BETHLEHEM (Reuters) - The Palestinian party Fatah appeared to have strengthened President Mahmoud Abbas and reclaimed legitimacy with voters on Tuesday by unseating much of the "old guard" of the late Yasser Arafat. But electing younger men to the Central Committee, including Marwan Barghouthi who is serving life in an Israeli jail and several security chiefs, will not bring instant change in the ability of Fatah's leader President Mahmoud Abbas to make peace with Israel - or with Fatah's Islamist nemesis, Hamas. Rival Palestinian strongmen Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajub are among the most prominent members of Fatah's top governing body elected at a landmark congress this week. Abbas, 74, gambled by calling the first congress of his fractious movement in 20 years, and won when its 2,300 delegates voted in a younger executive that will rejuvenate Fatah and consolidate his position as leader, analysts said. Senior Fatah members believe it is now in a better position to seek reconciliation with its fierce rival, the Islamist group Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip, restoring some unity to the divided Palestinian cause. A reinvigoration of Fatah, battered at parliamentary polls by Hamas in 2006 because of perceived corruption, cronyism and complacency, may also strengthen Abbas' hand in talks with Israel as US President Barack Obama prepares a new peace plan. "This is an unexpected result. It's a big change, a huge change," said Naser al-Kidwa, a nephew of Arafat. Preliminary results indicated Kidwa had won one of 14 seats on the decision-making Central Committee to change hands out of the 18 up for election. New faces replaced ageing veterans who failed to win re-election despite, in some cases, accusations of bringing in relatives and staff to vote as delegates. Among the older figures who dominated Fatah in decades of exile before the Oslo interim peace deal of 1993 was Ahmed Qurie, once a top negotiator, prime minister and among Arafat's first allies in the 1960s. Early results indicated Qurie had failed to keep his seat. Of 18 members elected to the 23-strong Central Committee, only one now lives abroad; Abbas will no longer have to go to Jordan to convene meetings. Abbas, who is endorsed by Western powers, urged Fatah to mark a "new beginning" and work to redeem its record of venality and poor governance and recapture electoral support. Political analyst Hani Masri said Fatah would not "change in just eight days", but that the congress would strengthen Abbas vis-a-vis Israel. He could present himself as head of a vigorous movement that retained the option to resume its armed conflict. Former Palestinian diplomat Abdullah Abdullah agreed. "We are determined to follow the path of peace, to negotiate a settlement," he said. But we need to see results. We cannot continue talking forever." HAMAS Abdullah said reconciliation with Hamas was vital and prospects of a deal had now improved. "This congress has removed the excuse from Hamas that it can be intransigent because it is dealing with a weak, divided Fatah. Now it is a strong, united Fatah, and we will work from a position of strength." Some saw a ray of hope in the fact that Hamas, which stopped 300 Fatah members leaving Israeli-blockaded Gaza to attend the congress, did not prevent them voting by telephone. On the streets of Gaza, many welcomed the prospect of a new start and hoped for unity. "The fact that the winners were from the young generation was positive," said Mohammed Mrad, 40. Results of voting for Fatah's parliament, the 128-seat Revolutionary Council, were due in a day or two.