The new Fatah has nothing to do with the old one

December 04, 2016
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during Fatah congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on November 29th. (Reuters)

Two important aspects of the Fatah congress are worth noting. The first was the absence of any figure opposing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The second resided in the choice of the representatives of Palestinians abroad; they were all figures from the West Bank and Gaza who can hardly qualify as leaders.
We all probably agree that Abu Mazen — Abbas’s nom de guerre — is the last among the historic founders of Fatah movement, with the exception, of course, of Farouq Qaddoumi, who refuses to return to the Palestinian territo­ries and who no longer has a role to play, given his age (85).
For a long time, Abbas remained at the second row in the Palestin­ian leadership. He undoubtedly played a major role in determining the leadership’s foreign relations and especially the relationship with Moscow.
Thanks to his experience in diplomacy, Abbas acquired a fine knowledge of the various regional and international balances of power. He used his expertise during negotiations leading to the Oslo agreement, which was signed on the White House lawn in September 1993. That agreement opened Washington’s gates to Yasser Arafat.
We leave it to history to judge whether Arafat knew how to take advantage of that opportunity. As for Israel, it never imagined that the Oslo agreement could lead to a settlement acceptable to the Palestinians. By deciding to sign the agreement, Israel had wanted to prove that the Palestinians cannot uphold their promises.
Arafat, the historic leader of the Palestinians, remained at the head of Fatah party for almost half a century. Fatah was, right from the beginning, open to a variety of orientations and opinions. This diversity was a source of strength and a source of problems and divisions. Arafat was successful most of the time in controlling the crises.
So, with the exception of its beginnings, Fatah was never a single body. Splits and divisions appeared, especially when Fatah was based in Jordan.
During the civil war in Lebanon, Fatah turned itself into the Muslim army facing Christian forces. Some splinter groups espoused Maoist revolutionary ideologies and others adopted Khomeinist theories. There existed groups that were alleged to be from the Gulf countries, which, except for Oman, have always backed Fatah financially. Some were allied to Egyptian intelligence organisations and many had no allegiance but to the Palestinian cause, which has been overshadowed by sectarian strife in the region.
Under Arafat, Fatah fought many unnecessary conflicts with Hafez Assad’s regime in Syria and in Lebanon. It had lost serious competitors to Arafat, Khalil al-Wazir and Salah Khalaf. They competed with Arafat but when circumstances required they were his staunchest supporters.
On Arafat’s death in November 2004, only Abbas remained standing. Abbas was completely different from Arafat. He was a realist first and foremost. He inherited all of Arafat’s roles and titles, including president of the state of Palestine, but at every chance he behaved in such a way as to suggest that he refuses the power practices of his predeces­sor.
Abbas does not tolerate in his entourage any person with a strong personality. There is no room for discussion with him on any subject. Arafat knew how to use money to achieve his goals. Money was just another weapon at his disposal. Abbas’s attitude towards money was different. In addition, Abbas did not surround himself with people who can competently deal with the media. For him, information was not a weapon.
The questions remain: Are Fatah’s circumstances reason enough for a new Fatah com­posed only of pro-Abbas figures? Are they reason enough to set aside Arafat’s heritage with both its good and bad aspects?