On Tuesday, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas announced that his Fatah party will hold its first congress since 2009 at the end of November, during which major strides towards peace with Israel may be on the agenda.
Fatah’s Central Committee decided unanimously to meet November 29 in the city of Ramallah, West Bank, according to a statement released by Mr. Abbas. The Central Committee, the group’s organizing body, is chaired by Abbas.
During a statement at a joint press conference on Tuesday in Ramallah, de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority, Abbas hosted visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who made his first visit to Palestinian territory.
Abbas said that Fatah is seeking peace as its objective, and that the key to ensuring peace is to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
“We reiterate here that peace is our strategic goal and is in the interest of all parties,” said Abbas. “The key to peace is in ending the Israeli occupation and in lifting the injustice faced by our people so that the two states, Palestine and Israel, can live in security, stability, peace and good neighborly relations.”
He said that Palestine was ready to forge a peace with Israel founded on the two-state solution, supported by U.N. resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative, an Arab League-backed 10-sentence initiative to end the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict based on a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian territory.
“I want to emphasis here our respect for Judaism,” he said. “We have always called for keeping Jerusalem open for worship to followers of the three monotheistic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. What we condemn is the Israeli violations and settler attacks against our people and their holy places.”
Abbas restated his support for a peace conference, sponsored by France, that is set to take place by the end of this year, which Mr. Mattarella seconded. Israel is opposed to the peace conference.
Abbas called for an “appropriate environment” for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“Israel opposes the conference concept seeing it as one more opportunity for the international community to divert the onus of making peace from the parties whom it will affect”, he said.
He also defended a recent UNESCO resolution that condemned Israeli practices in East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. He said that UNESCO was seeking to “denounce Israeli violations and attempts to alter the character and the identity of East Jerusalem” and protect world heritage sites.
“The recent Israeli claims in an attempt to mix up religion and heritage are untrue and inappropriate,” he said.
The trip by the Italian president was the first time an Italian head of state has visited Palestinian territory. The two offered mutual assurances of continued support.
In an interview with the Italian la Republic daily, Abbas emphasized the historical relations and close ties between Italy and Palestine. He offered praise for Italy’s continuing support for Palestine.
“We do not want the Italian government to follow suit with our politics. But we demand that [Italy] be on the same distance from us and from Israel,” he told the paper. “If we fail or stumble, then we want [Italy] to tell us that we are wrong, and we want it to do the same with Israel. We are not asking for too much.” Abbas also offered his condolences to the Italian people over the recent magnitude 5.1 earthquake which struck central Italy.
The Palestinian congress will soon elect a 23-member central committee and a 132-member “revolutionary council”, or parliament.
The call for a meeting of the congress by Abbas, who is 81, has been viewed by some as a way for Abbas to consolidate his flagging power by reshuffling ministerial posts in order to appease or expel rivals.
The meeting of the congress will be the seventh since Fatah’s founding in 1959 (it became a political party in 1965).