Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 December 2010
Issue No. 1026
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Fatah riven with fights

With accusations against Abbas and his circle multiplying, the struggle within Fatah is turning personal, writes Saleh Al-Naami

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Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Two policemen are killing time and boredom by reading newspapers and playing chess in the eastern district of Al-Maseyoun. The high- class district houses the luxurious villa that Mohamed Dahlan, member of Fatah's Central Committee, uses when he stays in Ramallah. Anyone who saw the villa two months ago would be surprised to see the dramatic drop in the number of police securing the residence. It had looked more like a fort judging by the volume of security forces outside, but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decided to sizably cut down their number after his relationship with Dahlan soured.

Abbas denies that the security cut was a result of the quarrel with Dahlan, but rather because there is no longer any reason to maintain this level of security at Dahlan's house. But Palestinian political and media circles insist that security personnel were taken away because of deep differences between the two, to the extent that Fatah leaders are unable to reconcile them.

Sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that the recent dispute erupted after Abbas received reports that Dahlan strongly criticised him and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad during Fatah meetings in the West Bank and Palestinian gatherings in the Arab world. Informed sources say that Dahlan was especially critical of Abbas's negotiating tactics with Israel, saying that Abbas was ready to make "very dangerous compromises" as expressed in statements by Yasser Abed Rabbo -- a close adviser to Abbas -- to Haaretz newspaper. Abed Rabbo had intimated that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was prepared to recognise the Jewish character of the state of Israel if a Palestinian state was established. Dahlan also condemned statements by Abbas in which he said that he does not mind the description Israel uses for itself.

According to sources, what infuriated Abbas the most is the fact that Dahlan was able to form a large camp among senior ranks in Fatah's Central Committee to directly and indirectly work against Abbas. This clique includes Tawfiq Al-Tiray, the former director of General Intelligence, former foreign minister Nasser Al-Qudwa, former governor of Nablus Mohamed Al-Alul, and the leader of Fatah in Lebanon Sultan Abu Enein. The move has also caught the interest of a large number of members of Fatah's Revolutionary Council.

Abbas and his circle accuse Dahlan of challenging Abbas's authority by convincing Al-Qudwa, the nephew of late president Yasser Arafat, to compete for the leaderships of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), since he is more "competent" to lead the Palestinian people at this time. In response, the Palestinian News Agency (WAFA) -- which is directly affiliated to Abbas's office -- published a report strongly condemning Al-Qudwa for publishing an article in The Wall Street Journal criticising Abbas's performance. WAFA's political writer accused Al-Qudwa of presenting himself as an alternative to Abbas, and referred to the camp that Dahlan created and that includes Al-Qudwa.

"President Abbas will not be harmed by what some hired pens are writing about the internal disputes in Fatah or that opposition is growing against him within Fatah," the WAFA article read. "The real harm comes from the statements by Fatah members who, at this critical political stage, choose to join the wide and damaging campaign against the Palestinian people, their political leadership and elected president." The article continued: "It is truly unfortunate that Nasser Al-Qudwa, member of the group's Central Committee, is quoted as doubting our national policies and undermining the ability of our leadership to steer through our difficult national battle."

Al-Qudwa knows that WAFA would not have published the article if it had not received a green light from Abbas himself, and issued a statement condemning the news agency's political reporter who is also a member of Fatah's Central Committee. "This is unprecedented and the implications are serious," Al-Qudwa stated, warning that the campaign is not only targeting him but the entire camp formed by Dahlan. He regreted that the reporter mentioned "other figures in the group who adopt the same views", saying that "the danger lies in the implication that there are problems at the core of the Palestinian political system and dynamics between its parts."

Since Abbas knows that Dahlan is the one pulling the strings behind the scenes, he did not take any measures against Al-Qudwa.

Sources told the Weekly that another source of annoyance for Abbas is Dahlan's attempts to "blatantly" interfere in the affairs of Fayyad's government. Sources close to Abbas said that Dahlan tried to manipulate a cabinet shuffle, and went as far as telephoning several figures in Gaza to offer them possible ministerial posts in the new cabinet, without the knowledge of either Abbas or Fayyad. In response, Abbas cancelled the cabinet shuffle.

At the same time, Abbas and senior security officials are greatly alarmed by Dahlan's attempt to garner power within the PA's civilian and security institutions. In response, Abbas ordered changes in the ministries, as well as civilian and security institutions, to purge those in senior positions and that are close to Dahlan. On the eve of a recent meeting of the group's Revolutionary Council, a decision was taken to form a committee to investigate what was described as Dahlan's "insolence" towards Abbas. The committee is composed of Central Committee members Othman Abu Ghreiba, Abu Maher Ghoneim and Azzam Ahmed. They questioned Dahlan, who refuted all allegations and as a result tensions among the group have risen sharply.

Taking it a step further, Abbas ordered the Ministry of Interior to shut down the Ramallah-based satellite channel Tomorrow's Palestine considered as co-owned by Dahlan. The broadcast station's management informed the staff that they were on paid leave. The station's manager Elias Al-Zananiri confirmed to the Weekly that the channel has been closed, but he refused to comment because the matter is subject to legal action. One of the co- owners of the channel is Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris.

Meanwhile, Abbas has tried to win several Arab states on his side in his confrontation with Dahlan. Informed Palestinian sources said that Abbas discussed the issue with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Chief of Intelligence Omar Suleiman and Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit. He accused Dahlan of attempting to undermine his authority at a time when the president is in a confrontation with Hamas. The sources disclosed that senior Egyptian officials have cut off official contact with Dahlan in protest, refusing to meet him despite the fact that he resides in Egypt from time to time.

Observers believe that Dahlan moved aggressively against Abbas after realising there is no chance for the president's political agenda to succeed based on negotiations. He expects Abbas will be forced to resign because of the stalemate in negotiations, and Dahlan wants to build up an image of "refusing compromises" despite the fact that he was the most enthusiastic about negotiating with Israel.

The quarrel between Dahlan and Abbas reflects the bickering taking Fatah by storm. Even Fatah leaders who once sided with Abbas are joining Dahlan in his criticism of the president's negotiation tactics. They also condemn the performance of Fayyad's government that is accused of distancing itself from Fatah, although it primarily relies on the group for political support. The true test for the future of the group will come when it becomes apparent that the US administration is unable to make Israel commit to freezing settlement building. This would bring negotiations to a grinding halt as settlements continue to expand, which will prove that the current policy of negotiations adopted by Abbas is a farce for which Fatah will suffer.

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