Anarchy still reigns within Fatah, but Abbas rule stable
Fatah's sixth convention opens in Bethlehem with disputes raging within over numbers of delegates.
Tuesday, the same day Fatah's sixth convention opened in Bethlehem, the head of Military Intelligence's research division told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas' government is stable. In Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz's view, no one currently threatens PA rule over the West Bank.
That is a big change from the army's view as recently as a year ago, when it was still claiming that if the Israel Defense Forces loosened its grip on the West Bank, it would take Hamas no more than 72 hours to seize control, just as it seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in June 2007.
But the West Bank's improved economy, the massive international support, the relative success of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's government and the intensive American training of PA security forces have all combined to bolster Abbas' position.
Nevertheless, the same is not true of the situation within Fatah. There, anarchy still reigns - as was evident, despite the PA's best efforts, at Tuesday's convention. Right up until the event opened at 10 A.M., disputes were raging within Fatah over how many delegates would be attending and who they would be.
The Palestinian media see such incidents as proof that Fatah remains the same Fatah. As one journalist put it, "this is an organization that can never change: an organization with a past, but without a future."
While that may yet prove true, the very fact that the convention is being held represents a victory of sorts: Fatah refused to bow to the dictates of Hamas, which sought to force it to cancel the event by refusing to allow delegates from Gaza to attend.
Nevertheless, the real test will come tomorrow - namely, whether the delegates succeed in changing the composition of Fatah's executive organs, whose leaders are widely loathed.
Tuesday, the crowd seemed to include an awful lot of the same old faces. Hundreds of additional delegates were added at the last moment, apparently in an effort to bolster the old-timers' camp. Moreover, some of the "young guard" - whose members are also all over 40 - have been making under-the-table deals with some of the old-timers, making it even harder to read the map. Even Palestinian analysts and longtime Fatah officials are reluctant to make any predictions.
Israel, for its part, is being careful not to do anything that would make it look like it was interfering in internal Palestinian affairs. And it received an unexpected boost in the image war from Hamas: After all, Israel gave permission for Fatah delegates from outside the West Bank to attend the convention; Hamas was the one who refused. It thus seems safe to bet that unlike in several incidents in the past, this time, no one in the army will suddenly decide to cause an uproar by carrying out an "urgent" arrest in the West Bank.