Imprisoned Marwan Barghouti Heads Palestinian Fatah Party Vote

Abbas achieves major goals at Fatah conference by forcing main rival Dahlan and his supporters out of the movement.

Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti attends a deliberation at Jerusalem Magistrate's court, in this January 25, 2012 file photo.
Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti attends a deliberation at Jerusalem Magistrate's court, in this January 25, 2012 file photo. Ammar Awad, Reuters

The Fatah movement’s seventh conference came to an end on Thursday night with elections for the organization’s two main bodies – the 23-member Central Committee and 130-member Revolutionary Council (considered to be Fatah’s parliament.)

In the elections for the Central Committee, the dominant body in Fatah, over 40 candidates were running for 18 seats. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was unanimously reelected as the chairman of both the Fatah movement and the Central Committee when the conference opened in Ramallah last Tuesday. He has the authority to appoint two other members of the Central Committee, one of whom will most likely be his spokesman Nabil Abu Rodeina.

The votes of the 1,311 delegates who attended the convention, which last convened in 2009, will decide who else fills the Central Committee. The conference hall and hotels in Ramallah were busy with deals and alliances being made prior to the vote.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressing Fatah members during the party conference in Ramallah, November 30, 2016.
Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

The Fatah conference was held under the shadow of the conflict between Abbas and his main rival for the leadership of Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority, Mohammed Dahlan. Both the PA and Israel feared that demonstrations and violent confrontations would mar the days of the conference, but the large numbers of Palestinian security forces under Abbas’ control deployed in Ramallah and other cities in the West Bank averted any confrontations.

According to unofficial results from within the conference, the largest number of votes was won by Marwan Barghouti, who insisted on running for the Central Committee despite being in an Israeli prison. Considered the “commander of the second intifada,” Barghouti is seen as representing an alternative to Abbas’ policies.

The second highest vote-getter was Jibril Rajoub, though, according to the Fatah charter, his placing doesn’t give him any advantage in the race to be appointed Abbas’ deputy. The Central Committee is the body that elects the deputy – and every other position.

The consensus in Ramallah was that the conference and the internal elections produced very few surprises and that Abbas achieved most of his main goals, in particular the ouster of Dahlan and his supporters from the movement. Abbas himself, now aged 81, received a mandate from the Fatah for five more years.

According to the unofficial election results, Mohammed Ashtiya, who is a senior member of the Fatah leadership, was also elected to the Central Committee, along with Saeb Erekat and Nasser al-Kidwa, the nephew of Yassir Arafat. As expected, two members trying to make a comeback, Nabil Shaath and Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), failed in their attempts to be elected to the committee.

Abbas’ next major battle will be the convening of the Palestinian National Council, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s legislature and highest authority, which comprises almost all the Palestinian factions, in order to advance elections for the PLO’s Executive Committee, the Palestinian parliament and even the presidency.

Given the sharp factionalism within the PLO, Abbas’ ability to take such major steps could depend on the cooperation of Hamas. The current head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshal, sent a welcoming message to the conference, in which he spoke of the importance of ending the rift between the two organizations.

The Hamas political bureau is expected to hold internal elections toward the end of the year, after which it will be clearer to what extent Hamas and Fatah are able to bridge their differences and mend the almost 10-year split between them.

In his keynote speech on Wednesday, Abbas did not set any new strategy, but only expressed hope that the new American administration would present a fair framework for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and spoke of the Arab peace initiative as the basis for any future peace agreement with Israel.