Palestinian Internal Strife and What it Means for Israel

Instead of calling for a two-state solution, perhaps the international community should demand that Abbas and his Fatah faction get their act together and include Israel in the show.

By: Khaled Abu Toameh, The Gatestone Institute

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is once again facing insurrection — this time from the young guard in his ruling Fatah faction.

Even autocracy has its limits, and after many years of being gagged, Fatah’s young guard is finding its voice.

This renewed power struggle between the young and the old guard is probably a positive sign. It seems to signal the Palestinians wish to see new faces in power. However, just because members of this faction wish to see a “changing of the guards at the Palestinian palace” does not mean that they have changed their attitude towards Israel.

This young guard, in fact, is neither interested in, nor authorized to, give up the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees — or even take the basic step of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

In short, the actors might change, but the same show will go on.

But change is sometimes good. Injecting new blood into the old and corrupt political system known as the Palestinian Authority might be a start.

So who is behind this move to introduce changes into the Palestinian leadership and what is the goal of that drive? Will the effort have any impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

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The latest campaign is being waged by senior Fatah officials belonging to the Fatah Revolutionary Council – one of the factions’ two important decision-making bodies (the second is the Fatah Central Committee). The Revolutionary Council, Fatah’s legislative body, has more than 80 members, most of whom are regarded as representatives of the young guard in the faction.

knife terror

A Palestinian terrorist from the PA-ruled territories. (AP)

Last week, more than half the members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council signed a petition calling for a “correctional revolution” in their faction. Some Palestinians see the petition as marking the beginning of a “revolution within a revolution.” The petition, which calls for major reforms in Fatah, is first and foremost directed against Abbas and his old guard colleagues in the Palestinian leadership.

The petition carries the signatures of several Fatah officials who until recently were considered Abbas loyalists. Abbas is thus being challenged even by those who were until now considered within Fatah among his staunch supporters. This challenge joins the one issued by several other Fatah officials who have come out in public against Abbas’s autocratic rule.


Terrorists belonging to Tanzim, the militant faction of Fatah. (AP)

The petition signed by the Fatah “rebels” calls for holding long-overdue elections for the faction and accuses Abbas of marginalizing young leaders and refusing to share powers. Divisions and internal squabbling in Fatah have effectively paralyzed its ability to hold new elections or approve reforms and changes. That is another reason why Fatah is not keen on the idea of elections. Under the current circumstances, Hamas’s chances of winning remain extremely high.

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Moreover, the Fatah mess has created massive schism. Never, in its 50 years of existence, has Fatah been so divided. Some of its top brass have already defected to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Some quit Fatah because they lost hope in its ability to reform and get rid of the icons of corruption in the faction. Others went to Hamas and Islamic Jihad because they support the armed struggle against Israel and are not prepared for any compromise.

The internecine Fatah war has breached the bounds of the faction, and even of the Palestinians. This strife should gain the attention all involved in efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After all, Fatah is the Palestinian party that is regarded as Israel’s “peace partner.” Moreover, this is the faction that claims it wants to lead the Palestinians towards statehood. The international community is doing business with Fatah. What happens within Fatah’s walls should therefore be of intense international concern.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (L), President Francois Hollande and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Paris ahead of conference to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which Jerusalem opposed. (Stephane de Sakutin/AP)

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (L), President Francois Hollande and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Paris ahead of conference to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which Jerusalem opposed. (Stephane de Sakutin/AP)

The “revolution within a revolution” taking place within Fatah ought to set off alarm bells in the international community. Fatah’s extreme current weakness casts serious doubt on its ability to deliver peace with Israel and oversee the establishment of a Palestinian state. One might look back just a single decade and remember that in only 2006, Fatah’s venality caused it to lose the Palestinian parliamentary election in the West Bank and caused Fatah’s collapse and its forcible expulsion from the Gaza Strip. The big winner: Hamas.

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The international community, however, is busy burying its head in the sand of Abbas’s very messy backyard. The participants at the Middle East peace conference held in Paris last week may have missed the latest revolt against the PA president. Had they been paying attention, instead of calling for a two-state solution, they might have demanded that Abbas and his Fatah faction get their acts together and include Israel in the show. Perhaps they also would have mentioned that this ought to happen before Hamas takes over the West Bank and creates yet another Islamist regime there.