[News] What Actually Happened in Fatah's Elections?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 17 11:13:58 EDT 2009


August 14-16, 2009

CIA-Trained Security Chiefs Elected to the Palestinian Leadership

What Actually Happened in Fatah's Elections?


“He is our guy.”

George W. Bush speaking of Palestinian security 
chief Muhammad Dahlan, June 4, 2003

The U.S. government has been meddling in the 
Palestinian internal affairs since at least 2003. 
Its effort is to transform the Palestinian 
national movement for liberation and independence 
into a more compliant or quisling government, 
willing to accede to Israel’s political and security demands.

The tactics employed by the U.S. include 
military, security, diplomatic, and political 
components. With the ascension of Hamas after the 
2006 legislative election, U.S. strategy has been 
fixed on unraveling the election results. Its aim 
for a political comeback of the pro-American camp 
within the Palestinian body politic has been 
initiated with the convening of Fatah’s national conference this last week.

During the week of August 4, 2009, the 
Palestinian National Liberation Movement Fatah, 
convened its sixth national conference in its 
44-year history. Fatahhas historically been 
considered the largest Palestinian faction, but 
that perception changed when it lost the 
legislative elections to Hamas in January 2006. 
As the group wrapped up its conference after 
eight days, it announced the results of its 
elections. The international media, particularly 
western outlets, framed the election as “fresh” 
and “new” faces ascending to power in the 
movement. But what actually happened in the vote?

Fatah’s internal structure is unlike most 
political parties or resistance movements. It is 
not hierarchical and its members’ loyalty largely 
follows a system of patronage and factionalism 
embodied in a 23-member Central Committee.

The Central Committee is technically supposed to 
reflect a system of collective leadership and the 
political program of a national liberation 
movement. Even its founder, the late Yasser 
Arafat, who led the organization from its 
inception in 1965 until his death in 2004, did 
not have an official title beyond that of a 
member of the committee and commander-in-chief of 
its military wing. But over time, in the eyes of 
many Palestinians, Fatah’s leadership has 
symbolized, a system of cronyism, corruption, 
collaboration with Israel, and political 
failures, especially since the Oslo process.

Although its internal charter calls for a 
national conference every four years to elect its 
leadership, the major questions at the eve of 
this conference were: Why did it take Fatah two 
decades to convene this one? Did the election of 
Fatah’s new leadership reflect the aspirations of 
the Palestinian people and a new and fresh 
approach to the political process? And finally, 
who are the backers of the main individuals who 
were recently elected to lead it?

Fatah’s Central Committee led by Arafat made the 
strategic decision in 1988 to negotiate a 
political settlement with Israel, and accept the 
United States government as the main broker. For 
two decades, especially in the aftermath of the 
1993 Oslo accords, the Palestinian issue 
gradually receded from the international agenda, 
becoming an almost exclusive affair between the 
U.S, Israel, and the Palestinian leadership 
whether it was the PLO or after 1994, the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Most neutral Middle East analysts such as Robert 
Malley, the Middle East Program Director at the 
International Crisis Group, and a former National 
Security Council (NSC) staff member during the 
Clinton administration, observe that American 
negotiators throughout several administrations 
(both Democratic and Republican) have mostly 
adopted the Israeli point of view and placed most 
of the pressure on the Palestinian leadership 
(whether Bill Clinton with Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud 
Barak, or George W. Bush with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.)

During the first term of the Bush administration, 
Arafat, as the head of the PA, was isolated, 
while Washington promoted those within the 
Palestinian leadership such as Mahmoud Abbas 
(imposed on Arafat as prime minister in 2003), 
and former security chief Muhammad Dahlan, both 
of whom embraced the American strategy in the 
region. In 2005, Bush declared his freedom and 
democracy agenda, demanding elections in the 
Palestinian territories, and hoping for a Fatah 
victory to implement his vision.

However, the administration soon abandoned its 
agenda of promoting democracy in the Arab world 
when Hamas won a landslide victory in the January 
2006 legislative elections. Secretary of State 
Condoleezza Rice expressed shock about the 
results saying, “No one saw it coming.” A 
Department of Defense official told David Rose of 
Vanity Fair in 2008, “Everyone blamed everyone 
else,” “We sat there in the Pentagon and said, 
‘Who the f*@# recommended this?’?”

Ever since that election, the American 
administration employed three different but 
overlapping strategies in order to undo the 
results. These efforts by the State Department, 
the White House and the Defense Department, were 
scantily planned and poorly coordinated.

Throughout 2006 and the first half of 2007, the 
State Department used its diplomatic resources 
and political muscle to topple the 
democratically-elected Palestinian government led 
by Hamas. In an April 2008 report, Vanity Fair 
disclosed that an American talking point memo 
emerged after a U.S. diplomat accidentally left 
it behind in a Palestinian Authority building in 
Ramallah. The document echoed Rice’s demand that 
Abbas dissolve the national unity government and take on Hamas.

Meanwhile, as detailed by Vanity Fair, neo-con 
and NSC deputy director Elliot Abrams was 
plotting a coup in Gaza against Hamas with former 
Gaza security chief Muhammad Dahlan in the spring 
of 2007. It included coordination with Israel, 
several Arab countries such as UAE and Jordan, 
payments to Dahlan of over $30 million, the 
training of five hundred security personnel, a 
campaign to destabilize Gaza, and a torture 
program against Hamas members and other Islamists.

Dahlan admitted as much to the magazine’s writer, 
David Rose, saying that he told his American 
counterpart who was pushing for a confrontation 
with Hamas, “If I am going to confront them, I 
need substantial resources. As things stand, we do not have the capability.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on June 7, 
2007, that the American administration had asked 
Israel to authorize a large Egyptian arms 
shipment, including dozens of armored cars, 
hundreds of armor-piercing rockets, thousands of 
hand grenades, and millions of rounds of 
ammunition. Rose explains that Abrams’s plan 
stressed the need to bolster Fatah’s forces in 
order to “deter” Hamas. According to a senior 
administration official the “desired outcome” was 
to give Abbas “the capability to take the 
required strategic political decisions (i.e. 
fulfilling the Israeli conditions for a political 
settlement) and dismissing the (Hamas led) 
cabinet, establishing an emergency cabinet.”

But Dick Cheney’s Middle East advisor, David 
Wurmser, admitted the failed effort when he told 
the magazine, “It look(ed) to me that what 
happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an 
attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted (by Hamas) before it could happen.”

The third effort, was mainly overseen by the 
Pentagon, and led by Lt. General Keith Dayton. In 
a speech before the pro-Israel think tank, the 
Washington Institute on Near East Policy (WINEP) 
in May 2009, he said that the Office of the U.S. 
Security Coordinator, which he has been leading 
since December 2005, is “an effort to assist the 
Palestinians in reforming their security 
services.” But according to the notes of a 
meeting between Dayton and a Palestinian security 
chief in Ramallah in early 2007, the real purpose 
of the mission was revealed when Dayton said, 
“[W]e also need to build up your forces in order to take on Hamas.”

Since 2007, Congress has given Dayton $161 
million dollars to implement his plan. In 
addition, this year Congress appropriated an 
additional $209 million dollars to Dayton for the 
2009 and 2010 fiscal years, to accelerate his 
program after receiving high marks from Israeli 
security chiefs. In the past year alone, more 
than 1,000 Hamas and Islamic Jihad members have 
been arrested and detained without trials, with 
many tortured and killed under interrogation, by 
U.S.-trained Palestinian security personnel in 
the West Bank. Amnesty International and many 
other human rights organizations have condemned 
these actions and called for an immediate halt to 
the human rights abuses of Palestinian detainees in PA prisons.

In his WINEP speech Dayton acknowledged this 
crackdown when he said, “I don't know how many of 
you are aware, but over the last year-and-a-half, 
the Palestinians have engaged upon a series of 
what they call security offensives throughout the 
West Bank, surprisingly well coordinated with the 
Israeli army.” He further admitted that during 
the 22-day Gaza war last winter, U.S.-trained 
Palestinian security forces prevented 
Palestinians in the West Bank from organizing 
mass protests against the Israeli army, which 
ironically allowed for the reduction of the 
Israeli military presence in the West Bank in 
order to redeploy those troops to Gaza. Dayton 
added, “As a matter of fact, a good portion of 
the Israeli army went off to Gaza from the West 
Bank­ think about that for a minute, and the 
(Israeli military) commander (of the West Bank) 
was absent for eight straight days.”

After a failed coup and brutal military offensive 
failed to dislodge Hamas from Gaza, the Israeli 
and U.S. strategy sought to intensify its 
pressure against Hamas through a suffocating 
economic siege in Gaza, massive security 
detentions in the West Bank, financial squeeze in 
the region and political isolation 
internationally. Meanwhile, according to several 
Hamas spokesmen, including the deposed prime 
minister Ismael Haniyya in Gaza and political 
chief Khaled Meshal in Damascus, the main 
obstacle to any national reconciliation with 
Fatah has been the detention of hundreds of Hamas 
members and the PA’s security collaboration with 
the military occupation overseen by Dayton.

The next phase in this effort is to reinvent 
Fatah and present it as a viable political 
alternative to Hamas and other resistance 
movements by improving the living conditions in 
the West Bank in contrast to Gaza’s devastating 
siege. But more important, the plan envisions a 
new Fatah that is considered a reliable partner 
willing to accomodate Israel’s conditions for a 
political settlement. The sixth Fatah conference 
and accompanying elections was thus convened to 
dispose of its corrupt and dysfunctional image.

For over a year, the Central Committee, the 
highest body in its structure, could not agree on 
many major issues, including where to hold the 
conference (the final decision was to hold it in 
the occupied Palestinian territories, which means 
that Israel has a veto on which delegates from 
abroad would be allowed to participate). They 
also squabbled about which delegates would be 
appointed to the conference, which would 
determine the composition of the new leadership, 
as well as the political program and the role of 
armed resistance against the occupation.  Abbas 
and his inner circle vetoed the decision of the 
committee, and decided to hold the conference in 
Bethlehem, virtually hand-picking all the 
participants to guarantee the election outcome.

Historically, the delegates to Fatah’s national 
conference were elected or appointed by the 
Central Committee, but at least fifty-one percent 
came from the military apparatus. Since most of 
the military wing has either been disbanded or 
wanted by the Israelis, a large number of the 
delegates to this conference were security 
personnel substituting for the military ones. 
This fact guaranteed that the election results 
would be skewed towards the security chiefs and their supporters.

The original number of delegates was supposed to 
be around 700. Then it increased to 1,250 but 
eventually mushroomed to 2,355. Less than ten 
percent were actually indirectly elected by the 
virtue of their positions, while the overwhelming 
majority was appointed by a small group in 
Ramallah led mainly by Abbas and other power 
brokers such as Dahlan and former West Bank 
security chief Jibreel Rujoub, who used to hang 
the picture of former CIA director George Tenet 
above his desk alongside that of Arafat.

The number of Central Committee members was also 
increased from 21 to 23, with 19 directly elected 
by the delegates. Abbas was to appoint four 
members later, but he himself was chosen by 
acclamation, to avoid embarrassment if he does 
not garner first place in a direct election. The 
18 individuals who were elected at the end of the 
week-long conference comprised four from the “old 
guard” who are considered close to Abbas, and 14 
new members, three of whom are former security 
chiefs who’ve been close to the CIA. These 
include Dahlan, Rujoub, and Tawfiq Tirawi, a 
former intelligence chief, who is currently 
heading a security training academy in Jericho 
under the supervision of Gen. Dayton.

 From the outset, this conference was heavily 
tilted towards delegates from the West Bank. 
Unlike previous conferences, Palestinians in the 
Diaspora were hardly represented since Israel 
allowed only a few people to enter from abroad. 
While Gaza’s population is equal to that of the 
West Bank, less than 400 people were selected as 
delegates from Gaza, while there were over three 
times as many delegates from the West Bank.

But most of the Gaza delegates did not even 
attend because Hamas prevented them from leaving 
the strip, demanding in return that hundreds of 
its detained members in the West Bank be freed by 
the PA, which it summarily refused. In short, 
aside from Dahlan, who no longer lives in Gaza, 
not a single elected person is from or lives in 
Gaza. This prompted the entire Fatah leadership 
in Gaza, including former Central Committee 
member Zakariya al-Agha, to resign en mass one 
day after the conference, protesting not only the 
results, but also the whole election process.

Similarly, Fatah members abroad did not fare 
well. Only two people were elected to the Central 
Committee, though more than two-thirds of 
Palestinians (eight million) live outside of the 
Palestinian territories, many in squalid refugee 
camps, with the “right of return”, considered a 
hot- button issue in future negotiations, up in 
the air. On the other hand, the overwhelming 
majority of the new members were either from the 
West Bank or already living in Ramallah as part 
of Abbas’ closest aides, affirming the American-led ‘West Bank first’ strategy.

Some of the historic old guard who oppose Abbas’s 
political program such as Central Committee 
secretary Farouk Kaddoumi or Hani Al-Hassan did 
not even attend or run as candidates. Kaddoumi 
condemned the conference, questioned its 
legitimacy, and went as far as accusing Abbas and 
Dahlan of plotting with the Israelis to poison 
Arafat, eventually causing his death.

Other former members who ran as candidates were 
defeated and cried foul. Former prime minister 
and negotiator Ahmad Qurai (Abu Alaa) questioned 
the credentials of the delegates and the 
integrity of the election procedure. When Abbas 
chief of staff, Tayeb Abdel-Rahim lost, he 
demanded a recount and was eventually declared a 
winner, after the election committee claimed he 
was actually tied for last. Many delegates, 
especially female candidates, all of whom lost, 
criticized this blatant cronyism. Nevertheless, 
several popular and “clean” candidates were able 
to win a seat such as Marwan Bargouthi, who is 
serving five life sentences in Israel, and 
Mahmoud Al-Aloul, a former mayor of Nablus.

As Palestinians watched this conference unfold, 
many were hoping that it would be the beginning 
of a national reconciliation and the 
establishment of a unity government. However, it 
seems that as a result of this conference Fatah 
itself may further disintegrate, as its Gaza 
leaders and Abu Alaa are threatening to launch a 
new faction called “Fatah Awakening,” further 
increasing division and tension within the Palestinian ranks.

The next step in the strategy of the pro-American 
camp is to hold presidential and legislative 
elections in the Palestinian territories next 
January, hoping to present a rejuvenated Fatah as 
an alternative to Hamas and other resistance 
movements.  Jonathan Steele of the Guardian 
further exposed on June 22, 2007 the U.S. "hard 
coup" of June ’07, as well as its political 
strategy. He detailed US officials' conversations 
with several Arab regimes. These were, among 
others, “ ‘to maintain President Abbas and Fatah 
as the center of gravity on the Palestinian 
scene’, ‘avoid wasting time in accommodating 
Hamas,’ ‘undermining Hamas’s political status,’ 
and ‘calling for early elections.’”

In the words of Gen. Dayton, the Palestinian 
personnel trained by the U.S pledge after their 
graduation that they “were not sent here to learn 
how to fight Israel, but were rather sent here to 
learn how to keep law and order.” The main 
purpose of these security battalions is to halt 
any resistance to or rejection of the occupation 
including non-violent means. He then added that 
senior Israeli military commanders frequently ask 
him, "How many more of these new Palestinians can 
you generate, and how quickly?”

Many of the questions, posed by ordinary 
Palestinians before the conference, remain 
unanswered. What is Fatah’s political program in 
light of the current Israeli intransigence and 
pre-conditions? What of national reconciliation 
with other Palestinian factions and the 
establishment of a national unity government? 
What is the role of resistance against the 
occupation, the suffocating siege against Gaza, 
and most importantly, the continuous 
collaboration with the Israeli security agencies 
and military against their own citizens?

These questions persist while Israel’s occupation 
and its brutal policies, the expansion of 
settlements, the separation wall, the detention 
of over 11,000 Palestinians, the expropriation of 
land, the depopulation of East Jerusalem’s 
Palestinian residents, and the denial of 
Palestinian refugees’ right of return, continue unabated.

Simply put, the U.S. wants a Palestinian 
leadership that will answer these questions in a 
way that is satisfactory to Israel. As one State 
Department official said to Vanity Fair regarding 
American objectives in the Israeli-Palestinian 
struggle, “[W]e care about results, and [we 
support] whatever son of a bitch [w]e have to 
support. Dahlan was the son of a bitch we happened to know best.”

Esam Al-Amin can be reached at: 
<mailto:alamin1919 at gmail.com>alamin1919 at gmail.com

Freedom Archives
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