Fatah needs new faces to win Palestinian elections, says leading academic

‘Palestinian Authority run in an authoritarian manner’

Prof. Sari Nusseibeh. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Prof. Sari Nusseibeh.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction needs to get its act together if it wants to win the upcoming elections, Sari Nusseibeh, a prominent Palestinian professor of philosophy told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Nusseibeh, former President of Al-Quds University, said in an interview with The Post that he was skeptical about the chances that the elections would be held.
“If Fatah does not get its act together, it’s likely that it will not succeed, or succeed well enough, in the elections,” he cautioned. “If Fatah runs together with Hamas in a joint list, I’m not sure that will do any good. On the contrary, I think that will be a problem. The main problem lies with the leadership of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, which is being run in an authoritarian manner, and that’s unfortunate.”
In 2002, Nusseibeh and former Shin Bet director Ami Ayalon published “The People’s Voice,” an Israeli-Palestinian civil initiative that aimed to advance the process of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
In the same year, former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat appointed Nusseibeh as the PLO’s representative in east Jerusalem. Nusseibeh, a moderate, was also considered an important leader during the First Intifada, which erupted in late 1987.
Last month, Abbas announced that the parliamentary poll will be held on May 22 and the presidential election would follow on July 31. Elections for the PLO’s legislative body, the Palestinian National Council, are set for the end of August.
Abbas’s announcement has been met with skepticism by many Palestinians, especially in wake of the ongoing dispute between Fatah and Hamas. Infighting in Fatah is also seen by many Palestinians as another reason why the vote may be delayed or canceled.
“The one very obvious thing that Fatah needs to do is to overcome the divisions that exist today within Fatah,” Nusseibeh opined.
“There is a lot of criticism against the Palestinian Authority. Since the Palestinian Authority is, in fact, seen as being Fatah, there’s also a lot of criticism from Fatah against Fatah, which means that a lot of changes need to be made. The changes require that Fatah be re-hauled. Parts of the changes must include bringing the different factions and streams in Fatah together, under one umbrella.”
Nusseibeh, a resident of east Jerusalem, pointed out that a number of Fatah members and officials have already declared that they will not necessarily be running in an Abbas-led list.
“Recently, we heard that there’s a problem even within the Abbas faction,” Nusseibeh said. “One of the major figures in the Fatah Revolutionary Council, Abdel Fattah Hamayel, was very angry with Abbas for warning Fatah members against running outside Fatah.
“Hamayel has a lot of support in Fatah. He was the leader of its Tanzim during the First Intifada, and has a lot of respect among the faction’s grassroots. There’s a lot of work to be done in Fatah. Abbas must allow Fatah to come together again under one umbrella, with new faces. He needs to create new hope for the Palestinians.”
Nusseibeh told the Post that he did not rule out the possibility that the elections would eventually be called off.
“There are many reasons to believe that the elections won’t happen, including the difficulty of reaching an agreement between Fatah and Hamas on the one hand, and the difficulty of Fatah getting its act together, on the other hand,” he said.
Nusseibeh said he nonetheless believes that Abbas is interested in making the elections happen.
“Abbas feels a need to legitimize the existence of the Palestinian Authority, and that’s why he wants the elections,” Nusseibeh explained.
Asked if he thought Abbas, who last month began the 17th year of tenure, which was supposed to last four years, would seek re-election, Nusseibeh pointed out that the 85-year-old PA president has been “vague” on the matter.
“Everybody assumes that he will run, but it’s not clear whether he will do so,” Nusseibeh said. “I think that he will be waiting to see how the elections of the parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council, will go. When the time comes for the presidential election, that’s when we will know for sure whether he intends to run. He hasn’t said anything yet.”
In response to a question about the possibility that Hamas may again win the parliamentary election, as it did in 2006, Nusseibeh predicted that if Hamas wins, it would try to establish a professional or bureaucratic government.
“They will not want themselves to be in the frontline,” he said. “They will hope that by doing this they would be able to have the blessing of regional governments. But Hamas will have a problem. They will have to accept the conditions of the Quartet [US, European Union, Russia, and United Nations]. Although we heard from [Fatah Central Committee Secretary-General] Jibril Rajoub that Fatah and Hamas have reached agreement on a political program, it’s not clear that this will happen. If Hamas wins, I think we will have a major problem in the Palestinian territories. We already experienced Hamas’s bad government in the Gaza Strip.”
The Quartet has laid out three conditions for the recognition of a Palestinian government: the renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist and a commitment to abide by all the agreements signed by the PLO and Israel.
Leaders of several Palestinian factions, including Fatah and Hamas, are expected to meet in Cairo next week for talks aiming at preparing for the general elections. The talks will be held under the auspices of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service.
Nusseibeh said that despite Rajoub’s talk about an agreement with Hamas on a political program, the two parties still face many difficulties. These include, among other things, Abbas’s recent controversial “adjustments” to the Palestinian election law and legal structure, he added.
Nusseibeh noted that Abbas’s measures have already drawn sharp criticism from Hamas and Palestinian civil societies.
“I’m not sure an agreement will be reached about this issue in Cairo,” he remarked. “It’s hard to see how Abbas will step back from these measures.”
Asked whether he believed the timing of Abbas’s call for general elections was connected to the inauguration of the new US administration of President Joe Biden, Nusseibeh replied: “Yes, I think Abbas is coming to the end of a phase. [Former US President Donald] Trump made his life very difficult and he wishes to somehow move on with the peace process with Israel. Abbas is happy that Biden came to power and he hopes he can work with him. But I think that Abbas’s hopes are exaggerated. I don’t think things can happen as fast as he wants them to. Even if the peace talks with Israel are renewed, I don’t think they will go as fast as Abbas wants them to. Abbas is at the end of his political and real life and that’s why he’s in a hurry.”
Nusseibeh said that regardless, he does not expect the Biden administration to move quickly with the peace process. “They will go slowly,” he said. “They will work more carefully than the Trump administration. I don’t think the Biden administration will push hard toward completing an agreement. They will try to regain the trust of the Palestinians, but they will be very careful.”
Nusseibeh said that although he was not considering running for the Palestinian parliamentary election, he would work toward helping residents of east Jerusalem form their own list. “I will see to it that there’s a good Jerusalem list that can answer the needs of the people of the city,” he said. “I will be helping in the selection of candidates who would represent the people of Jerusalem.”