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The Fatah movement’s cadres, rank and file have been anticipating the convention of the movement’s Sixth Conference that has been awaited for about two decades, and much-talked-about in the past five years. If held, the conference would be burdened with organizing the internal files of Fatah, which suffer from corruption, disintegration, being slack and the aging of its leaders; in addition to the decline of its position as the movement that almost exclusively led the Palestinian national struggle over the last forty years.

Regardless of the existence of internal and external circles that support for convening the conference, the probability of the conference being further postponed is always there. This is due to some chronic disorders within the Movement, the conflict of many agendas and interests, and the pursuit of competing and influential parties within Fatah to dominate internally with their political orientation. All these factors will probably postpone the conference waiting for appropriate settlement.

In the case of holding the conference, it is likely that Abu Mazen’s supporters will strengthen their presence, and younger generations will be present. Also likely is that Fatah will maintain the slogans of combining the two tracks of settlement and resistance; however the track of settlement may find its chance to be the more dominant on-ground.

Historical Background
The Internal Disputes in Fatah
The Conflict between Fatah and Hamas
Foreign Attitudes
– The Arab World Attitudes
– Israeli Attitudes
– International Attitudes
I. Postponing the conference and continuing the disintegration
II. Convening the conference and devoting the settlement program
III. Convening the conference and combining resistance with negotiations
Suggestions and Recommendations

Fatah movement has led the national struggle for more than four decades, and serves as the backbone of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). This background is the emphasis of both internal and external circles in their concern with the Movement’s Sixth General Conference convention and date. This concern increases as the Fatah General Conference has not been held for nearly 19 years, during which the movement’s organizational frameworks and structures loosened. Also then, a significant change took place at the level of the centers of power and influence within the movement. Its political agenda has been fundamentally modified, and similarly its presence and impact on the Palestinian scene was affected.

These considerations, among others, significantly impose themselves on the Sixth Conference agenda, thus raising doubts about the possibility of it being held in the first place, and the seriousness of its decisions if it is to be held, especially with the current state of conflict and disintegration in the movement.

Historical Background
The first three conferences of Fatah were serious and systematic, but the following conferences were less frequent and more ceremonial. Effectively the conference was no more the mechanism of organizing the movement’s workings & administration.

Fatah held its first conference on June 12, 1967, few days after the Arab armies were defeated in the 1976 War, when the group decided to begin launching a guerrilla war.

After about one year, the second conference was held in July 1968. Then, it was decided to establish the Revolutionary Council (RC) framework to accommodate the emerging leadership cadres, and to contribute to the rearrangement of Fatah’s internal structure, especially following its significant expansion after the Battle of Al-Karameh, and its control over the PLO.

The third conference was held in September 1971, nearly three years later. In context then were the events of Black September (1970-1971) in Jordan, and the growing criticism of Fatah leadership.

Nine years later, the Fourth Conference was held in September 1980, which indicates the lack of regularity of the Fatah conferences, and their non-relevance to the policy-making process and setting of the movement orientations. This conference was convened after major developments faced by Fatah and the Palestinian national movement, such as, the October 1973 war, Abu Nidal split from the leadership of “Fatah-the Revolutionary Council”, and the rejection-ist front withdrawal from the PLO, following the latter’s approval of the ten point program. These developments also included the Palestinian involvement in the Lebanese civil war, as well as Egypt signing the Camp David Accords. In that conference the military managed to get half the seats, and the USA has been acknowledged as the main enemy of Palestine, but the Fatah leadership nonetheless continued in the pursuit of peaceful settlement.

Again, it took another nine years for the fifth conference to convene in August 1989. Putting into consideration that the Palestinian situation, as a whole, had witnessed a number of substantial developments. The “Israeli” troops swept through Beirut and the Revolution troops went out from Lebanon, and the “Fatah-Intifada” split led by Abu Musa separated itself from “Fatah-Abu Ammar”. The first Intifada broke out (1987), the movement of Hamas was launched, and the 19th National Council was held declaring the independence of Palestine and recognizing the UN resolution 242.

The conferees called for an escalation of “armed struggle” in exchange for continuing in “the Palestinian peace attack,” and mandate Yasser Arafat the post of “Commander-in-Chief”, which is not subject to the elections for life.

It was not until September 2004, that the signs of the Sixth Conference began to emerge, when the Revolutionary Council of the movement recommended its convening, at the request of the “Commander-in-Chief,” and a preparatory committee was set up. However, the meetings of the Committee were going in a slow pace without achieving any progress. Thus, by the end of 2008, the Fatah leadership and its institutions were suffering from becoming aged and slack.

The Internal Disputes in Fatah
The Sixth Conference convening is one of the basic demands that occupied Fatah cadres and members, hoping to avoid the situation of disintegration and corruption, and in an effort to inject new blood in the movement. However, convening the conference needs accomplishing some tasks that have to do with the related preparations, time and place of convening, number of participants, and the criteria that will determine how the leaders and cadres to participate are to be selected.

There are many debates on the number of participants, some of Fatah leading figures, such as: Marwan Barghouti, Qaddura Fares and others, called on increasing the number of participants to 3500 members, while, the Central Committee seeks to limit the number to 1200 members.

The venue of the conference is a subject of controversy. Some leaders are calling upon holding it in Palestine, other leaders are concerned about the consequences of holding it under the Israeli occupation, the dominance of the party currently ruling Authority in Palestine, and the possibility that many of the Fatah cadres abroad would not be able to come and participate in the conference (or intentionally excluded).

Therefore, they prefer it to be held in Jordan or Egypt. Add to this, the debate about the percentage among participants of, the organization, the military, and regions; leading to the exacerbation of internal disputes, and thus reflecting as a serious threat to the possibility of convening the conference in the first place.

The Conflict between Fatah and Hamas

The electoral victory of Hamas in the 2006 Legislative Council elections, led to the escalation of competition and conflict between Fatah and Hamas. The Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders, apparently affiliated to Fatah, refused to give up many of the PA bodies and institutions to Hamas, for the latter to start implementing its program. Thus, a conflict on authority broke out between these two parties and the lawlessness pace accelerated, evolving into armed clashes, which ended with the events of June 2007, when Hamas took control over the situation in the Gaza Strip. Consequently, this triggered the eagerness of Fatah cadres and members, and revitalized the call for convening the General Conference, in the hope of launching the internal reform process and combating corruption as the “main responsible” for Fatah’s successive retreats and losses.

Against the background of the overlap between Fatah and the PA, an additional factor was pressuring for the convening of the sixth conference, as the term of Presidency of Mahmoud Abbas was approaching its end, and Hamas had refused to extend his term. The ending of Abbas’ term would weaken his legitimacy, which Abbas would try to substitute by seeking the support from Fatah (the backbone of the PLO and PA) for him and for his political program that could be approved by its frameworks.

Foreign Attitudes

The sixth conference has also been the subject of interest for many Arab and regional parties, because the Fatah leadership is the leadership of the PA, and its cadres are the core of PA’s institutions and bodies. Fatah also holds the institutions for the legitimate representation of the Palestinian people.

Each party seeks to influence the conference (i.e. eventually the results) according to its own vision.

The Arab World Attitudes: Arab League (AL) supports, though indirectly, maintaining Fatah movement unified and capable of holding the reins of power, and advancing the settlement track towards its objectives. AL has adopted the Saudi initiative in 2002, which became part of the Annapolis negotiations. Moreover, the discourse of President Abbas’ and Fatah is consistent with the official discourse of the Arab regimes, while the discourse of Hamas, with its Islamic and resistance dimensions, is still irritating the Arab regimes and raising their concerns.

Egypt’s status in the Arab world and its regional role dictates that it should remain directly present and active in all the developments on the Palestinian arena. Egypt believes that Fatah movement staying in power is a guarantee for the survival of the Palestinian-Israeli track. From this premise, Cairo is seeking to control the pace of Fatah’s transformation and contradictions.

The approaching of Mahmoud Abbas’ end of mandate was a warning sign for the decision-makers in Cairo, fearing that this could undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian option of settlement. Against this background, Egypt considers the necessity of Fatah movement coherence and unity under the lead of Abbas, as a prerequisite for the continuing of the negotiations. Furthermore, with Fatah being slack and disintegrated, Hamas might consequently come to lead the Palestinian People, which would disrupt the Egyptian track of settlement, as well as confuse the internal situation of Egypt.

Jordan’s attitude towards the Fatah movement is based on considering it as leadership of the PA, which is traditionally considered in the Arab world and internationally as the legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people, and that any solution to the Palestinian issue would be through it.

Amman has always been keen to stay close to the Palestinian developments, since nearly half the Hashemite Kingdom population are Palestinian refugees, and because it has the largest border with the “promised” Palestinian state. Regarding Fatah, the movement has regulatory extensions in Jordan. As the debate increased about reaching an understanding on a final solution between Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert, and as rumors spread about the prospects for waiving the right of Palestinian refugees to return; the Jordanian concerns are heightened regarding the prospect of resettlement of the Palestinians in Jordan, and there are arousing fears and questions about the future the West Bank. All these factors lead the Jordanian leadership to be closer to the decision-makers in Fatah.

Israelis Attitudes: “Israel” prefers to deal with the “caretaker government” headed by Salam Fayyad, especially as that government started to implement the action measures required by the Road Map plan on the Palestinian side. These measures include the prohibition of armed-wings, security coordination, and withdrawal of licenses from a large number of charities and financial institutions against the alleged background of supporting the resistance factions.

According to some informed sources, the Israeli government approved the convening of the Sixth Conference in Jericho, believing that it would help in facing Hamas, support Fatah’s “moderate” leadership, and adapt Fatah’s political program in sync with the track of settlement. Against this background, there is some talk in circles close to the PA President, that Ehud Barak had agreed on allowing the entrance of 200 members to Jericho for the conference.

International Attitudes: The international Quartet pinned its hope on the Fatah movement to continue in the line with the settlement, and with commitment to the Road Map. Since the US is the powerful party in this reference, Washington has shown great concern after Hamas’s electoral victory and later its control over the Gaza Strip. This concern has “largely increased as the term of the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas approached its end.

Some informed sources said that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Abbas during her recent visit to Ramallah, that the U.S. administration supports the convention of Fatah’s Sixth Conference, as long as it would lead to supporting Abbas’s legitimacy, and strengthing his position against Hamas. This attitude is consistent with what was called for by the former U.S. envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross, as a member in the group of the American elected President Obama, when Ross called for the re-organizing of the Fatah movement.

The European Union agrees with Washington in supporting the legitimacy of Abbas, and expressing fears towards Hamas’s ascendance to presidency.

From analyzing the Palestinian current situation and the internal situation of Fatah movement, and considering the regional and international related circumstances, it is expected that the future of the Sixth Conference of the Movement would be one of the following three scenarios:

I. Postponing the conference and continuing the disintegration
This possibility is influenced by a large number of problems, still waiting for solutions on the agenda of the Preparatory Committee, in addition to the serious dispute between Abbas and major historical figures of Fatah cadres, such as Qaddumi, Hani al-Hasan and Zanoun and others. There are other factors supporting this possibility such as immaturity of internal settlements amongst the various warring groups within Fatah, and the fear of some “currently-powerful” Fatah parties from the possibility of loss; or the fear of some external parties from the rise of “resistance” movement within the organization, thus on the account of “Authority and settlement” movement.

In this case, the parties concerned would be in favor of postponing the date of the conference, accepting what Fatah provides at the moment. This does not eliminate the possibility of some internal settlements taking place to unify Fatah internally as far as possible, until “conditions improve”.

II. Convening the conference and devoting the settlement program
This scenario is based on the premise that the circumstances of convening the conference now, on the Arab and international levels, are different from those circumstances when the movement was first established and launched. In addition to that, the dominant Fatah groups do not dissent over the settlement program; they rather disagree on who manages this program, and how it will be managed in the next stage.

The need for convening of the conference is organizational, while the need for a political program of Fatah compatible with the settlement track, is an international and Arab need. This might lead to a change within the organizational structure of Fatah, in line with the settlement program; Consequently thus, it may lead to some other significant changes, the major ones being like: turning Fatah into a political party, seeking to continue Fatah’s dominion over the Palestinian decision, and moving farther away from an internal Palestinian reconciliation.

However, the chances of this scenario may decline due to the possible absence of some historical leading figures of Fatah, such as Kaddumi, Ghneim, Zanoun, and Hani al-Hassan. Moreover, there are many Fatah members bitterly criticizing the settlement track, and supporting the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the resistance programs; which may eventually develop to challenging the legitimacy and legality of the conference resolutions, or to a split within Fatah.

III. Convening the conference and combining resistance with negotiations
This scenario is based on the consensus of internal and external concerned parties, with the Palestinian-Israeli settlement track, on the need for reunification of Fatah to support the legitimacy of Abbas; and on the need of a programmed compromise-based confluence of conflicting Fatah groups. Thus, the Sixth Conference would distribute roles among these groups, and this will also be reflected in the political program of the movement, and in the re-adoption of the principle of combining resistance with negotiations.

However, the internal and external influences and the power of the peace-option stakeholders, and the new realities in the West Bank, will all contribute to the emergence of a realistic combination that gives a substantial precedence to the settlement track, while maintaining the slogans of resistance, though devoid of content.

The PA President would try to avoid any challenge to the legality of the conference decisions, which will enhance the chances of this scenario. Traditionally, the decisions and recommendations issued by the conference are of no great importance, as long as the leadership has taken their wanted legitimacy and cover from the conference. Eventually, the leadership will implement what they desire, according to their own criteria and estimations. Who knows! The Seventh General Conference may has to wait three years or even twenty years to be convened and hold “this Authority accountable”?!

Suggestions and Recommendations
1. It is important to convene the Sixth Conference and to determine the duration of its effective term, in order to reconvene and be held periodically.

2. To Adopt specific criteria for membership in accordance with national and ethical considerations; that will respectively contribute to restoring the values of efficiency and giving; and to devote the institutional-structure to the internal reformation and re-arrangement of the movement.

3. To eliminate corruption, as well as aspects of the political money employment within the movement.

4. To continue in adopting armed resistance in the movement’s political program.

5. To call for national reconciliation based on the Document of National Accord and the Mecca agreement, and to give priority to reorganizing the internal Palestinian scene, and to the reformation or rebuilding of the PLO and its institutions.