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Should Abbas' term be extended or is a change needed?

I won't be exaggerating when I say that the upcoming months are going to be critical in deciding the fate of the entire Palestinian political system, which was established after the signing of the Oslo agreement. These months can pave the way for a bright future or a dark one, depending on what's going to happen. During this period, it is possible for the Fatah movement to hold its seventh conference. This will be decided at a meeting held tomorrow, and the target date for the conference is 29 November, which marks the fateful partition decision and which is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. As for President Mahmoud Abbas, he is in a race against time until the conference is held, and the faster the better.

If the conference is held on that date, or another date close to it such as the first of January, it can either lead Fatah towards further decline and fragmentation or towards progress. There is a great possibility that Mohamed Dahlan would carry out his threat of not allowing Abu Mazen to "kidnap the Fatah conference" as he says, which means we are ahead for a regional confrontation especially that there are two teams; one that depends on Qatar and Turkey and the other which relies on the Arab Quarter. So, if things continue the way they are, there is a possibility that what happened in Balata and Amari refugee camps are just the beginning. May God protect us from what's coming next.

This means that other factions, civil society and active figures must take action before it's too late. They can't just be watching what is going on as if it does not concern them or as if they live somewhere else. It also makes no sense for Hamas to use this internal Fatah dispute to serve its narrow factional interests as when it allowed for the organising of a massive demonstration for Dahlan's followers in Gaza while at the same time refusing the organising of a demonstration by the group called "patriots to end the division" who wanted to call for an end of the division.

Unconfirmed information – I hope it is not real – has been leaked, saying that Dahlan and his followers intend to organise a special conference in Gaza at the same time as the seventh conference with a green light from Hamas. If this happens, it will be another step that would deepen the division even further making it look like it's location related (Gaza vs. West Bank) rather than it being the result of political and ideological differences and conflicting interests between Fatah and Hamas. This would be the most dangerous thing that can happen.

There are some people within Hamas and outside it who defend the movement's use of the Fatah dispute as a window that can help it fix its relations with Egypt, or at least can lead to opening the Rafah crossing more often, but this is like playing with fire, because the enmity between Hamas from one side and Dahlan and his Arab allies from the other is much more than the enmity of Hamas with Abbas and Fatah. It is in the interest of no one for Fatah to be fighting internally or for the Palestinian Arab relations to get worse, so there must be an intervention to prevent the deterioration of the situation.

There are two goals for which the president should hurry and hold the Fatah conference followed by the National Council: the first is to completely close the door in front of Dahlan and his group and the second is to extend the term of the president and to renew his legitimacy.

However, it cannot be sufficient to renew the legitimacy without evaluating where we are now, where we want to go, how to achieve what we want, where we went wrong, where we were right, what policies we need and how to choose leaders and appropriate cadres and members for them.

Mr President, you've worked so hard. You succeeded in some areas and failed in more areas. You have no alternative to your path, which you still believe in, at a time the Palestinian cause is in need of change and of alternatives that can move it forward not backwards through reproducing the same path or creating an illusion of change using the same people and tools or through a change that takes us even deeper into the path that has gotten us where we are. You must help make that change happen, and should not regard it as a coup but rather a change that can build on new things, and get rid of bad things. In this case, Fatah and Palestine will be big enough for all those who want to contribute to the required positive construction and change.

How can we interpret the announcement made by the president of the National Council, who is a leader in Fatah, that the National Council would convene a month after the Fatah conference, without discussing this matter in the Executive Committee or consulting with factions outside it, although it is required to expand participation in the preparation process to include various Palestinian communities, with active contribution by young people, women and Palestinians in the Diaspora?

Unilaterally announcing the convening of the National Council has dwarfed it and made the matter look as if it is purely a Fatah issue. This is serious and must be quickly remedied through the formation of a preparatory committee with participation from all those who believe in political participation from within the PLO and outside of it.

Prior to that, it must be decided: should the old National Council be invited along with representation from all non-participating factions, in addition to members of the Legislative Council which has 74 MPs from the Change and Reform Bloc of Hamas, or is it better to form an all new National Council?

In any case, a new National Council must be convened as soon as possible, one that can really represent the Palestinian people and make the necessary changes required to save the Palestinian cause, people and what's left of the land. But to hold the National Council with no regard to who attends while perpetuating the political reality and making national institutes big enough to fit only one or few persons would be the worst thing that could happen to Palestinians.

Renewing the legitimacy of the president is important, but there is a more important matter that must precede the convening of the Fatah conference, the National Council, the presidential and parliamentary elections which respond to the demands of the people and their rights and interests and their participation in all that is self-determining for them and also seeking to answer the questions: what do we need and how can we achieve that?

What is the political function for holding the Fatah conference and the National Council? Is it to renew the legitimacy and political agenda of the president and the political system, which have been formed since the signing of the Oslo agreement and brought us to the disaster we live? This result by itself requires a drastic change of the status quo rather than renewing it with merely calling for some changes. It also requires reconsideration of the relationship with the occupation and the practical and realistic implementation of the long forgotten Central Council resolutions through a gradual process. It requires the president to lead a transitional stage through which the change can be achieved; a change that cannot be achieved through continuation of old policies or at the hands of the knights of the previous stage.

What's needed is changing, renewing and reforming the Fatah movement and the entire National Movement and restructuring it but not through an Arab intervention by a country that is at this point nothing more than a gateway to Arab guardianship at a time Arabs have hit the bottom. We can no longer abide by a very bad agreement, and what's worse is that Israel hasn't been abiding to it for a long time, and wants only Palestinians to continue to unilaterally abide by it.

Dialogue is missing from preparations for the conference and for the National Council; dialogue for an overall vision that can accommodate previous experiences and derive lessons to be learnt from them and that can lead to a political strategy and struggle that is able to face challenges and risks that threaten the Palestinian cause, making use of available opportunities.

But instead of this method of preparation, the weapon of disciple is raised and is used to fire or freeze membership of all those who have a relation, or are even suspected of having one, with Dahlan. Recently, a Fatah meeting for members of the Revolutionary Council and the PLC was prevented and some of the participants were arrested.

Everyone has the right to meet in a closed setting to exchange opinions, whether they are Dahlan followers or not. They should not be prevented from meetings and participants should not be arrested unless they do something that violates the basic law which grants rights and freedoms to all. It is also very dangerous to push security forces into factional disputes. If anyone has committed, or is plotting to commit, any sabotaging acts, he must be stopped but only through approved legal procedure. Fatah can oppose all those who lobby with Dahlan and it can fire all those in violation and those proven to no longer meet membership conditions, but it should not be done as simply as we see it happening now.

A final word to the president: you can end your political life in a manner that history would record proudly. You can do so through allowing change, adopting new alternatives and ending the dark stage of division, paving the way for the return of Fatah and the National Movement as a unity and away from all forms of Arab guardianship, so it can go back to being an open national movement with diverse opinions and without threats of dismissals or suspension of salaries.

Translated from Masarat, 24 October 2016

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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