October 30, 2022
The big recent uptick in armed resistance actions in the Occupied Territories can be explained in many ways. Factors include Israel’s ambivalence to Palestinian political demands and harsh attempts at putting down Palestinian protests, the world community forgetting about Palestinians, and the global powers’ immersion in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and its implications.
But regardless of the reasons for the increase in the cycle of violence, there is an undeclared parallel competition taking place outside of the public eye regarding the issue of who will succeed current Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas, like Yasser Arafat before him, is the head of Fatah, president of Palestine and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee all at the same time. The jewel in the crown is often seen as being the control of the mainstream nationalist Palestinian faction, Fatah.
At present, two men in the Occupied Territories are fighting to replace Abbas, while two others are unavailable, one in jail and the other in self-imposed exile. A fifth, largely appointed by Abbas and approved by Israel and the US, is also in the running.
Officially, Mahmoud Aloul, who comes from Nablus, is the deputy head of Fatah and Jibril Rajoub, who comes from the Hebron area, is the secretary of the movement. Both have made personal sacrifices. Aloul’s 20-year-old son, Jihad, was killed by Israeli troops during demonstrations at An-Najah National University in Nablus. Rajoub spent 19 years in Israeli jails before being released in a prisoner exchange. Hussein Al-Sheikh also spent 11 years in Israeli jails.
Marwan Barghouti, who is from the Ramallah area and is the most popular leader in Fatah, is currently in an Israeli jail serving multiple life terms. Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah leader from Gaza, has been ousted from the party by Abbas and has been tried and convicted in absentia. He is often blamed for the loss of Gaza to Hamas. Al-Sheikh, also from Ramallah, is the secretary-general of the PLO, a minister for civil affairs (that deals with Israeli-related issues) and a constant companion of Abbas on his regional and international tours. He recently visited Washington and met with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Rajoub, Al-Sheikh, Barghouti and Dahlan are all fluent in Hebrew.
The anti-Israeli actions by groups not directly connected to Fatah have produced a wave of public support
It has been expected that the issue of succeeding Abbas and the future of the Palestinian national movement would be illuminated during the long-delayed eighth congress of Fatah. The last announcement said the congress would be held before the year’s end, but no movement has been made in that direction, leading many to believe that it will be delayed once again.
The violent Palestinian resistance in both Nablus and Jenin will no doubt dominate discussions if and when the Fatah congress takes place. The anti-Israeli actions by groups not directly connected to Fatah have produced a wave of public support. The Lions’ Den, for example, has become the most popular name throughout Palestine and beyond. Armed resistance always has its romantic flavor, but this particular wave is coming after years of useless diplomacy by Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, which has produced absolutely no change and has left the Israelis not even talking about the Occupied Territories in the run-up to the latest general election.
There is no proof or even hint that any of the above-mentioned leaders or anyone else in Abbas’s orbit have anything to do with the fighters in Nablus and Jenin, but it is possible that the armed struggle avenue will have its direct effects on the future of the Palestinian national movement. And it is not far-fetched that someone like Aloul — a native of Nablus and a former aid to Fatah’s No. 2 man Khalil Al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) — will benefit from the current round of resistance, even if he is not seen as being directly involved. Members of the official Palestinian security organization, dressed in their uniforms, were seen participating in the funerals and wakes of killed Palestinian leaders. Press reports talk about behind-the-scenes discussions between Palestinian security and the fighters of Lions’ Den, largely to ensure their safety and, in one case, to preventively jail them if they agreed to voluntarily hand themselves over.
The future of the Palestinian national struggle appears to be vague at present, but one thing is clear: Preoccupation with the UN and diplomacy without any other bargaining power appears to have proven to be totally futile.
Palestinians look to the south and north and see that Hamas and Hezbollah, respectively, have succeeded in forcing the Israelis to take them seriously, while the policy of Abbas appears to go nowhere.
Israelis and the world community will most likely regret not having been more forthcoming with Abbas, but the message that people like Aloul and others will no doubt take into consideration is the fact that, to be taken seriously, you need to have a comprehensive strategy that is not based on any single method but a combination. This ensures that the occupation authorities and the world community take the national aspiration of the people of Palestine seriously.
• Daoud Kuttab is a Christian Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Twitter: @daoudkuttab
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