Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation in the Works?
Journalist Daoud Kuttab says the 7th Fatah Congress may lead towards rapprochement between the two dominant Palestinian parties
SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In Palestine, about 1,400 Fatah members from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Diaspora convened the 7th Fatah Congress in Ramallah. The Congress began on the historically-significant date of November 29th when the UN Partition Plan for Palestine and Israel was declared in 1947 that founded and created the Palestinian and the Jewish States side-by-side in Palestine. On the agenda is the question of who will succeed President Mahmoud Abbas, who is currently holding three key positions as President of the State of Palestine, Chairman of the PLO, and Chairman of the Fatah Party? Abbas is now 81 years old. On to discuss the conference with us is Daoud Kuttab. He is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. He is a columnist with the Al-Monitor and Director of the Community Media Network in Amman, Jordan. Daoud, so good to have you with us today.
DAOUD KUTTAB: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Daoud, so what was decided at the Fatah Conference?
DAOUD KUTTAB: Well, the first thing that was decided was that Mahmoud Abbas was elected by acclamation by the entire group and now they’re going to, basically, secret meetings to decide the policy, the direction, the tactics, the relationship and then, I think, on Saturday there will be elections for the top two bodies there — the Revolutionary Council and the Central Committee.
SHARMINI PERIES: And give us a sense of who was a challenger, in terms of the leadership, and was that even considered? I understood that Mohammed Dahlan was being considered.
DAOUD KUTTAB: Yes, I mean, Dahlan is no longer a part of Fatah and I think his fate has been sealed outside of Fatah, and now I think we’re going to see who’s going to be elected. The majority of the delegates this time are from inside the Occupied Territory. Which is a change of the last six Congresses, in which the majority were from the outside, the leadership. Because Fatah was created in Kuwait in 1960, most of the leaders had been living outside. But now, basically, the demographics have changed and we have younger candidates to the Congress and almost all of them, more than 70%, are from inside the Occupied Territory, from the West Bank, including Jerusalem and Gaza.
SHARMINI PERIES: And give us a better sense of who is the challenger, Dahlan, that you mentioned. I understand that he was having a parallel conference going on, challenging Mahmoud Abbas’s leadership, and wanted a break. But obviously, the Conference decided against it but give us a little bit more of a context there.
DAOUD KUTTAB: Well, about seven years ago, you know, Dahlan was the kind of a military and political leader in Gaza and, basically, Gaza revolted against him and there was a struggle in which he basically is being blamed for giving up Gaza to Hamas. And then he’s been living abroad mostly in the United Arab Emirates, often trying to use funds from Arab countries to create an alternative leadership within Fatah. And there was a lot of pressure by Arab countries towards Abbas to bring back Dahlan and make him a deputy of some kind. And Abbas and the top leadership refused because they insisted that the decisions by Palestinians must be independent of even friendly Arab countries. And I don’t think he has held a congress. There was talk about that he would hold an alternative congress, but no Arab capital would host such a congress. The top Arab countries all were represented at the 7th Fatah Congress. They all gave statements of support to Abbas and to the local, to the Fatah leadership. So, I don’t think that Dahlan will be able to have any kind of effect any more on the workings of the Fatah movement. He might have to create an alternative party if he wants, but not within the ruling party now.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, then, the main political revival to Fatah is obviously considered the Hamas Party. Was there any discontent on the part of Hamas articulated at the meeting? And how did that struggle with Fatah and Hamas transpire in the Congress?
DAOUD KUTTAB: Actually, this is probably the biggest news out of this Congress because there is kind of a rapprochement. There is almost a honeymoon going on now between Abbas and Hamas. Hamas in the 6th Congress about seven years ago, did not allow the delegates to leave Gaza. This time they were allowed to leave Gaza and their leader, Khaled Mashal, sent a public message of support and congratulations to Fatah. And in his speech, Mahmoud Abbas made a number of references in a positive way to Hamas. So, there are many people who expect that, in return for sealing the fate of Dahlan outside of Fatah, Fatah is making progress towards reconciliation with Hamas and we expect that there will be a big event in Cairo after this Congress to try to work out the details of a reconciliation.
SHARMINI PERIES: And why was he not at the Congress? Why did he just send a message?
DAOUD KUTTAB: Dahlan has been accused of a number of violations of the Fatah bylaws. He’s also been accused of financial impropriety and also physical attacks. Some even say that he’s been accused of killing somebody outside of the law. So, there are different reasons why he has been excommunicated from the movement. But he, of course, claims that he’s innocent and that his exclusion is political. But Abbas and all his leadership are adamant that he should not come back to the movement.
SHARMINI PERIES: And also, in terms of Fatah and Hamas, you said there was a bit of a honeymoon. Give us a better sense of what that was like. And is there a reconciliation that you think will be more substantial in the time to come?
DAOUD KUTTAB: Yeah. The events that happened in 2007 are often described by the Fatah, and by most Palestinians, as a kind of a black revolt; that Hamas revolted against the leadership and militarily took over control. This time when Abbas made a very long three-hour speech, he never used those terms of a revolt. He said “the events of 2007” which already is a walk back from the strong terminology. And some of the statements made were very positive towards one of the demands that have been made by Hamas which is that some 45,000 employees that were hired by Hamas might be accepted in the Palestinian government and their salaries paid. This has been a big stumbling block in resolving the conflict between the two groups — that the Palestinian government based in Ramallah refused to pay the salaries of people that it didn’t appoint. But Abbas made some positive remarks in this direction.
SHARMINI PERIES: Daoud, give us a sense of what strategies came out of the conference that we should be looking forward to in terms of follow-up.
DAOUD KUTTAB: Well, when Fatah was established in 1960, they actually made their announcement of their launch after a military attack from South Lebanon against Israel. And for many years the arms struggle was the main feature and tactic of the Palestinian Liberation Movement. Since the ’90s, when the PLO and Israel recognized each other, this moved towards kind of a negotiation strategy where the PLO has been trying to negotiate, unsuccessfully, with Israel. I think there’s going to be much more talk now about some type of a non-violent campaign or struggle, possibly support for BDS and other kind of non-violent attempts. There is talk that they’re going to call it a “Smart Popular Struggle” or something to that effect. So, we’re waiting to see what comes out on Saturday in their final communique. But there’s a lot of talk about the need to reinvigorate the Palestinian struggle so that the negotiations can produce the kind of results people want, because without the pressure of some type against Israel, there is nothing that will force it to give up the Occupied Territories.
SHARMINI PERIES: And finally, Daoud, what was the reaction of the Israeli State to this Congress and were there any statements issued?
DAOUD KUTTAB: Ironically, some members of the Israeli government have actually attacked Mahmoud Abbas even though Abbas’ speech was very moderate. Abbas defended also the agreement, defended the fact that he attended the funeral of Shimon Peres. Yet it seems that this moderation worries some of the Israelis more than a kind of a bombastic position. And they’re saying the real enemy now is Mahmoud Abbas and the only explanation people have is that because it’s much easier for them to deal with a more militant leader than a moderate one.
SHARMINI PERIES: Alright, Daoud, I thank you so much for joining us today and we look forward to having you back.
DAOUD KUTTAB: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us from The Real News Network.