Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1319, (10 - 16 November 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1319, (10 - 16 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Fatah’s Seventh General Congress: Revival or division?

After a seven-year absence, Fatah’s Seventh General Congress is due end of November amidst complicated political circumstances, writes Mohamed El-Sharkawy

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Palestinian National Liberation Movement, Fatah, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will hold its Seventh General Congress within weeks amid complicated political and regional conditions, a stalemate in the peace process because of intransigence by the Israeli occupation regime, and rising internal tensions within the group that could result in the splintering of the largest Palestinian national movement.

The announcement of holding the Seventh Congress also comes amid efforts by the Arab Quartet, which includes Egypt, Jordan, UAE and Saudi Arabia, to reconcile Abbas and his rival, dismissed Fatah leading figure and MP Mohamed Dahlan, who currently lives in the UAE. This would be followed by a broader conciliation between Hamas and Fatah, and activation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Meanwhile, there are many questions asked in the Palestinian street about the possible successor of Abbas, 81, and the possibility of a smooth transition of power.

The congress is also expected to elect the Central Committee (the group’s top executive body) composed of 23 members led by Abbas. Also, electing the movement’s Revolutionary Council of 132 members.

It has been seven years since the Sixth Congress was held in August 2009, which itself took place two decades after the previous congress in 1989. Meanwhile, major transformations rocked the region and impacted the Palestinian cause, along with continued divisions and obstacles facing efforts to achieve national unity. This has hindered renewing the legitimacy of the ruling institutions of the Palestinian Authority (PA), holding general elections that would renew the Palestinian National Council (the PLO’s parliament), and thus choosing a new Executive Committee and Central Council for the PLO.

The territories under PA control are politically and geographically divided since mid-June 2007, after Hamas imposed its control by force over the Gaza Strip. Fatah, led by Abbas, is in charge of the West Bank, and conciliation efforts and Arab mediation have failed to reconcile the two sides.

In light of Fatah’s position on the one hand, and Palestinian, regional and international political conditions on the other, analysts and observers are divided over the feasibility of holding Fatah’s Seventh Congress, and whether it will create a strong movement or further splinter the group.

One camp believes the conference will revive Fatah amid the challenges facing the entire Palestinian national project, and that it comes at a crossroads in the political history of the group. They believe it is a national necessity, a critical first step in correcting the Palestinian political process, and will revive the legitimacy of the national movement’s institutions, making it stronger. They also believe that when Fatah is reformed, the national movement will also be reformed. When Fatah renews the legitimacy of its nucleus and various leadership structures, it will re-establish a healthy approach in Palestine’s political life.

Dozens of major transformations occurred in the interim between now and the 6th Congress, all of which require Fatah’s close attention, in order to overcome their repercussions. They begin with the overall regional context and the outcome of the Arab Spring that dismantled some Arab countries, the preoccupation of regional powers with ongoing wars next-door, and end with the peace process and diminishing prospects of reviving it anytime soon.

According to those supporting the congress, there are also other developments that Fatah needs to address, such as the future of the nation in light of continued division and stumbling blocks to forming a national unity. The consensus government with Hamas failed, and the latter maintained full control of Gaza. There are growing campaigns internationally to boycott Israel. Daily clashes continue with the occupation, especially in Jerusalem that has been in the throes of a de facto uprising. There have also been key diplomatic successes scored by the Palestinian leadership, including recognition of Palestine as a partial member of the UN, and UNESCO’s recent decision that denies any links between Jews and Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which came as a shock to Israel.

Opponents of the congress believe that political differences, including among Palestinians, are normal, but for Fatah have serious repercussions that go beyond the movement itself because it is the backbone of the PLO and the Palestinian national project. Fatah is an expression of Palestinian national identity and culture, and is attributed as the national authority and government, and Abbas the leader of the PLO and PA.

This camp warns against the congress becoming a forum for settling scores among Fatah rivals.

Abbas has two goals in holding the congress soon: first, blocking the return of Dahlan and others, known as “the divergents” in the movement; second, extending the president’s term and renewing his Fatah and national mandate.

It is expected new currents within Fatah will emerge if the congress is held, especially in the presence of serious rifts and great disparity between the Abbas and Dahlan camps. Those known as “the divergents” are leaders and founders who played key roles in Fatah, and do not accept their dismissal and are seeking a rebirth for the group. Holding the congress amidst this negative atmosphere will negatively impact its future. Meanwhile, outside factors and inter-Palestinian divisions overshadow the congress since those who were dismissed are relying on their own regional contacts to impact congress proceedings.

According to this analysis, instead of preparing well for the Seventh Congress, Abbas is using Fatah code of discipline to dismiss or freeze the membership of anyone suspected to be or who actually is connected to Dahlan.

PA security agencies raided a Fatah meeting in Al-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah attended by members of the Revolutionary Council, parliament and cadres from the north and central West Bank and Jerusalem, under the pretext that they support Dahlan. Attendees issued a statement asserting the need for a united and cohesive Fatah, urging the congress to be uniting and not destructive, exclusive and tailored. They also reiterated their support for the Arab Quartet, led by Egypt, in trying to unite Fatah ranks, end inter-Palestinian divisions, and reform the PLO so the Palestinian cause is once again a central issue for the region and world.

Dahlan previously headed the Palestinian Preventive Security Service in Gaza until Hamas came to power there amid violent clashes with Fatah in June 2007. In 2011, Fatah revoked his membership of the Central Committee and he was investigated for financial corruption. The decision triggered a quarrel within Fatah and a bloc supporting Dahlan emerged from within. Many of these Fatah members were dismissed from the movement and their salaries cut — especially PA employees in civil and security agencies.

When the Arab Quartet failed to reconcile Abbas and Dahlan, the war of words in the media and exchange of accusations escalated. Fatah’s official leadership accused Dahlan of inciting against the president, conspiring against Palestinian legitimacy, and partnering with Hamas against Abbas.

Dahlan’s camp, who describe themselves as “reformers”, complain about Abbas “seizing all institutions”, and “the lack of entities capable of taking decisions, whether in the PA or Fatah or the PLO.” “The government does not have a programme and the president controls everything, and thus is responsible and capable of resolving these crises and ending inter-Palestinian divisions and uniting the movements if he wanted. However, he does not want that and wants to gain as much as possible as head of state, irrespective of the catastrophic results of his continuing in the presidency.”

Dahlan personally launched a major attack on Abbas, accusing him of trying to dwarf the movement. This came one day after Abbas dismissed a leading Fatah leader at Al-Amari refugee camp under the pretext of supporting Dahlan. Dahlan told BBC Arabic he will not allow Abbas to destroy Fatah, in reference to the upcoming congress.

Dahlan said Abbas, “wants to rein-in Fatah during the conference to comply with his small ambitions. He wants a movement that is obedient to him and what he proposes for Fatah, they are limited options: either agree with his policies or leave Fatah.”

Despite his dismissal from Fatah, Dahlan denied that he intends to leave the group: “We will not be party to sabotaging Fatah.”

Dahlan further accused Abbas of derailing understandings with him before undermining understandings with the Arab Quartet. “If he is working on a safe exit for himself and his children, it is not through dwarfing the movement and exclusion. Instead, he should bring it together and gather everyone under its umbrella, with everyone participating in Fatah’s congress. He will be revered by us all if he unites the movement, accomplishes national conciliation, and restores the esteem of the Palestinian cause.”

Dahlan also talked about the role of the Arab Quartet, saying “it intervened to close Fatah ranks, strengthen it and support the PA, but it was faced with Abbas’s intransigence. He is fully responsible.”

Dahlan added that he is preparing for a national conference in Cairo “aiming to resolve Palestinian disputes”.

Dahlan accused Turkey, which Abbas visited last week, of interfering in internal Palestinian affairs by supporting Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

On 22 October, Abbas signed a decree revoking the Fatah membership of MP Jihad Tamliya on recommendation of the Anti-Divergence Committee affiliated with Fatah’s Central Committee, because of his relationship with Dahlan and co-sponsoring the meeting in Al-Amari refugee camp. The PA described the gathering as illegal and based on outside agendas, referring to Dahlan.

Tamliya is a key figure in Fatah who was elected to parliament in 2006.

One month ago, Fatah dismissed four prominent leaders under the pretext of being Dahlan supporters, including Adli Sadek, Najat Abu Bakr, Naema Al-Sheikh Ali and Tawfiq Abu Khousa.

In a move seen as attempting to circumvent Arab Quartet efforts to reconcile Abbas and Dahlan, last week Abbas visited Turkey followed by Qatar. Both countries disagree with Quartet efforts and Abbas was trying to avoid pressure to reconcile with Dahlan, saying that continued pressure on this matter will force him to activate conciliation with Fatah’s rival Hamas through Qatari mediation, which has tense relations with Egypt.

Analysts believe Abbas wanted to send a message to the Arab Quarter by visiting Ankara and Doha which are known for strong ties with Hamas, and he wants to end any role for Dahlan in Fatah. They add it is unlikely that Abbas will reconcile with Hamas in reaction to the Quartet, but that he will ask Turkey and Qatar to put pressure on the Islamist movement to halt all deals, understandings or agreements with Dahlan in Gaza.

Fatah will hold its Seventh Congress in Ramallah in the West Bank at the end of November, but no exact date has been announced. Fatah’s 6th Congress was held in Bethlehem, and decided the conference will be held every six years when in the past it was held “irregularly” depending on the political. The Seventh Congress should have been in August 2015, but conditions in the Palestinian political scene resulted in its postponement.

The first Fatah congress was held in 1967 in the Syrian capital Damascus, followed by a second in Al-Zabadi near Damascus in 1968 where the Central Committee was elected. In 1971, a third congress was held in Damascus, followed by a fourth also in Damascus in 1980. In 1988, the 5th Congress was held in the Tunisian capital.

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