Fatah holds congress amid Abbas' succession speculation

Ramallah, Occupied West Bank – After a two-year delay, Fatah movement’s seventh congress is expected to open on Tuesday amid Internal wrangling over Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ succession.

Up to 1,400 invited members are expected to design the movement’s strategy for the next five years. The congress will also elect Fatah’s 23-member Central Committee, presided by Abbas, and its 132-member Revolutionary Council.

Abbas is said to be under pressure from Arab states to name a successor. Fatah officials, however, insist that the congress “is not about succession”.

“The congress will discuss and review the tools that have been used to achieve two goals: establishing a free and sovereign state and the right of return which remain our national goals,” said Husam Zomlot, Abbas’ strategic adviser and newly appointed ambassador to the United States.

“A major review should be about bilateralism and successive Israeli governments’ insistence to use negotiations as a tool to expand and reinforce the occupation and colonisation,” Zomlot told Al Jazeera.

The congress, according to Zomlot, will also address strategic alternatives, including the issue of internationalisation of popular resistance, of boycott and sanctions as well as resorting to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

READ MORE: Local Palestinian elections ‘referendum on Abbas rule’

Formerly led by Yasser Arafat, Fatah remains the dominant party in both the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation), which led the Palestinians to the Oslo Accords with Israel in 1993 and 1995, and the PA (Palestinian Authority). The latter was created as a provisional government as part of the Oslo process, which envisaged a five-year interim period to pave the way to final status negotiations.

But some analysts have expressed concern about the timing of the congress, with political tensions running high; while others have pointed to the need to forward-plan towards Abbas’ succession to avoid a power vacuum that could lead to serious destabilisation and the imposition of outside agendas. The 81-year-old Palestinian president was recently hospitalised with heart problems, and his term in office officially expired in 2009.

But while Zomlot insists the congress is not about succession but rather about “submitting each commissioner’s report” and assessing their work, analysts have been worried about developments on the ground.

Middle East peace envoy Nikolay Mladenov said during a rare visit to Balata refugee camp in the Nablus governorate earlier this month that he was worried the situation in the camp could “explode”, referring to the clashes between Palestinian security forces and alleged criminals operating in the camp.

PA raids into Palestinian refugee camps, including Jenin and Al Amari, have intensified in the lead-up to the congress, as they did around the now-postponed municipal elections, originally planned for October 8.

On October 22, PA security forces broke up a meeting organised by a group of Fatah leaders in Al Amari refugee camp near Ramallah, which resulted in a number of arrests and ousters from the movement.

They are said to be supporters of senior Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, who was expelled from the movement over criminal allegations in 2011.

Dahlan, 55, was former head of the PA’s security services in Gaza and has been living in exile in the United Arab Emirates since 2012. He is reported to be keen to make a comeback and challenge Abbas’ rule.

Arrests reportedly also took place among Fatah’s “Shabiba” youth movement, mostly based in universities.

“Fatah is in complete disarray,” lawyer and former PLO adviser Diana Buttu told Al Jazeera. “This congress should have taken place two years ago and would not have taken place at all were it not for Abbas’ attempts to further consolidate his power.

“Abbas is both limiting the number of people who can attend, including cutting out longtime Fatah members, and replacing them with people who will simply say ‘yes’ to Abbas and his failed policies.”