KHALED ABU TOAMEH — The Hudson Institute —
As the world focuses its attention on the Palestinian Authority’s plan to ask the United Nations in September to recognize a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines, the Palestinian political scene is in disarray as a result of power struggles, personal and political rivalries and divisions.
Everyone seems to be against everyone in the Palestinian territories. Fatah against Fatah, Fatah against Hamas, Hamas in Gaza against Hamas in Syria, Mahmoud Abbas versus Mohammed Dahlan and many other senior Fatah figures, Hamas and some in Fatah against Salam Fayyad, Islamic Jihad versus everyone and everyone versus the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command.
Ironically, it is their shared hostility toward Israel that keeps the rivalries and internecine fighting from erupting into a full-fledged civil war.
The ongoing power struggles and disputes in the Palestinian arena raise serious questions as to whether the Palestinians are ready for statehood.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is spearheading the effort to acquire a Palestinian state through the UN, and not at the negotiating table with Israel, is facing increased opposition from within the Palestinian Authority and his ruling Fatah faction.
The main charge against Abbas is that he and a handful of his top aides are making crucial and historic decisions without consulting others.
At least five senior Palestinian Authority and Fatah officials have come out against Abbas’s statehood bid.
But there is no doubt that the biggest challenge to Abbas these days is coming not from Hamas, but from his own Fatah faction.
Abbas’s recent decision to expel Dahlan from Fatah is threatening to divide the faction into two separate parties. Dahlan is enormously popular among many Fatah cadres in the Gaza Strip, where there is great anger over Abbas’s decision.
Many Fatah leaders are now threatening to quit the faction in protest against the dismissal of Dahlan. Even those who are not known as Dahlan supporters have come out against the decision because of the way it was taken.
They point out that the removal of Dahlan was carried out illegally and without the approval of Fatah institutions. They also note that as a member of the Palestinian parliament, Dahlan enjoys parliamentary immunity – a fact that Abbas preferred to ignore when he decided to remove him.
Another Fatah leader who is now challenging Abbas is Marwan Barghouti, who has been in Israeli prison for the past nine years after being convicted of organizing armed attacks against Israelis. Barghouti’s wife this week published a letter she sent to Abbas in which she accused the Palestinian president and his top aides of turning their backs on her husband.
On the other hand, the Fatah-Hamas “reconciliation” accord, which was announced on May 4, seems to be going nowhere. The two rival parties were supposed to announce the establishment of a unity government this week. But the announcement was postponed indefinitely because of Hamas’s refusal to accept Salam Fayyad as prime minister of the new government. It also seems that not everyone in Fatah is happy about the idea of having Fayyad as prime minister.
Hamas, meanwhile, is also witnessing a power struggle between its leaders in the Gaza Strip and those sitting in Syria, especially in regard to the reconciliation pact with Fatah and the fate of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who has been held by Hamas for five years.
Two weeks ago, Palestinians were shocked when they learned that militiamen belonging to Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front-General Command opened fire at a demonstration in a refugee camp in Syria, killing 14 people and wounding many others.
In the wake of all these disputes and power struggles, it is hard to see how Mahmoud Abbas would be able to proceed with his plan to ask the UN to recognize a Palestinian state in September. It is also impossible to move forward with the peace process while the Palestinians are busy fighting each other.