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August 14, 2009

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 14, 2009 By Dina Kraft Fatah congress focuses on split with Hamas The rivalry between Hamas and Fatah--along with discussing how to re- solve the deadlock between the two--was front and center at the congress. was still very much on the table for Fatah, despite its involvement in the peace process. "Fatah will never give up on the armed struggle until "We need unity with Hamas," Abbas said. "We know you are part of Pales- tine. We are two parts that connect each other and should not divide each other." Fatah members meet in Bethlehem on Aug. 4 in the party's first congress Jibril Rajoub, the former head of the Palestinian Authority's internal secu- rity force and a leading contender for a top Fatah role, said the conference was critical to achieving a "strong, unified political platform and a place to find a mechanism of how to manage the conflict with the Israelis." Speaking to an Israeli journalist in the fluent Hebrew he picked up dur- ing his years in an Israeli prison, Rajoub said mili- tary action against Israel we get our state," Rajoub said. "Until then, this is just a timeout for tactical reasons." Political observers say part of the reason for tough talk by Fatah members is an attempt to show that the party can be a viable and politically aggressive politi- cal alternative to Hamas. In an emotional two-hour speech at the congress' opening session, EA. Presi- dent Mahmoud Abbas talked about resolving the Hamas- Fatah split and suggested holding new elections. Those divisions, however, were apparent at the con- gress. Earlier in his speech, Abbas referred to Hamas as "coup makers," and Hamas refused to allow 400 Fatah delegates in Gaza to travel to the conference in the West Bank. But several snuck out via underground smuggling tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt, and some came by donkey. One wom- an even disguised herself as a Bedouin to make it across undetected. Israel made special ac- commodation to allow attendance by members from enemy countries such as Syria. Fatah's old guard, some of them political exiles from countries like Lebanon and Syriawho had lssam Rimawi/Flash90/JTA in 20 years. not been in the West Bank for decades, mixed with younger Fatah members at the conference. Israeli Arab Knesset member Ahmed Tibi was among the Israelis to attend the congress. He said Aug. 4 that the future Palestinian state must be free of Jewish settlers and that Israeli Ar- abs were an inseparable part of the Palestinian people, according to media reports. Reacting to statements made at the conference, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Knes- BETHLEHEM, West Bank (JTA)--Silver-haired Fatah Party members in dark, pinstriped suits drapedwith kaffiyeh scarves bearing the colors of the Palestinian flag greeted each other with kisses as they converged in Bethlehem for the move- ment's first congress in 20 years. On Aug. 4, more than 2,000 delegates from all over the Arab world came to the conference, which was held in the hall of a private Christian school near the Church of the Na- tivity. The last time Fafah convened a congress was in Tunis in 1989, when the movement's leadership was living in exile. Aside from choosing new leaders and adopting a new political platform, the congress aims to help rebuild the once dominant but now struggling party of Yasser Arafat. "It's an important step in the life of Fatah and comes at a critical time in the political life of the Palestinian people," said Nasr Jom'a, a Fatah member of the Palestinian Author- ity parliament. "Fatah has deteriorated over the years. Its political agenda may have been convincing, but its leaders have become corrupt." Battling the image of a corrupt party that is out of touch with the Palestin- ian street, Fatah is locked in a bitter power struggle with its rival Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group. Hamas defeated Fatah in Palestinian legislative elec- tions in January 2006 and violently wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in June 2007. set's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel shouldn't stress over the rhetoric. "We shouldn't ignore it, but neither should we make too much of it," he said, according to media reports. "The test will come after the conference. We will see what the leadership brings to the negotiating table. That's what matters." Jehad Hamdan, a long- time Fatah member and former economics profes- sor who now heads the institute responsible for civil servants in the West Bank and Gaza, told JTA that Fatah has made some progress in correcting its financial "misadministra- tion'--what others call corruption, Eating a breakfast of hummus at Bethlehem's fanciest hotel, the Jacir Palace Intercontinental, Hamdan said he believes Fa- tah still has a support base. "I don't think Fatah has lost the people," he said. "Fatah is still strong, but it does need to renew itself." Meanwhile, a divide has emerged between the ac- tivists based in the West Bank and the exiles. Those living abroad tend to have a harder-line approach on issues like armed resistance. West Bank party activists are generally seen as more tempered and pragmatic, having lived through two intifadas. Surveying the gathering, Ahmed Mohammed Deik, a Fatah delegate from Yemen, said the main challenge now for Fatah is not Israel or the wider world, but its main Palestinian rival, "The world supports our national project," he said, "but Hamas, that is our biggest problem." Netanyahu's proposed ban on NGO funding raises questions By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Larry Garber remembers the last time he was living in Israel and someone wanted to cut off foreign government funds to human rights groups that discomfited the political establishment. Itwas 2000 and Garber, who then ran the U.S. Agency for International Development mission in the West Bank and Gaza, was meetingwith Hasan Asfour, a Cabinet minister in Yasser Arafat's notoriously corrupt PalestinianAuthority government. Memories of that experi- ence resurfaced last week when Garber, who now di- rects the New Israel Fund in Washington, was reading The Jerusalem Post and saw the same old arguments -- but this time from a senior Israeli official. According to The Jerusalem Post story, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's gov- ernment is contemplating legislation that would ban foreign government funding for groups such as Breaking the Silence, which solicited claims from Israeli soldiers about army abuses during the recent Gaza war. Ron Dermer, Netanyahu's senior political adviser, was New Israel Fund Larry Garber, who directs the New Israel Fund, says a plan in Israel to ban local NGOs from receiving foreign government funding would be difficult to implement. quoted as saying that funding from foreign embassies for the group amounted to "blatant and unacceptable" interven- tion in Israel's internal affairs. "Just as it would be unac- ceptable for European govern- ments to support anti-war NGOs in the U.S.," Dermer said,"it is unacceptable for the Europeans to support local NGOs opposed to the poli- cies of Israel's democratically elected government." The proposal is being praised in some corners of the Jewish community as a necessary step to block foreign governments from unduly undermining the will of Israeli voters. But some Jewish organizational of- ficials counter that a ban on foreign government support of NGOs is more characteristic of a dictatorship, and would undermine U.S. efforts to sup- port NGOs in Iran and other countries with poor human rights records. One senior official at a centrist Jewish organization said such an initiative was profoundly counterintuitive, considering how much the Israeli and Jewish estab- lishments had reaped from Western government backing for NGOs assisting Jews in the Soviet Union during the Cold War--and how such support continues today in Iran and the former Soviet Union. "It's a little surprising," said the official, who spoke anonymously to avoid embar- rassing Israel's government. "All over the world, NGOs are accused of taking Other gov- ernments' dollars and being tainted by that--the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, the National Repub- lican Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy. If the Israeli government says we're going to only let certain human rights groups operate, it makes it harder to make our case" elsewhere. Mainstream pro-Israel groups quietly back U.S. government funding for pro- democracy groups in Iran and have been supportive of moves in Congress to shift some of the assistance Egypt receives from military aid to funding for human rights NGOs. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti- Defamation League, backed the Netanyahu government's initiative. Foxman said that foreign support for NGOs was simply a means for for- eign governments to affect through the back door what Israelis have alrea@ rejected. "There's too much mischief through Israeli NGOs to try and achieve domestically through foreign money what could not be achieved through the democratic process," he said. Another official ata pro-Is- rael group says the difference is that Israel is a first world democracy--democracies meddling in the business of other democracies is inap- propriate. "We oppose undermining and meddling in democratic al- lies," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Additionally, the groups Dermer was targeting, such as Breaking the Silence, were identified with a specific po- litical camp, on Israel's left, he said. "There's a difference be- tween civil society institute, and politically motivated and politically charged groups," the official said. In response to such argu- ments, Garber said that gov- ernment funding for human rights groups in democracies was not at all unusual. Prior to his stint dealing with the West Bank and Gaza, he spent seven years at USAID negotiat- ing the prickly issue of fund- ing such groups in nascent democracies such as Russia. Furthermore, under the umbrella of groups such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a process exists of democracies monitoring one another--the Helsinki groups of legislators who track human rights in each others' nations is an example. The U.S. Helsinki Commission, for instance, routinely tracks discrimination against Roma and Jews in democracies such as Romania and the Baltic states. "Democracies can work together," Garber said. "How do you strengthen electoral systems? This is part of what we are as democracies." But Garber, whose New Israel Fund raises funds principally from foundations and private donors, agreed that a case could be made against foreign governments funding Israeli NGOs if only because Israel's status as an industrialized nation meant that its NGOs already enjoyed an indigenous fund-raising base. Israeli NGOs also were adept at raising funds from private donors overseas. "Both on developmental and political grounds, you can make the argument [that Israel] shouldn't be receiving" funds from overseas govern- ments, Garber said. However, he wondered how Netanyahu's govern- ment would draft such a law; describing an NGO as "politi- cal" casts a broad net, Garber suggested. For example, he noted, the U.S. Senate just approved funding for Israeli universities. Think tanks at- tached to those universities, including those that tilt to the right, might be ineligible for the funds if Netanyahu's initiative bears fruit. "The government would be hard-pressed to designate 'political NGOs' without including organizations the government would like to see continue receiving funds," he said.