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Dahlan sends message with Palestinian youth conference

By organizing a youth conference in Cairo, dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan sought to assert his strong position as statesman to potentially replace President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah security chief, gestures in his office in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates October 18, 2016. Picture taken October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer  - RTX2QI8I

CAIRO — The Democratic Reformist Current, a Fatah current formed in opposition to President Mahmoud Abbas’ policies, held a youth conference in Cairo on Feb. 15-16 under the title “Palestinian youth drawing future map."

Around 500 young Palestinians and leaders from the current came from Egypt, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Europe to discuss the issues facing the Palestinian youth in general and address the youth's political and social participation.

Ibrahim Arafat, a member of the conference’s preparatory committee who came from Gaza, told Al-Monitor that the conference aimed to convey several messages, notably highlighting the role of Palestinian youth in society as well as the role of the reformist current within Fatah.

He said, “First of all, the youth are the backbone of our society and they are strongly making their way in. Second, we will disregard all those who leave us and welcome all those who approach us. [Dismissed Fatah leader] Mohammed Dahlan is the one who sought us and supported us. We believe this conference to be a fundamental step in attracting all segments within Fatah, by organizing future conferences for women and workers. We are currently working on prioritizing our objectives, strategies and visions for these conferences.”

Arafat believes that such conferences are not meant to separate the current from the movement, but they only aim at reforming the situation within Fatah.

He added that these conferences are in no way parallel to Fatah’s Seventh General Congress held in November 2016, noting, “We operate from deep within the movement. We seek reform and awakening. No one opposes oneself. We are members of Fatah; we would never oppose ourselves, but we want reform.”

Dahlan, and several other Fatah leaders, founded the Democratic Reformist Current in 2011 after Fatah’s Central Committee dismissed Dahlan from the movement on June 12, 2011, due to the disputes between him and Abbas since 2010.

By carefully choosing the areas from which participants came, the conference’s organizers wanted to send several messages. Twenty-four leaders and young people from Fatah came from the West Bank, which seems to be a clear sign that the reformist current has a foothold there.

Al-Monitor met with a young man who traveled from the West Bank city of Hebron to participate in the conference. He refused to reveal his identity for fear of being harassed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) once he returns to the West Bank, since the conference is organized by Dahlan, Abbas’ archenemy.

The source noted that he attended the conference despite the possibility of the PA and Fatah in the West Bank finding out, saying, “All I want to say is that we support the idea of reform within the movement and we seek to develop the youth participation in politics. It is one of the reasons we came here, especially since the conference aims to show that the youth can be co-partners in every single thing. If the foundation is sound, everything else will fall into place. The youth are not adequately represented within Fatah, but they should be because they are part of the evolution that should come about.”

Many Fatah leaders who oppose Abbas attended the conference, most importantly, Dahlan, Samir al-Mashharawi, Rashid Abu Shabak, Naima al-Sheikh Ali and Majed Abu Shammala.

Also attending the conference was Brig. Mahmoud “Lino” Issa, who headed Fatah’s al-Kifah al-Musallah (Armed Struggle) faction in Lebanon in 2009-2013, when Fatah’s Central Committee dismissed him and stripped him from his title on charges of having close ties with Dahlan.

Issa seemed quite confident of the reformist current’s strength within Fatah as he told Al-Monitor that the conference represents a breakthrough for Palestinian youth with regard to taking part in the political decision-making process in the future.

He said, “The previous generation of politicians has excluded the youth in terms of engaging in ideas and decisions. But this is the beginning of a breakthrough in the right direction for young people to join the decision-making process.”

Issa explained that this was the first of many conferences working toward forming youth councils and shifting the attention toward other groups of people that have been marginalized for years. He stressed that the era of Abbas as president is almost a thing of the past now. “President Abbas did not offer a single thing to the Palestinian cause. He marginalized all experts and leaders and this is why all Palestinians have turned their backs on him.”

Hussam al-Dajani, an independent political analyst from the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor that Dahlan wanted, through the conference, to send out several messages. According to him, Dahlan wanted to come off as a strong and exceptional statesman in the eyes of public opinion at the Palestinian, Arab and international levels.

“The second message was directed at the Palestinian youth in whom he showed interest after being neglected throughout the division by both Fatah and Hamas. As for the third message, it was aimed at his opponents in Fatah, in particular President Abbas, to show them that he is indeed capable of imposing his influence and that failing to notice him was impossible. And finally, he wanted to show Hamas that he is able to gather the youth and solve their life problems,” he said.

Dajani believes that one of the conference’s main goals was to manage the reformist current’s organizational structure within Fatah and to coordinate the steps and positions required to leave an impact on the ground.

He added that arranging the current’s structure and setting specific goals, visions and programs to highlight the aspects in which Dahlan is better than Abbas would contribute to attracting more categories, so long as future conferences are held in Gaza and the West Bank, to be in direct contact with the largest possible segment of the Palestinian society.

It seems the polarization battle between Dahlan and Abbas within Fatah has surfaced, during which both leaders will rely on expanding their support base in the movement in order to snatch the “legitimacy” title.

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