Mar 11 2004

Will the real Fatah stand up?

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

For years whenever the PLO’s executive committee met, astute observers paid more attention to what happens the day before. Usually before important meetings of the PLO, crucial all night sessions of  the central committee of Fatah take place to set the framework for the more public PLO sessions. This traditional, in a slightly different form, has continued after the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority and the elections of the Palestinian Legislative Council. On the eve of the meetings of the Palestinian Legislative Council scheduled for Wednesday the 10th of March, the Fatah caucus in the PLC met at the shelled out offices of the Palestinian president. Arafat, who is also the secretary general of Fatah called for the meeting to coordinate who will be the next speaker of the Palestinian parliament. The importance of this positions has added value because in the sudden absence of the president of the PNA, the speaker of parliament becomes president for a 60 day period until new elections can take place.


Arafat as well as Fatah leaders and PLC members were clearly unhappy with the performance of the current speaker, Rafiq Natsheh and seemed to be in favor of supporting the candidacy of Rawhi Fatouh, who used to be deputy speaker during the reign of Ahmad Qurei and has become minister of agriculture since.


What seemed to have tipped the balance in Fatouh’s favor was his geographic affiliations. Fatouh a resident of Gaza was said to be favored because of the possibility that Israel withdraw from the Gaza Strip and because of the general feeling among Gazans that the prolonged stay of Arafat in Ramallah has swayed Palestinian politics (and money and appointments) to the West Bank. Apparently during the reconciliation between Arafat and Muhammad Dahlan, the issue was raised and Arafat promised to rectify the perceived imbalance. On the other side of the usual Arafat balancing act was the need to fulfill the political demands of the young Fatah cadres who have been complaining for some time that they also have been left out. Muhammad Horani was therefore picked as the Fatah candidate for deputy speaker.


The meetings of the PLC didn’t pan out exactly as planned. Sure enough Rawhi Fatouh did win the top position in the Palestinian parliament, but not before an unexpected competition from fellow Fatah member Nabil Amr who won 15 votes with 5 blank votes and 51 votes for Fatouh. Amr the former minister of information during the short Abu Mazen administration has been a vocal opponent to the policies of Arafat and their tactics. Speaking to reporters outside the PLC before the session, he announced that he is planning to run for the office of speaker. He said that the days in which positions are taken by consensus are over. The Palestinian parliament alone has the right to decide who its leaders are, he said. Another MP making the rounds before the session was Hassan Khreisheh an opposition candidate from Tulkarem who heads the human rights committee in the PLC.


While the head to head elections of two Fatah members was new in Palestinian politics, the real surprise was the number two spot which independent MP Hassan Khreisheh won beating the Fatah choice of Mohammad Hourani. The independent daily Al Ayyam called this victory in a front page story “a huge surprise.” What is surprising about it is that an avid anti Arafat young human rights advocate who received 44 votes must have gotten many Fatah MPs to vote for him.


The fact of the secrecy of the voting played a key role in allowing members of Fatah to express their real feelings away from the scrutiny from fellow members. The fact that this voting was held not long after the convening of the Fatah Revolutionary Council is an indication of important below the surface changes that are coming up to the public view.


Changes in Fatah can also be seen in the report issued by the political committee of the Fatah Revolutionary Council which was printed in full in the daily Al Ayyam on March 9. It calls for an immediate ceasefire, rejection of attacks on civilians, the need for focusing on dialogue with Israelis, that resistance should take the form of  civil and popular protests, the need to insist on pluralistic democracy based on the separation of powers and the application of the rule of law for  all and the independence of the judiciary.


The 18th clause in this report reflects clearly the duplicity of positions and opinions within Fatah: “Fatah suffers from the multiplicity of spokespersons. These divergent opinions have caused disruption of Palestinian and Arab public opinion, while the present situation requires a single unified position and a single spokesperson who can explain the official movement’s position regarding all issues whether they be local, international, political or security related.” The statement continues that the rebuilding and reform of the movement on democratic basis “will require the convening of party conferences which is the only way that will guarantee discipline in the party both in words and in actions.”

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