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Palestinians Choose Young Leadership in West Bank Primaries


Young Palestinian activists have swept to victory in the Fatah Party's West Bank primary elections, dealing a blow to the longtime leadership. A jailed militant is heading the list of candidates.

A new Palestinian leadership is emerging after decades of control by the so-called "old guard" - symbolized by the late Yasser Arafat and headed today by moderate President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinians cast aside the old guard in primary elections for the ruling Fatah Party in the West Bank, and chose people from the younger generation on the front lines of the conflict with Israel.

"This young generation are rising to challenge the old guards and telling them: 'It is time for new blood, new face, new generation,'" Palestinian analyst Mahdi Abdul Hadi told VOA.

The old guard returned to the Palestinian territories from exile with Yasser Arafat in 1994. But with the death of Mr. Arafat a year ago, these leaders have fallen from grace. Mr. Abdul Hadi says they are widely seen as corrupt.

"Corruption has been the culture of the Middle East as well as everywhere in the world, but for the last 10 years the old guard did not deliver the expected revolutionary change in the society," he added. "They created another Arab regime."

The man at the top of the new Fatah list is 46-year-old Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, who has supported the peace process, but also endorsed armed resistance when peace moves failed. Mr. Barghouti was convicted of involvement in shootings that killed five Israelis, and is serving a life term in an Israeli jail.

"I am very, very upset that the Palestinians have decided to take a murderer as the representative to the parliament. I think it is a very bad signal," said Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

Israel says Mr. Barghouti is a terrorist who will not be released from jail, but Palestinians consider Mr. Barghouti a freedom fighter and that is why he is so popular.

Fatah is facing a strong challenge by the Islamic Hamas movement for votes in the parliamentary elections set for January 25.