Despite Internal Division, Palestinian President Abbas Unanimously Reelected as Fatah Head

Vote comes as Palestinian leadership convenes for Fatah's general conference in Ramallah.

Under the slogans of his Fatah party, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, is greeted by fellow Fatah members as he arrives for the opening session of the Fatah party conference, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Under the slogans of his Fatah party, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, is greeted by fellow Fatah members as he arrives for the opening session of the Fatah party conference, in the West B Nasser Nasser, AP

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was on Tuesday unanimously reelected president of the Fatah movement at its seventh general conference in Ramallah.  He had been expected to deliver the gathering’s keynote speech later in the evening, but it was postponed until Wednesday.

Though there are 1,411 members of this body, only 1,320 members are attending, after dozens of members who live in Gaza and in Lebanese refugee camps were denied entry permits by Israel. Some other activists are boycotting the confab, while a few, who are identified with Mohammed Dahlan, an Abbas rival, were not permitted to attend.

The conference, which will run through Saturday, is taking place under the shadow of serious disagreements and threats of schism in the movement that have sparked clashes throughout the West Bank. The absence of a diplomatic horizon and the ongoing rift between the West Bank and Gaza Strip is also weighing on the atmosphere.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (3rd R) attends the opening session of Fatah congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah November 29, 2016.
Reuters via Palestinian President Office

Convening the conference, which last met in 2009, has become a key goal for Abbas. His associates say that holding the congress sends a message to both Arab states and Israel that Abbas still holds the reins and sets the Palestinian agenda.

But his rivals within Fatah charge that he is trying to exploit the conference to bolster his rule and sideline opponents, because he lacks any answer to the key question of how Fatah and the PA leadership should pursue their struggle against Israel.

A senior Fatah official told Haaretz that the very holding of the conference is an achievement for the Palestinian president because over the past few months there had been pressure from Arab states to postpone it in an effort to bring about reconciliation within Fatah, particularly with Dahlan. This official said the primary reason for the tension between Abbas and Cairo, which has pushed for reconciliation, is Abbas’ refusal to restore Dahlan to the movement’s ranks.

The conference delegates will elect two party organs: the 130-member Revolutionary Council and the 21-member Central Committee, which is Fatah’s ruling body.