Nov 30 2016

Abbas’s gamble pays off

Published by at 1:32 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics

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By Daoud Kuttab

The leading speech by Palestinian president at the seventh Fatah congress was planned for six pm on Tuesday. Before he was to take the podium, a number of visitors wanted to say a few words. They included the head of the socialist international, the UN peace envoy, Egyptian and Jordanian officials. The speakers continued to ask to say a few words of support and by seven thirty, Abbas decided that it was best to postpone his speech.  The outpouring of Arab and international support was exactly what Abbas needed and he was not going to allow his own speech to restrain those who wanted to speak. Speakers continued until nine thirty to express support for Palestinians and to Fatah as the leading movement for Palestine’s liberation.

The words of support were exactly what Abbas needed after he had taken a major gamble by insisting on the independence of his movement despite tremendous political and financial pressure from friendly Arab countries that were pushing for the repatriation of renegade Gaza-born leader Mohammad Dahlan.

Abbas gambled that if he can stand up to these pressures and actually hold the seventh congress, most of the same countries will quickly change course and express support for the Palestinian leader and his movement.

Naturally the Palestinian leadership had a number of things going for them. Holding the congress in Ramallah allowed them to avoid the normal pressures that would have resulted if they needed to host it in an Arab capital towards the political desires of that country. Also in terms of financial support, the Palestinian government of Rami Hamdallah was able to tighten its belts and improve its tax collection so that the absence of the committed support from some of the wealthy Arab countries didn’t cause a major shakeup that would have forced the political leadership to make compromises.

And most importantly Abbas found strong support within the leadership for resisting the pressures to reconcile with Dahlan. Some of the support from within the central committee came for selfish reasons as everyone is jockeying for positions in the post Abbas era and were happy to unite together to ensure that a strong person like Dahlan is kept out.

As a result, Abbas’s idea of allowing the rank and file members of Fatah determine the overall composition of the next leadership allowed for a democratic and inclusive processes rather than Abbas trying to handpick his successor.

The holding of the Seventh Fatah congress in itself has been a big victory for Mahmoud Abbas and his leadership group. The challenge going from this congress will be on multiple levels. He needs to use the unity and solidarity that was reflected in this congress to put the Fatah house in order and to move towards finalize the implementation of the reconciliation process with Hamas. The fact that Hamas representatives attended the congress as observers and read a congratulatory statement from leader Khaled Meshall signals that the reconciliation process that is due to take place in Cairo soon after the congress will produce some positive results.

Of course the big question remains how Abbas and Fatah will deal with the dormant peace process and the new Trump Administration but this issue will have to wait for a few months until Trump is sworn in and his new foreign policy team is assembled and an actual policy regarding the Arab Israeli conflict is articulated.

For now the big headline coming out of Ramallah is that the stubborn Mahmoud Abbas has succeeded in overcoming the odds and his gamble of defying some of his closest Arab allies has paid off. Now the healing process will take place and the reconciliation with the Arab quartet made up of Egypt, Jordan. Saudi Arabia and UAE will be the top priority of Abbas and his newly elected senior leadership.

Judging from the speeches given at the opening of the Fatah congress, it looks like the efforts to reconcile with the Arab quartet will be easier than it looked a week ago. In addressing a large Egyptian delegation visiting Ramallah, Abbas was very positive and spoke highly of Egypt and its president. It is clear that he was preparing the grounds for his post Fatah congress visits to the nearby Arab capitals. The question is will these Arab capitals reciprocate or will they have new demands?

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