Has Fatah Really Changed?
Even before the Fatah general assembly wrapped up its one-week convention in
Bethlehem many journalists rushed to declare it a huge success for "democracy and a
sign that the faction was headed toward pragmatism and moderation.
But the conference, the first of its kind in two decades, has shown that Fatah has
actually reaffirmed its old hard-line policies and elected leaders who can be described
as anything but progressive and transparent.
As one delegate put it, "With this newly-elected team, I'm afraid the day will come
when we will all miss the old guard of Fatah."
A weak, radicalized and fragmented Fatah is bad for Israel and good news for Hamas.
It's hard to see how Fatah's new team would be able to defeat Hamas or any other
party in any election. A majority of Palestinians is surely not going to vote again for
the same folks it voted out more than three years ago.
A series of resolutions endorsed by the party will make it impossible for any leader to
accept anything less than 100 percent of Fatah's demands, including a full withdrawal
to the 1967 borders and the eviction of "settlers" from Jerusalem.
This will, of course, will have a negative impact on the already stalled peace process
between Israel and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.
The perception that Fatah has chosen a younger generation of leaders is completely
false. What happened at the conference was that Fatah voted for a team of
candidates favored by the faction's old guard. Otherwise, how can one explain the
fact that only those candidates who were recommended by Mahmoud Abbas and his
entourage had won the vote?
Many delegates came to the conference with the hope that the discussions would lead
to the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the blunders of Fatah. They
were hoping that those responsible for the failures and corruption would at least be
expelled from Fatah, if not held accountable.
Instead, the delegates saw all the corrupt and failed leaders being promoted at the
conference. Instead of getting a commission of inquiry into the situation in Fatah, the
delegates got a committee for investigating the death of Arafat. It's not clear why
such a committee is needed in light of the fact that the conference had unanimously
ruled that Israel was behind the "assassination."
What happened at the convention in Bethlehem has caused additional damage to
The way Abbas was re-elected as Fatah head prompted many Palestinians to draw
parallels between the Palestinian faction and Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party. Abbas
ran unopposed and was elected by an impressive 100 percent of votes. There wasn't
even a single delegate who opposed the re-election.
Many Fatah leaders are now demanding an inquiry into the "scandalous" Sixth
General Assembly of Fatah, accusing Abbas and his aids of stealing the vote and
tampering with the results of the election for the Central Committee.
One of the critics, Ahmed Qurei, said that what happened at the Fatah conference
was more serious than the forgery that is said to have taken place during Iran's recent
presidential election. In addition, all the Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip have resigned
from the faction, citing massive fraud during the vote as the main reason. Some Fatah
operatives are now talking about the possibility of establishing new parties that
would challenge Abbas and his loyalists.
During the conference, more than 2,000 delegates voted for members of two of
Fatah's main decision-making bodies: Central Committee [23 seats] and
Revolutionary Council [120 seats].
Most of the members who were elected to the Central Committee, the more
significant among the two institutions, are perhaps younger than their predecessors.
But they are certainly not less radical or less corrupt.
Take, for example, the three former heads of the security forces, Mohammed Dahlan,
Jibril Rajoub and Tawfik Tirawi. First, all three are above the age of 50; second, all
three were part of the establishment that was responsible for embezzling hundreds of
millions of dollars of foreign aid and, third, all three were dismissed from their jobs
for abuse of power and corruption.
The three "generals" were doing the dirty job for Yasser Arafat in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip. Apart from chasing and sometimes arresting or killing political rivals and
critics, the three men were also responsible for a massive crackdown on Palestinians
suspected of helping Israel in its fight against terrorism. Many Palestinian
"collaborators" who were arrested by their security forces were executed by firing
squad or lynched by fellow Palestinians.
Statements made by the three over the past years also show that the men [two of
whom, Rajoub and Dahlan had spent time in Israeli prison for their involvement in
violence] hold views that are more radical than their veteran "old guard" rivals in
Many of the veteran leaders like Nabil Sha'ath, Intisar al-Wazir and Hakam Balawi
have never spent time in Israeli prison and are known to hold views that are less
radical than those held by the "young guard."
Other new-old faces that were elected to the membership of the committee include
the ill-reputed Sultan Abu Aynain, Fatah's military commander in Lebanon, who is
famous for his ruthlessness and hard-line policies, Marwan Barghouti, who is often
branded by some in the West as a "popular and charismatic" leader, and Hussein al-
Sheikh, a top Fatah operative who also served time in prison for his role in anti-Israel
Even two old-timers who were re-elected to the committee, Tayeb Abdel Rahim and
Abu Maher Ghnaim, are not particularly known as moderates and pragmatists. The
former was one of Arafat's bullies during the Lebanon Civil War, while the second is
known to have publicly opposed the Oslo Accords.
Almost all those who were elected or re-elected to the committee were responsible,
in one way or another, for the deterioration of Fatah. Barghouti was head of the
Fatah list that lost in the parliamentary election to Hamas in 2006. Rajoub, Dahlan,
al-Sheikh and Nabil Sha'ath were also part of that list.
Dahlan and Tirawi are being held responsible by many of their colleagues for the
collapse of Fatah in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, when their security forces
surrendered to Hamas without fighting.
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