Fatah congress gives Abbas an honourable exit plan

Fatah congress gives Abbas an honourable exit plan
4 min read
28 Nov, 2016
Comment: The congress will reflect the diversity of the Palestinian people, and leadership is likely to be handed over to a younger generation of new leaders, writes Daoud Kuttab
The Fatah congress is expected to be the last major gathering under Abbas' leadership [AFP]
When the sixth Fatah congress finally convened in Bethlehem in 2009 it was twenty years since the fifth congress had taken place.

At that event, delegates pledged to hold the congress more regularly, at least every four years. A satirical video produced by the Palestinian comedy group Wattan al-Wattar joked that the seventh congress would take place in 2509.
On the International Day for Solidarity with the Palestinian people - this Tuesday 29th November 2016, some 1,500 Fatah delegates will assemble in Ramallah for the seventh congress of Fatah, only a few years later than they had originally planned.
The congress will close the chapter on the possibility of renegade Fatah leader, Mohammad Dahlan ever returning to the movement he began with. Now based in the United Arab Emirates and with support from Egypt, Dahlan was able to gather supporters around him from both inside and outside the occupied territories, placing tremendous pressure on Fatah's leader Mahmoud Abbas.

This pressure included the loss of financial support from the wealthy gulf country, but Abbas weathered the pressure and rallied his own central committee around the concept that has made Fatah successful over the years, namely its independence from the influence of Arab and international friends.
Fatah's seventh congress also ushers in a relatively young leadership that has lived all their lives in the occupied territories, meaning that this will be a much different liberation movement than the one Arafat and company began in Kuwait back in 1960.

Of the 1,500 delegates, 1,100 are from within the occupied territories, a figure that represents 73 percent of all delegates. This is a reversal of the trend at previous of Fatah congresses, where the leaders from outside the occupied territories were the majority.
The congress will also reflect the diversity of the Palestinian people. One hundred and sixty seven, (11 percent) delegates are women, and 33 (2 percent) are Christians. Uri Davis, an Israeli Jew who was elected to the Revolutionary Council in the sixth congress in 2009 will also be present. 
They are poised to change the rules in such a way as to allow younger delegates to have a chance of being elected to the movement's top leadership positions.
The list of delegates was made public a week before the convening of the previously secretive movement, and includes 151 military cadres (50 of them retired), 44 members of Palestinian diplomatic missions, and 66 Palestinians who are serving prison terms in Israeli jails. Delegates represent 50 prisoners from the West Bank, and will have the proxy to vote on their behalf.
Leading prisoner Marwan Barghouti's wife, Fadwa and son Qassam are also delegates at the seventh congress, as are Abbas's sons Yasser and Tareq under the categories of businesspersons.
While a number of delegates were chosen by the Fatah leadership and approved by the central committee, nearly 312 delegates (21 percent - 200 from the West Bank and 112 from Gaza) were elected by Fatah cadres over the past two years and represent the youngest group of delegates at the congress that will be held in Ramallah.

This group is expected to have the strongest and most effective voice at tomorrow's event. They are poised to change the rules in such a way as to allow younger delegates to have a chance of being elected to the movement's top leadership positions.
Fatah's seventh congress also ushers in a relatively young leadership that has lived all their lives in the occupied territories
At present, Fatah reglations stipulate that a delegate must have been active with the movement for 15 years, in order to qualify to run for the powerful revolutionary council or the power-wielding central committee. Young delegates are hoping to reduce or even abandon this condition which has resulted in the movement being led largely by men over the age of 60.
Unlike the sixth congress when Hamas prevented delegates from leaving Gaza, the seventh congress will allow Fatah's Gaza leaders to travel to Ramallah, thanks to an agreement worked out with the Hamas leadership. By last week, many of the delegates had already made it to Ramallah by way of the Erez checkpoint.
The seventh congress is expected to be the last major gathering for the Palestinian leading national liberation movement under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas.

Although it is not clear whether the congress will produce a single successor to Abbas, the deliberations of the congress and the elections of the new leadership will provide an indication of who the future leaders will be.

The most likely team will likely be a younger more energetic group made up almost entirely from leaders who have lived all their lives under Israeli occupation. For Abbas, a founding member of the 51-year old movement, the seventh congress will allow him to decide the road map for his own exit and the direction, as well as the leadership that will succeed him.



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.