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By Micah Halpern

Wednesday August 12, 2009


The 6th Fatah Conference that took place in Bethlehem has come to its conclusion. Phew. There were fireworks, but thankfully, they were only metaphorical.

The Conference was fraught with back stabbing and internal bickering. The single most important objective for most participants was to create blocks of voters insuring that their chosen candidates would sit in one of the one hundred and twenty coveted seats on the Revolutionary Council or one of the twenty allotted seats on the Executive Council. It was all politics, back room deals and disappointments.

The last Fatah Conference was held twenty years ago. In principle, this Conference was all about new ideas, new steps to be taken to forward the Palestinian cause and new leadership. In reality, much of the Conference was a rehash of the old days and a throwback to the reign of Arafat.

Two major votes were taken in Bethlehem and they both went off smoothly and predictably. In a vote taken shortly after the proceeding began the entire plenary unanimously voted that Israel was responsible for the murder of Yasser Arafat.
After that there was a vote by acclamation to renew the positions held by Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority and as leader of the Fatah movement. The vote was only in the affirmative and it was conducted by a show of hands. The intention was to make it impossible to gauge how many people neglected to raise their hands and who they are. The result is that Conference publicists are proudly claiming that Abbas has unanimous and undisputed support for his next term.

Elections for the twenty seat Executive Council were almost as unsurprising as the earlier votes. Before the Conference began, analysts predicted that if the old guard were to be replaced with a new guard, the 6th Fatah Conference would be a success. At its conclusion it became evident that the new guard is not that new and that its members, while not octogenarians like Abbas, are growing old.

Ten members of the old guard ran for positions on the Executive Council, five of them won. One big loser came as a surprise, he is Ahmed Qurei the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat also known as Abu Ala. Queria's loss was an undoubted blow to the old guard. But many of the new people elected were recycled, ex-Arafat players and advisers.

Jibril Rajoub is fifty six years old and under Arafat he served as head of security for the PA. Rajoub was both feared and revered. Mohammed Dahlan is a tall, dashing, well dressed and impeccably groomed fifty four years old. He was the head of security in Gaza and is thought of as the arch enemy of Hamas and the symbol of Fatah in Gaza. He is also the person that many West Bankers blame for Fatah's sound defeat at the hands of Hamas in Gaza. The Gaza coup took place while Dahlan was out of Gaza on vacation and no security infrastructure was in place to stem the bloodshed and prevent the takeover.

Marwan Barghouti was elected to the Executive Council, but as of now, he is unable to serve. Barghouti, an "anti-intellectual intellectual" who often sported leather bomber jackets and work boots is a prisoner in Israel. Barghouti, former head of the Tanzim, the Fatah military wing in the West Bank, was tried and convicted for orchestrating five terrorist attacks. Even though he has been out of the political fray for several years, Barghouti is by far the most popular political personality in the West Bank.

Neither Jibril nor Dahlan nor Barghouti are to be considered politically liberal. They were the "iron fist" that enabled Arafat's rule. As leaders they believe in pursuing peace but not in achieving compromise. And yet, Israel is being asked to release Barghouti as a gesture of good faith that will also shore up the more liberal aspects of the Palestinian society.

Barghouti is in favor of living side by side with Israel but only within the '67 borders - without a single exception. Dahlan has said that he does not recognize Israel. Rajoub is the most practical of anyone in the new old guard. He wants a Palestinian state but is schooled enough to understand that he cannot force it.

Optimists were hoping that new blood would re-invigorate the Fatah organization making it more of a political organization and less of a military organization. That did not happen. Realists hope that Fatah does not implode and is strong enough to fend off internal threats from Hamas.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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