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Abbas emerges stronger from Fatah conference

The mainline Palestinian party elected a new guard in its first leadership vote in 20 years, revamping a council whose youngest member was 70.

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As the Fatah party convention wrapped up Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas emerged stronger, signaling a comeback for the US-backed peace proponent after his party was trounced by Hamas.

His success in shepherding the long-anticipated congress, which updated Fatah's political platform and ushered in a new guard of leaders in the first party elections since 1989, enabled him at last to come out from under the long shadow of Yasser Arafat – the late party founder and icon of Palestinian nationalism.

"Abbas is the main winner. He is leaving the conference much, much stronger than when he entered the conference. It is a historic achievement; he did the impossible," says Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister who is not a member of Fatah. "So far he has been a weak leader.... He seems to be coming out of the conference as a leader who is much less in need of using the memory of Yasser Arafat as a tool."

Despite being marred by fractious bickering, the Fatah conference has been hailed as key to jump-starting badly needed democratic reform in Palestinian government and politics. Palestinians have long complained of corruption in the party, and criticized the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority – under pressure from Israel to bolster its security forces as part of an eventual peace deal – for setting up a police state.

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