Recrimination mars Fatah's healing, Israel dismayed 2009-08-14 03:18:11   Print

    by David Harris

    JERUSALEM, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- As Palestinians, Israelis and the international community try to understand the effects of this week's Fatah congress, three key messages are emerging.

    The Palestinian movement is trying to please too many people at the same time, serious rifts remain within the party, and Israel is very concerned by the resolutions carried by its delegates.

    On the Palestinian political front, Fatah's main rival Hamas movement was closely watching the week-long congress, which was originally slated for three days but later prolonged because of arguments over voting rights.

    Actually, Hamas was a key factor behind the rows. The Gaza Strip-based Islamic movement banned some 400 Fatah delegates in the coastal enclave to travel to the West Bank city of Bethlehem to attend the conference.

    Fatah has not held a congress for 20 years because of internal divisions and the political considerations of former Fatah and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

    However, faced with a possible national elections in January and a very real possibility that Hamas would claim victory, Fatah decided the time was nigh for a show of solidarity.

    Analysts in both the Palestinian and Israeli camps think that Fatah's talks of negotiations and resistance are a simultaneous attempt to win friends both in the international community and on the Palestinian streets.

    Engaging in tough talking towards Israel is popular among Palestinians, and Fatah hopes it will win the hearts of voters and make them think twice before voting for Hamas.

    At the same time, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has to deal with calls from the United States-led international community for a return to the peace process. For the time being, much of the onus is on the Israelis, with U.S. President Barack Obama agreeing with the Palestinians that Israel must immediately stop all settlement activities.

    The U.S. State Department said it is fairly optimistic a deal will be reached with the Israelis in the not-too-distant future. At that point, the Americans will place further political pressure on the Palestinians to fulfill their obligations in accordance with the Road Map peace plan.

    In Fatah's newly elected central committee, there were wholesale changes. Many long-standing senior figures failed to retain their membership, first and foremost Ahmed Qurei, a former Palestinian prime minister.

    The new faces, many of them already household names among Palestinians and in some cases internationally too, are largely perceived to be free from the charges of corruption and nepotism often leveled against the old guard.

    This idea that Fatah leaders were corrupt and were siphoning off public funds to their own causes was the major reason for Fatah's defeat to Hamas in the latest parliamentary elections in 2006, according to psephologists.

    However, these changes at the top only serve to highlight the schisms within Fatah, Jonathan Fighel, a senior researcher at Israel's Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said.

    Since the central committee election results were formally declared on Thursday, both Qurei and top Fatah officials in Gaza have suggested the vote was in some way rigged. Fatah's Gaza-based candidates achieved particularly poorly in the ballot.

    Fighel said the supposed display of unity at the congress was simply window dressing, and behind the scenes the party remains incredibly divided.

    Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the political committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council and one of Fatah's highest-ranking officials, however, put a very different spin on the matter.

    As in any democracy and in any flourishing political party, there will be winners and losers, Abdullah told Xinhua on Thursday, adding the defeated will often cry foul as a natural reaction to their defeat.

    The central committee and the movement's revolutionary council will fully examine all complaints, he pledged.

    Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas want to put the party's troubles behind them. They have five months to turn Fatah into a serious, organized political force in order to defeat Hamas at thepolls.

    While much of the focus was on the internal political divisions within the movement, Fatah did approve, with a resounding majority, a series of key policy statements concerning the peace process and more.

    On the one hand, Fatah, which has the biggest say in the ruling PNA, extended a hand towards peace with Israel, on the other hand, it said that it will return to a path of "resistance" should there be little or no progress in the peace process.

    This is a clear radicalization of the Fatah line, and a case of Fatah going back to the old days, said Fighel, who used to be governor of Ramallah, Jenin and Tul Karem in the days prior to the creation of the PNA in the early 1990s.

    However, Fatah officials are trying to present the party's agenda in a very different light. Given the international pressure on the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, Fatah leaders are telling the world that the movement's policies are first and foremost about peace.

    "We adopted a commitment to peace," Abdullah said.

    However, Abdullah said Fatah reserves the right to resistance if there is no movement from Israel on the key issue of settlements. Fatah's bottom line is that Israel ceases all settlement activities, withdraws from the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem and provides a full solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

    Fighel prefers to describe the Fatah back-up plan as "armed struggle." Most Israelis believe the Palestinian term "resistance" is an euphemism for terror attacks and open-ended warfare.

    For Abbas and Fatah, the path ahead will not be easy. They will have to try to set a middle course between meeting American demands and defeating Hamas, which leaves little room for maneuver. For this reason alone, in-house political stability is a must.

    For the next few weeks, Fatah spokespersons will be at pains to point to unanimity over policy decisions approved by congress rather than the deep divisions that seemingly remain amongst the party's leadership.

Editor: Yan
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