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Nov 29,2016 - Last updated at Nov 29,2016
Palestinians are pinning high hopes on the outcome of Fateh’s seventh congress, which started in Ramallah on Tuesday against a background of critical internal divisions within the movement as well as a widening rift between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza.
About 1,500 delegates are expected to attend, carefully vetted by ageing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is said to be ready to allow a younger generation of Fateh members, mostly from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to fill vacant seats of the Revolutionary Council and Central Committee.
Moreover, the congress will be discussing the liberation movement’s strategy in light of the failure of the peace process, and ways to end internal Palestinian rivalries, which have paralysed national institutions, especially the Palestinian legislature, which has not met since 2007.
Although not on the agenda, delegates will be discussing the sensitive succession issue.
Abbas, 81, has not named a successor and has wavered on the subject even as the state of his health has become a public concern.
Waiting in line are close aides, most of whom lack support, especially among the new generation of Fateh members, while many are seen as fighting to maintain their privileges as senior PA executives.
But the elephant in the room will be the fate of exiled Fateh leader Mohammad Dahlan, who was excluded from the meeting.
For Abbas, who has resisted Arab pressure to reconcile with his foe, Dahlan’s sidelining is key to maintaining control over the movement, allowing him to handpick his successor independently and without external interference.
By excluding him and his supporters, Abbas is risking dividing a movement, the largest within the PLO, that is showing signs of internal dissent.
Dahlan and other senior members who were excluded from Ramallah congress may well retaliate by holding their own conference.
Abbas’ ability to keep Fateh united will be tested in the coming few days.
According to polls, the majority of Palestinians believe Abbas, whose term ended in 2009, should step down, paving the way for a new leadership.
One strong contender is Marwan Barghouthi, who is serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison.
Abbas’ record as president is controversial at best. Fateh has been losing ground since the 2005 municipal elections and the 2006 legislative elections.
It has been kicked out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007, and for almost 10 years, Abbas has failed to bring about Palestinian reconciliation.
But the biggest failure was his inability to kick-start peace negotiations with Israel, bring pressure to bear on the Netanyahu government to freeze settlement activities, release thousands of Palestinian detainees from Israeli jails and present an alternative to the Oslo path, which he personally had negotiated.
Not surprisingly, Palestinians are divided between opting for peaceful negotiations and resorting to armed resistance.
The five-day conference will shed light on the Palestinian president’s plans for Fateh, in particular, and for the PA, in general.
The former remains an important symbol for Palestinian national liberation, but in recent years Hamas has been gaining ground among Palestinians in the West Bank as well.
Renewing Fateh blood is an important step towards restoring the movement’s credibility.
Hamas, too, will be holding its own congress to choose a successor to Khaled Mishaal.
Overall, the Palestinian political scene will witness major changes in the coming months, but will this make it easier to achieve national reconciliation, or will it deepen the divide?
Palestinian democracy has been one of the main casualties of the past decade. Under Abbas, it has seen many setbacks.
He has been unable, or unwilling, to introduce wide-ranging reforms to the PLO in order to lure in Hamas and perhaps the Islamic Jihad, both of which have growing grassroots support.
In addition, he has resisted calls to review Palestinian strategy for liberation and self-determination as the peace process faltered and the two-state solution became increasingly untenable.
It is imperative that this congress move beyond the usual protocols, towards presenting a clear way forward not only for Fateh, but for the Palestinian people at large.
This would entail that Abbas does not limit himself to ostracising his opponents, but open the way for long-due presidential and legislative elections.
It also means that he should trust new members to chart a new course for the movement that takes into consideration the geopolitical changes that took place in the past decade.
Abbas should also aim to convene the Palestine National Council, which has not met for over a decade, in order for the new leadership to receive a fresh mandate, and to allow Palestinians to choose a new course for the future.
For the tenacious president this may be too much to ask. But at this dangerous juncture; when Jewish settlements continue to spread and when Israel is pushing hard to legalise its colonisation of West Bank land, and when a new US president is vowing to pressure Palestinians to accept a deal, Abbas must free himself of previous convictions and allow his people to make their own existential choice.
The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.
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