Missed Opportunity

 
Fateh’s 7th Congress shows how far the movement has sunk — reduced to choosing between two disastrous options: Abbas or Dahlan.
 
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By Abdel Bari Atwan

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had a great opportunity to begin making some badly needed changes at the just-concluded 7th Congress of Fateh, the dominant Palestinian political grouping and mainstay of the PLO. But — judging by the Congress’ outcomes, the identity of the delegates and the criteria by which they were chosen, the discussions they held on its side-lines or behind closed doors and their reactions — it was an opportunity squandered.

Fateh’s newly elected Central Committee was little changed from its predecessor. Some of the president’s critics and opponents, especially associates of expelled former security chief Muhammad Dahlan, were removed and replaced by new faces. These included Sabri Saidam, Rawhi Fatouh, Dalal Salameh (the only woman), Samir Rifai and Ahmad Hillis – who was a fierce foe of Dahlan even when the latter was the president’s close political ally.

Abbas managed to secure his own re-election, to loud applause, as head of Fateh, and by extension to his four other leadership positions (chairman of the PLO executive committee, president of the Palestinian Authority, president of the state of Palestine and commander-in-chief of Palestinian armed forces). He also got his decision to expel Dahlan and his acolytes from Fateh upheld – the main reason he wanted the congress convened in the first place.

Other than that, the 7th Congress will go down in history as the dullest and most inconsequential in Fateh’s history. It was devoid of meaningful discussion let alone surprises, and no ‘stars’ emerged other than Abbas himself. His three-hour speech, widely disseminated on social media and filled with quips and asides, earned him dozens of standing ovations from the delegates, who repeatedly interrupted it with chants of loyalty to the leader. One can only wonder how enthusiastic their applause might have been had he actually achieved anything for the Palestinian people since he assumed office.

 

No real difference

It is the ‘day after’, once the delegates disperse, that Abbas and his supporters should worry about. That is when the challenges will begin. Palestinian public interest in the Fateh congress was minimal. The attendance of representatives from other factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, rather than lending broader legitimacy to the gathering and its outcomes, is liable to undermine the legitimacy and popularity of these groupings themselves — especially once the post-congress quarrels begin in earnest.

Some view the biggest impending threat to the Fateh leadership and Abbas personally as coming from Dahlan — who is said to be planning to convene a parallel Fateh congress, bringing together his expelled supporters and other opponents of Abbas, in Cairo or one of the other Arab capitals that support him.

But this is only partially true.

Abbas used his control of salaries and purse-strings to secure the attendance and backing of many of the congress delegates. His ‘Dahlanist’ rivals are capable of convening an even bigger gathering if they want using the same monetary means: the ample financial resources of his Arab sponsors. Yet while both men may have access to a lot of money, neither has a political agenda or a plan of national action to confront the occupation.

Their personal rivalry and power-struggle aside, there is no real difference between them.

This may result in the emergence of ‘third force’ led by disaffected younger activists – not just within Fateh but among the other factions too, whether Islamist or secular — establishing the foundation for a new popularly-supported Palestinian leadership.

Inexorable decline

Abbas is not on good terms with the four influential Arab countries that constitute the self-styled ‘Arab Quartet’. Two of these, Egypt and Jordan, are of pivotal importance for the Palestinians as sole external access routes to the Gaza Strip and West Bank respectively. The other two, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have money – without which Abbas cannot remain in his post, and which can also be used to strengthen his opponents.

Abbas and his new central committee do not have the capacity to resist these four heavyweights, either politically, financially or geographically, so long as they continue adhering to current policies: security coordination with the occupation, mourning Shimon Peres as though he were a dear departed relative, and yearning for a return to the futile and demeaning negotiations. They can only do so by uniting the Palestinian people behind of a policy of resistance by all available means aimed at making the occupation as costly as possible. But there is no sign of that happening.

Abbas’ position may have been ‘strengthened’ in the narrow sense by the Fateh congress. His supporters and hangers-on are portraying it as a triumph for him. But the reality which few can seriously deny is that he has lost much of what remains of his power and legitimacy, as well as Arab and international support for his leadership and interest in the Palestinian cause as a whole. The scant media coverage accorded to the Fateh congress testifies to this.

The once-leading Fateh movement and its members are in an extremely serious predicament. They have been reduced to choosing between two disastrous options – Abbas and his camp, or his arch-rival Dahlan and his group. There could be no better illustration of the tragic condition of the movement which raised the banner of the Palestinian national cause and led it for half a century, asserted the Palestinian national identity, and gave thousands of martyrs to the struggle.

Fateh seems to be heading inexorably towards disintegration and decline. For today’s Fateh is not the same Fateh which Palestinians of all political persuasions, faiths and social backgrounds once rallied around and embraced.