Barry Rubin , GLORIA
February 18, 2008
Rather than unite in the face of the Hamas challenge and the task of gaining support from the West Bank’s people, Fatah seems to be collapsing.
Or perhaps the feuds are not only over power but who gets to control the almost $7 billion scheduled to be given the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) over the next three years. A contributing factor is that Fatah has said it will hold a congress in March, the first full such meeting in almost 20 years.
There are at least five factions operating in Fatah today, and even that is an understatement. While PA “president” Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad enjoy Western support, they have very little from their own organization. These two are relative moderates who have no internal base of support. Even the very tiny group of those who can be called moderate is split since, for example, Ahmad Khouri (Abu Ala), is quarreling with Abbas.
Then there are the cronies of the late head of Fatah and the PA, Yasir Arafat, who have not developed any moderate tendencies but are using Abbas to cling to power. A typical example of this group is Hakam Balawi who was the PLO ambassador to Tunisia when Arafat’s headquarters were there, a particular favorite of Arafat. These people are basically careerists who simply stick with whoever is leader.
A third group are the hardliners, like Abu Ali Shahin, who views himself as a revolutionary fighter. Other powerful figures in this group include Farouq Qaddumi, the actual head of Fatah; Sakhr Habash (Abu Nizar), chief of the Fatah Revolutionary Committee; and Salim al-Zaanoun, head of the Palestine National Council (PNC), the PLO’s legislature. These people want a continuation of armed struggle against Israel and believe that total victory is still possible.
A fourth faction can be called the “young guard,” but this is also split among different contenders for leadership. Muhammad Dahlan, formerly the leading Fatah security (i.e., military) commander in the Gaza Strip is one candidate; Marwan Barghouti, the head of Fatah in the West Bank and now imprisoned by Israel, is another. Dahlan and Barghouti are also very much at odds.
Recently, Shahin has called Abbas a failed leader who should resign. Balawi claimed Dahlan was plotting against Abbas, and Dahlan in return accused Balawi of being an Israel spy.
As if this isn’t enough, the “young guard” knows that the current leaders will not give it any meaningful share of power in Fatah. The group, for instance, does not have a single member on the Fatah Central Committee.
In short, PA and Fatah politics are a mess. This has long been true but few noticed and it didn’t matter when Arafat was alive since he kept the lid on everything, while playing off his subordinates against each other, and provided unity.
Now, however, things are different. It is amazing that since Fatah and the PA are the West’s candidate to make good use of almost $7 billion, beat Hamas, establish a Palestinian state, and make peace with Israel, few observers take note of this disastrous situation or factor it into their policies.
Unless Fatah changes its ways, and there is no reason to believe it will do so, one can only wonder if Hamas will be controlling the West Bank, too, within five years. Certainly, one can expect the aid money to disappear without helping the Palestinian people much and be sure that this divided, quarreling leadership will not be able to make peace with Israel.