Fatah Congress Election: Surprising Results

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 12-Aug-09 | Author: Barry Rubin| Source: GLORIA Center

Mahmoud Abbas speaks at Fatah's first party conference for 20 years in the West Bank town of Bethlehem

At the Fatah Congress meeting in Bethlehem, eighteen people were elected to the Central Committee of the group which rules the Palestinian Authority and will determine if there is going to be peace with Israel.

Four more will be appointed by PLO and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who will also serve as the committee's chief. Only two (three when Abbas is added) who will continue from the old Committee. So indeed this is a generational transition and a transition from returnees who were in Tunis to indigenous West Bank people.

The fact that only one member is from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip--though that area contains almost half of all Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority--will no doubt cause trouble later.

We will be told two things about this election: that this is a peace-oriented leadership (not true) and that this is a great victory for the Young Guard (misleading).

This is indeed a significant and relatively democratic election (remember, though, that between one-third to a majority of the delegates were handpicked by Abbas). Power has to some extent been transferred to a new generation.

Also keep in mind that there is no unified "Young Guard." In fact, it might be said that there are no more than three people who belong to any given faction capable of coordination.

Moreover, while this is almost a wholly new committee, at least 15 of the 22 members will be old-style leaders (presuming Abbas will appoint such people to the four seats whose nomination he controls). To give another example, it's true that Marwan Barghouti, leader of the Fatah grassroots' group on the West Bank, was elected. But not a single one of his followers was added to the committee.

On balance, I would say it is slightly more moderate than its predecessor but the difference should not be exaggerated. For example, there are at least four members of the 18 who are capable of leading a war on Israel. Another four--including Fatah's probable future leaders--are extremely hardline. At the same time, though, there are also a number of individuals who have many Israeli contacts and who can pick up a phone and call or be called by counterparts.

In short, there are a wide range of views from hardline to relatively dovish. This is neither a group that will make peace with Israel nor one which will ally with Hamas. In other words, this is a group which Israel can work with on status quo issues but not on a comprehensive agreement.

But there is one aspect of this result so dangerous that it might outweigh everything else. At number one with two-thirds of the vote--a remarkable sign of popularity--is Abd al-Mahir Ghuneim. He is increasingly being spoken of as Abbas's successor.

Ghuneim is an unrepentant hardliner, an open opponent of the Oslo agreement. If he becomes the leader of Fatah--and hence of the PA and PLO--you can forget about peace. Violent conflict becomes far more likely. Watch this man: he is the future of the Palestinian movement.

The people everyone will be watching are the four guys with their own base of support, three security agency heads--Muhammad Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub, Tawfiq Tarawi--and West Bank grassroots' leader Marwan Barghouti. Since Barghouti is in an Israeli prison, however, he will probably play a smaller role. It is easy to call these three leaders of a Young Guard but remember they are all personal rivals, and that's what's most important.

There are four real hardliners: Abd al-Mahir Ghuneim, Salim al-Zanoun, Abbas Zaki, and Nasser Kidra. Zanoun is the former head of the Palestine National Council who rejected changing the Charter to accept Israel's existence; Zaki is an old-style Arab nationalist. Kidra is seen as representing the legacy of his uncle Yasir Arafat.

There are two who can be called moderate: Nabil Shaath and Muhammad Shtayyeh.

Then there are Abbas's supporters: Saib Erikat, Hassan al-Sheikh, Tawfiq al-Tirawi, Othman Abu Gharbyeh, and probably Muhammad al-Madani. He can presumably also count on Nabil Shaath.

This is not a group which will be eager to make concessions to get Hamas into a partnership. A Fatah-Hamas reconciliation is not going to happen.

Is this a group that will return to armed struggle? This is possible though they are not eager to do so. Dahlan and Rajoub are realistic about Palestinian military weakness, though Barghouti is probably more eager for confrontation. If Ghaneim becomes the leader, however, Fatah could revert to the Arafat era.

Mahmoud Abbas will head the committee.

1. Abd al-Mahir Ghuneim, 1338 votes. Reelected

2. Muhammad al-A'loul, 1112 votes.

3. Marwan Barghouti, 1063 votes, 50 years old, imprisoned leader of West Bank grassroots group

4. Nasser Kidra, Arafat's nephew and former ambassador to UN, and PA foreign minister

5. Selim al-Zanoun, hardliner, head of Palestinian National Council. Reelected

6. Jibril Rajoub, 56 years old, former head of Preventive Security West Bank and national security advisor of Mahmoud Abbas.

7. Tawfiq al-Tirawi, head of General Intelligence. He has his own website.

8. Saib Erikat, Jericho notable who has been the PA's chief negotiator

9. Othman Abu Gharbyeh, 854 votes, old guard, close to Abbas

10. Muhammad Dahlan, former head of Preventive Security, Gaza Strip, badly defeated by Hamas in that group's takeover of the territory. This is reportedly about 50 percent of the Gaza vote. On one hand, this reflects his representing that sector but on the other hand many are angry for his mishandling of the war with Hamas.

11. Muhammad al-Madani, Bethlehem mayor

12. Jamal Mheisan,

13. Hasan al-Shaykh, secretary-general of Fatah in the West Bank

14. Azzam al-Ahmad

15. Sultan Abu al-Einen

16. Nabil Sha'th, businessman and former foreign minister of the PA, moderate

17. Abbas Zaki (Sharif Ali Mashal), long-time PLO director of Arab world relations and now Fatah’s representative in Lebanon. Hardline. Reelected

18. Muhammad Shtayyeh, 638 votes, former director-general of PECDAR, private businessman, honest technocrat. Watch him: he is cast in the role of "watchdog" to oppose corruption and lack of transparency.

Not elected

19. Tayib Abu Rahman, 637 votes, Arafat's veteran office director

20. Ahmad Qurieyeh (Abu Ala), 636, relatively dovish former PLO negotiator

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).