Bantustan Days, Part 4: The in-Fateh opposition

Bantustan Days, Part 4: The in-Fateh opposition

To understand some of the internal problems inside Fateh, I found it really helpful to go along and talk to Qaddura Fares, a veteran Fateh activist in his mid-forties who was one of the stalwarts of the First Intifada (1987-93.) Fares grew up in Silwad, the same village in the West Bank north of Ramallah where Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal also grew up– though Fares said that Meshaal was six years older than him and they never met in their youth.

When I interviewed Fares on February 19 I had to go to the headquarters in Ramallah/El-Bireh of the Palestinian Prisoners” Club, of which he has been Chairman since– and maybe also before?– he lost his parliamentary seat in the elections of 2006. The clubs ground-floor offices are dominated by larger-than-life photos of the “dean” of the many Fateh prisoners still held in Israeli prisons, Marwan Barghouthi. In one of these photos, Barghouthi has been photoshopped into a stance alongside a veteran PFLP prisoner.

It”s a salient political fact that the 11,000 or more Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel have a much more vivid understanding of the need for national unity than many of the political figures living outside those jails. Fares seems closely connected to the prisoners” zeitgeist.

“Fateh is in a big crisis!” This was one of the first things Fares said to me about the veteran Palestinan movement that has dominated the PLO for 40 years now (and has dominated the PA since its inception at Oslo.)

“Fateh has to hold its general conference!” Fares urged. And indeed, under the bylaws of the 50-year-old organization it is supposed to hold this policy-making gathering every five years. The last one was held in 1989 and, um, quite a few things have happened in Palestinian politics– and on the ground in Palestine– since then.

Later, I asked, somewhat gingerly if he could speak about the “problem” inside Fateh. “No, it”s not a problem, it”s a crisis,” he insisted.

He continued:

It”s a crisis at many levels. In the internal structure, in the leadership: there”s a total vacuum. They don”t “lead” anything any more. And that”s given Hamas the opportunity to grow.

One Palestinian analyst I talked to in Ramallah said flatly that the somewhat mysteriously constituted “power-that-be” inside Fateh can agree neither on who should be included in the Congress, nor on where it should be held. And I suppose that the more time elapses since the last congress– now 20 years already– then the harder it becomes to divine the kinds of lines of succession, election, or selection upon which participation in the congress should be based.

This article in The Economist from last June said that Fares and other members of Fateh”s (only relatively) “young guard”,

complain that the 21-member [Fateh] central committee is using rules that date back to when most Fatah members were in exile to rig the congress in its favour by restricting the numbers of delegates and applying a complex system of quotas.

The way Fares explained it to me, the chronic sclerosis inside Fateh has now reached the point where the Fateh leadership finds it just about impossible to pursue any coherent policy at all– whether in its pursuit of the peace talks with Israel or the much-needed reconciliation discussions with Hamas.

On Hamas he said,

We need to have a broad reconciliation with Hamas.

And we in Fateh need to demonstrate our good faith to Hamas. We need to recognize that Hamas is a real presence here in the land.

We recognize Israel, for goodness” sake– so why can”t we recognize Hamas?

Also, if we make the ncessary changes inside Fateh, we could have a strong coalition with all the different forces in the [secular] national movement– with the other PLO member-groups, with the Christians, the independents, the intellectuals, and so on. Then we would be in a stronger position facing Hamas, so we would not need to be so scared of them overwhelming us.

We need a leader in Fateh who can build such a coalition. Yes, a leader like Marwan.

… Hamas has both the will and the capacity for national dialogue. Fateh has the will, but apparently it has no capacity or little capacity to engage seriously in the dialogue. Probably this is because the leadership is not independent of foreign pressure.

On the Fateh leadership”s conduct of the peace talks with Israel, he said:

This leadership has no desire now, to complete the negotiations successfully. We”ve negotiated for 18 years since Madrid– and what have we got? For the last eight-to-nine years all we”ve gotten has been more bombs, more checkpoints, and more settlements from Israel.

We need to reconsider our strategy– and to be ready to stop the negotiations.

… These guys in power now just seem to need the endless continuation of the peace “process”. We are ready to negotiate, yes… If any Israeli official came today and said he would sign onto the Geneva Agreement, we would sign.

But this everlasting “theater” of peace negotiations we have now must be stopped.

… If we stop the negotiations, that would create a new situation. There could be a new confrontation, yes. But if Fateh could become dominant in the Palestinian ranks we could create a scenario in which we could once again involve all the Palestinian people in the national movement, including with mass nonviolent action. Like in the First Intifada. We would prefer to do that.

Pushed on his expression of support for nonvioence, however, Fares bactracked some, saying “It”s too early to give a firm decision on the use or non-use of arms in our struggle.”

“Most of all,” he stressed, “it”s necessary for our leaders to return to leading the people.”

He said that he– unlike most of the Hamas leadership– does think that Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is still the legitimate president of the Palestinian Authority. The Hamas people note that formally, Abbas”s term ran out in early January. “Yes, Abu Mazen has another eleven months,” Fares said. But he didn”t seem optimistic that the deep crisis inside Fateh would be resolved before that extended deadline.

The Source