Middle East

Faction Splits from Fatah, Forms Rival Slate

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Dissidents in the ruling Fatah Movement have formed a new party to compete in next month's parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza. The new movement, called The Future, is led by jailed Palestinian political figure Marwan Barghouti.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And there's been a major development in Palestinian politics. Dissidents in the ruling Fatah movement have broken away to form a new party to contest next month's parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza. The new movement is called The Future. It's led by Marwan Barghouti. He's now in an Israeli prison serving time for terrorist offenses but remains the Palestinians' most popular political figure. The Future movement also includes a top leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on Israelis. That man, Nasser Juma, says he's now directing his energies to reforming the Palestinian Authority. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Nasser Juma, a tall, soft-spoken man with a shaven head, was on Israel's wanted list for years. He spent most of his time on the run, rarely sleeping in the same place twice. Many of his colleagues in the al-Aqsa Brigades have been killed or arrested. Juma says they missed him several times, but he says the situation has eased since an Israeli-Palestinian truce was announced last February. Now in a small hideout tucked into a corner of the casbah, or old city, of Nablus, Juma says both he and the situation have changed, and he hopes to exchange his AK-47 rifle for a seat on the Palestinian parliament. Although he received the top spot on the Fatah list in Nablus in recent primary elections, Juma has left Fatah and joined the political movement of his mentor, Marwan Barghouti. Juma says if he is elected, his first priority will be fighting for reform within the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. NASSER JUMA: (Through Translator) We have suffered many years from the Palestinian Authority. There are many problems there, like corruption. We need to change this.

GRADSTEIN: Juma recently encouraged dozens of al-Aqsa fighters in Nablus to join the Palestinian security forces. He says he fully supports the 10-month-old cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians and says none of the men under his command have been involved in attacks on Israel since the truce was announced. The 38-year-old father of one says his goal in joining the Palestinian parliament is the same as when he was a fighter, to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Mr. JUMA: (Through Translator) We are weaker than Israel. We've been unable to get our rights with military force, and our only choice is to enter into negotiations with Israel. We hope to win sympathy and support for the Arab and international community for our cause.

GRADSTEIN: He says the main obstacle to peace is not the Palestinians but Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who continues expanding Jewish settlements and expropriating land in the West Bank. Juma says he's had many contacts with Israelis on the left who support a Palestinian state. He says Israel is making a mistake by not releasing Palestinian militant leader Marwan Barghouti. He says Barghouti could convince the Palestinian public to accept a peace deal with Israel. In contrast, he describes the current head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, as weak and ineffectual and alleges he has let corrupt cronies run Palestinian affairs.

The Fatah movement is facing a challenge not only from Barghouti and Juma but from the Islamist Hamas movement, which is fielding candidates for the first time. Hamas has chosen professional men--doctors, lawyers, engineers--who are known for their honesty. Juma says Palestinians on the street are tired of government corruption. He says popular leaders, like Barghouti and himself, offer an alternative to both Fatah and Hamas. Linda Gradstein, NPR News.

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