by Hugh Fitzgerald
After Mahmoud Abbas made public his list of candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections, consisting of Fatah members unswerving in their loyalty to him, there was rebellion in the ranks. Angry Fatah members gave violent vent to their fury at Abbas’ choices, with gunfire and arson. “Palestinian Elections: Abbas faces ‘revolt’ over Fatah’s electoral list,” by Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, April 3, 2021:
…In the Shuafat refugee camp, north of Jerusalem, arsonists set fire to a women’s center headed by Jihad Abu Zneid, a leading Fatah activist and former member of the parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The incident, which took place on Friday morning, is also believed to be related to disputes among prominent Fatah activists ahead of the polls….
Hatem Abdel Qader, a veteran Fatah official and former PA minister, complained that only two candidates from east Jerusalem were on the faction’s list. “The Fatah leadership does not care about Jerusalem,” he charged.
Why did Abbas select so few candidates from east Jerusalem to run on his Fatah ticket? It was a spectacular mistake. There are 328,000 Arabs in east Jerusalem, 50% more than in Hebron, the largest Arab city in the West Bank. And there are 132 seats up for grabs in the Palestinian Parliament. Yet in choosing to include only two from Jerusalem in his list of 132 candidates, Abbas managed to antagonize Fatah members in east Jerusalem who feel slighted by his selection. He ought to have made sure to include candidates from each Palestinian city, in numbers roughly proportionate to their populations. Given that east Jerusalem is by far the most populous Palestinian center, not two candidates but ten would have been more appropriate. And he ought to have chosen five candidates from each of the other major Palestinian cities — Hebron, Nablus, and Jenin. It’s not too late for him to revise his list, but Abbas is so concerned with not losing face, as he defines it, that he’s likely to stick with the candidates he’s already selected.
Another senior Fatah official from east Jerusalem, Talal Abu Afifeh, also complained about the lack of representation of Jerusalem Arabs in the faction’s list. “Sadly, Jerusalem, the occupied capital, is not sufficiently represented in the list,” he said. “On the other hand, the presence of weak figures on the list does not bode well for Fatah. I believe that Fatah won’t win more than 30 seats in the 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council.”
The crisis in Fatah reached its peak last week after the faction’s jailed leader, Marwan Barghouti, decided to join forces with Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of Yasser Arafat and former PA foreign minister.
Kidwa was recently expelled from Fatah after announcing his intention to form his own list for the parliamentary election. The Barghouti-Kidwa alliance is seen by many Palestinians as a major threat to Abbas’s rule over Fatah.
If Abu Afifeh’s prediction is correct, and Abbas’ Fatah (as opposed to the rival Fatah of Marwan Barghouti) only manages to win 22% of the seats in Parliament, cries for Abbas to resign will grow louder. If it turns out that the Barghouti-Kidwa list, consisting both of Fatah members who have defected from Abbas, and other unaffiliated candidates, manages to win more seats than Abbas’ list, which right now seems likely, that should not merely cause an outcry, but a demand for his resignation.
Barghouti, who is serving a five-life term sentence plus 40 years in an Israeli prison for his role in terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada, is not running in the parliamentary election. Instead, his wife, Fadwa Barghouti, is No. 2 on the Barghouti-Kidwa list.
Barghouti’s associates said that he is planning to present his candidacy for the PA presidential election, slated for July 31.
If Barghouti’s slate wins more parliamentary seats than the list fielded by Abbas, this will likely provide him with the momentum needed to defeat Abbas in the presidential race. How he would then govern from an Israeli prison is an interesting question, but there have been such cases before, though none involving imprisonment for murder. James Michael Curley continued to serve part of his fourth term as Mayor of Boston from a prison cell. It is possible that Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, would stand in for him, while he would deliver his orders to her from his Israeli prison. But if having a woman playing such an important political role would disturb too many male Palestinians, there are many males in the Barghouti clan who could do the job, and are waiting in the wings. The Barghoutis are one of the oldest, largest, and most prominent families in “Palestine.”
A third Fatah-affiliated list contesting the parliamentary election is headed by Mohammed Dahlan, an archrival of Abbas who was expelled from Fatah 10 years ago. The list, called Al-Mustaqbal (The Future), consists of dozens of disgruntled Fatah activists from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem….
Mohammed Dahlan, who used to lead 20,000 Fatah members in Gaza (when it was known as “Dahlanistan”), ran afoul of Mahmoud Abbas, who managed to have him tried and convicted for “embezzlement.” This conviction makes it impossible for Dahlan to run for president. But he may run anyway, defying Abbas to enforce the law on eligibility. Dahlan, who has lived in the United Arab Emirates for the past decade, where he has served as an advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, still has many Fatah members who have remained loyal to him. He recently scored a great public relations coup by arranging to have the UAE supply Gaza with 50,000 doses of the Sputnik vaccine, and this has led to a spike in his popularity. In public opinion polls, he would defeat Abbas with over 60% of the vote. And so would Marwan Barghouti.
Perhaps Abbas will come to his senses and change — there is still time — his list of candidates, taking care to choose some (half?) for their competence rather than their loyalty, and making sure that east Jerusalem is well represented among the candidates. This might win back some of the disaffected. But it’s not like Abbas to admit to any mistakes.
Abbas had a bright idea – he would call parliamentary and presidential elections to win Biden’s favor. Now that bright idea has him, and by the throat. He has made mistake after mistake.
As to the Presidential election, both Marwan Barghouti and Mohammed Dahlan would, if going head-to-head against Abbas, win 60% of the vote to Abbas’ 40%. Abbas is going about the presidential election the wrong way, trying to keep Dahlan from being eligible to run because of his criminal conviction. If Abbas cannot manage to disqualify both candidates – and it is hard to see how he can do that to Barghouti – he should instead try to make sure that both Barghouti and Dahlan run, so as to split the 60% of the electorate that is anti-Abbas, ideally down the middle, letting Abbas win with a plurality of only 40%. He can make quite a hypocritical show of his suddenly forgiving self: “We have been reconsidering the law that prevents Mohammed Dahlan from running for office. In light of his sincere repentance for mistakes of judgment he made many years ago, and because of his recent help in obtaining Covid-19 vaccines for residents of Gaza, we hereby declare that Mohammed Dahlan is allowed to present himself as a candidate for president of the Palestinian Authority.” That’s Mahmoud Abbas, generous to a fault. Big-hearted as all get-out. He’s 85, and it’s no joke, he really does intend to be President-For-Life.
First published in Jihad Watch.