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Palestinian 'third way' rises

A new political group offers voters a choice between Fatah and Hamas.

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Hamas and Fatah have a new political rival.

A group of respected Palestinian leaders and intellectuals has formed an independent list to run in January's elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. The new "party" presents a potential challenge to the two major forces of political life here: Fatah, the ruling Palestinian faction, and Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement.

The names topping the new list are well-known: Salam Fayyad, the respected finance minister and former World Bank official - a man seen by the international donor community as one of the most reliable and capable people in the Palestinian Authority (PA) - and Hanan Ashrawi, a former minister and Palestinian spokeswoman who has lobbied for an improved human rights record and respect for the rule of law in areas under the PA's control.

The founders of the independent list see themselves as offering a political "third way" to Palestinians disillusioned with the current options.

Secular-nationalist Fatah is perceived by many Palestinians as rife with corruption and infighting. Until now, the next most viable political option has been Hamas, which has been promoting itself as a clean-hands, no-nonsense party. But many of those frustrated with Fatah don't necessarily support Hamas's continued use of suicide bombings and rocket attacks on Israelis - nor its plans to Islamicize Palestinian society. That's the voter the new party hopes to attract.

"There's a great deal of excitement as well as support, and we hope to address [the needs] of people who are disenchanted," Mrs. Ashrawi says. The new group is not being called a party, she says, because there is no law yet governing the creation of Palestinian political parties. "We're using the elections as a launching pad. This a group of people who are likeminded, who want good governance, peacemaking, and democracy to be part of the vision."

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