The year of Palestinian leadership change has begun

The differences within Fatah are also looming larger and larger.

    A Palestinian protester runs for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during clashes in the West Bank city of Bethlehem [REUTERS]
    A Palestinian protester runs for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during clashes in the West Bank city of Bethlehem [REUTERS]

    In an age where information and media play a key role, it is crucial to look at any change from the point of view of its portrayal in the media. The Palestinian context is no different.

    As changes are bound to occur in 2016, it is noteworthy that the beginning of the year has witnessed an important change in what appears to be the post-Abbas transitional year.

    Ahmad Assaf, who has been the spokesman of the Fatah movement for a number of years, was appointed to replace the retiring Riyad al-Hassan as the chairman of the board of Palestine Radio and Television. Assaf was also appointed chairman of the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA.

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    He is the youngest ever chairman of the board of Palestine's public media outlets, and his appointment is the first indication that the second generation of Fatah leadership is quietly taking over as 81-year-old Mahmoud Abbas and his team prepare to leave the political scene.

    Obama's prediction

    If the Obama administration's prediction that 2016 will fail to witness the birth of the Palestinian state proves true, then this year should be dedicated to leadership transition.

    A number of obstacles continue to cause delays in holding elections on internal party fronts as well on parliamentary and presidential levels. Perhaps the absence of a unified central administrative and security control over the West Bank and Gaza is the largest of these obstacles.

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    The PLO and Hamas signed numerous reconciliation agreements but have not carried out their commitments.

    Some second-generation Fatah leaders are calling for a new direction which includes serious efforts that will lead to integration and power-sharing with Hamas.


    Palestinian leaders blame external forces for wanting to perpetuate the split. The regional differences that pitted nationalists against Islamists have been reflected almost daily in the Palestinian conflict.

    Gulf countries have no tolerance for the relatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood movement, insisting that it is a tree from which all religious extremism is branching out.

    Some second-generation Fatah leaders are calling for a new direction which includes serious efforts that will lead to integration and power-sharing with Hamas.

    They insist that including fellow Palestinians who are aligned with the Brotherhood is a necessity and not a luxury. They say that the unique situation of Palestine under occupation requires that regional conflicts should not be allowed to be mirrored there.

    Recently, a group of second-generation Fatah leaders, including Qadura Fares, Ahmad Ghneim, Muhammad Horani and Sirhan Dweikat, made a secret visit to Qatar and met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to assess what is needed to break up the logjam that has kept the Rafah crossing closed and prevented parliamentary and presidential elections from taking place.

    Differences within Fatah

    The obstacles are not solely external. The differences within Fatah are also looming larger and larger, and prevented the seventh congress from taking place.

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [REUTERS]

    The congress was due to happen last year, but was postponed more than once. The official line is that the congress cannot take place while Fatah cadres from Gaza are not allowed by Hamas to travel to the West Bank.

    Many would argue that the more important reason is the growing differences of opinion regarding Mohammad Dahlan, who was expelled from the movement and has been effectively unable to return to the occupied territories.

    Other problems include disagreements with public figures who are not Fatah members. The attempts to restrict former prime minister Salam Fayyad and prevent his charity from working were a clear manifestation of this problem.

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    In Dahlan's and Fayyad's cases, the Palestinian courts refused to go along with the restrictive decisions and overturned the ruling of the Abbas administration against them.

    There was a similar disagreement with the former PLO Executive Committee secretary Yasser Abed Rabo last year and the Amman-based Palestinian National Council (PNC) speaker refused to go along with a scheme to push him out of the committee.

    These problems are typical of a leadership that has been in power too long. The only way to remedy many of these difficulties is to go back to the Palestinian public and give them a chance to elect a totally new leadership.

    The excuse that elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council and president cannot be held because of the split is no longer acceptable to the average Palestinian.

    Similarly, the delay in revitalising the PNC is also crucial in terms of unifying Palestinian efforts and strategy.

    Recently, it has been suggested that safe and secure elections can be held online, bypassing physical and political barriers.

    If there is a will to hold elections and to usher in a new leadership, a way can be found to carry out these things.

    This year may have witnessed the start of this transition with the appointment of Assaf to the influential media leadership position.  

    2016 might not hold much hope for an end to the ugly, decades-old Israeli occupation and illegal settlement enterprise, but it should be the year to clean up the Palestinian home and produce a unified front that can garner the worldwide Palestinian population as well as the huge international solidarity and support that Palestine has.

    Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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