RAMALLAH (Palestinian Territories) • President Mahmoud Abbas was due to address his Fatah party's first congress since 2009 yesterday, as he contends with internal dissent and grim prospects for advancing his decades-long goal of achieving a Palestinian state.
The 81-year-old leader was re-elected head of Fatah as the congress opened on Tuesday, but speculation has mounted over who will eventually succeed him as Palestinian President.
He has not publicly supported a successor. His speech before some 1,400 delegates in Ramallah comes as Palestinians face continued Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank and an incoming Donald Trump administration in the United States seen as far more friendly to Israel.
More than 600,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as their future capital. The US, European Union and others have warned that continued settlement building is eating away at prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict, the basis of years of negotiations.
A controversial Israeli Bill to legalise some 4,000 settler homes in the West Bank was due to come up for a first reading in Parliament yesterday, but there were suggestions that it was being delayed amid further discussions.
The international community considers all of Israel's settlements in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank to be illegal, whether they are authorised by the government or not. The Israeli government differentiates between those it has approved and those it has not. The progress of the Bill, approved earlier by a committee of ministers on behalf of the government, has demonstrated the power of the settler movement in Israel.
Fatah's five-day congress is expected to discuss whether to seek to introduce a United Nations Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements.
Mr Abbas, head of Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority since Yasser Arafat's death in 2004, has consistently called for a negotiated solution and opposed another violent insurrection. But he has grown unpopular, with polls showing most Palestinians want him to resign, and many have lost faith in the so-called peace process spelt out in the Oslo accords of the 1990s that he helped negotiate.
Some analysts see the congress as an attempt by Mr Abbas to marginalise his political opponents, including long-time rival Mohammed Dahlan, who is in exile in the United Arab Emirates.
Observers have seen the reduced number of officials to vote - down from more than 2,000 in 2009 - as part of a move to exclude Mr Dahlan's supporters. The election of members of Fatah's Parliament and its central committee will signal the direction the oldest Palestinian party will take.
The congress also comes with Fatah and its Islamist rival Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, still deeply divided.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon warned that hopes for a two-state solution were fading fast, decrying settlement building and home demolitions by Israel. However, he also criticised the Palestinians' "paralysing lack of unity".