Fatah: Another Split Looming

Besides threats of a split between “old guard” and new members, Fatah faces a new conflict, between PA, Gaza and foreign members.

Maayana Miskin,

Abbas' party coming apart?
Abbas' party coming apart?
Israel news photo: (file)

As the Fatah conference in Bethlehem continues past its original Thursday deadline, new rifts within the party have been revealed. Besides fears voiced prior to the conference regarding a split between Fatah's “old guard” and younger members, it is becoming clear that various Fatah branches are growing apart due to geographical separation.

Fatah delegates from Hamas-run Gaza issued implicit threats of a split on Thursday following fears that the party would reject their demand for a quota. Gaza-based members asked that 30 percent of the seats on Fatah's Revolutionary Council and Central Committee be set aside for Fatah in Gaza.

The quotas were suggested to compensate for the fact that 400 Fatah delegates from Gaza were unable to attend the Bethlehem conference because Hamas refused to let them leave. The seats designated for Gaza-based Fatah members would be left empty until an election mechanism could be found that would allow Gaza members to vote.

Other members of Fatah have argued that the quotas are not necessary. Gaza delegates who were unable to attend the conference in person can vote by phone or email, argued delegates from Judea and Samaria.

Fatah head and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly decided to increase the number of seats on both the Revolutionary Council and the Central Committee, in an attempt to appease Gaza delegates by ensuring that more Gaza representatives win seats.

Foreign Fatah Branches Call for Violence
Interviews in Arab media have also indicated a possible split between Fatah in Judea and Samaria and the many Fatah branches in foreign Arab countries. Fatah leaders abroad have taken a strong stance in favor of armed conflict against Israel, while Fatah leaders in Judea and Samaria, including Abbas, have laced their support for the “right to resistance,” a term often used to refer to terrorism against Israel, with some more peaceful rhetoric.

Several of the leading Fatah members in Judea and Samaria have attempted to bridge Fatah's historic support for, and participation in, anti-Israel terrorism, with its new image as the leading party in the PA, which has made agreements with Israel and has agreed to negotiations. “Although peace is our choice, we reserve the right to resistance,” said Abbas, as fellow senior Fatah member Nabil Shaath described Fatah as “a liberation movement that opted for a peace movement.”

'Keep terror in the platform'
Other senior Fatah members, including Marwan Barghouti, Zakariya Zubeidi and Hassam Khader, have suggested that Fatah keep its call for armed struggle against Israel in its platform, while focusing on negotiations and less violent forms of opposition at the current time.

Fatah leaders from abroad, however, such as convicted murderer Khaled Abu Issa and Lebanese Fatah member Rashida Mughrabi have been outspoken in their support for terrorism. Mughrabi told journalists that she would “never recognize Israel,” in opposition to the Fatah-led PA, which has agreed to recognize Israel as a country, but not as a Jewish state.

The more extremist views expressed by foreign leaders seem to reflect public opinion among Arabs living in “refugee camps” abroad that house the descendants of Arabs who fled Israel during the War of Independence. Fatah's popularity has dropped in the camps as the PA has continued to negotiate with Israel without winning concessions regarding the “right of return” -- a demand that descendants of Arabs who fled Israel more than 60 years ago be allowed to “return” and claim Israeli citizenship.

For more than 60 years, Arab regimes have refrained from renovating the refugee neighborhoods, preferring to keep them squalid as a means of pressuring Israel.

'Old Guard' vs. Next Generation
Prior to the beginning of the Fatah conference, a senior member warned that the movement could face a split between the so-called “old guard” and the next generation of terrorists. Abdullah Abu Hadid, a member of the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades terrorist group, spoke to The Media Line and predicted, “There will be a clear split within Fatah.”

The split Hadid referred to was between those who took power about 20 years ago, during the “first Intifada” and the creation of the PA, and those who led the more recent wave of terrorism that began in the year 2000. He referred to the latter group as “the real leaders of the Palestinian people, the leaders of the Palestinian street.”

Abbas could prevent a split by giving more power to the next generation of Fatah members, Hadid suggested. He expressed particular support for jailed terrorist murderer Marwan Barghouti, the former Fatah secretary-general, and said that Barghouti could be “Fatah's savior” if allowed to serve in a senior office.

However, according to Arab media in Bethlehem, Hadid's hopes for Barghouti were premature. While Barghouti has been shown to be immensely popular in various PA-based polls, he has barely been mentioned during the Fatah conference, and a statement he made regarding the conference was released straight to media, without being circulated or discussed by Fatah delegates.