Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 July 2007
Issue No. 852
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The war within Fatah

Dismissing the recent infighting in Gaza as a showdown between Fatah and Hamas only is simplifying a far more complex problem, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah

Tensions are growing between supporters of the American-backed Dahlan faction and the supporters of Yasser Arafat. Tensions between the two polarised camps increased dramatically last week when Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, who backs Dahlan, fired veteran Fatah leader and former PA interior minister Hani Al-Hassan who had accused Dahlan of planning to murder him -- a charge which Dahlan vehemently denied.

The dismissal followed alleged remarks made by Al-Hassan on Wednesday during an interview with the pan- Arab Al-Jazeera TV network where he argued that the recent showdown in Gaza was not a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas but one between Hamas and the Dahlan faction.

Referring to Dahlan's supporters as "the Dayton group", a reference to the American General Keith Dayton who was in charge of arming and financing the former Gaza strongman, Al-Hassan said that Hamas had to do what it did in order to protect the overall national cause.

Following the interview, representatives of the Dahlan faction called Abbas, pressuring him to fire and punish Al-Hassan, while masked gunmen opened fire on his home in Ramallah. Al-Hassan was not in Ramallah during the attack.

Fatah leaders and media outlets affiliated with Abbas and Dahlan have also been waging a smear campaign against Al-Hassan, claiming he had warned Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal of an impending coup to overthrow Hamas, which Al-Hassan allegedly claimed was being planned by Dahlan and Dayton.

In addition to Abbas and Dahlan, the "moderate camp" within Fatah includes people like Ahmed Abdul-Rahman, Al-Tayeb Abdul-Rahim, Nabil Amr and security officers such General Intelligence Chief Tawfiq Tirawi.

The Arafat camp includes the bulk of veteran Fatah leaders such as the Tunis-based head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) political department, Farouk Al-Qaddoumi, Hani Al-Hassan, Jebril Rajoub, Marwan Al-Barghouti, Ahmed Hellis and militant leaders affiliated with Fatah's armed wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

A few days ago, Al-Qaddoumi called the PLO, as it exists today, an "illusory and illegal body", adding that the organisation's executive committee was an unrepresentative body and had no right to neutralise elected bodies such as the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Meanwhile last Thursday heads of the various wings of the Brigades rejected a decree by Abbas to dissolve their militias and hand over their weapons to the PA.

Abu Uday, a spokesman for the Brigades in the northern West Bank, said his group would never hand over weapons as long as the Israeli occupation continued.

It is hard to predict how the growing differences between the two Fatah camps will be resolved.

The "moderate camp" has the money and the physical means to assert itself by force if necessary, at least for the time-being. However, this camp has a major strategic liability, namely a lack of support among Fatah's rank and file and, indeed, among the Palestinian masses as a whole.

Recent revelations by Hamas which allegedly implicate Dahlan in an American-backed plan to reverse the outcome of the 2006 Palestinian elections and depose of the Hamas-led national unity government by force have seriously tarnished his image and that of Abbas in the eyes of many Palestinians.

The anti-Dahlan camp, while lacking the financial resources at Dahlan's disposal, has the advantage of wide support within Fatah and even stronger public support.

One of the strongest assets the anti-Dahlan camp within Fatah is betting on is Abbas's apparent inability to extract any meaningful political concessions from Israel with regard to ending its 40-year-old occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

This week, Jebril Rajoub, the prominent Fatah leader and founder of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank, was quoted as saying that "Olmert and other Israeli leaders babble a lot about strengthening Abbas and weakening Hamas. But in reality, Israel is weakening Abbas and destroying his credibility among Palestinians by killing any viable prospect for Palestinian statehood.

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