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1 December 2016

Abbas’ gamble pays off

By: Daoud Kuttab
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The leading speech by Palestinian president at the seventh Fateh congress was planned for 6pm on Tuesday. Before he was to take the podium, a number of visitors wanted to say a few words. They included the head of Socialist International, the UN peace envoy, Egyptian and Jordanian officials.
 
The speakers continued to ask to say a few words of support and by 7:30, Abbas decided that it was best to postpone his speech.
 
The outpouring of Arab and international support was exactly what Abbas needed, and he was not going to allow his own speech to restrain those who wanted to speak.
 
Speeches continued until 9:30, expressing support for Palestinians and Fateh, as the leading movement for Palestine’s liberation.
 
The words of support were needed after Abbas took a major gamble by insisting on the independence of his movement despite tremendous political and financial pressure from friendly Arab countries that were pushing for the repatriation of renegade Gaza-born leader Mohammad Dahlan.
 
Abbas gambled that if he can stand up to these pressures and actually hold the seventh congress, most of these countries will change course and express support for the Palestinian leader and his movement.
 
Naturally, the Palestinian leadership had a number of things going for it.
 
Holding the congress in Ramallah allowed it to avoid the normal pressures that would have resulted if they hosted it in an Arab capital. Also, in terms of financial support, the Palestinian government of Rami Hamdallah was able to tighten its belts and improve its tax collection so the absence of support from some of the wealthy Arab countries did not cause a major shake-up that would have forced the political leadership to make compromises.
 
And, most importantly, Abbas found strong support within the leadership for resisting pressure to reconcile with Dahlan.
 
Some of the support from within the central committee came for selfish reasons, as everyone is jockeying for positions in the post-Abbas era and members were happy to unite to ensure that a strong person like Dahlan is kept out.
 
As a result, Abbas’ idea of allowing the rank and file members of Fateh to determine the overall composition of the next leadership allowed for a democratic and inclusive processes, rather than in Abbas trying to handpick his successor.
 
The holding of the congress in itself is a big victory for Abbas and the rest in the leadership group.
 
The challenge going from this congress will be on multiple levels.
 
He needs to use the unity and solidarity that was reflected in this congress to put the Fateh house in order, and move towards finalising the implementation of the reconciliation process with Hamas.
 
The fact that Hamas representatives attended the congress as observers and read a congratulatory statement from leader Khaled Mishaal signals that the reconciliation process, expected to take place in Cairo soon after the congress, will produce some positive results.
 
Of course, the big question remains how Abbas and Fateh will deal with the dormant peace process and the Trump administration, but these issues will have to wait for a few months until Trump is sworn in and his new foreign policy team is assembled and an actual policy regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict is articulated.
 
For now, the big headline coming out of Ramallah is that the stubborn Abbas succeeded in overcoming the odds and his gamble of defying some of his closest Arab allies has paid off.
 
Now the healing process will take place and the reconciliation with the Arab quartet made up of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will be the top priority for Abbas and his newly elected senior leadership.
 
Judging from the speeches given at the opening of the Fateh congress, it looks like the efforts to reconcile with the Arab quartet will be easier than it seemed a week ago.
 
In addressing a large Egyptian delegation visiting Ramallah, Abbas was very positive and spoke highly of Egypt and its president.
 
It is clear that he was preparing the grounds for his post-Fateh congress visits to the nearby Arab capitals.
 
The question is will these Arab capitals reciprocate or will they have new demands?

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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