Hundreds of Fatah supporters gathered in downtown Ramallah in the West Bank this weekend, waving the movement’s yellow flag, pledging unwavering allegiance to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is chairman of the Fatah party, while firing rifles into the air in a show of force.
Ahmad Rafiq Awad, president of the Center for Jerusalem Studies at Al-Quds University, told The Media Line the ruling Fatah party wanted to assert itself as the main Palestinian faction and that the Palestinian street does not belong to any particular group.
“It is clear that the Fatah movement wants to say that it is still strong capable and popular, that it is able to mobilize the masses, and that it stands with the prisoners” held by Israel, says Awad.
The image of the Palestinians’ oldest faction has been shaken over the last few months, prompting people to publicly criticize Abbas and the movement that he heads.
“The Gaza war weakened Fatah, while its rival, Hamas, demonstrated a strong position that made it popular,” said Awad, referring to the cross-border violence with Israel in May, while adding that other decisions have also hurt Abbas and Fatah.
“After the postponement of the elections [by Abbas], the Israeli aggression on Gaza, which lasted for 11 days, and other successive controversies, the last of which was the killing of [dissident political activist] Nizar Banat, Fatah showed that it was confused,” he said.
Fatah has been facing several internal crises, notes Awad.
“There are divisions and grumblings within Fatah. This has harmed it, and it now wants to unite its ranks,” he said.
Kayed Ma’ari, Fatah movement spokesman in the West Bank, told The Media Line that Saturday’s rally carries with it two messages. The first, he says, is to express support for the national leadership and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
“There is a feeling within the movement [Fatah] and its loyalists that it’s being targeted after the death of Nizar Banat,” he said, adding that the second message, “is that Fatah is ready for a process of dialogue on how to deal with the Banat issue.”
The June 24 killing of Banat at the hands of Palestinian security sparked several angry demonstrations against the PA calling on Abbas to “leave.”
“These demonstrations took on a politicized, not a human rights dimension, from parties open to political change, especially Hamas,” said Ma’ari.
There are divisions and grumblings within Fatah. This has harmed it, and it now wants to unite its ranks
Fatah’s Vice Chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul announced an initiative on Sunday for dialogue with all parties in an attempt to allay the anger of the street, yet many called him out for his strong language when he warned against “provoking” Fatah, saying he was trying to intimidate those daring to criticize the PA and its security forces.
During Saturday’s march, some of the yellow Fatah flags raised by its supporters had printed on them the Shahada Islamic oath: “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
Some analysts saw this as a sign that Fatah is feeling the heat from Hamas.
“Fatah has a political and Islamist rival that is Hamas, and by [Fatah] raising these slogans it says it is not against religion,” Awad said.
But Ma’ari does not agree with this explanation, arguing that his movement is home to all Palestinians regardless of their backgrounds.
“There is no plan for Fatah to change its beliefs and to incorporate religious elements and religious statements into its constitution. But what happened is that some of the supporters printed them without referring to the movement for approval,” he said.
The embattled movement was established as a secular nationalist group and will continue its traditional path, Ma’ari asserts.
“Fatah, according to its political program, is a national movement, and it calls for the integration of all segments of the Palestinian people,” he told The Media Line.
Also on Saturday, Abbas met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for over an hour in Istanbul to discuss bilateral ties, reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions, Gaza reconstruction and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Turkey has influence, and it has important relations with Hamas and he [Abbas] may ask for its help in arranging the Palestinian house,” Ma’ari says.
Fatah, according to its political program, is a national movement, and it calls for the integration of all segments of the Palestinian people
Meanwhile, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr will visit the region on Sunday for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Hasan Awwad, an expert on Palestinian affairs at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, told The Media Line that Amr’s visit is intended to boost the fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, and to discuss Gaza reconstruction, the recent demonstrations in the West Bank against the PA, and a possible reshuffle of the PA government.
“I think the envoy will demand more discipline from the PA and its security services regarding the human rights file, because the explosion of the internal situation will affect regional security as a whole, including America’s ally, Israel,” Awwad said.