Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

MIDEAST: New Blood Invigorates Fatah Leadership

Mel Frykberg

BETHLEHEM, Aug 12 2009 (IPS) - Despite internal divisions, much criticism and against enormous odds, the Fatah movement has emerged from its Sixth Revolutionary Council here with new blood in its leadership and hopes for a fresh agenda.

Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), affiliated with the Palestinian Authority (PA) which rules the West Bank, held its first conference in 20 years last week, and for the first time in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a shock move, the movement's younger guard mounted a successful challenge to the older guard's iron grip on power by securing a significant portion of the Central Committee seats.

Fatah further endorsed its commitment to peace negotiations with Israel, despite the intransigence of the Israeli government, while at the same time warning that the option of armed struggle remains.

The conference began Aug. 4 in the city of Jesus's birth, and was scheduled to finish Aug. 6, but ran several days beyond due to internal bickering and a number of unexpected problems.

Up until the last moment the Central Committee's original list of 1,550 delegates from the Palestinian diaspora and from within the Palestinian territories kept growing and changing. Amidst accusations of delegate stacking, the final number reached well over 2,000.

Seven hundred candidates stood for the 80 seats on the 120-seat Revolutionary Council, and 100 for the 18 seats on the Central Committee. More than half of the old guard who stood failed to secure seats on the Central Committee, and 14 of them were taken by new officials, in preliminary results.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas was re-elected Fatah leader. He was the only candidate.

The biggest surprise was that Ahmed Qureia, former Palestinian prime minister and now member of the PA peace negotiating team, lost his seat. There were many allegations that Qureia had tried to stack the conference delegate list with hundreds of his cronies. Many Palestinians accuse the PA of running a corrupt dictatorship.

On Wednesday last week delegates nearly came to blows when the Central Committee failed to produce any documentation on where hundreds of millions of dollars had been spent in the last two decades since the last revolutionary conference in Tunis in 1989.

Dissatisfaction with the state of affairs within the PA led many Fatah members to cast protest votes in favour of Hamas in the January 2006 elections. This contributed to the Islamic movement's shock victory in Gaza.

The election therefore of a number of new and younger leaders is another sign that Fatah members want reform, and credible leaders.

The charismatic Marwan Barghouti, serving several life sentences in an Israeli jail, was elected to the Central Committee. Barghouti was a leader of the second Palestinian uprising, or the Al-Aqsa Intifadah which began in 2000, and led a number of attacks on Israeli targets.

Many believe that under his leadership a united Fatah could make progress in unity talks with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip; he is one of the few Fatah members respected by the Gaza-based Islamists.

Many Palestinians believe that Israelis trumped up charges against him because of his leadership skills, because they prefer to deal with more pliable and corrupt PA members.

Fatah may be showing some signs of revival but it faces many obstacles.

The election to the Central Committee of former Gaza Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan from the younger guard is divisive for Fatah members.

Dahlan is accused of attempting to instigate a coup – allegedly armed and financed by the CIA and the Israelis – against Hamas in 2007. Hamas pre- empted this with a coup of its own which saw Fatah lose control of Gaza in the 2007 civil war.

Many Fatah members blame Dahlan for this loss. Others question how a poor Gazan became a millionaire overnight, owning wealthy residential property in Dubai.

Fatah's future leadership platform will be contingent, amongst other things, on its relationship with the PA.

Central issues to be negotiated will include dealing with Hamas, peace negotiations with Israel, and bridging Fatah's divide between the older and the younger guard, moderates and the militants, and reformers versus the status quo supporters.

Despite Israel's intransigence on basic Palestinian rights on the settlements and a two-state solution, Fatah wants to continue peace talks. But it has said it reserves the right to pursue civil disobedience and grassroots campaigns against Israel if the rights of Palestinians are not respected.

Fatah also says that a limited return to armed resistance against Israeli settlers and soldiers remains a last resort.

The younger guard have made it clear they will not be the pushover that the older PA members have been in dealings with Israel. This does not bode well for an increasingly unpopular PA and could, amongst other divisive issues, cause a split between the PA and Fatah.

Republish | | Print |

orpheus builds a girl