Abbas must iron out tensions at home and abroad

Abbas must iron out tensions at home and abroad
4 min read
19 Dec, 2016
Comment: Abbas must do all he can to smooth out relations between Ramallah and various Arab capitals ahead of the Paris conference this week, writes Daoud Kuttab
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses members at the 7th Fatah Congress in November [AFP]
The successful conclusion of the seventh Fatah congress has mandated a new set of priorities that must be tackled by President Abbas and the Palestinian leadership.

Naturally, the issue of the implementation of the reconciliation agreement with Hamas is a national priority. The Fatah congress saw a warm rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas and this must be built on.

Seven years ago when the sixth Fatah congress was convened in Bethlehem, the Hamas military wing refused to allow Fatah delegates to leave the Gaza Strip. This time around, not only were Fatah Gazans able to come, but Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal sent a message of congratulation to the congress which was read by a West Bank Fatah member elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Mahmoud Abbas responded positively to the Hamas overtures and in his major speech mentioned the Islamic movement four times, in what was generally a unifying tone.

Parallel to unity with Hamas, is the need to mend some of the rough edges that have developed over the past few years between Palestine and some of its closest Arab allies.

The tension between both sides was evident, with Fatah ignoring private and public calls by its Arab friends to reincorporate Mohammad Dahlan into the Fatah family or to postpone the holding of the congress.

Another idea that was made public by Israel TV was the fact that the Arab quartet (Saudi, UAE, Egypt and Jordan) had indicated they would like to see Naser al-Qudwa as the successor to Abbas. While al-Qudwa was reelected to Fatah, those who emerged with the most votes from the Fatah elections were Marwan Barghouti and Jibril Rajoub.
The Fatah congress saw a warm rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas and this must be built on
Fatah members and their supporters heartily approved of the Fatah congress convening without Dahlan. As a result, it would be counterproductive for the Arab countries to remain hung up on issue, and they would do better to move on to agreement on the wider issues effecting both Palestine and the Arab world.

Coming out of a successful congress, Mahmoud Abbas must call on a reinvigorated Fatah movement, and hopefully a more unified Palestinian community and its Arab allies, to push more forcefully for an end to the Israeli occupation.

A session of the Palestine National Council is due to take place within three months of the Fatah congress, and Palestinians are hoping that agreement on a national unity government will be reached. This should be followed up immediately with presidential and parliamentary elections in Palestine.

While the differences between Ramallah and the various Arab capitals are not insurmountable, doing so will require significant effort, time and wisdom especially from the Palestinian side. It may take some time for the sense of irritation to disappear, but it is important that President Abbas gives this issue priority, and takes the initiative in patching up his relationship with his Arab allies.

Resolving the inter-Palestinian split and nurturing relations with the Arab world will also improve Palestinians' ability to take on the real problem of the decades old illegal Israeli occupation and the settlement.
Mahmoud Abbas would be wise to organise a tour of major Arab capitals before the Paris meeting
The French initiative - a meeting of foreign ministers in Paris on 21 December, is an important part of this effort.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is refusing to attend this international meeting, it is important that the three levels of this meeting are supported. French sources say that the Paris effort is focused on helping to continue the building of the institutions of the Palestinian state, the economic incentives needed for peace and the role of civil society in the peace process. 

Germany has been asked to lead the effort on building the Palestinian state, and Sweden is asked to work with Palestinian and international NGOs while EU leadership in Brussels is tasked with developing the Palestinian economic strategy.

To boost action in these fields, the Palestinians must be able to go to Paris with at least some positive signals on both the domestic Palestinian front, and the international the Arab front.

Mahmoud Abbas would be wise to organise a tour of major Arab capitals before the Paris meeting, in order to give the indication that Palestinians are going to Paris united, both internally and externally.

Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on @daoudkuttab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.