Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has strengthened his grip on the influential Fatah faction following the party’s Congress, as his supporters dominated a vote for the party’s central committee.
The results of the election to Fatah’s key body were announced Sunday by Arab media, on the final day of the Fatah congress. Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life terms in an Israeli prison for murder, won the largest number of votes. He was followed by Jibril Rajoub, a former security chief and current head of the Palestinian Football Association who previously said that the Palestinians would use a nuclear weapon against Israel if they could. Three of Rajoub’s supporters were next on the list.
Both Barghouti and Rajoub are considered to be Abbas loyalists. Reuters reports that 16 of the 18 central committee seats contested were won by Abbas allies. Having been unanimously re-elected as Fatah leader earlier during the Congress, Abbas is able to appoint another three members to the committee.
Critics have suggested that Abbas used the Fatah Congress to effectively oust political opponents, especially supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, who headed the Palestinian security forces in Gaza until Hamas forcibly seized power in 2007. Dahlan was expelled from Fatah by Abbas and effectively exiled to Dubai in 2011. His supporters were largely absent from the list of Congress delegates.
The Congress is supposed to meet every four years, but gathered last week for the first time since 2009. Abbas, 81, has given no indication of who might succeed him, although the central committee is apparently expected to choose a deputy party leader once it convenes. Although Barghouti and Rajoub would be prominent candidates for such a role, commentator Avi Issacharoff says that Abbas favors veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Despite Abbas’s dominance of Fatah, it is unclear how much popular support he enjoys in the West Bank. Abbas’s four-year term as PA President ended in 2009 and an election has not been held since. Speaking at the Saban Forum on the Middle East in Washington on Friday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Abbas consequently has “no real legitimacy to be the Palestinian leader.”
[Photo: AFP news agency / YouTube ]