The Palestinian leadership that doesn’t represent us

The extension of Mahmoud Abbas’ rule following Fatah’s latest congress hinders Palestinian democracy.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during Fatah congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during Fatah Congress in the West Bank city of Ramallah November 30 [Reuters]

Last week’s Palestinian Fatah conference ended with disappointingly predictable results. Of the 18 members of the Executive Committee, the governing body of Fatah, once again 17 are men, and only one person is in his 40s – he is considered to be part of the “youth” of the movement.

The average age of the Executive Committee is pushing past 65 and is advancing with each conference, as no new members join its ranks.

The results were not the only problems with the elections – the process was flawed from the outset.

With Mahmoud Abbas desperate to cling to and consolidate power despite being in his 80s, and working to quash any opposition to his ineffective rule, he actively set out to undermine Fatah by not allowing dissenting members to attend the conference, disqualifying members and appointing those who would support his oppressive rule.

And so, unsurprisingly, Abbas was once again elected head of Fatah and, once again, the top 12 members of the Executive Committee are the same members (in the exact order) of the Executive Committee that preceded it.

But that is not where the disappointment rests, for other political parties around the world have similarly chosen leaders out of touch with their constituents, only to be faced with the wrath of the electorate. 

OPINION: Fatah will give Abbas an honourable exit

And herein lies the problem: Abbas, in his quest to consolidate power, has spent years effectively ensuring that there will never be elections as long as he remains alive and that Palestinians will be for ever bound by the failed Oslo Accords that he authored.

Whether failing to reconcile with Hamas (and, of course blaming Hamas for the lack of reconciliation) or cancelling local elections, Abbas has halted and stymied Palestinian democracy.

He is now in the 12th year of his rule, despite having been elected to serve only four years. The Palestinian Legislative Council’s term expired more than six years ago; it has not met in more than nine years and has not passed a single new law in a decade.

Abbas rules by presidential decree with the support of a prime minister that has never received the legislative council’s approval. In other countries, this would be called a dictatorship, yet in Palestine Abbas is treated as a world leader and the representative of Palestine and its people.

For me, and millions like me, this octogenarian-led, male-dominated leadership does not represent me.


The ramifications of these policies will, however, extend beyond Abbas’s rule for he has made it commonplace, indeed normal, that a Palestinian leader can cancel elections because his ratings are unpopular and that a leader can harshly quash dissent with impunity.

Rather than use this conference to discuss, plan and enact a new strategy to liberate Palestine (or even endorse the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement), Fatah seems content with sticking to the same failed negotiations process; the same process that has served only to further shackle Palestinians, bring more Israeli settlements and normalise Israel’s near 50-year military rule.

Instead of putting into place a new model for the failed Palestinian Authority – a government that is subservient to the whims of the international community and chiefly those of the United States – Fatah spent its time treating the leadership of Palestine and the future of Palestine as though it is a matter of inheritance where leadership is passed on by decree and not through the will of the people.

And instead of ensuring that his own political party, Fatah, is able to represent Palestinians for generations to come, Abbas and his cronies have effectively written Fatah’s death certificate, for no political party, no matter how long it has been in power, can survive without ensuring that future generations have a say in how it is run.

For me, and millions like me – whether in 1948 Palestine, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the diaspora or languishing in Palestinian refugee camps – this octogenarian-led, male-dominated leadership does not represent me. And fortunately, it will soon not represent the rest of us either.

Diana Buttu is a Palestinian lawyer and analyst who served as a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team from 2000 to 2005.

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