Fatah officials organized several marches as a show of strength and support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas several hours before his meeting with United States President Barack Obama in the White House on Monday.
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The timing of the marches, which took place in Ramallah, El Bireh, Bethlehem and Nablus, was no accident. The participants, who numbered in the thousands, carried photographs of Abbas and Yasser Arafat, as well as the flags of Palestine and Fatah. In Al-Manara Square, Ramallah’s main city square, several marchers set fire to a photograph of Mohammed Dahlan, a former high-ranking Fatah official who was removed from its ranks and now heads a struggle against Abbas from within.
Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah participated in the march in Ramallah together with several ministers, high-ranking government officials, PLO Executive Committee members and members of Fatah’s Central Committee. High-ranking Fatah officials told Haaretz that the statements made at the march by the various official spokesmen contained nothing new and repeated the stances that Abbas takes at every opportunity: the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution to the refugee problem on the basis of the Arab peace initiative.
The march served as a venue for conveying messages to several players − the U.S. first among them − that Abbas was not working alone and could not offer concessions that did not correspond to Palestinian national principles; and to Israel that Abbas is not weak, so bringing pressure to bear on him would not change his opinions.
The march was also intended to make it clear to Abbas’s opponents within Fatah that he is still considered the leader of the Palestinian people and chairman of Fatah and the PLO, which conducts talks in the name of the Palestinian people.
Former deputy prime minister Dr. Nasser Al-Shaer, who is considered close to Hamas, spoke at the march in Nablus. He said that the Palestinians as a nation support Abbas as long as he insists on Palestinian national principles, and that they were confident that Abbas would not concede those principles at this point in his life.
Hassan Faraj, head of the Fatah youth movement in Ramallah, told Haaretz that the marches had taken place at a sensitive time, and that while the PA chairman was visiting Washington “we support Abu Mazen [Abbas] and encourage him not to surrender to extortion or pressure from the U.S. and Israel, since the stances expressed by the Palestinian president are the bottom line of the Palestinian national demands and a red line. No other concessions can be offered on the core issues, and we will make it clear to Abu Mazen that even at the price of the talks’ failure, we, as members of the Palestinian people, will bear the responsibility even if it costs us another intifada.”
It should be noted that while the sides are dealing with the issue of the talks and their implications, some in Ramallah are asking who the next leader of Fatah and the Palestinian people will be. This is because of disagreements within Fatah regarding the appointment of a deputy for Abbas and preparations for the future, since he will be marking his 79th birthday in a few days.