In the first election in two decades, Fatah members brought to the helm of power in their once-dominant movement many new and young faces.
"This is an unexpected result," Naser al-Kidwa, the nephew of late iconic leader Yasser Arafat who was elected to the governing Central Committee, told Reuters on Tuesday, August 11.
"It’s a big change, a huge change."
About 2,000 delegates attending the Fatah 6th congress in the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem, the first in 20 years and first ever inside the Palestinian territories, cast their ballots over the weekend to elect new leaders.
At least 96 candidates stood in the election to the 21-member Central Committee and 617 candidates for the 120 seats of the Revolutionary Council.
Among the new faces elected are former internal security chief Jibril Rajub and former Fatah strongman in Gaza Mohammed Dahlan, a divisive figure strongly disliked by Hamas supporters.
The delegates returned only few of the Old Guards to the decision-making body, according to initial results.
Top negotiator Ahmed Qorei, a former premier and parliament speaker, was among those who fell out of favor.
The results for the Revolutionary Council, the other main governing body, were expected later Tuesday.
The congress had earlier re-elected President Mahmoud Abbas, 74, as Fatah leader, a post he has held since Arafat’s death in 2004.
Fatah, founded by Arafat in the late 1950s, exercised undivided power among Palestinians for decades, leading both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority.
But the group’s downturn began with his death, largely over a reputation for corruption and cronyism.
Fatah was crushed in the 2006 parliamentary elections by rival Hamas, which now controls the Gaza Strip.
Among the most popular faces elected to the powerful Central Committee is Marwan Barghuti, a popular leader serving five life sentences in Israel.
Barghuti, 50, is Fatah’s West Bank Secretary but was never a member of the Central Committee.
He was abducted by Israel in April 2002 and sentenced to five life terms for his role in deadly attacks on Israelis during the intifada.
Barghouti, who denies the charges, is a popular and articulate figure among many Palestinians and was once seen as Arafat successor.
Fluent in both English and Hebrew, he supports a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
"The vast majority of the Palestinian people, myself included, are ready for a historic reconciliation based on international resolutions that will result in the establishment of two states," he wrote recently in the Washington Post.
"We are ready for reconciliation that will grant ours and your own children a life devoid of the threats of war and bloodshed."
From behind bars, Barghuti has repeatedly called for reconciliation with rival Hamas.
(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)