Where is Fatah Heading: Liberation or Authoritarian Movement?

By Hani al-Masri

A week from now, on the 29th of this month, Fatah is set to hold its seventh conference, however there are still discussions underway as to whether or not it will be held or postponed. The only thing that will prevent the conference from being held on the scheduled date are major security incidents, such as assassinations, attacks on PA headquarters or Israeli forces (unlikely), or the prohibition of the attendance of members in Gaza or abroad.

The reason the discussion is on going is that this conference will most likely not, according to the data and preparations, result in the restoration of Fatah as a liberation movement. Instead, it may further turn Fatah into an authority movement in the West Bank (or the remnants of the West Bank, to be more correct).

Mohammad Dahlan and his group who are called the “criminals” will not return, despite the fact that their return is a demand insisted on by the Arab Quartet. The failure to fulfil this demand led to the anger of the concerned Arab capitals and to holding a series of meetings to discuss Egypt directly dealing with the Palestinians without their leaders and institutions.

The failure to meet the Quartet’s demands also led to Jordan informing all those concerned that Palestinians holding Jordanian citizenship participating as Fatah members in the conference will be put at risk of having their national numbers being revoked as Jordan considers participation in the Fatah conference a dual nationality and loyalty. This is contrary to what had happened in the past, when the Jordanian authorities turned a blind eye to the matter. However, it is currently prohibiting this in light of the conflicts regarding the Arab Quartet’s plan, including Jordan’s allowance of the other conflict members to pass through Jordan to the West Bank, just as Hamas pledged to allow conference members from Gaza to pass through the Beit Hanoun crossing and Israel agreed to this, and the members have indeed started arriving in Ramallah.

I have written this before and I will reiterate in this article, if Dahlan and his group are rejected by Fatah because they stood with the president against their return, then the Arab pressure will not do Dahlan and his group any good. They must look for another way. The Arab intervention has hastened their dismissal from Fatah and now they must form a new movement and use all that they have up their sleeve, if they have anything new, and not repeat their talk of uniting Fatah without mentioning any basis for unification. Is it this same approach that brought us where we are today, or something worse?

Unfortunately and with great disappointment I say that what dominates the Fatah conference are the members of the conference – those who stayed and those who were dismissed – and the “criminals” prevented from attending, even those who are members of the PLC and Revolutionary Council. There is an irrational debate on whether to ban elected members from regional conferences from attending the conference in a blatant violation of the democratic principles and traditions. Even the “criminals” have rights and responsibilities, and any exclusion of them must be done in accordance with the rules and regulations.

The exclusion of a large number of “criminals” who are entitled to membership in the conference and an even greater number of those who are not “criminals”, who were excluded merely to secure control of the conference and control the results of the “elections” of the Central Committee and Revolutionary Council members based on the wishes of the president shortly before the Fatah conference, is a far cry from what happened at the right-wing French conference this week. The conference was held to choose the candidates for the upcoming French presidential elections, and individuals who were not members of the right-wing party were allowed to participate in the elections.

I’ve said this before and ill say it again, what had distinguished Fatah was that it was a broad movement, to the extent that it had been previously said that any Palestinian not affiliated with another party is affiliated with Fatah, even if they did not directly associate with the party. This is what made Fatah the Palestinian people’s party that embodied Palestinian nationalism and which encompassed all the national, religious and left-wing trends. When it became a ruling party, it melded into the government and the majority of its members became employees, as today we find only three or four members of the Revolutionary Council that are not employees and do not receive a salary, this turned Fatah into an employee governing party, not a Palestinian popular movement. This started after the signing of the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the PA, which was born on the ruins of the PLO, despite the fact it was meant to be one of its tools.

We had hoped, and still have a glimmer of hope, that the conference would be an opportunity that may not be repeated for Fatah to prosper and be revived as mainly a national liberation movement. We hope it would be in a manner that allows it to take into consideration the presence of a PA that requires it to fulfil its obligations, but based on an urgent need that cannot be delayed to reconsider the PA’s structure, formation, nature, duties, functions, and political, security, and economic obligations determined by the Oslo Accords. This is not only Fatah’s duty, but also rather the duty of all Palestinians, but this will deepen the process of turning Fatah into a governing party at a time when the PA has become an agent for the occupation, not the Palestinian people. This is especially true after its programme of being a temporary authority capable of ending the occupation and establishing a state failed. Instead, it became a permanent authority embodying autonomy under Israeli sovereignty without a political horizon or a practical plan to change this reality.

The essence and basis of the conference should be reconsidering the Palestinian experiences and Fatah’s experience in particular, especially after the Oslo Accords, and deducing lessons from these experiences in order to determine a political programme capable of changing this reality that only reinforces the occupation, settlement, siege, fragmentation and division in which the cause is marginalised. Instead, we find that the political programme still has not been discussed, and instead the political committee determined the programme and it was not the main focus of the preparations or conferences. This means that it is a marginal and secondary issue that is more like an accessory than anything else. I obtained a draft of the programme and I did not hasten to read it, as it had no relation to what was actually happening, making the likely result of the conference the reproduction of the status quo and the continued escalation of the catastrophe in which we live.

Despite the president’s responsibility, first, and the leadership’s responsibility second for what has happened and is still happening today, this does not exempt the others from their responsibility for where we are now and where we could’ve been. This is because they remained silent and/or blessed what was going on. Now, many of them have started to scream because they couldn’t find their names on the conference lists. What is important is that Palestine is present, because when Palestine is absent, the most important thing will not be how many members were at the conference and who will participate in it.

Palestine is in need of the formation of a national salvation front that includes all those who are loyal, rational and nationalists from Fatah and all other factions and those among the Palestinian ranks, wherever they are. This is because the Palestinian cause is in danger and the country is calling out for the Palestinians to take action before it is too late.

(Translated by MEMO from Masarat, November 1, 2016)

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