Fatah leaders reeling from 'the big punishment'

Fatah leaders on Thursday reacted with shock and disbelief to Hamas's landslide victory in the parliamentary elections and called for a general review of the party's strategy and performance. Some of them did not leave their homes and refused to take calls from journalists. Fatah leaders held a series of stormy meetings in the Mukata "presidential" compound to assess the latest developments. According to one official, some of them held Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas responsible for Hamas's victory. "Fatah paid the price because of its corrupt administration and a bunch of corrupt leaders," said Samir Mashharawi, a senior Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip. Stressing that his party would respect the choice of the people, Mashharawi said that Fatah should not be ashamed to be in opposition. "Our interest now is to serve as a real opposition and to accept responsibility for the mistakes we made," he said. Fatah activists here blamed the party's veteran leadership for the humiliating defeat. "The people punished us because of the mismanagement and corruption of the mafia that came from Tunis," said Nasser Abdel Hakim, referring to the Fatah leaders who returned with Yasser Arafat from Tunis in 1994. "What we need now is a real revolution in Fatah and a new leadership that will help us repair the damage." Taysir Nasrallah, a prominent Fatah figure from Nablus, said that many Fatah supporters had punished the party because of the internal fighting among its leaders. "The settling of personal accounts inside Fatah is one of the main reasons behind the defeat," he said. "Many Fatah members wanted to punish their leaders. They either boycotted the election or voted for rival parties." Nasrallah called for major reforms and an end to the ongoing power struggle between the young guard the old guard in Fatah. "This is a big punishment for Fatah," Jerusalem-based political analyst Zakariya al-Qaq told The Jerusalem Post. "It's also a severe blow to the Oslo Accords and to Kadima. Israel might reoccupy the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and this means that we will go back to square one." Dr. Salman Masalhah, a political commentator, said the results reflected the Palestinians' total rejection of Fatah's corruption. "On the other hand," he noted, "the results show that the Palestinians have lost faith in their national movement's ability to resolve the conflict. Therefore, the Palestinians seem to have returned to square one in this bloody conflict." Jibril Rajoub, a veteran Fatah official member and former security commander, said the time has come for Fatah to "disappear" from the political scene. "We are a democratic movement and we respect the choice of the people," he said shortly after learning that he had lost the vote in his constituency of Hebron. "We must now disappear from the political scene and allow our brothers in Hamas to govern."