Abbas sidelines Palestinian rivals in Fatah vote
London - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party announced results of elections to its ruling bodies with the 81-year-old sidelining rivals while providing few clues to his eventual successor.
The vote for both the party’s central committee and its parliament, known as the Revolutionary Council, came after Abbas opponents were excluded from the election.
Some 1,400 delegates met in Ramallah beginning November 29th for Fatah’s first congress since 2009 and to vote in the elections. Abbas was re-elected head of the party at the congress’s opening.
Since Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004, Abbas has been in charge of Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Several of those seen as opposing Abbas were not invited to the gathering, and one of his main rivals, Mohammed Dahlan, was replaced on the central committee. Dahlan is in exile in the United Arab Emirates and Abbas reportedly resisted pressure from Arab nations to allow him to return.
Observers saw the reduced number of delegates eligible to vote — down from more than 2,000 in 2009 — as a move to exclude Dahlan supporters.
The central committee includes 18 members, plus four who are appointed, and the parliament will have 80 elected members and about 40 who are appointed.
Marwan Barghouti, a popular figure jailed by Israel for life over his role in the second intifada, won the most votes for the central committee with more than 900.
Other key figures standing included Jibril Rajoub, a former head of intelligence who leads the Palestinian Football Association. Rajoub, who secured the second-highest number of central committee votes with more than 800, said the results signal continuity of Palestinian policies.
Saeb Erekat, PLO secretary-general and a close Abbas ally, was also re-elected to the committee, as was Arafat’s nephew Nasser al- Kidwa, who has been mentioned as a possible successor to Abbas.
Abbas has not publicly backed a successor but speculation over who will replace him has mounted as polls indicate most Palestinians want him to resign. He was elected to a four-year term as Palestinian president in 2005 but has remained in office because there have not been elections to replace him.
“A small political elite within Fatah’s leadership will decide who will lead after Abbas,” Palestinian analyst Jamil Hilal told Reuters.
That is mainly because Fatah is deeply divided from Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, with reconciliation attempts having repeatedly failed, he said.
Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser in Abbas’s self-ruled government, noted a lack of diversity in the Fatah leadership body, with only one woman among the 18 members and most of the men are in their 50s, 60s or 70s.
Fatah leaders “believe that they are entitled to these positions”, she told the Associated Press (AP). The re-election of party veterans “is saying to me that they don’t have a vision for the future”.
Some observers saw the conference’s outcome as divisive.
“This will be remembered as the conference that split Fatah,” Naji Shurrab, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza, told UAE-based newspaper the National. “The split is a reality now but the problem on the side of Abu Mazen [Abbas] and his congress and the new central committee is that they deny there is a split.”
Some analysts view the congress as a success for Abbas because he was able to sideline rivals.
He “proved that he still controls both Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in financial and organisational terms and that he can use them to fulfil his vision”, Wajih Abu Zarifa, a Gazan political science professor, told Reuters.
Fatah’s internal workings have an international effect since the party, founded in 1959, is the backbone of the PLO, which the international community considers the representative of all Palestinians.
Addressing the congress, Abbas said he remained committed to dialogue with Israel and peaceful resistance to achieve a Palestinian state.
Abbas is facing particularly grim prospects for progress on Palestinian statehood and ending Israel’s nearly 50-year occupation of the West Bank. Israel’s government, seen as the most right-wing in the country’s history, has continued settlement building in the West Bank.
Donald Trump’s incoming administration in the United States is also seen as favourable to Israel.
Asked about the challenges ahead, including dealing with Trump as US president, Rajoub told the AP: “We will be open to any efforts to revive the peace process according to the rules set by the international community.”
Fatah’s ageing leaders, including some averse to using computers and social media, may not be equipped to deal with change, said Palestinian analyst Jihad Harb.
“If we had a younger, well-educated leadership, we would have seen more effectiveness in handling political issues. We would have seen more influence on US decision-makers, institutions and lobbies,” Harb told the AP.
Community organiser Hazem Abu Helal, 33, said he lost interest in the convention after Abbas was re-elected Fatah leader by acclamation.
“When we see our leaders speaking for hours about the rights of youth, we start laughing (because) youth in Palestine starts from age 66,” Abu Helal said sarcastically to the AP. “These people don’t accept a new generation. They don’t accept change because they have power, they have money and they have corruption.”
The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies.