old style hard-liners still exist, he said.

Inbari predicted that the U.S. administration would now campaign for the release of Barghouti, who is serving five consecutive life sentences in Israeli prison for involvement in terrorism. That would put Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a hard position, he said.

The bottom line is that the conference made the situation more complicated, said Inbari.

Abbas and Ahmed Queria (who was not re-elected) could have made an agreement with Israel when the Fatah committee was not looking over their shoulders, but they didn't. This new committee will not allow them to negotiate freely, he said.

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Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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