"It would be no exaggeration to say that the coming three months are decisive for determining the fate of the Palestinian political system that was established after the  Oslo Accords, and that they may pave the way for either a rosy or a dark future in light of what may happen," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
During these months, Fatah is slated to hold its Seventh Conference. This will be decided in a meeting on October 29th. And the conference is likely to be convened on November 29th, which also coincides with the anniversary of the inauspicious  partition resolution, which has become a day for solidarity with the Palestinian people.
President Mahmoud 'Abbas is in a race with time until the Fatah Conference is held. The more he hurries up, the better. If the conference is held on target or a close date, such as early January 2017, this could either lead Fatah towards further retreat and fragmentation, or propel it forward. For ['Abbas opponent and exiled Fatah leader and former security official] Mohammad Dahlan has been threatening that he will not permit Abu Mazin to 'hijack' the Fatah Conference (as he put it), which means that we are heading towards a confrontation that has regional dimensions. And this means that the other factions, civil society and the major community figures must act before it is too late, and before ‘the axe falls’ as the saying goes. They should not confine themselvess to sitting and observing what is happening as if the issue does not concern them, or as if they live in a different place.
Nor does it make sense for Hamas to use this internal Fatah disagreement to promote its narrow factional interests – as it seemed to do when it permitted a demonstration organized by Dahlan's supporters in Gaza, while preventing the 'Patriots for Ending the Split and Restoring National Unity' for holding a demonstration under a banner that everyone can subscribe to. There have been unconfirmed leaks (that I hope are untrue) about the of Dahlan and his supporters’ intention to organize a special conference in Gaza in tandem with the Fatah Conference, after having received a green light for Hamas to do so. Should that happen, it would add yet another dimension and deepen the split. For the divide would seem to be one between two areas (Gaza versus West Bank), and not the result of political and ideological disagreements and conflicting interests between Fatah and Hamas, and the camps that support them. That is the most dangerous thing that could happen.
There are those inside and outside Hamas who defend its exploitation of the internal Fatah disagreement so as to open a window that may help it mend relations with Egypt, or at least allow it open the Rafah crossing more frequently. This would be tantamount to playing with fire; for the hostility between Hamas, and Dahlan and his Arab allies is greater than that between Hamas on the one hand, and 'Abbas and Fatah on the other. It is in no one's interest for Fatah to descend into infighting and internal strife, or for Palestinian/Arab relations to worsen. There must be some intervention to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.
The PA president has two aims from holding the Fatah Conference to be followed by the PNC as soon as possible: to slam the door shut once and for all in the face of the return of Dahlan and others like him, especially after the moves by the Arab Quartet [Egypt/Jordan/Saudi Arabia/UAE] and to extend his term in office and renew his Fatah and national legitimacy.
But it is not possible to be satisfied with renewing legitimacy without assessing where we are today, where we want to reach, how we are to achieve what we want, what are our mistakes, what did we do right, what policies we need, and how we can choose the leaders and cadres suitable for them.
Mr. President ['Abbas]: You have tried and succeeded in certain things, and failed in others. You have no alternative to the path you have taken that you still believe in; but this is a time when the Palestinian cause calls for change and alternatives that would push it forward and not backward by reproducing the same path, or by bringing about an illusory change based on the same people and the same tools, or via a change that leads us deeper down the same path that has brought us to where we are today. So you must help bring about the required change that should not turn against every thing that we have done, but build upon what is good and get rid of what is bad instead. In that case, Fatah and the Palestinian 'ship' should be broad enough to include all those who wish to contribute, build and facilitate the required positive change.
How can we explain the announcement from the head of the PNC (who also happens to be leading Fatah figure) that the Council will convene one month after the Fatah Conference but without this being discussed in the PLO Executive Committee, and without any consultation with the factions that are outside that committee [such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad]? For what we need is to expand the circle of those taking part in the preparations so as to ensure that the meeting includes other sectors from the various Palestinian groupings and with effective participation from the youth, women, and the Diaspora.
The PNC has been diminished by the unilateral announcement that it will be held, as if this were a purely Fatah affair. That is a serious matter that must be quickly contained by forming a preparatory committee that includes all those who believe in political participation, whether inside or outside the PLO. But before all that, there is no escaping the need for a decision regarding the following issue: Should the standing PNC be called to convene, while making sure that the non-participant factions are represented, as well as the members of the PLC (Palestinian Legislative Council) that includes 74 MPs from Hamas' 'Change and Reform Bloc'; or would it be better to form a new PNC?
Whatever happens, action must be taken to hold a convene a new PNC as soon as possible, one that is truly able to represent the Palestinian people and bring about the change needed to salvage the cause, the people, and what remains of the land. On the other hand, convening the PNC quickly with whichever of its members wish to attend and in order to consolidate a de factopolitical situation and tailor the national institutions to fit the size of one person (or persons) would be the worst thing that could happen to the Palestinians.
Renewing the president's legitimacy is important. But even more important, and that ought to precede the Fatah Conference and the PNC as well as presidential and legislative elections, is to respond to the people's demands and respect their rights, interests, and participation in everything that determines their fate. What needs to be done is to try and answer the question: What do we need, and how do we achieve it?
What is the political purpose of holding the Fatah Conference and PNC? Is it to renew the president's legitimacy, the president's program, and the political system formed by the Oslo Accords and that brought us to the catastrophe we are facing today? It is this outcome in particular that requires a radical change the current situation, rather than simply renewing it while confining ourselves to verbal calls to change and reconsider relations with the occupation, and to implement the PLO Central Committee's resolutions [to end security cooperation with Israel] that seem to have been forgotten.
All this should proceed in a realistic manner via a process that does not take place at one go; one that does not adopt resolutions that cannot be implemented or has the president leading a transitional period in which change – which cannot be achieved while pursuing the old policies at the hands of the 'stars' of the previous phase – is brought about.
What we need is change, renewal, and reform that rebuilds Fatah and the overall national movement, and not by raising an Arab flag that in the current conditions is merely a gateway for imposing Arab suzerainty [over the Palestinians and their cause] at a time when the Arabs have hit rock bottom.
We cannot continue to abide by a very bad agreement [the Oslo Accords]. What is worse is that Israel has long ceased to abide by it. It only wants the Palestinian side to abide by it unilaterally.
The main absentee from the preparations for the Fatah Conference and PNC meeting is a dialogue that formulates an overall vision that absorbs our previous experiences and learns their lessons and morals, and from which a political strategy for struggle emerges that can confront the challenges and threats that endanger the Palestinian cause, and that is able to make use of the available opportunities.
But instead of this necessary sort of preparation, the whip of Fatah 'discipline' is being raised, and is being used to expel or freeze the membership of anyone who has relations with (or is thought to have relations) with Dahlan. For example, a meeting in which members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council and PLC take part has been banned. But it is the right of any group of people to meet in a closed place and exchange views, whether they happen to be Dahlan supporters or not. It is impermissible to ban such meetings and arrest the participants, unless they act in a way that violates our Basic Law that ensures rights and freedoms. It is also dangerous to implicate the Palestinian security agencies in factional disagreements. If anyone were to engage in any form of sabotage or to prepare for them, they should be prevented from doing so; but this must be done via the proper legal procedures.
A final word to the PA president: You can crown your political life in a manner that history will record in bright lights by paving the road to change, adopting alternative options, turning the leaf on the black page of the inter-Palestinian split, and opening the door to the restored unity of Fatah and the patriotic movement free from all forms of suzerainty, whether from the Arabs or anyone else.
"That would ensure that Fatah and the patriotic movement returns to what it was like and more: an open-minded patriotic movement that encompasses various points of view," concludes Masri.