- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

NABLUS, West Bank — Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti and the field commanders of the five-year uprising against Israel emerged yesterday as the winners of a primary election in the ruling Fatah party ahead of an upcoming vote for parliament.The primary balloting is considered a last-ditch effort to strengthen the fractured party of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas before facing the Islamic militant Hamas party in a Jan. 25 legislative showdown.Mr. Barghouti, who is serving consecutive life sentences in Israel after being convicted of planning shooting attacks inside of Israel, was second in popularity to former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for his role in organizing the armed uprising that broke out in September 2000.Initial results from primary balloting in five West Bank cities suggested that Fatah activists who came of age during the first intifada beat out the older contemporaries of Mr. Abbas and Mr. Arafat, many of whom are accused of corruption. Mr. Barghouti was the runaway winner in Ramallah, while leaders of Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade led the field in the militant strongholds of Nablus and Jenin, according to unofficial results. The vote, which continues this week in the remainder of the West Bank and Gaza, is seen as the first step in replacing a generation of aloof apparatchiks with younger local activists who led attacks on Israel targets.”The most important thing among the young generation is that they are not corrupt and they want reform,” said Mohammad Yaghi, a Palestinian political analyst. But when it comes to the political struggle against Israel, they are the hard line, not the soft line.”Fatah has lost several key races to Hamas in a series of municipal elections over the last year. Mr. Abbas’ party suffered from its reputation for cronyism and nepotism, as well as a failure to unify behind one candidate.A recent poll performed at Nablus’ A-Najah University suggested that 38 percent of Palestinians will support Fatah in the upcoming elections compared with 22 percent who will back Hamas.Half of the 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament will be decided in races in individual voting districts, and the victory of the Fatah militants in the primaries is seen as improving the party’s chances of running an effective grass-roots campaign.Mr. Barghouti is known for his support for combining tactics of violence and peace negotiations to advance the Palestinian cause. The stance is a departure from both Mr. Abbas, who opposed the militarization of the Palestinian uprising, as well as Hamas, which opposes peace talks with Israel. Mr. Barghouti’s strong showing touched off a debate in Israel about whether he should be pardoned. Former Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit said Israel’s government might consider releasing him as part of a peace treaty while Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said he’d never support pardoning a Palestinian convicted of murder.”Fatah won’t stop believing that it’s our right to use violence to achieve our goal of liberation like all other nations,” said Kadoura Fares, a Palestinian legislator closely allied with Mr. Barghouti told Israel Radio. “But Fatah also believes that as long as there’s an option of sitting next to the negotiations table that you have to give preference to negotiations.”The ruling party has been suffering from Mr. Arafat’s legacy of 40 years of autocratic rule, leaving Fatah with party structures and politicians which were never given any real powers.”This is the only way to topple them — to get rid of them. It’s an ongoing struggle between this generation and the former generation,” said Nasser Juma, a member of Nablus’ Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade who was forecast as winner. “If Abbas wants his political vision to take place, he needs a strong Fatah.”

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