The parabola of OLP:
from Fatah to Hamas
In this number of the Review, we thought it would be useful to deepen our knowledge of what is happening in Palestine. Consistent with the editorial line adopted since the first issue, we offer different points of view and analyses of the situation, according to various perspectives. Therefore, besides ‘Forum’, we give our readers a further instrument to outline the scenario in that area. Often, we have the impression from the analyses we read of the Middle-East events that their society is so completely different from our own and follows its own particular dynamics, which are difficult for us to grasp. Unfortunately, the experts seem to make an effort to render the situation even more obscure and complex. Rarely, we are able to obtain a description which is rich in intelligent simplicity. In this article, however, the examination of the Palestinian ‘political’ situation and the balances between the various factions are proposed, revealing aspects which are completely similar to those which we are accustomed to seeing in our own part of the world .This is made possible by the ability of the author. The logical path offered to the reader is enriched by all that information which is necessary to outline a complete picture of the situation, allowing us to recognize and interpret those aspect and strategies, without the necessity of any special expertise.
The legislative elections of the National Palestinian Authorities (ANP), held on 25th January, 2006 and the subsequent victory of the Islamic movement, Hamas, marked a significant turning point in the political evolution of the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine (OLP).
On the opening day of the newly elected Palestinian parliament, the 16th of February, 2006, the President of ANP, Mahmud Abbas (nom de guerre Abu Mazen), while addressing the new parliament members, made public the new strategy with these words: “We must all pledge to continue the activation and strengthening of OLP, as the only and legitimate representative of our people” (1) .
The words of the Palestinian Rais revealed clearly that the victory of Hamas had rendered necessary the adoption of a destabilization policy by the Fatah leadership to maintain their authority.
OLP, therefore, returns to the scene as the only key for the survival of the present opposition to the Islamic group.
It seems, however, quite peculiar that this speech concerning the strengthening of the Organization was pronounced by Abbas, notwithstanding he is the incumbent president of OLP. In fact, after the Oslo Agreements (2) , the policy of the Fatah leadership in the Palestinian territories had been the weakening of the Organization.
OLP was the symbol of the old guard left at Tunis (3) , which had opposed the negotiations with Israel, signed by former President, Yasser Arafat and, consequently, did not recognize ANP as representative of the entire Palestinian people. Farouk Qaddoumi (nom de guerre Abu Lutof), General Secretary of Fatah, together with those who had chosen to remain at his side at Tunis – and at Syria - were the promoters of the strengthening of OLP and also the principle antagonists of the policy of Arafat.
OLP after the Oslo Agreements
The Oslo Agreements had made a deep division within Fatah (4) : those in favour of the Agreements, among whom was Abbas, and those against, headed by Qaddoumi.
In reality, however, it was more of a struggle for power between the former-Rais and Abu Lutof, given the fact that Arafat himself had declared that the Oslo Agreements were a mere truce (hudna) – which by definition has a dead line – in order to re-arm (5) .
At all events, Qaddoumi feared that Arafat’s political stand could transform Fatah from a liberation movement into a simple political party. On the other side, the former-Rais feared that Abu Lutof could outline the ideological path to follow, ousting him from his position of unquestionable leader. Arafat, consequently, proclaimed himself leader of OLP in order to slowly weaken the Organization with the aim of impeding Abu Lutof from having the upper hand. This strategy permitted the former-Rais to have the entire situation under his control so that he could reinforce the powers of ANP, which he himself had created with Oslo, thereby relegating his antagonists to a tight corner.
After the death of Arafat, Abbas took over the command of the Organization. In the first weeks of his mandate, he used OLP to reinforce his position as President, not only of ANP (6) , but also of an institution which represents the whole Palestinian people in the Territories and in the Diaspora. This was done to face the accusations of de-legitimization by the Qaddoumi faction.
However, from the day of his investiture to the day of the results of the legislative elections, Abbas followed the same policy of his predecessor: to weaken OLP and consequently, his opponents. In that period, the interviews granted by the Secretary General, in which he spoke of the necessity of reinvigorating the Organization, seemed, consequently, simple ravings (7) .
In fact, the policy of the President was directed only towards the reinforcement of ANP. This time, no longer solely around himself, as Arafat had done, but delegating certain of his own powers to the various ministries and allowing – also under American pressure – pluralist elections.
The turning point:
The legislative elections of ANP
However, the success of Hamas has changed the situation and Abbas finds himself facing a dilemma. In fact, to continue to reinforce ANP means giving more power to the new Hamas government. Yet, allowing the armed movement to take the advantage and become the symbol of the Palestinian people’s cause, signifies the breaking up of Fatah. Consequently, the only way out of this dilemma is to revive OLP and follow the strategy of reinforcement, promoted by Qaddoumi of the Oslo Agreements. Abbas has taken away from the Ministry of the Interior of OLP, the control of part of the security forces, and has again stated that the negotiations with Israel shall continue to be the task of the Organization (8) . During his speech to the Parliament, Abbas said implicitly to the deputies of Hamas that they should thank the Oslo Agreements, signed by OLP, for their being allowed to participate in the elections (9) . And, after a long eulogy to the Organization, he stated that it was the one and only representative of the Palestinian people and not, certainly, of the Islamic movement. After resuscitating Oslo - considered dead with the beginning of the second Intifada - and OLP, Abbas must now find the partners to carry out his strategy. Meanwhile, however, he should try not to lose his authority due to struggles within the party or a possible weakening of ANP. But, above all, he has to convince the Palestinians, by now tired of the corrupt Fatah leadership, to have renewed faith in OLP.
The future of OLP
The Rais has asked help from his rival Qaddoumi, hoping, however, to rid himself of him as soon as possible. He knows he needs him to revive the Organization. Not only because he represents the symbol of OLP, but also because of the power of hierarchical seniority that he wields within the OLP organization. In fact, one of the adages used by the members of the Organization says that at 40, a person becomes an adult, at 60, starts to take decisions and at 70, is a leader. A Presidential delegation has, consequently, gone to Tunis to discuss the new political plan. And, Qaddoumi has gone to Damascus to meet various Palestinian factions, united in the new programme of destabilization of the Islamic group. In his speech, Abbas also mentioned the restoration of the National Council (CNP), the Parliament which represents the Palestinians in the Territories and in the Diaspora, to further de-legitimize the legislative elections of ANP.
In this scenario, the role of the new guard that launched the al Mustaqbal faction, (in Arabic, the Future), led by Marwan Barghouti, charismatic Tanzim leader, and more particularly by Mohammed Dahlan – seen always more by the Fatah majority as a spoiled little boy – disappears. Barghouti continues to serve his life sentence in an Israeli jail and the Jewish State shows no intention of releasing him. Meanwhile, Dahlan has allowed himself to be overcome by the anxiety for power and had taken advantage of the Fatah defeat to ascribe the blame not only to the President of ANP, but to the entire leadership of the party. He sent his men into the streets to create chaos and convince the population that the old guard had no further reason to exist.
This point of view is certainly not shared by the rest of Fatah. In fact, Hamas received 45% of the votes and their success is due to the electoral system and to the fragmentation of the opposition, further divided by the creation of al Mustaqbal and to the initiative of certain members of Fatah to run separately. The party of Abbas, split from within, together with four other lay parties have, in consequence, received 55% of the votes, but have obtained 42% of the seats against 56% of Hamas (10) .
The al Mustaqbal stream could be useful as allies to Abbas - notwithstanding that at the moment it is badly treated – to define the political line for Fatah to follow: whether to be a party or a liberation movement, as would be desired by the Fatah armed wing and part of the OLP in the Diaspora. A transformation process is required, to which the party should already have submitted, in accordance with the Oslo negotiations.
The fact that Abbas, from the very beginning of his mandate, has never taken a clear cut position regarding the Fatah issue, and this has rendered and still renders disarmament in the Territories, extremely difficult.
After the Hamas election victory, Abbas, in any event, wants to change strategy. The Palestinian Rais is conscious of being the only key to the destabilization of the armed group.
In the Territories, in fact, there is no third way, as yet, which could function as an efficient opposition against Hamas. And within Fatah there are no more credible leaders.
The electoral success of the Islamic movement, has shown an Abbas who is determined to fight for the position of his party and country.
Notwithstanding that the international community had wagered on his resignation, the Palestinian President has, for the time being, decided to continue his political battle.
(1) PLO Negotiations Department, Speech of President Mahmoud Abbas http://www.nad-plo.org/news-updates/PresidentAbbas_speech -4-.pdf (version translated into English), http://nad-plo.org/news-updates/arabic.pdf (original Arabic version).
(2) The 13th September, 1993, the Israeli Prime Minister, Yikzakh Rabin, and OLP, represented by Yasser Arafat, sign a first agreement in Washington. The 28th September, 1995, the Oslo II is signed (or interim agreements).
(3) OLP, created in 1964, transfers in 1982 to Tunis, after having been sent away from the Lebanon base, by Israel.
(4) Nationalist movement created in 1958-59.
(5) Yasser Arafat, former Palestinian Rais continually repeated the comparison between the Oslo Agreements and the hudna of Hudaybyia, signed by the Prophet Mohammed. In 622 AD, Prophet Mohammed was forced to abandon the city of Mecca due to the growing tensions between the Quraysh Tribe and the developing Moslem community. The Prophet, therefore, transferred to Medina. In 628 AD, he signed the truce of Hudaybyia with the Quraysh. In the twenty months that followed the agreements, the Moslem community became stronger, thanks also to the new alliance. The subsequent killing of a Moslem by a citizen of Mecca served as the casus belli for the Prophet’s final attack against the Quraysh.
(6) Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of ANP during the presidential elections held on 9th January, 2005.
(7) Al Quds, 22nd February, 2006.
(8) The Israeli negotiations are diplomatically handled by Saeb Erekat through OLP.
(9) PLO Negotiations Department, Speech of President Mahmoud Abbas,http://www.nad-plo.org/news-updates/PresidentAbbas_speech (version translated into English), http://www.nad-plo.org/news-updates/arabic.pdf (original version in Arabic).
(10) Shikaki Khalil, Understanding the outcome of the Palestinian elections, Newsweek, 27 gennaio 2006.