Weakened Fatah On The Ropes
LE MONDE | 09.06.05 | 13:54
Expectations soared. After a lengthy period of inaction, Fatah, the principal faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization, finally scheduled its first party congress in sixteen years. The date was decreed: August 4th. The congress would have closed a chapter and injected fresh blood into its moth-eaten institutions, beginning with the Central Committee, the most important decision-making body within the movement. But the Revolutionary Council, the second most important body, decided on Sunday 5 June to postpone the date sine die—a decision which provoked both resentment and doubt.
Fatah, the movement in which the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is a member, is not doing well. Its public image is tarnished. And Abbas paid dearly in the recent partial municipal elections, which had been called in December 2004 for Gaza and the West Bank.
Functional difficulties compound its poor pubic image: the inability to agree on a single slate in local precincts or to select candidates likely to garner the largest number of votes. Fatah, whose political weight was once crushing, is now challenged by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).
We must rebuild the base by reaching out to people, says Mohammed Shtayyeh, a Palestinian Authority minister close to Mr. Abbas. I was in favor of the postponement of the legislative elections--scheduled for July 17th but indefinitely delayed—because it seemed absurd to hold our congress following them. Common sense tells you that a party has to first rebuild its executive bodies so that it can select its candidates. We have to get busy, and quick! Time is running out. Internal elections have to be organized at every level and the Palestinian Authority cannot indefinitely put off the legislative elections, which could be held this fall, after the Gaza pullout. Officially, the party congress has been postponed for practical reasons. Since the death of Yassir Arafat, Fatah is officially led by Farouk Kaddoumi in Tunis. Kaddoumi was hostile to the 1993 Oslo Accords and refuses to return to the Palestinian Territories. A complicated situation which does not lend itself to making the needed reforms.
For those who intend to keep their commitment to renew party cadres and ideas (and they are numerous inside Abbas’ entourage), the baulking comes from those who have everything to lose in the internal elections. Relations are horrible between the majority of the Central Committee and Abu Mazen –nom de guerre of Mahmood Abbas—who knows very well that they would have had done with him had the elections occurred, says Mamdu Nofal, a old associate of Yassir Arafat and member of a minority faction, FIDA. In fact, Fatah, which had become "Arafatized" over the last ten years, now finds itself in a situation not unlike that of the Nasserite parties after the death of Nasser--without substance and without programs. It gives the impression that it is unable to modernize, he adds.
Mohammed Ourani, an MP close to Marwan Barghouti, the charismatic young Fatah leader sentenced to multiple life terms in Israel, has doubts himself. On the ground the situation risks becoming explosive very quickly. Expectations are extremely high and no one understands the current bottlenecks. We’re cornered. But no one is prepared to split. At worst, if nothing changes between now and the legislative elections, we’ll forgo the opinion of the Central Committee and run as independents.
The impasse works to the advantage of Hamas, to that point that some reformers within Fatah are beginning to wonder why there is contact with the Islamist movement, most notably by the British, which Jack Straw acknowledged on June 7th. Even if it is out of the question for London—not to mention Washington—to consider Hamas as a possible partner in dialog, some Palestinian observers fear a shift in which the Islamist movement would turn out to be a credible alternative to Fatah, lastingly weakened by its divisions.