Fatah picks party of­fi­cials amid talk of suc­ces­sion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Pales­tinian pres­i­dent Mah­mud Ab­bas’s Fatah party yes­ter­day held a vote for mem­bers of its rul­ing bod­ies that could give clues to a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor to the age­ing leader. Fatah, the old­est Pales­tinian party, is hold­ing its first congress in seven years at a time when Ab­bas is seek­ing to quell dis­sent in the face of in­ter­nal ri­val­ries. The 81-year-old leader has not pub­licly des­ig­nated a suc­ces­sor and yes­ter­day’s vote will be an in­di­ca­tor of the strengths and weak­nesses of the var­i­ous fac­tions in Fatah.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent poll, two-thirds of Pales­tini­ans are dis­sat­is­fied with Ab­bas and want him to re­sign. The congress comes with the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace process at a stand­still since a US-led ini­tia­tive col­lapsed in April 2014. The 1,400 del­e­gates voted at Ab­bas’s Ramallah head­quar­ters in the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied West Bank and also in the Gaza Strip where sev­eral dozen were stranded af­ter Is­rael re­fused them pas­sage through its ter­ri­tory to Ramallah.

They are to choose 18 mem­bers of the party’s Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, its high­est body. Ab­bas will ap­point an­other four. The congress will also elect 80 mem­bers of the Fatah Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Coun­cil the party’s par­lia­ment. An­other 40 coun­cil mem­bers are di­rectly ap­pointed. Re­sults should emerge to­day.

Fatah, founded in 1959, is the back­bone of the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (PLO) which the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity con­sid­ers the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of all Pales­tini­ans. An­a­lysts say the party’s ri­val fac­tions in­clude sup­port­ers of Ab­bas’s long­time ri­val Mo­hammed Dahlan, cur­rently in ex­ile in the United Arab Emi­rates. Ab­bas was elected pres­i­dent in 2005 for what should have been a four-year term. But there have been no elec­tions since then and with his hold on power draw­ing in­creas­ing in­ter­nal dis­sent, ob­servers say he is seek­ing to ready a suc­ces­sor.

‘A dif­fer­ent voice’

So­cial net­works and some lo­cal news me­dia have dur­ing the week pub­lished names of can­di­dates in Satur­day’s vote who they say have prior ap­proval from Ab­bas and were there­fore guar­an­teed elec­tion even be­fore polling opened. Congress spokesman Mah­moud Abu Al-Hija de­nied the al­le­ga­tions. At the open­ing ses­sion on Tues­day mem­bers re-elected Ab­bas party head by con­sen­sus.

Ob­servers see the re­duced num­ber of del­e­gates el­i­gi­ble to vote-down from more than 2,000 in 2009 — as part of a move to ex­clude Dahlan sup­port­ers. Dim­itri Dil­iani, elected to the Fatah Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Coun­cil in 2009, has said he was not in­vited to the congress like dozens of oth­ers be­cause “we bring a dif­fer­ent voice”.

He said a planned press con­fer­ence at a refugee camp near Ramallah on Tues­day with those re­cently dis­missed from the party had been called off af­ter threats “from the se­cu­rity ser­vices,” in­clud­ing death threats. The pre­vi­ous congress in 2009 brought into the rul­ing bod­ies veterans of the Pales­tinian se­cu­rity ser­vices such as Dahlan, Jib­ril Ra­joub and the hugely pop­u­lar Mar­wan Bargh­outhi, who is serv­ing five life sen­tences in an Is­raeli prison.

This year Bargh­outhi is run­ning again as well as Ra­joub, who as head of the Pales­tinian Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion is ac­tive on the in­ter­na­tional stage. So too is Saeb Erakat, Ab­bas’s num­ber two in the PLO hi­er­ar­chy. Dahlan and his back­ers have been thrown out of Fatah. Ab­bas told the congress on Wed­nes­day he re­mained com­mit­ted to di­a­logue with Is­rael but that it would not come at the ex­pense of Pales­tinian prin­ci­ples.

“We are say­ing to the Is­raeli peo­ple that we want peace that con­forms to in­ter­na­tional res­o­lu­tions, but it is your gov­ern­ment who does not,” he said. Is­rael must “rec­og­nize that set­tle­ments are il­le­gal”, he said, adding “our hand will re­main ex­tended for peace”. That pol­icy en­joys con­sen­sus sup­port in Fatah, which re­nounced vi­o­lence sev­eral years ago un­like the ri­val Ha­mas Is­lamist move­ment which con­trols the Gaza Strip and fol­lows a pol­icy of armed con­flict with Is­rael.


RAMALLAH: Pales­tinian pres­i­dent Mah­mud Ab­bas (C) casts his vote at the Muqataa, the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity head­quar­ters.

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