Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

MIDEAST: Peace in Balance as Fatah Fights for Survival

Mel Frykberg

BETHLEHEM, Aug 5 2009 (IPS) - Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), is fighting for its very survival as the movement faces implosion, and attacks from all sides. The issues have come to the fore at the sixth revolutionary council of the party that began in Bethlehem Tuesday.

In turn the survival of the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Authority (PA), which controls the West Bank, and is Israel's chief negotiating partner and the international community's hope for a resolution to the protracted Israeli- Palestinian conflict, is at stake.

Factional divisions, including a breakdown in communication between the older guard and the younger guard, Israel's imprisonment of over 200 Fatah members, and Hamas's refusal to allow members trapped in Gaza to attend the conference have compromised the conference from the start.

Up until the last moment Fatah's electoral committee was divided over who should be allowed to attend. Eventually approximately 60 percent of the 2,000 plus delegate seats were reserved for Fatah members above 65 years of age, some returning from exile to attend.

Many of the older guard took up the Palestinian cause from surrounding Arab countries after they were forced to flee Palestine. There has been some tussle between them and the younger guard who honed their political skills during the first Intifadah from the late eighties to the early nineties.

"The younger guard wants to share power with the older guard. We live in the occupied Palestinian territories, and experienced the Intifadah first-hand," Hisham Dweikat, a Fatah youth leader from the northern West Bank city Qalqilia who spent five years in an Israeli jail, told IPS.

But Fathi Najjar, a senior leader who spent years in Jordan and Lebanon and who travelled from Tunis for the conference told IPS, "The younger generation lacks the experience of the older generation especially in dealing with the international community."

On Wednesday Fatah delegates closed the conference to the media to discuss contentious issues, including the possibility of resumption of a limited armed struggle against Israel.

Some Palestinians argue that a limited return to armed struggle is legitimate in the face of lack of progress on the ground over Israel's continued settlement building on Palestinian land, and its expropriation of Palestinian natural resources.

Others say the only hope for establishment of a Palestinian state is negotiating with Israel despite Israel's continual violation of international law in regard to Palestinian rights.

This division has left the PA in a precarious position. In order to continue receiving economic support and regional and international legitimacy, PA President Mahmoud Abbas sees no alternative to negotiations with Israel, albeit on U.S. terms. The U.S. still considers Israel its main regional ally.

Many Palestinians see the PA as Israel's quasi militia in the region which is forced to bear responsibility for the security of Israel's illegal settlers in the West Bank, and for keeping Hamas resistance in check while getting nothing concrete in return.

But Fatah is not giving up without a fight. On Friday delegates in Bethlehem will hold elections for new central and revolutionary committees which could breathe new life into the organisation.

"We are working hard to ensure Fatah's survival to ensure a more equitable distribution of power and a more unified front to confront our enemies," Dweikat told IPS.

"We mean business," chief Palestinian Authority negotiator and Fatah member Saeb Erekat told IPS. "There are a lot of important issues to be discussed, and it is vital that Fatah establishes a new agenda and a consensus on the path ahead."

Fatah's last revolutionary council was held in exile in Tunis in 1989. Fatah was formed in 1958, and joined the PLO in 1967. Many Fatah members belong to the PA, which was established in the wake of the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993.

Meanwhile Israeli security head Avi Dichter has warned that a new platform being adopted by Fatah, calling for resumption of a limited armed struggle against Israel, could be the precedent to a third Palestinian Intifadah, or uprising.

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