Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (centre) attended the opening ceremony of the 7th Fatah Congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 29, 2016
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (centre) attended the opening ceremony of the 7th Fatah Congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 29, 2016 © - AFP
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (centre) attended the opening ceremony of the 7th Fatah Congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 29, 2016
Sarah Benhaida, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Palestinian leader Abbas to address first Fatah congress since 2009

President Mahmud Abbas said he remained committed to dialogue with Israel as he addressed his Fatah party's first congress since 2009 on Wednesday while facing grim immediate prospects for advancing his goal of a Palestinian state.

The 81-year-old leader was re-elected head of Fatah as the congress opened on Tuesday, but speculation has mounted over who will eventually succeed him as Palestinian president.

He has contended with personal unpopularity, with polls showing most Palestinians would like him to resign, and internal party dissent.

Many have lost faith in the so-called peace process spelled out in the Oslo accords of the 1990s that he helped negotiate.

In his speech on Wednesday evening, Abbas said he was committed to negotiating a two-state solution to the conflict, but that it would not come at the expense of Palestinian principles.

"We are saying to the Israeli people that we want peace that conforms to international resolutions, but it is your government who does not," he said.

Israel must "recognise that settlements are illegal", he said, adding "our hand will remain extended for peace".

Peace efforts have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in 2014.

The Israelis have called for direct negotiations, while the Palestinians have pursued international support for their cause, saying years of talks have not ended the occupation.

The speech before some 1,400 delegates came with Palestinians facing continued Jewish settlement building in the West Bank and an incoming Donald Trump administration in the United States seen as far more friendly to Israel.

More than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The United States, European Union and others have warned that continued settlement building is eating away at prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict, the basis of years of negotiations.

A controversial Israeli bill to legalise some 4,000 settler homes in the West Bank had been due to come up for a first reading in parliament on Wednesday, but it was delayed until Monday as behind-the-scenes debate continued.

The international community considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem to be illegal, whether they are authorised by the government or not.

The Israeli government differentiates between those it has approved and those it has not.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's current coalition is considered the most right-wing in Israel's history.

- Hamas outreach -

Fatah's five-day congress is expected to discuss whether to seek to introduce a UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements.

Abbas, head of Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority following Yasser Arafat's death in 2004, has consistently called for a negotiated solution and opposed another violent uprising.

His achievements include having Palestine recognised as a UN observer state, with its flag raised at United Nations headquarters in 2015.

But the ageing leader has grown unpopular and has not publicly backed a successor.

Some analysts see the congress as an attempt by Abbas to marginalise political opponents, including longtime rival Mohammed Dahlan, currently in exile in the United Arab Emirates.

Observers have seen the reduced number of officials to vote -- down from more than 2,000 in 2009 -- as part of a move to exclude Dahlan supporters.

The election of members of Fatah's parliament and its central committee could signal the direction the oldest Palestinian party will take and possibly provide clues to Abbas's thinking regarding his succession.

The congress also comes with Fatah and its Islamist rival Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, still deeply divided. Fatah dominates the Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank.

However, a letter from exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, in which he said he was "ready to cooperate with Fatah," was read at the opening of the congress on Tuesday.

Abbas and Meshaal recently met in Qatar for the first time in two years.

With the two movements long divided, Abbas's term as Palestinian president officially ended in 2009 but there has been no election since.

Abbas said Wednesday there was "no other path than reconciliation," though repeated previous attempts have failed.

blog comments powered by Disqus