Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fatah Congress Election Results: Quite Different From What You Will be Told

By Barry Rubin

At the Fatah Congress meeting in Bethlehem, eighteen people were elected to the Central Committee of the group which rules the Palestinian Authority and will determine if there is going to be peace with Israel.

Four more will be appointed by PLO and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who will also serve as the committee's chief. Only two (three when Abbas is added) of the old Committee's members were returned in the election. So indeed this is a generational transition and a transition from returnees who were in Tunis to indigenous West Bank people. Yet even if the new members are younger and didn't work at PLO headquarters in Tunis, they are almost exactly the same ideologically and politically as the old crew.

The fact that only one member is from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip--though that area contains almost half of all Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority--will no doubt cause trouble later. [This prediction proved right: a few days later, Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip resigned in protest. Others complained of election fraud.]

We will be told two things about this election: that this is a peace-oriented leadership (not true) and that this is a great victory for the Young Guard or somehow a type of real change (misleading).

This was a democratic election, if one disregards the fact that a very large number of the delegates were handpicked by Abbas. So while the actual voting was, presumably, fair, the old guard stagemanaged the election. For example, while it's true that Marwan Barghouti, leader of the Fatah grassroots' group on the West Bank, was elected, not a single one of his followers was added to the committee.

Also keep in mind that there is no unified "Young Guard" which opposes Abbas's rule. And how many new members might be considered as part of some kind of factional opposition? Answer: only two, one of them being Barghouti; the other Muhammad Shtayyeh, who got in by just one ballot out of 2000 voters.

While the faces are mainly new, at least 15 of the full Committee's 22 members will be old-style leaders (presuming Abbas will appoint such people to the four seats whose nomination he controls), and almost all the rest are veteran Fatah bureaucrats.

Come to think of it, despite all this talk about the Young Guard, how many fit this category? Well, basically, Dahlan, Rajoub, and Barghouti, all men whose main experience has been with fomenting violence. The more I think about it, this whole ""new generation" and passing of the torch stuff is a fraud.

Is this committee any more moderate than its predecessor? My count is:

Extreme hardliners: 5 (not pro-Hamas but openly against any peace with Israel)
Abbas's close supporters: 11 (who are pretty hardline themselves on peace negotiations)
Relative moderates: 2 (neither with any real oraganized base or important job in the party or PA)

There are a number of individuals who have many Israeli contacts and who can pick up a phone and call or be called by counterparts.

Nevertheless, this is neither a group that will make peace with Israel nor one which will ally with Hamas. In other words, this is a group which Israel can work with on status quo issues but not on a comprehensive agreement.

But there is one aspect of this result so dangerous that it might outweigh everything else. At number one with two-thirds of the vote--a remarkable sign of popularity--is Muhammad Ghaneim. He is increasingly being spoken of as Abbas's successor.

Ghaneim is an unrepentant extremist, an open opponent of the Oslo agreement. If he becomes the leader of Fatah--and hence of the PA and PLO--you can forget about peace. Violent conflict becomes far more likely. Watch this man: he is the future of the Palestinian movement.

The people everyone will be watching are the four guys with their own base of support, three security agency heads--Muhammad Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub, Tawfiq Tarawi--and West Bank grassroots' leader Marwan Barghouti, whose greatest achievement was launching the 2000-2005 war on Israel that included a high element of terrorism. Since Barghouti is in an Israeli prison, however, he will probably play a smaller role. It is easy to call these three leaders of a Young Guard but remember they are all personal rivals, and that's what's most important.

And in addition, while Dahlan and Rajoub are presented as young, fresh faces--and they are by no means radical in the context of Palestinian politics, you could even call them pragmatists in that framework, we are talking here about militia leaders, not civic reformers. Dahlan, for example, said just before the congress that Fatah had never recognized Israel and would never ask Hamas to do so either.

There are five real extremists: Muhammad Ghaneim, Salim al-Zanoun, Abbas Zaki, Sultan Abu al-Aynain,
and Nasser Kidra. Zanoun is the former head of the Palestine National Council who rejected changing the Charter to accept Israel's existence; Zaki is an old-style Arab nationalist. Kidra is seen as representing the legacy of his uncle Yasir Arafat. Aynain is a traditional PLO type.

There are two who can be called moderate: Nabil Shaath and Muhammad Shtayyeh.

Then there are Abbas's supporters who could all be called members of the "Old Guard": Saib Erikat, Azzam al-Ahmad, Hassan al-Sheikh, Tawfiq al-Tirawi, Othman Abu Gharbyeh, probably Muhammad al-Madani. He can presumably also count on Nabil Shaath.

This is not a group willing to make concessions to get Hamas into a partnership. A Fatah-Hamas reconciliation is not going to happen.

Is this a group that will return to armed struggle? This is possible though they are not eager to do so. Dahlan and Rajoub are realistic about Palestinian military weakness, though Barghouti is probably more eager for confrontation. If Ghaneim becomes the leader, however, Fatah could revert to the Arafat era at best.

Mahmoud Abbas will head the committee.

1. Muhammad Ghaneim (Abu Mahir), 1338 votes. Reelected

2. Muhammad al-A'loul, 1112 votes.

3. Marwan Barghouti, 1063 votes, 50 years old, imprisoned leader of West Bank grassroots group. Barghouti's indictment by an Israeli court.

4. Nasser Kidra, Arafat's nephew; former ambassador to UN and PA foreign minister

5. Selim al-Zanoun, 78 is a hardliner, head of Palestinian National Council who denied that body ever revised its Charter to accept Israel's existence (he's right). Reelected

6. Jibril Rajoub, 56 years old, former head of Preventive Security West Bank and national security advisor of Mahmoud Abbas.

7. Tawfiq al-Tirawi, head of General Intelligence. He has his own website.

8. Saib Erikat, 54, is a Jericho notable who has been the PA's chief negotiator

9. Othman Abu Gharbyeh, 854 votes, old guard, close to Abbas

10. Muhammad Dahlan, 47 years old, is former head of Preventive Security, Gaza Strip, badly defeated by Hamas in that group's takeover of the territory. This is reportedly about 50 percent of the Gaza vote. On one hand, this reflects his representing that sector but on the other hand many are angry for his mishandling of the war with Hamas.

11. Muhammad al-Madani, Bethlehem mayor

12. Jamal Mheisan,

13. Hasan al-Sheikh, secretary-general of Fatah in the West Bank

14. Azzam al-Ahmad, 62, was PLO ambassador to Saddam Hussein's Iraq from 1979 to 1994. Held 2 PA ministries and member of Legislative Council from Jenin who heads the Fatah group in the legislature.

15. Sultan Abu al-Aynain is Fatah's tough guy in Lebanon. Khaled Abu Toameh writes about him that he "is being described by some media outlets as one of Fatah's "fresh faces." But Fatah insiders say Abu al-Aynain is known as a "ruthless thug who does not hesitate to liquidate anyone who stands in his way." That's his job in Lebanon, no question.

16. Nabil Sha'th, businessman and former foreign minister of the PA, moderate but a Fatah loyalist. (He was a secret member for many years and Fatah pretended he was an independent.)

17. Abbas Zaki (Sharif Ali Mashal), long-time PLO director of Arab world relations and now Fatah’s representative in Lebanon. Hardline. Reelected

18. Muhammad Shtayyeh, 638 votes, former director-general of PECDAR, private businessman, honest technocrat. Watch him: he is cast in the role of "watchdog" to oppose corruption and lack of transparency.

Not elected?

19. Tayib Abu Rahman, 637 votes, Arafat's veteran office director. He remains an important leader being the one, for example, who announced Abbas's reelection victory to the conference. (Fatah has now announced that he won though it isn't clear if this means Shtayyeh lost. If so it is another victory for the current leadership and removes the one critic of corruption who was elected.

20. Ahmad Qurieyeh (Abu Ala), 636, relatively dovish former PLO negotiator. As moderate as anyone will find in the Fatah leadership but elderly and without any power base. He protested that the election was unfair.

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