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

Fatah's credibility.

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.

  • Follow Khaled Abu Toameh on Twitter

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