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Path Is Unclear for Fatah's New Leaders

By Luis Ramirez
Ramallah, West Bank
04 September 2009

This month, Fatah, the faction that rules the West Bank, held its first convention on Palestinian territory. Members of the organization once headed by Yasser Arafat elected younger, more pragmatic and peace-minded leaders to the party's central committee and revolutionary council. However, the new Fatah faces a dilemma as it presents itself as a political party in tune with the West, while maintaining it is still a liberation organization committed to fighting Israeli occupation.

Mohammad Shtayyeh is the face of a newer generation of Palestinian leaders recently elected to Fatah's central committee. He is well-connected, Western-educated and has a vision. "I would like to see an end of the Israeli occupation and I would like to see our people living in peace with the Israeli people. And I would like very much to see the region really (as) a region of hope, a region of stability," he said.

Signs of stability are emerging throughout the West Bank as infrastructure improves, security is bolstered, and construction booms - thanks largely to aid from the United States and the European Union, and trade with Israel.

Some Palestinians see it as a fragile peace, and do not believe that Fatah's self-proclaimed status as both a political party and a liberation organization will be effective. "I think with Israel, they will not be able to do either negotiations or resistance. Whichever way, the Palestinian people will be the losers," said one Ramallah resident.

Despite anger over the Israeli occupation, few Palestinian leaders are talking about armed rebellion these days. But even the moderates in Fatah will not rule out resistance if negotiations fail.

"We are victims of occupation, but we have other options. That's what we are saying. It is a legitimate right for any human on Earth if he is oppressed, if he is treated unfairly, he has the right to shout," said Shtayyeh.

With no sign of movement, by Israelis or Palestinians, on the key issues of refugees, the status of Jerusalem, and Jewish settlements, the new Fatah leadership's stated resolve for peace could be put to the test.

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