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Will Abbas do it?

Will Abbas do it?

Palestinian national dialogue hangs by a thread as leaders in Ramallah suggest that unilaterally they will form a new Palestinian government outside its framework, writes Saleh Al-Naami


Despite numerous undertakings by Fatah leaders to hold "sooner rather than later" the movement's long-overdue Sixth Congress, sharp differences and disagreements among Fatah's competing camps continue to impede the convening of the conference.

Last month, Hakam Balawi, secretary- general of Fatah's Executive Committee, was quoted by the pro-establishment Maan News Agency as saying: "An announcement as to the date and venue of the Sixth Conference will be announced within a few hours." Since then, several weeks have passed and it is still uncertain when and where the movement's convention will take place.

Jordan and Egypt reportedly have refused to allow Fatah to hold the convention on their soil, ostensibly for "security considerations". The two states are presumably worried that allowing thousands of Fatah members into their respective territories could entail unpredictable consequences.

The Fatah leadership has been trying to find an alternative venue for the conference. Ramallah, Bethlehem or Hebron have been suggested. However, there has been a strong opposition to holding the conference in the West Bank for a simple reason that the West Bank is occupied by Israel and no one, including the highest-ranking Palestinian Authority (PA) officials, can move from city to city without an Israeli permit. Israel could try to manipulate the outcome of the conference by selectively allowing access to the conference centre.

Moreover, it is unlikely that the Israeli occupation authorities would allow hundreds of Fatah leaders from the Diaspora and also from the Gaza Strip to travel to the West Bank. This reality has forced some top Fatah leaders to contemplate holding a series of mini-conventions or local conferences in several regions. However, this suggestion is viewed as impractical for a variety of reasons.

Regardless, disagreements over the date and venue of the Sixth Congress are only a small part of the internal troubles Fatah is undergoing. Last week, the Preparatory Committee meeting in Amman abruptly adjourned following an acrimonious session during which discordant Fatah leaders representing different camps exchanged curses and even assaulted each other physically. The committee has been meeting for several months in an effort to determine membership criteria, namely who will be qualified to participate in the Sixth Congress.

This contentious issue has proved a real problem as every camp is trying to nominate, often using undemocratic tactics, as many of its supporters as possible for conference membership. According to eyewitnesses, the Amman altercation was triggered when the Office of PA President Mahmoud Abbas demanded that a large number of supporters be accepted as voting members. This infuriated a number of historical Fatah leaders, including Farouk Al-Qadoumi and Nasr Youssef, with the latter reportedly remarking that the "names of candidates are landing by parachute from Ramallah".

Qadoumi, too, objected, saying that, "Fatah shouldn't allow Israeli spies and collaborators to decide the outcome of the Sixth Congress." He was referring to hundreds of names submitted, at least in part, by former PA strongman Mohamed Dahlan, an ally of Abbas and widely regarded as pro-Western in orientation.

Fatah, a huge movement with tens of thousands of members, has been facing a crisis in determining who is eligible to take part in the conference. Many of the movement's nominal members have no real "revolutionary credentials" and are considered "sycophants, hangers-on and opportunists". This is in contrast to numerous other veteran Fatah activists who have spent their lives serving the movement and who are now sidelined because they don't have the "right connections" with the "centres of influence".

In term of size, Fatah is larger than Hamas. However, unlike Hamas, Fatah is far from being monolithic and homogenous, both ideologically and politically. This is why the various and competing camps within the movement are trying to get as many of their supporters as possible represented in the conference that will elect a new leadership for the movement, including a new Executive Committee and a new Revolutionary Council.

Last Monday, 28 April, as inter-camp discord reached the point of altercation, Qadoumi, a strong opponent of the Oslo Accords, castigated Ahmed Qurei and Mohamed Ghuneim, the first for his "unholy alliance with Dahlan and Abbas", apparently clear from his tacit endorsement of their membership list. Qadoumi shouted at Qurei: "Would you like to pat the heads and backs of these spies?"

Qadoumi also lambasted Qurei for supporting open-ended negotiations with Israel. "What negotiations are you talking about? You have brought one disaster after another upon the Palestinian people and their national cause... How are you going to continue these futile negotiations with those who don't even recognise you and don't want to negotiate with you?"

Qadoumi also attacked Ghuneim for "flirting with Abbas and Dahlan" by endorsing "the nomination of treacherous elements to the conference while rejecting honourable people who sacrificed much for the sake of Palestine."

Earlier, Qadoumi lashed out at Fatah leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for "remaining silent when some traitors were committing national adultery in the name of Fatah". Referring to Dahlan and his supporters, Qadoumi berated some of his colleagues within Fatah, saying "Why did you not speak up when you saw these people coordinate and collaborate with Israel in broad daylight? What were you afraid of? Why did you remain silent? Why?"

It is uncertain whether Fatah will be able to devise a mechanism with which every camp and every leader could be equally satisfied. What is certain is that holding the movement's Sixth Congress under the current circumstances would further exacerbate the movement's internal contradictions. The continuing rift with Hamas, the brazen extremism of the new Israeli government, and the disenchantment displayed by many ordinary Palestinians with the Fatah leadership are additional factors militating against the movement's internal harmony and unity.

The most important factor eroding Fatah's credibility in the eyes of many Palestinians remains the persistence of the Israeli occupation. It appears that in order to secure its survival Fatah has no choice but to collaborate and coordinate with Israel, often against Palestinian national interests. But while this collaboration puts Fatah in an advantageous position vis-à-vis other Palestinian factions, particularly Hamas, it also serves to diminish support for Fatah in the long run, especially when a just and dignified peace settlement with Israel remains so unforeseeable.

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2009/946/re2.htm

 

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