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December 21, 2016 No.
1290

Fatah's Seventh General Conference Bolsters 'Abbas's Standing; Contradictory Messages In 'Abbas Statements On Terror, Negotiations With Israel

By: C. Jacob*

Background

Fatah's Seventh General Conference, held on 29 November–December 4, 2016, was attended by 1,322 of the 1,411 Fatah members invited to attend. According to the movement's regulations, the conference should have been held in late 2014, five years after the previous conference in 2009, but Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas was in no hurry to convene it, promising to hold it in late 2016. The conference may have been postponed yet again had it not been for pressures exerted on 'Abbas by the Egypt-led Arab Quartet to readmit his rival Muhammad Dahlan to the Fatah institutions as his successor. This pressure motivated 'Abbas to convene the conference immediately with the aim of preventing Dahlan from gaining a foothold in Fatah and the PA and in order to gain support for his policy and strengthen his position.

The pressures of the Arab Quartet to appoint a successor for 'Abbas stemmed from apprehension that 'Abbas's disappearance from the Palestinian political scene (due to his death or any other reason) would create a vacuum, and were also intended to prevent Hamas from gaining control of the Palestinian Authority (PA), because by law, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) chairman is next in the line of command if the president is incapacitated - and at present this role is filled by 'Aziz Duwaik from Hamas. This pressure has been manifested by Egypt's sponsorship of conferences on its soil held by supporters of Dahlan, and by the demands presented to 'Abbas by Arab League secretary-general Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit along with former secretaries-general Amr Moussa and Nabil Al-Arabi, during a visit to Ramallah in November, that 'Abbas accept the Quartet's proposal to appoint a successor for him and that he agree to a reconciliation within Fatah - demands that 'Abbas rejected out of hand.[1]

The Conference Outcomes: An 'Abbas Achievement – No Successor Named

At the conference 'Abbas managed to achieve his objectives: In defiance of the Arab Quartet's pressures, Muhammad Dahlan and his supporters were excluded from the movement institutions and no successor for 'Abbas was named; 'Abbas was reaffirmed as Fatah chairman and his position in the movement's institutions was consolidated with the election of many of his supporters to Fatah's Central Committee; the conference reaffirmed his political platform.

Although no successor for 'Abbas was named at the conference, the issue may come up when the Fatah Central Committee appoints one of its members as its secretary, which is the second most prominent position in the committee, after the position of chairman (currently filled by 'Abbas). Palestinian sources assessed that the leading candidates for the role are Marwan Al-Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for attacks he orchestrated during the second Intifada, Jibril Rajoub and Mahmoud Al-'Aloul. According to the sources, "in 'Abbas's camp there are some who support [the candidacy of] Rajoub, who received the largest number of votes after Barghouti in the Central Committee election, noting his helpful activity vis-à-vis Qatar and Hamas, when he asked them to allow Fatah members to leave Gaza for the West Bank to attend the [Seventh General] Conference, as well as his activity in the security [apparatuses]. Others support Al-'Aloul because he is more senior than Rajoub and used to be his superior, and also because they consider him more qualified, in light of Rajoub's poor performance in the Preventive Security [Force] and the allegations against him that during the Second Intifada, when Israeli army forces besieged the Preventive Security headquarters in the town of Bitouniyya, he gave Israel information that led to the arrest of Palestinians suspected of terrorism."[2] At the same time, it might be argued that Marwan Al-Barghouti, who won the largest number of votes in the Central Committee elections, is a stronger candidate than either Rajoub or Al-'Aloul, but the fact of his incarceration in Israel poses a problem. The question is which of these considerations, if any, 'Abbas will give weight to. A fourth candidate for the role is Saeb Erekat, who has for years been 'Abbas's man in the negotiations with Israel, and whom 'Abbas appointed to the role of Fatah Executive Committee secretary instead of Yasser 'Abd Rabbo. 'Abbas's appointment of Erekat as Central Committee secretary would signal that he regards him as his successor.


'Abbas voting at Fatah's Seventh General Conference; the envelope bears the Fatah symbol incorporating a map of larger Palestine (image: Aljazeera.net, December 4, 2016)

New Fatah Institutions Elected: The Central Committee, Revolutionary Council

One of the functions of Fatah's General Conferences is to elect the Fatah chairman as well as the movement's two most important institutions: the Central Committee, an 18-member executive body, to which the Fatah chairman is authorized to appoint 4 additional members, and the Revolutionary Council, Fatah's 80-member parliament, to which the chairman is authorized to appoint 30 additional members.

 

The New Central Committee

Of the 18 Central Committee members elected at the Seventh General Conference, 12 had been members of the previous committee, including Marwan Al-Barghouti, who, as stated, received the largest number of votes, and Jibril Al-Rajoub, who received the second-largest number, as well as Muhammad Ishtayyeh, Hussein Al-Sheikh, Mahmoud Al-'Aloul, Tawfiq Al-Tirawi, Saeb Erekat, Jamal Muhaisen, Nasser Al-Qudwa, Muhammad Al-Madani, 'Azzam Al-Ahmad and 'Abbas Zaki. The six new members elected were Al-Hajj Isma'il, Ahmad Hilles, Sabri Saidam, Rawhi Fattouh, Dallal Salameh and Samir Al-Rifa'i. At 'Abbas's suggestion, three honorary members were appointed as well: Abu Maher Ghneim, Salim Al-Za'noun (both of whom were members of the previous committee) and Farouk Al-Qaddoumi.

Among the members of the previous committee who were not reelected are Ahmad Qurei, Nabil Sha'th, Al-Tayyeb 'Abd Al-Rahim, Sakher Bseiso, Sultan Abu Al-Einein, Amal Hamed and of course Muhammad Dahlan, whose chances of reelection were nil since his supporters were excluded from the Fatah conference. Former committee member 'Othman Abu Gharbieh has died.[3] Twelve of the committee members are residents of the West bank and five are Gazans, four of whom reside outside the strip.[4]

The London-based Al-Hayat daily speculated that senior committee members who were not reelected – such as Ahmad Qurei, Sultan Abu Al-Einein and Sakher Bseiso – were excluded due to 'Abbas's dissatisfaction with their performance and also due to ties with Dahlan's camp.[5] Most of the new members are 'Abbas supporters, which strengthens his position and allows him to make decisions as he pleases.

The average age of the new committee's members is 64, which, according to researcher Jihad Harb, reflects a missed opportunity to revitalize the Fatah institutions by introducing younger members. "Organizations that seek renewal and new ideas suited to the spirit of the age and the changes in society need leaders from the younger generation," he wrote.[6] Egyptian academic Dr. Amira Ahmad commented on the fact that the committee includes only one woman (Dallal Salameh), writing that "the [election] outcomes do not do justice to either women or the youth, and therefore the movement must change its regulations and reserve seats for women."[7]

Since Ahmad Qurei was not reelected, the committee presently includes no representative from East Jerusalem. Considering the sensitivity of this issue, 'Abbas is likely to include a representative from Jerusalem among the four members he is authorized to appoint; according to Palestinian sources, Al-Rajoub has suggested 'Abd Al-Qader Al-Husseini, the son of Faisal Al-Husseini.[8]

 


The members of the new Central Committee (image: Amad.ps, December 6, 2016).

 

The New Revolutionary Council

Also elected at the Seventh General Conference were the 80 members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, among them Fadwa Al-Barghouti (the wife of Marwan Al-Barghouti), who received the largest number of votes, Zakariyya Al-Zubeidi (of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) and Hafez Al-Barghouti (former editor of the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida).[9] The number of women elected to the committee was small, as was the number of Gazans. The small number of Gazans was attributed to mistakes they had made and to their political inexperience. Palestinian National Council (PNC) member Hatem Abu Sha'ban explained that the 350 Gazan Fatah members had attended the conference had failed to elect Gazan candidates because the candidates had "acted out of personal interests" and because "each one of them considers himself a leader and was unwilling to step down in favor of someone else. The strange thing," he added, "is that some of the [Gazans] who submitted their candidacy to Fatah's Revolutionary Council had not even been Fatah members [before this]. [Moreover,] some of the candidates made deals with non-Gazan candidates that harmed their fellow Gazans."[10]

Allegations Of Irregularities In Democratic Process, Election Fraud

Fatah members and columnists claimed that there had been irregularities and flaws in the democratic processes at the conference. For example, the conference reaffirmed 'Abbas's role as Fatah chairman by applauding him, not by means of a vote, and the conference was held in the Muqata'a, the administrative headquarters of the PA, which contributed to blurring the boundaries between the Fatah movement and the PA authorities. Awni Al-Mashni, a former Fatah leader in Bethlehem who ran for the Revolutionary Council, alleged election fraud. He claimed that with his background, which included extensive activity in Fatah and even a period of incarceration in Israel, he should have easily won the 280 votes needed to gain a seat on the council, but someone had tampered with the results: "I got more than 280 votes, but someone erased some of [my votes] in order to make me fail. I failed in the Revolutionary Council elections because the conference did not achieve the level of transparency that would convince any reasonable person that the elections were fair. I did not succeed because powerful people with [all sorts of] interests caused me to fail. I failed because I have a clear political position, and they want to get rid of people like me."[11]

The Main Points Of 'Abbas's Speeches, Conference's Closing Statement

Support For Two-State Solution; Non-Recognition Of Jewish State; Withdrawal From Recognition Of Israel If Israel Does Not Recognize Palestine

The Fatah conference affirmed 'Abbas's political platform, which is a continuation of current policy. The main points of this platform, as presented by 'Abbas in his opening speech at the conference, are as follows: Negotiating with Israel as part of an international conference; a two-state solution, one being Palestine on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital; accepting the Arab peace initiative, which includes a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 194; objecting to interim agreements or a temporary state; non-recognition of a Jewish state; recognition of Israel conditional upon Israeli recognition of Palestine; emphasizing Palestinian diplomatic activity; expanding ties with Israeli society; engaging in nonviolent popular resistance; and reevaluating past agreements with Israel.[12]

Unlike in the past, the demand for the right of return was not mentioned explicitly but only implied as part of the demand to implement "without change" the Arab peace initiative and to reach "a just and agreed-upon solution [for the refugee problem] based on [U.N.] Resolution 194," as mentioned in this initiative.[13] The Palestinians and the Arab states, unlike Israel, hold that this resolution recognizes their right to return to their homes and also to receive compensation." It should be noted that the issue of the refugees' return or compensation was not mentioned in the original Saudi peace initiative, but was added later under pressure from Syria and Lebanon in what became the "Arab peace initiative."[14] There were those who criticized 'Abbas for opting to call for "a just and agreed-upon solution based on Resolution 194." For example, Hani Al-Masri, a political analyst for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, slammed him for adhering to the Arab peace initiative, including the term "an agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem," which he said grants Israel a power of veto.[15]

'Abbas said further on the refugee issue: "[In the Oslo Accords] we paved the way for the return of the [Palestinian] leaders and activists to the homeland. I do not claim that we realized the right of return [in full], but it was a very important phase in these accords: we started to return – and the fact that we have convened the Seventh [General] Conference in the homeland and nowhere else is proof of this... By virtue of these accords, to which I signed my name, 600,000 Palestinians and Arabs returned to the homeland."

Journalist Mohammed Daraghmeh argued that the PA's policy is the result of constraints that are beyond its control and it cannot change: "The Fatah conference cemented and affirmed the old path, that is, the establishment of a Palestinian state via a peace process and no other way... The movement cannot change the political process... The conference was held at a time of political crisis related to [the PA's] options, and it is unable to provide new alternatives to ending security coordination, making changes to the Paris Agreement – an economic protocol [incorporated into] the Oslo Accords – or ending relations with Israel, fearing that each alternative would have disastrous consequences."[16]

In his closing speech at the conference, 'Abbas addressed the late Yasser Arafat, promising him to continue on the path of struggle.

The conference also issued a closing statement, according to which the Palestinian National Council (PNC) is to convene within three months in order to activate the PLO institutions. The closing statement also highlighted the national construction plan, which focuses on the following principles: the Palestinian people's right to engage in legitimate resistance in order to end the occupation, and the Palestinians' right to self-determination and to a sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. In addition, the statement reiterated the need for continuing diplomatic activity to upgrade Palestine's status to a permanent member of the UN and other international bodies, and expanding PA ties with Israeli society.[17]

'Abbas's Contradictory Messages

In his speeches during the conference and in his political platform, 'Abbas upheld the political line he has taken in recent years, while delivering contradictory messages on several central issues:

Our Hands Are Extended In Peace, But Negotiations Only As Part Of An International Conference

'Abbas painted himself as a supporter of peace with "the recalcitrant Israel" and of renewing negotiations, but not as part of direct talks, but only as part of an international conference: "We have signed international agreements with Israel and honored them all, but Israel violated them... We have responded to efforts by the American administration and its representative, Secretary of State John Kerry, to attend nine-month talks sponsored by the U.S., but the Israeli government once again engaged in evasion tactics, rendered the talks devoid of content, and bought time to create facts on the ground via settlement construction... We are continuing to work with France to convene the international conference before the end of this year."[18]

Praise For Oslo Accords, Alongside Threats To Reassess Them

'Abbas praised the Oslo Accords and mentioned Palestinian achievements they facilitated, but at the same time threatened to reassess the Palestinian commitment to them: "Many claim, openly or secretly, that the Oslo Accords were an act of treason... but [the fact is] that [with these accords] we only paved the way for the return of the [Palestinian] leaders and activists to the homeland... But the occupation government ignored the principles of the Oslo Accords and its timeframe. [So] the inclination should be to reassess all the agreements signed with the Israeli side, on the grounds that their validity has expired, circumstances have changed, there is inequality between the sides and the Israel side has not honored them."[19]

Supporting Nonviolent Popular Resistance While Defending Perpetrators Of Stabbing Attacks

Another contradictory position by 'Abbas is the one regarding "nonviolent popular resistance," which he repeatedly advocates, while simultaneously defending youths who perpetrated stabbing attacks. 'Abbas did not explicitly define what he regards as violent resistance, but in defending these youths he implicitly condoned their actions: "We will not forget our innocent children, these heroes – we will not rest until we release them all... In every meeting we say 'nonviolent popular resistance.' We must implement it, and it is one of our rights. We do not want anyone to make exaggerated statements, and at this stage we only desire nonviolent popular resistance, and hands reaching out in peace... We oppose violence and extremism of any kind... We will cement and strengthen the nonviolent popular resistance and develop it on all fronts."[20]

Statements Against Terrorism Alongside Praise For Terrorists And Their Handlers

Reiterating his opposition to terrorism in all its forms, 'Abbas did not explicitly mention Palestinian terrorism, but rather state and settler terrorism: "We stress our permanent position in favor of combating terrorism regardless of its motives or sources, including state terrorism [by Israel] or terrorism by groups of settlers... We will continue to adhere to the culture of peace and tolerance, abandon violence and extremism, and solve conflicts peacefully."[21]

Moreover, at the conference, 'Abbas praised Fatah officials who orchestrated terrorist attacks, and the Palestinian prisoners, the vast majority of whom are incarcerated in Israel due to terrorist activity: "We remember the martyrs, the injured, and the prisoners... We solute our brave prisoners and honor them. In these historic times, we will not forget our fellow fighting leader who are jailed in the occupation's prisons: Marwan Al-Barghouti, Ahmad Sa'adat, Fuad Shubaki, and Karim Younis, the sheikh of the prisoners, as well as all our brave men and praiseworthy women who are in prison... We highlight all the martyrs and injured among our people and from other Arab countries who fell during all stages of the Palestinian people's struggle. We tell their families and relatives that they are all our heroes. We will never forget them, and they will live forever in the memory of our people and our homeland, Palestine."[22]

At the close of the conference, 'Abbas said: "We have convened here, members of all age groups and all components of the path of the Palestinian national struggle: the heroic self-sacrificing fighters; the pioneers of the rough beginnings and the founders of the movement; the brave fighters of the revolution in the campaigns to defend Palestine... and the courageous resistance fighters who carried out self-sacrifice operations against the occupation in the occupied land." Addressing Yasser Arafat, 'Abbas said: "Oh, Abu 'Ammar, your brothers, sons, and people will continue to walk on the path of struggle that you carved and paved in blood, spirit, and sacrifice, you and Abu Jihad."[23] The closing statement also emphasized "the Palestinian people's right to implement legitimate resistance to end the occupation."[24]

 

* C. Jacob is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

Endnotes:

 


[2] Amad.ps, December 6, 2016.

[3] Amad.ps, December 4, 2016.

[4] Maannews.net, December 5, 2016.

[5] Al-Hayat (London), December 6, 2016.

[6] Al-Risala (Gaza), December 7, 2016.

[7] Amad.ps, December 8, 2016.

[8] Amad.ps, December 8, 2016.

[9] Wafa.ps, December 4, 2016.

[10] Alquds.com, September 9, 2016.

[11] Maannews.net, December 4, 2016.

[12] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 1, 2016.

[13] U.N. Resolution 194 stated that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible" (unrwa.org/content/resolution-194).

[14] See "The Warped Saudi Initiative" by Itamar Rabinovich, Haaretz (Israel), April 4, 2002. For the article in English, see Haaretz.com, April 7, 2002.

[15] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 6, 2016.

[16] Alquds.com, December 3, 2016.

[17] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), December 4, 2016.

[18] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 1, 2016.

[19] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 1, 2016.

[20] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 1, 2016.

[21] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 1, 2016.

[22] Al-Ayyam (PA), December 1, 2016.

[23] Wafa.ps, December 4, 2016.

[24] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), December 4, 2016.