Marwan Barghouthi, who is serving five life sentences in Israel, has been elected to the governing body of Fatah which dominates the Palestinian Authority, party officials announced on Tuesday.
Barghouthi, 50, who was found guilty in 2004 for his role in five deadly attacks against Israelis, was among the new members elected to the Central Committee in the party’s first such vote in 20 years.
Also elected were former Palestinian internal security chief Jibril Rajub, 56 and former Fatah strongman in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan.
Top Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qorei was among the party veterans who failed to be elected.
The Palestinian territories have been under Israeli occupation since 1967.
The committee was last renewed at Fatah’s previous congress 20 years ago and many members hope that introducing fresh blood into its top bodies will help invigorate the party which has lost much of its clout over recent years.
Members of the party founded in the late 1950s by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also elected a raft of new leaders to its 120-strong Revolutionary Council.
About 2,000 delegates cast their ballots at the party congress held in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, the first ever in Palestinian territory.
Allegations of corruption and internal divisions further weakened the party.
In his opening speech at the congress on August 4, Abbas listed a litany of errors he said Fatah had committed, urging delegates to learn from them and use the congress as a platform to give Fatah a new start.
But the very next day, acrimonious disputes broke out as hundreds of delegates protested over the lack of administrative and financial accounting by the Fatah leadership since the last congress in 1989.
The congress on Saturday re-elected Abbas as head of the movement, a post he has held since Arafat’s death in 2004, and renewed its charter, effectively endorsing his political programme.
Fatah, which over the years has moved away from the armed struggle, underlined its commitment to a negotiated peace with Israel, but stressed that the Palestinian people have a ‘right to resistance to occupation’ in line with international law.
Fatah also blamed Israel on Thursday for the 2004 death of its founder Arafat.
Fatah delegates unanimously voted to ‘attribute to Israel, as an occupying power, full responsibility for the assassination of the martyr Yasser Arafat’.
China said on Monday the international community should lend more support to the Middle East peace talks.
‘A two-state solution does not only require efforts by Israel and the Palestinians, it also needs more international support to help resume peace negotiations as soon as possible,’ visiting Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh.
‘China backs all efforts to create a suitable environment for a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.’
The Jordanian foreign ministry statement said Judeh and Yang ‘stressed that peace efforts should lead to serious negotiations’.
‘China plays a key role in supporting the Middle East peace process,’ said Judeh, whose country signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.
Israel’s extremist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned on Monday against attempting to impose a Middle East deal, saying the most peace talks can achieve in coming years is to improve Israeli security and the Palestinian economy.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has vowed to work vigorously to end the decades-old conflict and his administration is attempting to put the faltering Middle East peace talks back on track.
Obama should press Arab leaders for ‘dramatic gestures’ towards Israel, an overwhelming majority of US senators said in a letter made public on Monday.
On forging policy, the US lawmakers are heavily influenced by Washington’s pro-Israel lobbies, which are accused by many of serving Tel Aviv’s interest more than that of America.
‘We would like to understand what steps you are urging Arab states to take and what your expectations are from Arab states in the coming weeks and months,’ more than 70 of the USA’s 100 senators said in the message to the president.
‘We also hope that you will continue to press Arab leaders to consider dramatic gestures toward Israel similar to those taken previously by brave leaders like King Hussein of Jordan and Anwar El-Sadat of Egypt.’
They were referring to Sadat’s 1977 visit to occupied Jerusalem and Hussain’s opening of direct Jordan-Israel ties.
Arab leaders, mainly US-backed authoritarian regimes, fear stirring public anger and face possible revolts if they make or strengthen ties with Tel Aviv while Israel continues to occupy, kill and besiege Palestinians.
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both signed the message, which was drafted by Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho and Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana.
The letter came as Israel’s extremist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, warned against attempting to impose a Middle East peace deal, saying the most peace talks can achieve for the coming year is improving security and the Palestinian economy.
The US lawmakers also urged Arab leaders to end the Arab League boycott of Israel, meet openly with Israeli officials, boost trade relations with Israel, issue visas to Israeli citizens and invite Israelis to take part in academic and professional conferences, as well as sporting events.