Analysis: New faces of an unreformed, hard-line Fatah

Abbas and his colleagues are bound by resolutions that insist on maximalist demands.

dahlan tough 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
dahlan tough 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Many of the newly-elected members of Fatah's Central Committee may be younger than their ousted predecessors, but that does not necessarily mean that they are more reform-minded or less corrupt. Nor does the election of the young guard representatives signal a shift toward moderation. Fatah must be given credit for getting rid of many old guard figures whose names have become synonymous with embezzlement, financial corruption and abuse of power. But who said that the new members of the Central Committee are any better? The assumption that Muhammad Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub, Marwan Barghouti and Tawfik Tirawi are more moderate than old-timers like Ahmed Qurei, Nabil Sha'ath and Hani al-Hassan is completely mistaken. Fatah's strongman in Lebanon, Sultan Abu al-Aynain, who was also elected as member of the committee, 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." In fact, all the newly-elected Central Committee members voted during the Fatah convention in Bethlehem last week in favor of a political platform that does not rule out the armed struggle option against Israel. The young guard members also voted in favor of a series of hard-line resolutions that were brought before the conference, including one that endorses Fatah's armed militia, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, as an official organ of the faction, and another that states that the Palestinians will never relinquish the "right of return" for refugees to Israel proper and that they are willing to make "sacrifices" to liberate Jerusalem. It's unrealistic to expect changes in Fatah's policies now that younger leaders are sitting in the Central Committee. Even if Barghouti, Dahlan and Rajoub wanted to adopt a more moderate approach in peace talks with Israel, they would face fierce opposition from the Fatah General Assembly. The assembly has actually tied the hands of the Fatah leadership by setting a series of "red lines" that no Palestinian - not even Mahmoud Abbas - is entitled to cross. Fatah has said quite loudly and clearly that it's either 100 percent or nothing. Israel must withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, including from all of the eastern part of Jerusalem, allow Palestinian refugees to return to their original homes inside Israel, dismantle all the settlements, including ones built in Jerusalem such as Pisgat Ze'ev and Ramot, and evict all settlers living there and in the West Bank. Only then, according to Fatah, will there be a chance for peace with Israel. Barghouti, Dahlan and Rajoub neither have the will nor the mandate to cross any of these red lines. Fatah's young guard operatives may be popular among the faction's 2,200 delegates who met in Bethlehem over the past week, but there is much doubt as to the extent of the support they enjoy among the larger Palestinian public. Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in Israeli prison, was the head of the Fatah list that lost to Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary election. The fact that he was in prison back then did not prevent a majority of Palestinians from casting their ballots for the rival Hamas movement. Dahlan, Rajoub and Tirawi are all former security commanders who served as Yasser Arafat's henchmen and enforcers after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 2004. The three men can be described as anything but reformists and moderates. They are best remembered for building detention centers, prisons, big villas and a casino for the Palestinians. The main task of the security forces they presided over was to suppress and intimidate political opponents, human rights workers, journalists and anyone who dared to challenge Fatah's corruption-riddled regime. Moreover, one of the trio's missions was to hunt down Palestinians suspected of "collaboration" with Israel, many of whom were later executed by firing squad. At one stage, Tirawi's men kidnapped and murdered a number of Palestinians from Jerusalem who were suspected of selling land and houses to Jews. During the Fatah meetings in Bethlehem, most of the young guard activists appeared to be more radical than their older colleagues, especially with regards to the peace process with Israel. The power struggle between the old and new guards in Fatah has never been over ideology or the future of the peace process. On these issues, there's almost no difference between Barghouti's views and those of Sha'ath and Qurei. Rather, it's a power struggle between a camp that for two decades denied young guard activists a larger say in decision-making and access to public funds and jobs, and those younger activists. What's certain is that the change of guard does not necessarily mean that Fatah is about to regain the confidence of a majority of disillusioned Palestinians. Nor does it show that Fatah is on its way to reforming itself or softening its policies.•