Aug 13 2009

Fatah closer to becoming a political party

Published by at 8:37 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

By Daoud Kuttab

Fatah, the key Palestinian guerilla movement within the Palestine Liberation Organisation, moved one step closer to becoming a political party.

Having held its sixth congress for the first time in the occupied territories, it would be hard to continue pretending to be a liberation movement. Officially, however, the over 2,000 delegates, representing former Fatah fedayyin (guerillas) and Intifada activists, voted to continue the resistance and the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. Resistance, however, was explained in a much wider perspective than the military struggle.

Mahmoud Abbas, who was unanimously elected party leader and commander in chief, made it clear that while all options are still available, ending the occupation should be done through negotiations. If anyone (such as Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak) took the rhetoric on resistance seriously, congress spokesman Nabil Amr officially assured all concerned that Fatah is committed to a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Signs that Fatah moves towards becoming a political party were amply evident. Gone were the khaki suits and militaristic paraphernalia, replaced by suits and proper IDs for all delegates. Backroom decisions and top-down guidance was replaced by a democratic free fall that saw many of historic Fatah leaders fall to the wayside, making room for younger, locally popular leaders.

Naturally the 20-year hiatus since the last congress created a huge gap that was quickly filled with street credentials rather than military ones.

The ballot, rather than the bullet, was the reason for the failure of some of Fatah’s famous, such as Ahmad Qureia and Intisar Wazir, the widow of Abu Jihad, the movement’s founder along with Yasser Arafat and Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad).

Holding the congress in Palestine ended the role of many of the anti-Oslo leaders, such as Mahmoud Jihad and Farouk Qaddoumi. Sidelining Qaddoumi, whose accusation, on the eve of the congress, that Abu Mazen and Mohammad Dahlan had helped Israel poison Arafat, will put an end to the role of some of the Fatah leaders who were aligned with some hardline Arab countries such as Syria and Libya.

President Abbas showed magnanimity to Qaddoumi by calling him to return to the movement’s fold despite all that happened in the past.

Fatah guerilla leaders who have dominated the movement since its establishment were replaced with Intifada activists. Most of those newly elected to the central committee represent the leadership of the 1987 uprising in the occupied territories.

In his speech, Abbas referred to these leaders, telling the congress that the first Intifada drew the guidelines that have become the movement’s political platform. Leaders like imprisoned Marwan Barghouthi, former preventative security chief Jibril Rajoub and Gaza’s Dahlan are now in the driver’s seat of the Fatah movement.

Dahlan, accused by many of being responsible for the loss of Gaza to Hamas, gave a strong speech accusing the previous Fatah leadership of having lost Gaza long before it actually fell in June 2007. Dahlan detailed how the former Fatah leadership repeatedly ignored his warnings and his pleadings with the central committee members to come to Gaza and see for themselves the situation on the ground.

The Fatah congress also dealt a blow to the abuse and corruption that have plagued the movement in recent years, especially since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Speaker after speaker insisted that the movement’s weakness was brought about by the fact that its leaders were sucked into government positions and faced with all the temptations that come with that.

The overriding sentiment at the conference was a resolve to attempt to distance the movement from the Palestinian Authority. This was translated in voting out those who represented this duplicity, perhaps chief among them former prime minister and leading negotiator Qureia.

The Fatah movement has a long way to go before it becomes a full-fledged political party. The overwhelming argument of the delegates was that the movement must keep open the option of going back to being a secret underground movement if the negotiations for statehood fail, while being ready to become a political party if a Palestinian state is born.

For the time being, the conclusion of the 6th congress reflects an preference for becoming a party rather than an underground resistance movement.

13 August 2009

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