Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas inaugurated the first Fatah convention in 20 years on Tuesday by urging his party to seek “a new start” in facing up to the missteps that led to its 2006 defeat by rival Hamas for control of the Gaza Strip.
Abbas cited “impasses” in the peace process and “losing touch” with the party’s support base as some of the reasons behind Fatah’s defeat to the Islamist movement. Before losing power in Gaza, Fatah had been the sole official representative of the Palestinian people.
Abbas went on to tell supporters that while the party prefers peace, it has the legal right to “legitimate resistance”.
“Just as we affirm our endorsement of the option of peace, we maintain our right to resort to legitimate resistance as guaranteed by international law,” he told the three-day conference. He added that a preference for peace “does not mean that we will remain impotent in the face of the destructive violations against the peace process”.
FRANCE 24 correspondent Annette Young in Jerusalem says the congress has two major aims. First, it must “rebrand” the party and rebuild its dwindling support base. The other is to “massively rewrite the party’s platform” – which essentially means deciding how the party should proceed in handling “Hamas on the one hand, and Israel on the other”, says Young.
A draft policy the party has drawn up will come up for a vote on Thursday.
Officials say the draft calls for new forms of resistance – such as civil disobedience – against the expansion of Israeli settlements and the construction of a wall in the West Bank that Israel says it needs for security but Palestinians view as an attempt to encroach on their land.
The draft allows for the option of “armed struggle” if talks with Israel fail, but Young says a notable development of the congress so far seems to be the apparent sidelining of the option of violent resistance, which used to be a central part of the party platform.
But she says the party is standing firm on its insistence that before the party returns to the negotiating table, Israel must halt all settlement activity in the West Bank.
The congress delegates are set to elect representatives to both the 21-member Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council, the party’s two main governing bodies.
But Fatah must first overcome divisiveness within its own ranks if it is to succeed at reforming from within.
The beginnings of a generational struggle are apparent as a faction called the “Young Guards” gains ascendancy, calling for wholesale reform of the party and it policies.
Young Guard member Raed Radwan wants a large-scale review of party policies and a clear way forward. “We want a credible political platform, [including] an alternative if negotiations fail,” he tells FRANCE 24.
And Radwan has little faith that senior Fatah members can bring about the needed change. “If the old leadership wins the election they won’t do anything until the next poll – that’s the way it is,” Radwan says. “Fatah doesn’t need this. The Palestinian Authority doesn’t need it, either. And, of course, neither do the Palestinian people.”
Nabil Amr, a candidate for the Fatah Central Committee, is in favour of bringing in new leadership, but says it is also important to present a united front. “The leadership has to present a clear political platform, something that the whole world can accept and support,” he says. “We’re close to having a Palestinian state, and there’s no time to waste with bad political decisions.”