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(photo credit: AP)
Fatah activists and officials in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are threatening to launch an "intifada" against veteran leaders of the party, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in an attempt to force them to accept demands for internal reforms and elections.
The "rebels" plan to convene an emergency meeting of the Fatah revolutionary council, in what is regarded as the first sign of an open split. The council comprises many grassroots leaders and disgruntled activists who are fed up with veteran Fatah leaders.
Last week, the Fatah central committee, a decision-making body controlled by representatives of the movement's "old guard," met for three days in Jordan without reaching a decision on holding a general conference for party members to elect a new leadership.
The committee members also ignored demands by "young guard" activists for major reforms in Fatah in the aftermath of its defeat in January's parliamentary election.
The committee instead authorized Abbas to begin talks with Hamas and other Palestinian factions on the formation of a national-unity government - a decision that has also drawn sharp criticism from many Fatah members.
The latest row within the movement is likely to undermine Abbas's efforts to establish such a government. "The dispute in Fatah plays into the hands of Hamas," said a senior Fatah activist in Ramallah. "There is a lot of anger and resentment among Fatah cadres in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Many of them are threatening to declare an intifada against Abbas and the old guard."
Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Fatah list in the Palestinian Legislative Council, said the decisions of the central committee were "an indication that we are moving backward, not forward." The committee's failure to set a date for a general conference was a "negative step," he said. The last time Fatah held such a conference was in Tunis in 1989.
PA chairman Yasser Arafat repeatedly ignored demands to convene a conference to enable young activists to choose new leaders and inject fresh blood into the corruption-riddled Fatah, the PLO's largest faction. After he succeeded Arafat, Abbas also promised that he would work toward convening Fatah's sixth conference, but has since failed to fulfill his pledge.
Commenting on the central committee's decision to give Abbas a green light to discuss a national unity government, Ahmed said, "There is nothing new about this. They simply reiterated the position that was taken by Fatah after Hamas formed its government."
Former PA minister Nabil Amr, who has long campaigned for reforms in Fatah, said he and many of his colleagues were very disappointed by the meeting in Jordan. He accused the committee of making a mockery out of demands for reforms and told the Ramallah-based Al-Ayyam daily: "The decisions of the committee did not rise to the level of the crisis in Fatah and the Palestinian territories."
"The committee members are continuing to use language that perished a long time ago," Amr said. "They are even using the same old tools; how can they decide to go the United Nations to resolve the Palestinian issue at a time when the party does not have a clear policy that differs from that of the [Hamas] government?"
Amr said that a petition that he and dozens of colleagues had sent to the committee members meeting in Jordan was completely ignored. "The committee was supposed to discuss ways of reviving Fatah, as well as the financial and administrative situation in the party, but that did not happen," he said.
Both Ahmed and Amr expressed astonishment that the central committee did not see a need to assess the results of the parliamentary election that was held seven months ago. "They didn't put the issue on their agenda," the two said. "Many of them are not even aware that there is a crisis in Fatah."
Another senior Fatah member, Muhammad Hourani, said many of the party cadres had been expecting important decisions to be taken in Jordan. "Unfortunately, nothing serious came out of this meeting and the committee members missed an historic opportunity," he said.
Asked about the prospects of a "mutiny" within Fatah, Hourani said: "I'm personally against coups, but I'm also against political stalemate. Some of our leaders are trying to perpetuate the state of paralysis in Fatah to score personal goals. The time has come to put an end to this."
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