Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

MIDEAST: Rift Developing Between PA and Fatah

Mel Frykberg

RAMALLAH, Oct 12 2009 (IPS) - An increasingly isolated and unpopular Palestinian Authority (PA) has again made a 180-degree turn in the Goldstone report fiasco as it tries to fend off mounting criticism from all and sundry, including its own organisation.

On Sunday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did a complete about-face over UN-appointed Justice Richard Goldstone’s controversial report on war crimes in Gaza, the bulk of it focusing on Israeli atrocities.

“I instructed the PA envoy in Geneva to call for another exceptional meeting of the Human Rights Council to vote on the report, seeking to punish all who committed the most grotesque crimes against women and children in Gaza,” Abbas said.

The report was previously due to be debated by the UN Security Council and then probably handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague, but due to political opposition, the PA’s included, it was postponed to March next year.

The PA had initially supported the report, but backed down under intense political pressure from Israel and the U.S.

These latest developments have contributed significantly to a growing rift between the PA and its affiliate Fatah as more and more Palestinians and Arabs see the PA as little more than a stooge of the U.S. and the Israelis.

“The PA is in complete denial. It appears to be living on another planet,” Dr Samir Awad from Birzeit University near Ramallah told IPS.

“Something is going to explode. We are sick of them. The Palestinian street wants a divorce from the PA,” Aysam Zaid a Fatah leader in Ramallah told IPS.

A number of Fatah members are also members of the PA. Fatah is the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

While a roasting from Hamas and Islamic Jihad was predictable, scathing criticism from within the PA, the PLO and even the Arab-Israeli Balad party appears to have caught Abbas off guard.

Social affairs minister Majida Al-Masri called the UN postponement “an embarrassment,” and demanded accountability. Finance minister Bassem Khoury resigned in protest.

Abbas’s pro-Western prime minister Salam Fayyad made veiled critical remarks. “We mustn’t give up the opportunity to go after those who committed war crimes during Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip,” read a statement released by Fayyad.

Other Fatah members unofficially asked Abbas to take the necessary steps to prevent the controversy from harming the party’s standing among the Palestinian public.

The head of another faction of the PLO, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Ahmed Jibril, openly called on Abbas last week to “go home”. The council of Palestinian organisations in Europe also called on Abbas to step down.

Nabil Amr, the former Palestinian ambassador to Egypt, a former aide to the Palestinian President, also lambasted Abbas.

PA retaliation was swift. Security personnel for Amr were withdrawn from his Ramallah residence, a serious issue in light of the fact that several years ago gunmen seriously wounded Amr in what appeared to be an assassination attempt.

Balad, the Israeli Arab party, called for Abbas’s immediate dismissal last week after convening a conference especially to discuss the matter. This is the first time in Palestinian history that an Israeli Arab party has intervened in PA politics.

Syrian officials cancelled a meeting with Abbas in Damascus last week in the wake of the affair.

Under such a backlash it was inevitable that Abbas would back-pedal in an attempt to save a vestige of political face. But his decision to establish a committee to investigate the PA’s withdrawal of support for the Goldstone report has many Palestinians scoffing in contempt.

“The PA doesn’t share power democratically with Fatah. Most Fatah members have practically no say over the handling of finances, security and media,” says Mustafa Abdelhadi, chairman of Fatah’s action committee.

“When they make decisions they don’t consult the rank and file Fatah members. When they formed the newest government recently, appointees were approached individually to join, and many of them were the same old faces. There was no democratic discussion,” Abdelhadi told IPS.

Furthermore, Abbas’s recent fiery rhetoric against Israel’s Judaisation of East Jerusalem also raised sceptical eyebrows as critics say the PA has done little to counter the developments.

Palestinian activists in Jerusalem say that the PA gives minimal financial and legal aid to fight Israeli settlements and home demolitions, and doesn’t have a coordinated approach.

One activist said there are struggles between Fatah activists in the area and the PA on almost a daily basis in an attempt to garner support and funds for Jerusalem and for the families faced with the threat of eviction of demolition of their homes.

However, even with the rift Awad doesn’t see a major split between Fatah and the PA in the near future.

“Despite the PA having vested economic and political interests in maintaining the status quo at the expense of the Palestinians, many Fatah members will continue to follow the political line as they need to survive economically, and an internal split would cripple their movement politically,” Awad told IPS.

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