With less than three months before the parliamentary election, the crisis in the Palestinian ruling Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has intensified after one of its senior members, Nasser al-Qudwa, formed an independent list to contest the election.
Qudwa, 67, triggered a major crisis in Fatah earlier this week by announcing he would run as part of a new list named National Democratic Forum.
Abbas and some Fatah officials have reportedly threatened to expel Qudwa from Fatah if he proceeds with his plan to run outside the faction’s official list.
The Fatah Central Committee issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Qudwa to retract his decision, according to the Palestinian news website Amad.
The ultimatum was issued during a meeting of the committee in Ramallah on Monday night, according to the report.
Qudwa, a nephew of former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and a member of the Fatah Central Committee, did not attend the meeting, which was chaired by Abbas.
A statement issued by the committee at the end of the meeting did not mention the growing tensions in Fatah ahead of the parliamentary election. It affirmed, however, that Fatah will run in the election as a “unified list that is supported by all Fatah members.”
Qudwa currently serves as head of the Yasser Arafat Foundation, an independent organization whose goal is to “preserve, benefit from, and pass on to future generations the memory and heritage” of the late PLO chairman, who was succeeded by Abbas upon his death 16 years ago.
Senior Fatah official Monir al-Jaghoub said he had not heard about the ultimatum to Qudwa.
“Fatah has decided to run in the election as a unified list,” Jaghoub said. “Any [Fatah] member or leader who forms a new list departs from the Fatah consensus.”
Abbas and Fatah leaders are worried that Qudwa’s move could reduce the faction’s chances of winning the election for the Palestinian Legislative Council on May 22.
In 2006, Hamas won the parliamentary election mainly because some Fatah candidates ran on independent lists.
During the “tense Fatah Central Committee meeting it was decided to give Qudwa 48 hours to announce his final position,” the Amad report said, adding that if he failed to retract, he would be dismissed from the faction.
The committee also decided that any Fatah official who runs on an independent list would be expelled, the report added.
The committee’s decision applies not only to Qudwa, but also to several Fatah officials, including deposed Fatah operative Mohammad Dahlan, Marwan Barghouti, the faction’s jailed leader, and other disgruntled Fatah cadres, it said.
Dahlan, a former PA security commander in the Gaza Strip, is based in the United Arab Emirates, where he fled after being expelled from Fatah 10 years ago after falling out with Abbas. He heads a party named Democratic Reform Current.
Dahlan loyalists said they intend to run in the parliamentary election, either as part of the official Fatah list or independently.
PA officials said Dahlan would not be allowed to run for the PA presidency because he had been convicted by a Palestinian court of embezzling public funds and sentenced in absentia to three years in prison.
It was not clear whether Barghouti, who was sentenced to five life terms in Israeli prison for his role in anti-Israeli terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada, would form his own list for the legislative election.
Sources close to Barghouti said he would present his candidacy for the presidential election, which has been set for July 31.
Earlier this week, Qudwa invited Barghouti to join his new list. He also said he would support Barghouti if the latter decided to run in the presidential election.
Nabil Amr, another veteran Fatah official, is also planning to run in the legislative election as an independent.
Last month, senior Fatah official Abdel Fattah Hamayel said the Fatah leadership has threatened to “kill” any candidate who runs outside the faction’s official list.
Majed Faraj, head of the PA General Intelligence Service, warned Qudwa against running on an independent list, Palestinian sources told the pan-Arab Al-Araby Al-Jadeed media outlet.
“Even if we need to chase anyone who threatens Fatah unity in the streets, we will do so,” the sources quoted Faraj as saying.
Several Fatah leaders recently met with Qudwa and tried to persuade him to reverse his decision to form an independent list, but to no avail, according to the sources.
Fatah Central Committee Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub said he hoped Qudwa would change his mind.
“If he [Qudwa] has a plan for reforms, he should work to implement it within Fatah,” Rajoub said. “His departure [from Fatah] cannot serve him or the faction or the national enterprise. Qudwa is a member of the Fatah Central Committee to this day, and he enjoys all his rights as a member. The dialogue with him is continuing.”