Fatah veterans fear 'young guard' coup

Barghouti, serving term in Israeli jail, seen as mastermind in plot to replace current leadership.

barghouti 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
barghouti 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Veteran Fatah officials in Ramallah warned over the weekend that some of their "young guard" colleagues were planning to stage a "coup" against the faction's leadership. The allegations came amid growing tensions in Fatah over preparations to hold its Sixth General Conference for the first time since 1989. The conference is expected to elect new leaders and members for Fatah. However, the power struggle between the old guard and young guard in Fatah, which appears to have escalated in the past few weeks, has cast doubts over the faction's ability to hold its long-awaited conference. Moreover, it has raised doubts as to Fatah's ability to pursue peace talks with Israel. The tensions reached their peak last month when Fatah leaders traded allegations over their involvement in financial scandals. Documents leaked to the media suggested that top Fatah leaders had embezzled millions of dollars. The latest crisis erupted after several young guard operatives expressed fear that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah old timers were planning to block the emergence of fresh faces. Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms in an Israeli jail, is believed by rivals in Fatah to be the mastermind of a plot to oust old guard Fatah leaders from the faction. Last month, Barghouti sent an angry letter to Abbas and members of the Fatah Central Committee, a body dominated by elderly officials - most of whom had been appointed by Yasser Arafat - in which he openly accused them of blocking reforms in Fatah. In his letter, Barghouti complained that Abbas and his aides were planning to keep many young Fatah representatives away from the upcoming General Conference. Abbas's aides scoffed at Barghouti's letter, saying the imprisoned Fatah leader was responsible for the increased tensions inside the faction. "Marwan thinks that because he spent a few years in Israeli prison, he is entitled to become the leader of the Palestinian people," one aide told The Jerusalem Post. "Marwan and his followers are trying to take over the Fatah leadership through intimidation and violent means. They are using the motto of reforms only as an excuse." Barghouti does not seem to be operating on his own. His young guard camp includes many prominent Fatah figures such as former security commanders Muhammad Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub. Barghouti has also succeeded in rallying behind him hundreds of young Fatah leaders not only in the West Bank, but in the Gaza Strip as well. Nasser al-Kidweh, a nephew of Yasser Arafat and a former PA foreign minister, recently joined the Barghouti camp when he, too, lashed out at the Fatah old-timers. "Many Fatah leaders are behaving as if they were God," Kidweh complained. His remarks were clearly directed against Abbas and members of the Fatah Central Committee. Earlier, Kidweh resigned from a committee entrusted with preparing for the General Conference and formulating a new political program for Fatah. Kidweh's resignation, which is likely to hamper efforts to convene the conference, is seen by many Palestinians as a severe embarrassment to Abbas and the Fatah leadership. Kidweh has since been quoted as saying that his decision came after he became confident that the Fatah leadership was not serious about reforms and paving the way for the emergence of younger faces. A Fatah operative in Ramallah told the Post that the continued infighting was not only harming the faction, but playing into the hands of Hamas. "Fatah hasn't learned from its mistakes," he said. "One of the reasons why we lost the Gaza Strip was because the divisions inside Fatah. If the current crisis continues, it will be a matter of time before Fatah collapses also in the West Bank." The power struggle is not only over jobs and money, but ideology as well. Many Fatah members, especially old guard Fatah representatives, are strongly opposed to introducing changes to the faction's political program, which advocates an "armed struggle" against Israel. "Moderate" Fatah figures want a new program that would reflect the reality created after the signing of the Oslo Accords and send a message of compromise to Israel. As such, they are seeking to remove harsh terms such as "armed struggle," "resistance" and "liberation" from the program. Alarmed by the turmoil in Fatah, Egyptian officials last week summoned a Fatah delegation to Cairo for talks on ending the power struggle inside the faction. Egyptian General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman reportedly warned the Fatah officials that continued bickering was damaging Fatah's credibility among the Palestinians. Urging Fatah to hold its Sixth General Conference, Suleiman said he had no doubt that, under the current circumstances, Fatah would lose another election to Hamas. Barakat al-Fara, the Fatah representative in Cairo, said the crisis in his faction also had a negative impact on peace talks with Israel. "We need to repair Fatah if we want to achieve progress in the peace talks with Israel," he said. Nabil Amr, a senior adviser to Abbas, said the conflict in Fatah was between "old thinking and new thinking." He said the power struggle had escalated because of the feeling that the young guard members had become very powerful on the ground while the veteran Fatah leadership was continuing to lose its credibility among the Palestinians.