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World News

Fatah congress to keep "armed struggle" option

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah will endorse a two-state solution but keep the option of “armed struggle” with Israel, when the movement holds a congress Tuesday, officials said.

More than 2,000 delegates convening for the first time in 20 years will seek in three days of talks to adopt a program that distinguishes Fatah from Islamist Hamas which has rejected Western demands to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

But in its bid to rejuvenate and restructure, Fatah members meeting in the West Bank town of Bethlehem have no plans to revise a founding charter which, like that of Hamas, calls for the Jewish state’s destruction, Fatah officials said.

The charter of Fatah, a movement founded under by the late Yasser Arafat in 1965, calls for armed struggle “until the Zionist entity is wiped out and Palestine is liberated.”

Fatah’s rules say it has to hold a congress every five years. But Arafat, who avoided challenges to his authority, kept postponing the convention, citing changing circumstances such as the signing of the Oslo accords with Israel in the 1990s.

A draft of Fatah’s new program calls for new forms of resistance such as civil disobedience against the expansion of Jewish settlements and a barrier Israel says is for security, but which Palestinians denounce as a land grab.

Crucially, the draft leaves open the option of “armed struggle” if peace talks with Israel fail and does not rule out a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if peace negotiations remain stalemated.

Talks with Israel have stalled for months and Abbas has said they may resume only if Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu freezes settlement building as called for by a U.S., European and United Nations-backed peace plan.

Speaking to delegates on the eve of the congress, Abbas said: “We hope that our neighbours will allow us to reach to peace to build the future of our state that lives next to their state in security and peace.”

NO DISCUSSION

Nabil Shaath, a veteran member of Fatah’s ruling Central Committee, told Reuters that the charter “cannot be changed.”

Azzam al-Ahmad, another senior Fatah leader, said: “It will remain as is. It won’t be subject to discussion.”

“We have the right to practice all forms of national struggle,” Ahmad said. “We are in the phase of national liberation and we have the right to use all means in the fight to end the occupation until we establish the state.”

Palestinian analysts said Fatah, seeking to infuse its top ranks with new blood, would find it hard to compete with Hamas if it amended its charter before reaching any deal with Israel to establish an independent Palestinian state.

Fatah has been struggling to regain the dominancy it enjoyed for decades before losing a 2006 parliamentary election to Hamas which seized control of coastal Gaza by force a year later, effectively splitting Palestinian loyalties.

Some 400 Fatah delegates from Gaza may not be able to attend the congress if Iranian-backed Hamas makes good on threats not to let them leave Gaza for the West Bank.

Fatah’s congress aims to elect a new central committee and ruling council, in the hopes of giving more of a say to a younger generation that grew up fighting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank since it captured the territory in a 1967 war.

The last Fatah congress was held in Tunis in 1989.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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