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By Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh: 

During the past year (2008) and at the present, so much talk was raised with respect to the convening of Fatah movement’s sixth general organizational convention. The movement had held its first three general conventions in 1967, 1968, and 1971, respectively. Fatah movement also held its fourth general convention in 1980 and its fifth general convention in 1989. It had been apparent, at least for some considerable time, that Fatah movement had been experiencing a state of disintegration and flabbiness, which necessitates expediting the call for convening its general convention and reorganizing its internal affairs.

In September 2004, the Fatah movement’s Revolutionary Council (RC) recommended the convening of the movement’s Sixth General Convention, and a preparatory commission was formed so as to pursue the matter in detail. However, the commission’s work or performance has been so slow for various reasons. It is true that many cadres of Fatah actually count on the general convention to precipitate the required organizational and political change. But it is so clear that Fatah’s most important representative and legislative body, i.e. the General Convention (GC), had been actually neutralized and/or marginalized for decades since the 1971 convention. And since that date and throughout the 37-year subsequent period, it has not been able to convene save only twice.

Thus, the mechanisms and venues of the decision-making process had, in practice, been controlled predominantly by the movement’s chairman and, to a less extent, the movement’s Central Committee and Revolutionary Council. And due to the fact that the election of such leadership levels can be held only during the general convention, the latter’s absence allowed the incumbent leaders to stay in their leading positions for long years without any apparent change.

The Necessity for the Convention
It has been necessary to call for and convene the Sixth General Convention of the Fatah movement, nearly 20 years after the last Convention, and after the movement, that led the Palestinian national struggle, had experienced grave events and challenges. Also, the course of Palestinian politics has witnessed tremendous changes, shifts, and probably some transformations; Fatah’s leadership embraced new notions, commitments, and accords that contradict the original or initial national principles, launch pads, and revolutionary literature and heritage of Fatah.

After the emergence of the Islamic resistance movement (Hamas), which defeated Fatah in the 2005 municipal and 2006 legislative (parliamentarian) elections, it has been apparently necessary to redefine the Fatah movement’s political compass and course, to restore the organizational cohesion and coherence of the movement, to inject new and young blood in Fatah’s leadership levels, to tackle the Flabbiness, disintegration, and corruption that spawned throughout the movement’s structure and ranks, and restore the confidence of the Palestinian public in Fatah’s national enterprise and political course, which was exposed to a lot of tremors.

There is also an apparent desire, by some Arab and international parties, to see that Fatah is able to restore order in its own house, recover its cohesion and capacity for initiative as a more acceptable and closer movement to the official Arab and international policies regarding the Palestinian question and also as the faction that assumed the burden of pursuing the settlement process, the Oslo Accords, and the Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, Fatah’s flabbiness, disintegration, and decline will necessarily lead to the rise of the Hamas movement and Hamas’s inheritance of the Palestinian people leadership, i.e. the disruption of the settlement course and the fall of the Palestinian leadership reins in the Islamists’ hands, which is clearly unacceptable by the status quo official Arab and international systems.

The Elements of Disruption and Delay
During the past long period, several dates have been repeatedly set and/or actually reset as dates of the coming Sixth General Convention; thus, the Convention was delayed from one month to another. Several factors have prevented the “Convention” from taking place:

1. The disruption of the ‘Convention’ for nearly 20 years resulted in the accumulation of so much of thorny organizational matters, complex overdue issues, and political problematics that require a minimum degree of reasonable internal accord before the “Convention;” else these elements could serve as its detonating factors, which in turn increases the risk of more deterioration and decline.

2. The state of organizational flabbiness, disarray, and disintegration, in Fatah, led to various penetrations in its structure; and Fatah became a “faction for that who belongs to no faction.” This created a soft organization of nearly a quarter of a million members, lacking the standards of discipline and loyalty.

Numerous members of Fatah are there but for personal benefits or interests, that are only obtainable because Fatah leads the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA). And the flaccid state of Fatah compromised its ability to monitor or discipline its leading elements, audit them, hold them accountable, or even punish them if necessary. This also instigated corruption among the organization’s upper level officials that had become nearly immune from removal; and that, in turn, contributed to the formation of internal trends or sub-factions centered around figures or symbols, some of them seek influence, resources, and privileges from external powers.

In such situations, the mere holding of this Convention could lead to “settling  the accounts” internally, and to the fall of some figures and rise of others; a process that Fatah leadership really fears its consequences. In fact, this leadership would rather prefer to implement such changes in a prearranged manner, so as to result in either “calculated” or “under control” outcome.

Time and again, Fatah leaders acknowledge the state of flabbiness and corruption that afflicts their movement. For instance, Sa’ib Erekat concedes that Fatah “endures an unprecedented state of internal problems and conflicts,” whereas Hatim Abdul Qadir considers that Fatah had “reached a very difficult situation.”

Then, came the scandal of smuggling mobile phones, in which Rawhi Fattuh the former chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and President Mahmoud Abbas’s advisor was accused; an incidence that revealed the persistence of corruption episodes which pervade throughout Fatah’s top ranks.

Commenting on these episodes, the chairman of Fatah movement’s supreme tribunal, Rafiq Al Natshe, said: “corruption and corrupts are still in control of the Fatah movement,” hoping that the Sixth Convention will expel them. Marwan Barghouthi, in turn, regarded Fatah’s top leadership responsible for the corruption of the movement’s leaders, called for a genuine change in the leadership, and called for electing new faces and symbols that have no ties to “corruption, incompetence, and failure.”

3. The problematic inter-generational struggle for succession and the ambitions of Fatah’s young rank and file to reach the leading levels is exacerbated by pioneers’ and the old guard’s concerns that the movement may lose its compass and spirit, as well as their concerns that they may lose their own status and positions or they may become at risk of being held accountable regarding corrupt financial and organizational conduct.

4. There is a need for formidable balance between approving the leadership’s political course towards negotiation and settlement and taking decisions related to Fatah’s vision for continuing struggle. Many of the movement’s rank and file, as well as some symbol figures, tend to criticize the settlement path and to push for reasserting the choice of resistance. In the meantime, the Fatah’s ‘moderate’ trend, lead by Abu Mazin, find that it is ‘at odds’ with itself and ‘embarrassed’ for its commitment made to the Israelis, Americans, and the so called ‘international community.’

Therefore, this trend has sought to delay the convening of the 6th Convention to overcome this potential crisis, and also work to ensure a Convention majority that supports its orientation. Some, in this trend, were motivated to use the “political cash” in order to attract several cadres into its lot, but many members of Fatah have been intractable to various temptations.

On the other hand, Nassir Al-Qidwa was forced to resign from membership of the Preparatory Commission, and as a head of the committee commissioned to formulate the movement’s new political platform, due to major differences with some members of the Fatah’s Central Committee in early April 2008. It seems that the discussions at that time led to the exclusion of ideas on the need to transform Fatah from a national liberation movement into civil movement or political party. Such ideas have already been submitted twice in writing by Mr. Al-Qidwa.

Despite what Nabeel Sha‘ath said, after the Preparatory Commission has completed its preparations for the Convention in Amman on June 12, 2008, that Fatah’s new political platform draft was approved, as well as the new national reconstruction program, which includes the movement’s strategies towards economic and social policies, and its plans for development and youth; the expanded Preparatory Commission’s meeting, headed by Abu Mahir, Muhammad Ghuneim, on August 3 and 4, 2008, in Amman, adopted a recommendation that calls for reviewing the political platform and its political agenda document, and refused the generalized formulations and texts that was put forward by Nabeel Sha‘ath in the political platform which, in turn, abandoned the resistance choice, in its first formulation, and avoided to refer to the principle of long-term people’s war of liberation, and confused civil with military resistance.

In addition, this meeting called to reconsider the negotiation and the settlement course, to restore the deep Arab and Islamic roots of the Palestinian cause, and to explicitly and directly bring up the term ‘resistance.’ Also, “the Fatah leaders participating in the meeting launched a harsh attack against what they described as Dayton’s line amongst the movement’s ranks.”

Thus, it seems that winds are not blowing as desired by President Mahmoud Abbas, who naturally would not call or convene the Fatah’s Convention that would result in an outcome that contradicts his own political course or orientation and that of the movement’s predominant moderate trend (wing); such a convention would put forward an approach closer to that of the Movement of Islamic Resistance (Hamas) rather than to that of the current Fatah’s leadership.

Several efforts to reconcile various wordings were attempted and resulted in putting a 90-page policy paper on the table for discussion in the Preparatory Commission meeting which was held around mid-November, 2008, in addition to another six nearly final papers. The policy paper reasserts Fatah’s refusal of the Zionist project in Palestine and reinstates the principles that the Fatah movement’s adopted at its inception. Nonetheless, the policy paper does not position itself in the political decision making spot; and keeps the door partially open for the articulation of the movement’s future policies and directions.

5. Fatah suffers of the absence of its historical and unanimously accepted leadership, especially after Yassir Arafat’s demise, whose leadership was decisive and capable of track identification or determination, such as the decision to convene the Convention should that matter had been decided; though that particular leadership style was, to a large extent, responsible for the state of flabbiness, weak structure and institutional performance within Fatah, tendency towards individualism, and the marginalization of the General Convention.

6. Also, there is a problem related to identifying the location of the Convention and the political and organizational implications that it bears. Should it be held in Jericho where there is the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Israeli occupation, and the Fatah’s capacity, in the occupied territories, to mobilize a large number of cadres and partisans; or should it be held in Jordan or in Egypt which implies better chances for Fatah’s members abroad to participate in the Convention, but this could also imply some potential influence on the Convention proceedings by the governments of the host countries.

Lately, some leaked news talked of strong differences, within the Preparatory Commission, with regard to the place of the Convention. It was also repeatedly mentioned that five members of Fatah’s Central Committee and the movement’s regional branch leaders from Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon demand that the Convention should be held outside the occupied Palestinian territories, whereas the rest of the Central Committee’s members, including President Mahmoud Abbas, maintain that it should be held in the territories.

7. There also is the problem of determining the number of the Convention participants and their selection criteria; are they supposed to be 1200 or 1500 as desired by many old guards in the Fatah’s Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council; or should they be around 3500 participants as demanded by so many of the young generation leaders, such as Marwan Barghouthi? What should the share of the military members in the Convention participation? And who are the Fatah’s members that are entitled to selection and nomination?

This problem has been always present but in varying degrees, because determining the quality or orientation of the Convention’s participants and their numbers will, to a large extent, shapes in advance the context through which the Convention will elect the Fatah’s president, its central committee, and its revolutionary council.

On October 23, 2008, the Central Committee of Fatah approved the number of the movement members, who are entitled to attend and participate in the Convention proceedings, in proximity of 1200 members from home and abroad, but the number has been a subject of opposition and conflict.

8. It seems that some Fatah leaders wish to convene the Convention after closing the Palestinian divisions and ‘restoring’ the Gaza Strip from Hamas’s control. Staging some sort of ceremonial or celebratory atmosphere, in regard to regaining the initiative in the internal Palestinian dispute by Fatah, is not the only motivation or reason behind that desire. In fact, a number of such leaders wish to submit or offer an accomplishment to the Convention so as to maintain their own positions and to escape an expected acrimonious audit for their failure and miserable performance throughout the military confrontation between Fatah and Hamas in June 2007, that eventually led to the latter’s prevalence and taking over Gaza Strip.

It also seems that the lengthy and laborious work of the Preparatory Commission did not manage to quench the states of discord, conflict, and disruption. There are still concerns that the 6th Convention may ensue more divisions within the movement, or that its convening will “explode the movement,” to quote one of the Fatah’s leaders, who added that the movement’s higher-ups know that, but they feel embarrassed of acknowledging that.
Thus, the Fatah 6th Convention will remain subject to debate unless an accurate equation or balance has been reached so as to, at least, maintain or guarantee the considerations and interests of the major players and the effective trends within the Fatah movement.

This article is a translation of the arabic article published by Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh on Aljazeera.Net on 1-5-2009