Young Palestinian activists from the ruling Fatah Party rejected a call for unity Thursday, determined to push aside the corrupt old guard associated with Yasser Arafat and form their own party for January parliamentary elections.
The decision, made after a meeting with their imprisoned leader, deepened a crisis for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and threatened to give a boost to Islamic Hamas militants.
In another blow to Fatah, Hamas swept to victory in elections in the West Bank’s largest city, Nablus, according to official results announced early Friday.
Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in an Israeli prison for involvement in deadly attacks, rejected Abbas’ efforts to patch up their differences, said Sufian Abu Zaydeh, a close associate of Barghouti.
“Marwan of course would like to see one list, and we did everything possible in order to be one list,” Abu Zaydeh told reporters outside the prison. “Unfortunately, we didn’t succeed.”
With Fatah in turmoil, the prospect of a strong Hamas presence in the new Palestinian parliament seemed realistic — possibly torpedoing future peace moves, since both Israel and the U.S. consider the Islamic movement a terror group after dozens of Hamas suicide bombings.
Registration for the Jan. 25 election closed Wednesday, with the young guard presenting its own list — running under the name “The Future” — while Fatah registered its candidates separately.
However, Barghouti’s name was featured on the top of both lists — a maneuver to win time to resolve differences.
Abbas trying to reunite Fatah
Abbas, who also heads Fatah, still hopes to reunite the party. On Thursday he threatened to resign as head of the Palestinian Authority if Fatah remains split, according to participants in a party meeting.
Abbas did not comment on the upheaval in his party Thursday, saying only, “whatever results come out of the ballot box will be accepted and legitimate.”
Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath of Fatah said candidates would have to decide by Friday whether to run on the Fatah list or the Future list. The final Fatah list will be compiled Friday by Abbas, Shaath said.
Barghouti, 46, is standing firm against the old guard, his associates said. “This is not a matter of a personal decision by Marwan,” said Kadoura Fares, another of the leaders who met Barghouti on Thursday. “It’s a matter of a majority in the movement.”
They are determined to replace the old guard that returned from exile with Arafat in the mid-1990s and brought with them an autocratic and corrupt style of government. Polls show the old Fatah leadership is losing support among the people, who are tired of the endless political maneuvering, ineffective government, squabbling security forces and economic hardship.
Taking advantage of the dissatisfaction, Hamas is posing a significant threat to Fatah in the election. Hamas calmly presented a list with a relative pragmatist, Ismail Haniyeh, in the top spot — a stark contrast to the Fatah infighting, which has even turned violent several times in recent weeks.
Recent gains for Hamas
Hamas built on recent gains in local elections, winning 73 percent of the vote in Nablus and 11 of the 13 seats on the city council, while Fatah won just 13 percent, taking the other two seats, according to Azmi al-Tanjirthe head of the local election commission.
“Because Fatah is in disarray, and because the group has split in two, the Fatah leaders and the Palestinian Authority leaders are responsible for Fatah’s failing today,” said Amjad Nabulsi, a Fatah activist.
Meanwhile, violence continued Thursday at a relatively low level, a day after Israel killed four Gaza militants in an airstrike.
Palestinians fired at least six rockets at Israel from Gaza. One exploded near a beer warehouse outside the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Israel hit back with an artillery barrage at northern Gaza where militants launch the rockets. No one was hurt.
Early Friday, Israel hit back with a missile attack on northern Gaza. Residents said two Palestinians were hurt. The Israeli military said the targets were access routes to areas in northern Gaza where militants launch rockets.
Trial ‘safe passage’ in Gaza
Citing continuing militant activity in Gaza, Israel canceled plans to allow a trial of a “safe passage” for Palestinians through its territory between the West Bank and Gaza.
Under a U.S.-brokered agreement, Israel was to open the passage this week, but it called that off after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed five Israelis in Dec. 5.
In Bethlehem in the West Bank, Palestinian security tipped Israeli police about a car bomb. The Israelis found the abandoned car next to a bypass road used by settlers and blew it up harmlessly.
Around the same time, Bethlehem officials lit the town’s Christmas tree in a ceremony marking the holiday season in Jesus’ birthplace.