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Will Fatah’s upcoming conference do more harm than good?

There are fears among Palestinians that the seventh Fatah conference to be held Nov. 29 will lead to an organizational split.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he delivers a speech during a rally marking the 12th anniversary of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death, in the West Bank city of Ramallah November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman   - RTX2T0A6

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The seventh Fatah conference, to be held Nov. 29, is drawing the attention of the movement itself and of the Palestinian street in light of the division and internal conflicts plaguing Fatah. Fatah’s internal division reached its peak in the past few months when on Sept. 28 Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas dismissed Fatah leaders and cadres on charges of delinquency and on Oct. 25 withheld the salaries of others based on the same charges.

The announcement of the conference, in which 1,300 Fatah leaders and cadres are expected to participate, comes after a two-year delay caused by internal disputes and incomplete preparations. In this context, Article 43 of Fatah’s statutes stipulates, “The Central Committee calls for a regular session [of the general conference] once every five years. This session can be postponed by force majeure, following a decision by the Revolutionary Council.”

The importance of the conference lies in the fact that it represents the highest legislative authority in the movement, as it passes laws, regulations, rules and political programs, and it discusses past decisions and reports issued by the Central Committee. Also, the conference elects the members of Fatah’s executive bodies, including the Revolutionary Council. The Revolutionary Council monitors the decisions issued by the general conference and the work of the movement’s bodies, as well as discusses the decisions and work of the Central Committee. The Revolutionary Council thus constitutes a link between the general conference and the Central Committee, whose members are also elected by the conference. The Central Committee, for its part, is considered the highest executive authority within the Fatah movement.

A small number of people were invited to attend the upcoming conference compared to past ones, as the sixth conference was held in Bethlehem in August 2009 with the participation of 2,355 people. About the reasons for this low number, Fatah sources told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on Nov. 3 that most of the 1,300 people who were invited to the conference are expected to adopt Abbas’ positions during the conference, which would keep any coalition made up of Mohammed Dahlan supporters from emerging during the conference’s sessions.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Amin Maqboul, the secretary-general of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, listed those who will be attending the seventh conference: the Central Committee’s members, the Revolutionary Council’s members, the Consultative Committee’s members, the elected representatives of provinces and military members (i.e., those who were part of Fatah’s former military wing) of the movement.

The list also includes, as per Maqboul, a number of Fatah cadres working in the Popular Organizations Department affiliated with the PLO, members of the movement’s bodies working in departments of the Palestinian state and the PLO, a number of Fatah representatives in foreign countries and some competent members of Fatah.

Maqboul said that Abbas has been making contacts in the past few days to ensure that all the cadres and leaders currently residing outside the Palestinian territories and Gaza, and who were invited to the conference, will attend. He further noted that the conference will discuss important issues on the internal level of the movement, including the election of leadership bodies, the general Palestinian situation, as well as several amendments that will be made to Fatah’s internal statutes. These amendments will mainly focus on the conditions set for choosing the members of the Revolutionary Council in case of death or absence of one of the members.

Maqboul confirmed that the conference will not discuss the issue of dismissals on charges of delinquency, considering that the dismissal of one or 10 members (in reference to those who were dismissed for belonging to Dahlan’s current) will not affect a movement that is more than 50 years old.

Abdel Hamid al-Masri, a Fatah leader who was dismissed on charges of delinquency, expects the same. Speaking to Al-Monitor, he said it was unlikely that the conference will discuss the dismissal file, describing the conference as exclusionary and destructive. As Fatah is suffering from deep internal disputes, while another major current is denied participation, Masri expects the conference to be another step toward further schism within the movement.

Masri also held Abbas and his officials responsible for the state of division plaguing the Fatah movement today. He denied media reports saying that supporters of dismissed leader Dahlan are preparing to hold their own conference in response to the seventh Fatah conference, saying, “We have many options in this regard, but we will not reveal them at the moment.”

Ashraf Jomaa, a Fatah parliamentarian who is close to Dahlan, said in a Nov. 3 statement for local paper Felesteen that as long as the Fatah division is not addressed and the recommendations of the previous conference — which mainly stipulate that the next conference not exclude any Fatah figure — are ignored, holding the current conference will be a real national catastrophe and the Fatah movement itself will pay the price.

Political analysts and experts believe that the state of division plaguing Fatah will be exacerbated after the conference. This is evidenced by the facts on the ground.

In this context, Riyad al-Astal, a political science professor at Al-Aqsa University in the Gaza Strip, expects the movement to face a complete split at its organizational base after the conference. This is because the young leaders who are close to Dahlan reject the control the founding generation of Fatah has on the Fatah leadership. He expects the current that rejects the seventh conference to hold a parallel conference.

Astal told Al-Monitor that the decisions issued during the seventh conference will be at the advantage of the existing Fatah leadership, which seeks to get rid of Dahlan’s current. He also warned that the Fatah movement will face difficulties in its relations with the Arab Quartet (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates), as it backs the return of Dahlan to the movement.

Political analyst Mohsen Abu Ramadan said that the conference’s decisions will be important, as they will reflect on the internal situation of the movement, on the Palestinian political system and on relations with Israel.

Abu Ramadan ruled out any possible dialogue between the current Fatah leaders and those of Dahlan’s current. This seems to confirm that after the conference, the internal relations in Fatah will be heading toward a split, not reconciliation.

The Fatah movement will be facing its ultimate test at the end of November. Many agree that the movement will face the biggest organizational schism since its inception in 1965 as Abbas continues to ignore all efforts aimed at reconciliation with Dahlan.

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