Fatah’s Status Quo Congress

HERZLIYA – The Sixth Fatah Congress, held recently in Bethlehem, was an important event for the future of the Arab-Israeli conflict and for the Palestinian movement. But a careful look at the results of the Congress’s elections to Fatah’s Central Committee yields a picture that is quite different from what many will conclude about the meeting.

The Congress seemed to demonstrate three main points: Fatah has moved toward peace with Israel; it has adopted democratic procedures; and a new generation, or even a specific group called the Young Guard, has assumed leadership. But this interpretation is in large part wrong.

In terms of its approach to peace, the new Central Committee is roughly the same as the old one. Of the 18 elected members (Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will appoint four more later), no more than two (Nabil Shaath and Muhammad Shtayyeh) are really moderate. At least four (Muhammad al-Ghuneim, Salim al-Zanoun, Abbas Zaki, and Nasser Kidra) are hardliners, and most of the rest follow pretty much the traditional Fatah line.

As for democracy, while the Congress was certainly a step forward from the past (when Fatah leader Yasir Arafat could handpick Fatah’s leadership), real limits remain. Depending on one’s definition, Abbas chose between one-third and one-half of the delegates. The majority of the Central Committee, not surprisingly, are Abbas’s close associates and supporters. The fact that only one out of 18 members will be from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which contains about half of all the Palestinians that Fatah governs, also skews the results.