Pales­tinian pres­i­dent to con­sol­i­date rule

Block­ing the re­turn of Dahlan

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas’ long-dom­i­nant Fatah move­ment yes­ter­day opened a con­fer­ence that is ex­pected to ce­ment the rule of the 81-year-old Pales­tinian leader and lock out his chief ri­val from de­ci­sion mak­ing for at least the next five years.

Some 1,400 mem­bers of Fatah were gathering in Ra­mal­lah for the five-day con­fer­ence, where del­e­gates are to hold elec­tions for the party’s two main de­ci­sion-mak­ing bod­ies. While the elec­tions are ex­pected to bring some new faces into the lead­er­ship struc­ture, the con­fer­ence’s main pur­pose ap­pears to be aimed at block­ing the re­turn of Ab­bas’ ex­iled ri­val, Mo­hammed Dahlan.

Dahlan, who was forced to leave the West Bank six years ago af­ter ac­cus­ing Ab­bas’ sons of cor­rup­tion, now lives in the United Arab Emi­rates. He has forged close ties with the lead­ers of the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Ara­bia and Jordan.

In re­cent months, these coun­tries, known as the Arab Quar­tet, have pres­sured Ab­bas to al­low Dahlan to re­turn to a lead­er­ship po­si­tion. Ab­bas, ac­cus­ing his Arab al­lies of med­dling in his af­fairs, in­stead de­cided to sched­ule the Fatah elec­tions, while block­ing Dahlan and his close al­lies from par­tic­i­pat­ing.

Ab­bas’ sup­port­ers re­jected crit­i­cism that he was fo­cused on Dahlan. They say that the con­fer­ence, two years be­hind sched­ule, had to be held to re­vive the move­ment.

Fatah has dom­i­nated Pales­tinian pol­i­tics since its found­ing five decades ago. But Ab­bas has seen his pop­u­lar­ity plum­met due to years of failed peace ef­forts with Is­rael, a stag­nant West Bank econ­omy and his in­abil­ity to rec­on­cile with the ri­val Ha­mas move­ment, which seized con­trol of the Gaza Strip from his forces nearly a decade ago. Ab­bas now only gov­erns au­ton­o­mous ar­eas of the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied West Bank.

Room for op­ti­mism

In ad­di­tion, the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump has given the Pales­tini­ans lit­tle room for op­ti­mism. Al­though the US pres­i­dent-elect has not yet laid out a Mideast pol­icy, many of his ad­vis­ers are known for hard-line po­si­tions in fa­vor of Is­rael and against the Pales­tini­ans. “This congress is tak­ing place in a cru­cial mo­ment in the his­tory of the Pales­tinian peo­ple. We have to dis­cuss our as­pi­ra­tions, our concerns, and chal­lenges,” said Jib­ril Ra­joub, a se­nior Fatah leader and Ab­bas loy­al­ist. “We have to build a strat­egy, con­sol­i­dat­ing the move­ment, and achiev­ing na­tional unity,” he said, adding: “Dahlan is past. He has no place in the move­ment.”

Ab­bas was set to ad­dress the con­fer­ence on Tues­day evening. Par­tic­i­pants were com­ing from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, as well as di­as­pora com­mu­ni­ties scat­tered across the Arab world and in the West. The con­ven­tion is to con­clude with elec­tions for 18 spots in the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, the top de­ci­sion mak­ing body, and 80 mem­bers of the move­ment’s par­lia­ment, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Coun­cil.

Par­tic­i­pants re­ported fierce lob­by­ing in the fight for seats on the two pres­ti­gious bod­ies. The strug­gle will in­clude at­tempts by some younger ac­tivists to land seats in what are often seen as stodgy bod­ies dom­i­nated by men in their 70s and 80s. Ab­bas him­self is run­ning un­op­posed as leader of the move­ment, and none of his key poli­cies to­ward Is­rael are ex­pected to change. Ab­bas, who suc­ceeded the late Yasser Arafat in 2005, seeks the estab­lish­ment of an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem - ter­ri­to­ries cap­tured by Is­rael in the 1967 Mideast war.

Many mem­bers have ac­cused Ab­bas of or­ches­trat­ing the con­ven­tion to con­sol­i­date his grip on the move­ment. “The con­ven­tion is meant to ex­clude all critic voices in the move­ment,” said Ja­mal Jahjouh, Fatah’s leader in the Qa­lan­dia refugee camp in the West Bank.

He said Fatah lead­ers had ex­cluded key ac­tivists from this week’s con­ven­tion and re­placed them with Ab­bas loy­al­ists. He said mem­bers of the move­ment in his camp would protest Tues­day to voice their op­po­si­tion to Ab­bas and his con­ven­tion. Dahlan was ex­pected to re­motely de­liver a speech to the con­ven­tion on Tues­day. His sup­port­ers say they plan to hold an al­ter­na­tive con­ven­tion with 2,000 mem­bers in Egypt in the near fu­ture to voice their crit­i­cism of Ab­bas and op­po­si­tion to his poli­cies.

This week’s con­ven­tion is to be fol­lowed by a long-over­due meet­ing of the Pales­tinian Na­tional Coun­cil, the par­lia­ment of the um­brella Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion. The PNC is to elect the top PLO lead­er­ship.

Fatah dom­i­nates the PLO, but many smaller fac­tions also be­long. In a ges­ture of unity, Fatah in­vited the ri­val Ha­mas and Is­lamic Ji­had mil­i­tant groups to at­tend this week’s con­fer­ence as ob­servers. Nei­ther group be­longs to the PLO but their mem­ber­ship is seen as cru­cial to restor­ing Pales­tinian unity. — AP

WEST BANK CITY: Fatah’s con­fer­ence spokesper­son Mah­moud Abu al-Hei­jah dis­plays a “yes” card that was used in the vot­ing of the con­fer­ence mem­bers who unan­i­mously re-elected Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas to a new five-year term, dur­ing a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day. — AFP

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