In a renewed power struggle, old guard tries to sideline the young generation.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
A renewed power struggle between the young guard and the old guard in the ruling Fatah party may force Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to once again postpone primary elections to choose the party's candidates for next January's parliamentary vote.
The Fatah primaries, which were supposed to be held earlier this month, have been set for October 27 amid growing tensions between young Fatah activists and veteran leaders of the party. Last week about 240 Fatah members from the Gaza Strip resigned en masse to protest against the lack of democracy and accountability in the party.
"This massive resignation is the first step. We understand what it means and there will be additional steps in this direction," the members warned in a letter to Abbas.
On Saturday, dozens of Fatah activists in the West Bank threatened to follow suit after accusing the party's veteran leaders of seeking to sideline representatives of the young generation. The activists claim that the Fatah central committee, a body dominated by longtime associates of former PA chairman Yasser Arafat, have endorsed a series of regulations that would make it almost impossible to inject fresh blood into the party.
"The old guard wants to maintain its tight grip on Fatah," a senior Fatah activist told The Jerusalem Post. "How can we talk about real reforms when the Fatah leaders try to steal the vote and sideline the young generation?"
In a letter to members of the Fatah central committee, dozens of young activists from the West Bank wrote: "We hereby declare that we will submit our resignations collectively unless new mechanisms are set for the primary elections to ensure the unity of Fatah and fair representation for trends. The primary elections are tantamount to driving a nail into Fatah. The present electoral system will only lead to dissent and destruction ahead of the parliamentary elections."
The power struggle in Fatah escalated following Arafat's death last November as representatives of the young guard stepped up pressure for ending the hegemony of the party's veteran leaders. The young members blame the old leadership for ongoing financial corruption and abuse of power, adding that this is one of the main reasons why the rival Hamas movement made a strong showing in municipal elections over the past year.
"Today Fatah is like an old man trying to control his grandchildren in vain," said political analyst Nizar Nazzal. "The continued squabbling and divisions in Fatah is a sign of the failure of the party's cadres to administer the political life of the Palestinians. If the old leaders don't change, the young members might have to use force to remove them."
Upon his return from Washington, where he held talks last week with US President George W. Bush, Abbas is expected to meet with Fatah officials in a bid to ease tensions ahead of the primary vote. Abbas's aides said that if he fails in his efforts, he will have no other choice but to delay the elections.
"Fatah is facing a very serious challenge," said one aide. "Unless we unite our ranks, we will suffer defeat in the parliamentary elections."
Fatah gunmen who joined the PA security forces over the past few months are now threatening to quit in protest against attempts by veteran leaders to deny them a larger say in decision-making. In Tulkarm, Nablus and Jenin, disgruntled Fatah gunmen complained over the weekend that Abbas and the Fatah leadership haven't done anything to merge them into the party's influential institutions.
In a sign of growing tensions, Fatah gunmen and PA policemen exchanged gunfire in the center of Tulkarm on Friday. Sources in the city said one policeman was seriously injured in the clashes.
In a related development, various Fatah-affiliated armed groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip announced that they have decided to unite under a central command. Fatah has at least eight different militias (the biggest one is Aksa Martyrs Brigades).
Jihad al-Amareen, the leader of one of the Fatah militias, said the decision was taken in the context of attempts to unite Fatah ahead of next January's parliamentary elections.