Edition 29 Volume 7 - July 30, 2024

The Sixth Fateh Congress and Arab politics

Fateh needs more than superficial unity -   Lamis Andoni

The fundamental struggle for Fateh at this historic juncture is to restore its identity.

A diaspora left out in the cold -   Ghada Karmi

What we need urgently today is unity.

The end of illusions -   Oraib Rantawi

Fateh's leadership of the Palestinian national movement is in regression.

Breathing new life into Fateh - an interview with  Sufyan Abu Zaida

Mahmoud Abbas will be stronger after the conference than before.

Fateh needs more than superficial unity
 Lamis Andoni

Fateh, the movement that has led the Palestinian struggle for decades, is at a dangerous crossroads. At stake is not only its unity but more significantly its mere survival.

It faces tough choices. In order to keep itself relevant on a regional and international level it would need to project itself as a "moderate" force committed to a non-existing peace process, thus risking the further demise of popular legitimacy. To salvage its legitimacy and unity it would need to disengage from the Palestinian Authority's compliance to American and Israeli terms that aim at turning the movement into a malleable political tool and an enforcer of Israeli security.

But more so than ever in its history, Fateh is facing a real rival that has popular legitimacy and backing by key regional powers. Iran and Syria are seeking to further boost their negotiating credentials by supporting the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, and are ready to accelerate the demise of both Fateh and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Qatar openly aids and promotes Hamas as the alternative movement, again to enhance its role as a regional power broker to be reckoned with.

Egypt, Jordan and other so called "moderate" countries, the supposed backers of Fateh, are junior partners of Washington in its plans to turn the movement into a huge security apparatus and ensure the Palestinian people's submission. More significantly, they could easily switch sides if the US and Israel decide that Hamas is ready to accept the terms of engagement in the "peace process" or that it could be a more effective enforcer of Israeli security.

But the fundamental struggle for Fateh at this historic juncture is to restore its identity, unity and the core of its soul. Its merger into the Palestinian Authority after the signing of the Oslo accords distorted its identity and function. The one-time backbone of the Palestine Liberation Organization and embodiment of Palestinian national rights, Fateh has been reduced to a ruling party largely, but not solely, dependent on proving itself as a "peace partner" in a process that has so far consolidated Israeli occupation and expansionism.

Under the leadership of the late Yasser Arafat Fateh did not lose its soul: it walked a tightrope, balancing between its contradictory roles as the main pillar of a Palestinian Authority bound by agreements to contain resistance to the occupation and the role of a defiant movement that had not abandoned its main goal of leading Palestinians into freedom. Arafat himself personified that soul of Fateh and in broader terms the spirit of the Palestinian struggle. He became the master of compromise, earning the wrath of many disillusioned Palestinians. But when it came to the ultimate test he refused to sign away Palestinian rights, defying American and Israeli pressures at Camp David in the summer of 2024.

Arafat ultimately paid the price for his defiance, but his act revived Fateh and the Palestinian spirit of resistance, leading to the eruption of the second intifada less than two months after the failed Camp David talks.

But on the eve of the Fateh Congress, to be convened for the first time since 1989 next Tuesday in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem , the movement is struggling not only for its soul but for its mere survival. Years of exile, especially after the PLO lost its sanctuary in Lebanon in 1982, a failed "peace process", the loss of Arafat, the ruthless Israeli clampdown on Fateh after the second intifada, combined with unprecedented divisions and a brewing power struggle, have eaten up the fabric of the movement's unity.

The absence of Arafat as a unifying leader could prove fatal. It is not clear if Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the first and second intifadas, could inspire and lead the movement into recovery from his Israeli jail cell. Arafat himself had contributed to the slow but steady weakening of Fateh. His authoritarian style, failure to encourage new generations to assume leadership and even his decision to endorse the militarization of the second intifada dealt constant blows to the body of the movement.

But it was mainly the path pursed by the Palestinian leadership after his death that led the movement to lose its compass. President Mahmoud Abbas, the architect of the Oslo agreement, is a staunch believer that accommodation of the "peace process" and especially of the American terms will lead to the end of the occupation.

Abbas the president may be restricted by obligations to the agreements and conditions to secure the flow of international and Arab funding to the Palestinian territories. But Abbas as leader of Fateh failed to nurture the movement and instead marginalized and curbed dissent within Fateh, further weakening its spirit.

His keen public interest in appeasing American administrations in the name of widening the gap between Washington and Israel helped portray Fateh as collaborationist and an arm of Israeli occupation. Rampant corruption, which actually predated Abbas, further eroded Fateh's popularity, leading to the surprise Hamas victory in the 2024 elections.

The elections ended Fateh's exclusive leadership of the Palestinian struggle. Fateh, however, did not seize the opportunity to restructure itself and revise its position. Instead Fateh leaders inside the Palestinian Authority further maligned the movement by posing as guarantors of the Hamas-led government's compliance with Israeli and international conditions.

The elections, and later on the Gaza war prompted by the Israeli rejection of Hamas, encouraged regional and international powers to look for the Islamic resistance movement as a substitute for both Fateh and the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Ironically, it is the threat of what the mainstream Palestinian group correctly views as a regional agenda to end the movement or help it kill itself that has restored some sense of urgency and unity among the fighting Fateh tribes on the eve of its crucial congress. The explosive accusations by Farouk Qaddumi, an original co-founder of Fateh and consistent opponent of the Oslo process, that Abbas and former security chief Mohammad Dahlan were implicated with Israel in the death of Arafat, were seen by many in Fateh to unwittingly serve a regional agenda to finish off the movement.

Fear of extinction may unite Fateh's congress, but a superficial unity will not save the movement from its contradictions unless it succeeds in charting a clear path and direction--and shedding its growing collaborationist image.- Published 30/7/2009 © bitterlemons.org

Lamis Andoni is a veteran journalist and commentator on Middle East affairs.

A diaspora left out in the cold
 Ghada Karmi

At a rally in Gaza on July 25, a DFLP leader, Salah Zeidan, demanded an end to the Fateh-Hamas unity talks that have been taking place in Cairo over the last few months because, as he said, they leave out the smaller Palestinian parties like the PFLP and the DFLP. What, on that basis, should the largest Palestinian party, the diaspora, say of its own exclusion from these and all other deliberations in the Palestinian arena?

Take, for example, Fateh's upcoming conference on August 4. This long awaited convention is due to take place in Bethlehem under the auspices of Mahmoud Abbas' leadership. It will be Fateh's sixth conference and comes after several postponements and a delay of over a decade. From the start the conference preparations have been riven with internal disputes, conflicts and threatened splits. There were differences over where it should be held, many members arguing for Amman as a place not subject to Israeli restrictions. Farouk Qaddumi, the head of the PLO's political department and an old rival to Abbas, refused to meet in any territory under Israeli occupation. He followed this up two weeks ago with the shocking accusation that Abbas had been behind a plot in collusion with Israel to poison Yasser Arafat in 2024.

Whether true or not, this can only deepen the already existing rupture in Fateh between the old and the young, and between Qaddumi's followers and those of Abbas. It may even lead to two Fateh conferences, one in Bethlehem and another elsewhere, perhaps in Damascus or Beirut. Even without that, those Fateh delegates opposed to Abbas are likely to be excluded from the Bethlehem meeting, as are the delegates from Gaza whom Hamas' foreign minister, Mahmoud Zahar, has vowed to prevent from attending as long as Hamas prisoners languish in Palestinian Authority jails . What credibility or legitimacy the resulting conference will be left with under these circumstances is unclear.

Those of us in the diaspora, watching these developments, can only feel a mixture of concern and impotence, angry at this pointless internecine fighting and unable to stop it. Worse still to imagine how triumphant Israel must feel for having created a situation where over half the Palestinian people are excluded from their own political process, while a minority of them tears itself apart under its occupation. Destroying the Palestinian national cause by fragmenting the Palestinians was always Israel's aim. The PLO, established in 1964, was able to halt this process for decades by creating a unifying structure, a substitute homeland, for the dispossessed majority. Whatever its imperfections, the PLO succeeded in foiling Israel's strategy and kept the national cause alive.

It all came to an end when the PLO leadership decided to return to the Palestinian territories in 1994 under the Oslo agreement. Unknowingly, that fateful move was to signal the start of a process of disintegration of the Palestinian national cause. No real provision was made for the diaspora community after the main PLO departure, leaving it leaderless and increasingly demoralized. All eyes were focused instead on the occupied territories with the hope that an independent Palestinian state would soon emerge. Many diaspora Palestinians, seeking a relevant role in these new circumstances, began to invest in the putative state, and the center of Palestinian life shifted firmly to the inside. International funding poured in to foster this arrangement, but also to support the illusion of a 'state-around-the-corner'. Soon the debate was no longer about reclaiming the whole of Palestine, as had been the national objective, but only a small part of it. The wrangling with Israel over percentages of land in the denuded parts of Palestine left over is the logical consequence.

Throughout this process and the tortuous peace negotiations between the PA and Israel that followed the Oslo accords, the assumption has grown that the PA represents not just the people under occupation but all Palestinians. This dangerous misapprehension, made possible by the ambiguity of having the same man as leader of the PA and of the PLO, has dragged the diaspora into the infighting between Fateh and Hamas, and soon probably within Fateh itself. It could also portend a situation whereby a PA leadership, which excludes diaspora participation by definition, may be in a position to sign away diaspora rights.

The only possible reason for shedding such fundamental rights has been the argument that a Palestinian state, once established, would be the first step to the liberation of the entire homeland and the return of diaspora Palestinians. But no such state is in sight, and without it, these Palestinian sacrifices of national unity and national cause have been in vain. What we need urgently today is unity, not just at the Fateh conference or between Fateh and Hamas, but between the outside and the inside.- Published 30/7/2009 © bitterlemons.org

Ghada Karmi is a member of BRICUP and author of "Married to another man: Israel's dilemma in Palestine".

The end of illusions
 Oraib Rantawi

Nearly two years ago, Jordan opened its doors to the attempt by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to restore and awaken the Fateh movement. Fateh is the backbone of the Palestinian national movement and the main Palestinian partner in the peace process to which Jordan attaches special attention. The rise of the Hamas movement and its landslide victory in the 2024 Palestinian legislative elections played a major role in encouraging Jordan to move away from its usual caution and provide all possible facilities for holding the Fateh congress and rebuilding the movement.

The prevailing belief among the Palestinian leadership since 2024 holds that only Fateh can confront the rise of radical Islamic movements in Palestine and provide the "moderate Palestinian alternative" that believes in the peace process and the two-state solution. Jordan perceives a vital interest in this matter, for two reasons. First, Jordan itself faces a powerful Islamist movement that is strongly supportive of Hamas and is to a large extent strengthened by the rise of Hamas. Second, Jordan believes that the establishment of a viable Palestinian state is an expression of its principal national interest in the face of what it believes to be plans for resolving the issue of Palestine at its expense and against its interests.

Instructions have been issued by the highest political authorities in Jordan to provide all possible facilities to the Preparatory Committee for the Sixth Fateh Congress. The Palestinian president, who also heads Fateh, was offered the opportunity to meet tens of leading Fateh personalities who had been banned from entering Jordan for decades. Amman became the permanent headquarters for meetings of the Fateh Central Committee and the Preparatory Committee for the congress.

As an expression of support for President Abbas and for what and whom he represents, the Jordanian monarch took the initiative to attend some of the Fateh Central Committee meetings held in Amman. This signified that Jordan stands firmly on the side of the Palestinian line of moderation and Palestinian legitimacy as represented by Abbas in his quest to build an independent Palestinian state and in the face of what was regarded in Amman as winds of extremism and fundamentalism that could threaten the peace process in its various components, outputs and opportunities.

This significant support to the Fateh movement coincides with Fateh's efforts to restore its unity and its leading historic role. It has also reflected an extreme deterioration in Jordan's relations with Hamas, culminating in the official government declaration in Amman of the discovery of a Hamas cell that was seeking to implement terrorist operations in Jordan and strike at the heart of Jordanian security. This deepened the estrangement between Amman and the Palestinian Islamist group, though eventually relations were restored through the "secure" communication channel set up by the former chief of intelligence and the strong man in the regime at the time, General Mohammad Al Dahabi.

Jordan's position regarding the internal Palestinian conflict and its two main factions has been influenced by many factors, of which several are particularly important. For one, Jordan looks at the conflict between Fateh and Hamas as part of the larger clash between the camps of "moderation" and "resistance" in the region. Then too, Jordanian fears have been based on the rise of the Islamic movement in Jordan, which felt strong and refreshed due to Hamas' sweeping victory in the Palestinian elections to the extent that some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan began talking about a similar readiness for the movement to form a government in Jordan in the event of its victory in democratic elections. Finally, Jordan is keen to speed up the peace process and to close the pressing Palestinian file, reflecting Jordanian decision-making priorities.

More than three years have passed since Hamas' victory in elections and the formation of its government in Gaza. For a time, Jordan feared that its reliance on the awakening, development and strengthening of the Fateh movement was exaggerated insofar as neither isolation nor sanctions--and consequently war--succeeded in toppling the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Jordan had doubts about the status of Fateh and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank amid reports that what was preventing a repetition of the Gaza experience in the West Bank was the Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas and not PA security forces.

This caused Jordanian diplomacy to back away a little from relations with Fateh and cautiously advance in its relations with Hamas. Jordan kept its distance from the Fateh-Hamas conflict as well as Fateh's own endless internal conflicts and opened a secure communications line with Hamas.

When PLO Political Department head and secretary general of Fateh Farouk Qaddumi dropped the bombshell accusation that Abbas and his advisor Mohammad Dahlan had plotted with PM Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to assassinate PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Jordan tried to steer clear of internal Fateh controversy. Jordan was keen that these statements issued in Amman not be interpreted as a change in the Jordanian stance or an indication that it supported Qaddumi against Abbas.

The Jordanian government also stressed that while it did not ask Qaddumi to leave Jordan it requested that he not issue statements that would embarrass the government or tarnish its image of support for the Palestinian people in general. Jordan has never maintained good relations with Qaddumi; on the contrary, the veteran Palestinian diplomat has often clashed politically and diplomatically with Jordanian foreign ministers in Arab inter-governmental and regional meetings.

Today, Amman awaits the convening of the Fateh Congress in Bethlehem after it was decided to hold it inside the Palestinian territories (the Fateh faction led by Abbas was never serious about holding the Congress in an Arab capital). Jordan hopes the congress will boost Fateh's unity and enhance its role in the moderate Palestinian camp. Officially, it views the holding of the congress "internally" as a victory for the moderate movement in Fateh.

Nevertheless, Jordan does not pin much hope on Fateh regaining the reigns of leadership and on the movement's role in general. The experience of the past few years has without any doubt demonstrated that Fateh's leadership of the Palestinian national movement is in regression. Day by day it is turning into a functional body of the Palestinian Authority; it suffers from the same ailments as the PA itself.- Published 30/7/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org

Oraib Rantawi, a writer and political analyst, is director of Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman.

Breathing new life into Fateh
an interview with Sufyan Abu Zaida

BI: Why is the Fateh conference in Bethlehem on August 4 so important?

Abu Zaida: Any political movement needs, from time to time, to evaluate, to discuss policy, to elect new leaders. There's been a delay of 20 years. It's a very long time. It's important for Fateh to go through this process.

BI: Do you expect significant changes in the leadership structure?

Abu Zaida: For sure. More than half of the current leadership will be changed or replaced.

BI: This is a significant change?

Abu Zaida: In my opinion, yes.

BI: How will this affect the movement?

Abu Zaida: For a long time, Fateh has functioned without leadership and without proper institutions. Once there is functioning leadership and functioning institutions it will be a very different movement.

BI: Today there is a lot of talk of the many factions in Fateh. Will this change after the conference?

Abu Zaida: In any political party, anywhere in the world, there are different camps and opinions. This is the same in Fateh. There are no ideological divisions in Fateh. Everyone in Fateh has accepted the Oslo project without any problem. Yes, there are camps, but these are personal, not ideological.

BI: You say more than half the current leadership will change. In favor of whom?

Abu Zaida: In favor of a younger generation of leaders.

BI: Will the conference strengthen Mahmoud Abbas?

Abu Zaida: Mahmoud Abbas will be stronger after the conference than before.

BI: And in terms of the division between Fateh and Hamas, what will the conference mean?

Abu Zaida: It means there will be a leadership in Fateh that can decide about strategy, about what to do, how to do it and when to do it.

BI: Will this aide unity efforts?

Abu Zaida: Let's wait and see the results of the conference, and if Hamas allows Fateh members from Gaza to come or not.

BI: Are you optimistic about the conference?

Abu Zaida: Yes. I believe the conference and new blood in the leadership will inject new life into Fateh.

BI: There was controversy over holding the conference in Bethlehem...

Abu Zaida: There were two opinions. Some wanted to hold the conference outside Palestine to be away from any Israeli pressure. Others called for holding the conference in Palestine in spite of the fact that we don't have full sovereignty. What's better? Here, in spite of Israel's control, or outside, in spite of the problems in getting Fateh members from the West Bank and Gaza there. I think the approach of Abu Mazen [Abbas] that we have our land and it is better to have it in Bethlehem was the right one.

BI: What about those who were excluded from coming?

Abu Zaida: They decided not to come. Abu Mazen promised everyone that they could come without restriction. There was a problem with Farouk Qaddumi, but after his shameful interview and press conference Qaddumi lost all his credibility and any chance of ever being a Fateh leader again.

BI: So he is one of the leaders you expect will be replaced.

Abu Zaida: For sure.- Published 30/7/2009 bitterlemons.org

Sufyan Abu Zaida is a member of Fateh and a former Palestinian Authority minister.

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