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Stormy Sessions Seen as Palestinian Factions Meet at Fatah Conference

Rough seas are expected for the seventh Fatah Conference slated to begin in Ramallah on Tuesday night. The event – the first since 2009 – is seen as a personal showcase for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the leader of Fatah, and perhaps a swansong as well as rumors of possible successors to the octogenarian are rife. Also underscored are the deep divisions between Fatah and Hamas that have prevented no less than four reconciliation agreements from being implemented and the bifurcation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip ended. The differences remain so deep that it has been impossible to organize municipal or general elections in years, creating perhaps the most significant obstacle to statehood. The conference will field 1,400 delegates, including some from Lebanon, Jordan and the Gaza Strip which was no small fete for Abbas as he needed the cooperation of those nations as well as Israeli approval to allow the delegates to travel to Ramallah. Nevertheless, the Palestinians have complained that a number of delegates were still prevented by Israel from entering the West Bank from the Gaza Strip. One personality who won’t be attending is chief Abbas opponent Mohammad Dahlan, who is usually high atop any list of likely successors to Abbas along with Marwan Barghouti, perhaps the strongest of all the candidates but who is serving five consecutive life sentences for murder in an Israeli prison. Dahlan and his supporters view the conference as a mechanism for Abbas to bypass the popular leader in his quest for leadership. First up on the agenda is the election of the Revolutionary Council and Central Committee of Fatah.