Fatah Concerned Israel May Torpedo Its Party Convention in Ramallah

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Mohammed Dahlan.Credit: AP

Doubts about Israel's position regarding the convention of the Fatah Central Committee in Ramallah next month have arisen among officials close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas following Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's recent interview with a Palestinian newspaper in which he attacked the PA's president.

The committees' convention is dependent on Israel granting hundreds of the committee's delegates, who are set to arrive from abroad, entry permits into the West Bank.  

In a Monday interview with Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, Lieberman said that he supports the two-state solution, but blamed Abbas for the failure in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, saying that he had evaded taking advantage of opportunities.

"Abbas is not interested in a solution for the Palestinian people," Lieberman said. "He is only interested in his personal legacy and the assets owned by himself and his family in Amman, Qatar and Ramallah."

Abbas has stepped up efforts in recent weeks to hold the Fatah committee convention, during which delegates will choose members for positions in the party's top institutes. Some 1,500 delegates are set to participate in the convention, including hundreds from the Gaza Strip and from refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

The importance of Israel's position regarding the convention lies with the fact that the entry of delegates from the Gaza Strip and the Allenby crossing to Ramallah requires Israel consent. Without it, only delegates from the West Bank will be able to take part in the event, rendering irrelevant, and making it less likely to serve Abbas' interests.

The Fatah convention, which has been postponed a number of times following internal disputes, will take place against the backdrop of a contest between Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan, a former party member who seems to have recently won the support of a number of Arab countries and a renewed influence in the Gaza Strip. Abbas would like to keep Dahlan away from Fatah's institutions and inject new, younger blood to its Central Committee.

Israeli security and diplomatic sources told Haaretz that Israel has yet to formulate a policy on the matter, adding that it hadn’t received yet a formal request to allow delegates through the crossings. However, Israeli officials are aware of the implications of not allowing the delegates into the West Bank, and that such an outcome may harm Abbas' standing.

Abbas' troubles aren’t limited to Israel. A senior Fatah official told Haaretz that Hamas, which controls Gaza, may prevent Fatah officials from leaving the Strip for the Ramallah conference. The same goes for Egypt and Jordan, which could block delegates' departure via the Rafah crossing into the Strip and then on to Ramallah or from the Allenby crossing into the West Bank, he added.

"There's no doubt that it's a complex issue that is also dependent on political and diplomatic considerations," the official added.

Fatah officials also noted Abbas' Monday meeting in Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his trip later in the week to Qatar. These two countries are able to influence Hamas' position regarding the delegates' departure to the convention, as well as the issue of intra-Palestinian reconciliation, which likely to remain unsolved in the near future.   

Abbas is also challenged within his party, where some see the convention as one meant to settle scores with Dahlan rather than an opportunity to discuss Fatah's planned policy.

Without a diplomatic horizon and against the backdrop of regional developments, the Palestinians are "at a major crossroads today," a party official said. "As a central and leading party, Fatah needs to decide where it's heading, but unfortunately that's not happening. Everyone is preoccupied with Dahlan."

Haaretz has learned that Fatah activists, especially among the generation identified with the West Bank leadership and supporters of Marwan Barghouti, are trying to promote moves on a diplomatic and political level.

"The Palestinian people are asking where we head to from here, if we're fighting, in what form and way, and if not, what the alternatives are," said a source close to Barghouti, who has been jailed in Israel since 2002. "We are obligated to answer these questions, and that does not appear to be happening."

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