Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Numbers matter

Turnouts in the West Bank and Gaza for the anniversary of Fatah’s founding pushed politicians in both locales back to the drawing board, reports Saleh Naami

Al-Ahram Weekly

Even before the dispute erupted between Fatah and Hamas six year ago, Fatah leaders did not visit the home of Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Al-Shatie Refugee Camp west of Gaza City as often as they did over the past two weeks. In one week only, Haniyeh had dinner several times with Nabil Shaath, member of Fatah’s Central Committee, and hosted other committee members Jibril Rajoub and Zakaria Al-Agha, along with a large number of Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. It seems that visiting Haniyeh at home has become tradition for Fatah leaders when they arrive in the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.

Most of these meetings focussed on preparations for Fatah’s 48th anniversary celebrations in Gaza that took place on Friday. Other issues were also on the agenda, including how the Hamas government will deal with Fatah members in Gaza and how Fatah’s government will handle Hamas supporters in the West Bank. Despite this outward warm exchange, and leaders on both sides trading compliments and praise, this is not speeding up national reconciliation.

Each side is adamant in its position on the issues of contention. One informed Palestinian source told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Egyptians, despite their current complex domestic scene, recently invited both groups to come to Cairo to start implementing bilateral agreements on the condition of resolving contentious issues quickly. But both sides have dug in their heels; Fatah insists that the first step to implement the Cairo Agreement and Doha Declaration should be holding elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; Hamas wants a national consensus government to be formed first.

But leaders in both camps are currently too preoccupied with interpreting the size of the crowds that came out to celebrate Fatah’s anniversary in the West Bank and Gaza. Fatah organised two main celebrations: one on 3 January in Nablus in the north of the West Bank in the form of a festival representing Fatah in central and north West Bank; the second took place in Gaza City the next day.

Only a small crowd showed up for the Fatah celebration in Nablus while very large crowds joined the festivities in Gaza. This prompted several Fatah and Hamas leaders to urge the two groups to quickly re-evaluate themselves, since both scenes are disconcerting for both groups. Since Palestinians always take crowd sizes at faction functions as an indicator of their popularity, it was problematic for Fatah that West Bank residents who live under Fatah’s rule were not interested in its anniversary celebrations, while large crowds showed up in Gaza where Hamas is in power.

Yehia Moussa, deputy leader of the Hamas parliamentary bloc, believes that wide participation in Fatah’s festival in Gaza should be a red flag for Hamas. Moussa said it is unacceptable that Fatah gains popularity in the Gaza Strip especially at a time when Fatah’s leadership has so many problems. “Hamas should find out why Fatah remains so popular although it is suffering a leadership crisis since its leaders are divided and the group’s loyalties are split between Abbas and Dahlan.”

Moussa said his group should also be concerned because Fatah was able to mobilise large crowds, although its political platform is a failure, and it continues security cooperation with occupation forces and is dependent on US aid. He attributed Fatah’s strong popularity in the Gaza Strip to a deep rift between Hamas’s leadership and the popular base on one hand, and a non-partisan Palestinian public on the other.

Moussa said that closing the gap between Hamas and Palestinian masses in the Gaza Strip requires “re-educating and training the group’s grassroots to become more effective and compatible with society, capable of understanding the dynamics of community action. This requires finding the tools and means for direct contact, instead of putting on pointless displays.”

He called for training and educating all members of the group in a “new culture that respects and accepts the other, based on cooperation, doing good and volunteer work and not focusing on oneself. Also, nurturing compassion and optimism and love for society.” In an article published in several newspapers and websites, Moussa stated that Hamas is in dire need of “resetting the heart, mind and spirit of its members to reconcile with themselves and society. This requires new mobilisation and genuine awareness.”

He warned that the victories of Al-Qassam Brigades, the group’s military wing, against Israel almost made Hamas’s leadership arrogant, “disabling it from correctly reading the situation and analysing the internal conditions of the group.”

The Hamas leader criticised his peers, stating: “Leadership requires many elements and several of these are absent. The group’s leadership must shed its arrogance and ignore the lavish praise from those who benefit, are self-serving, lack knowledge and professionalism. It must take an expert scientific reading of its structure and focus on educating group members, and training them to work with the Palestinian public to promote the group’s platform, values and understandings.”

Moussa concluded his article by saying that Hamas leaders must “form working groups and hold seminars and specialised workshops to assess the group’s popularity, and why it has failed to convince the street of its credibility, while Fatah is able to do that in Gaza despite the latter’s failed political platform.”

Moussa and others contend that Hamas still has a broad popular base as witnessed in the masses that celebrated the group’s anniversary, attended for the first time by Khaled Meshaal, head of the group’s politburo.

Meanwhile, the poor showing at the Nablus celebrations subjected Fatah’s leadership to stronger criticism than Moussa’s censure of his group, since West Bank residents live directly under Fatah’s political experiment. If they choose not to participate in the group’s festivities, that is a direct negative vote against it.

Hossam Khedr, a leading Fatah figure in Nablus was very blunt in his criticism of his group. Khedr, who spent many years in Israeli jails, said his group “is in an appalling state and going through the worst times because its leadership has no role at all, and its institutions are absent and marginalised, and the top leadership does not provide support for the group’s grassroots.”

Khedr insists that Fatah was subjected to a conspiracy and now needs to “re-evaluate itself and courageously self-critique to uncover all the mistakes [made]”. He added that his group lacks genuine democratic practices as evidenced in its Sixth General Congress that forced the current leadership “to give Fatah a political role that has very cumbersome conditions for our people and our cause.”

He specifically blamed the Fatah leadership for the disintegration of the national Palestinian project: “In Gaza, a state is being created under the leadership of Hamas; Jerusalem will be eliminated from the conflict altogether; the Palestinian West Bank will depend on the stability of the regime in Jordan, and if it is stable it will be under Jordanian administration, with clusters of Jewish settlements, and under Israeli security conditions that are humiliating to Palestinians and Arabs.”

Khedr strongly censured President Mahmoud Abbas, describing his background as “fabricated” and that he was the de facto choice, to cross a difficult and complex political phase that affects the essence of the Palestinian cause and imposes more concessions by Fatah.

Unlike Hamas’s leaders, Khedr was not swayed by the size of the crowds celebrating Fatah’s anniversary in Gaza. “These masses have no rights or protection; if the leadership wanted Fatah to recover, it would have taken an initiative three years ago to hold a conference to activate the role of these masses. But the leadership does not want Fatah to recover, and instead maintain its privileges and obstruct the democratic process within the group.”

While the size of the festive crowds is troubling for the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, there is hope that this specific development could compel both to reconcile since it is evident that under the status quo, both groups are likely to lose.

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