Fatah’s Seventh Conference ended sooner than expected and without any explosion," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
This is despite the anger of many who were deprived from attendance because they were deemed to be 'revisionists' and hundreds more who are angry because they were not fortunate enough to be designated as members. But the conference was thus held and with these particular participants in order to determine its results beforehand. Most of those who attended were appointed or unelected 'employees'.
One can sum up the conference's results by saying that it has consecrated Fatah as the PA's party (the party of [state] employees). But the conference was supposed to launch Fatah's move away from the PA as one of the preconditions for altering the PA's shape, mission, and commitments, turning it into an authority in the service of the national interest and one of the PLO's tools after the latter's institutions have been rebuilt to include all shades of the political and social spectrum that believe in political participation. Moreover, the Fatah Conference basically sought to extend and renew President Mahmoud 'Abbas' legitimacy, ensuring that he stays as president for five more years, and that [former Fatah leader and security official and 'Abbas opponent] Mohammad Dahlan and his supporters would remain outside Fatah, at least until further notice.
If we were to sum up the conference's results in one word, that would be 'continuity.' It pledged allegiance to the president by acclaim rather than by a vote; and it did so in its first session, contrary to the rules that require that elections to be held after presenting an account and assessment of the previous phase and the plan for the coming phase. The conference adopted the president's speech, which was the longest ever and that sent the message that he can remain at the helm. Achievements were inflated, while failures were ignored, despite the fact that the Palestinian cause is passing through the worst and most dangerous phase it has ever faced.
The president's speech was frank, as is his custom. He stressed that he would persist with the same policy that he has pursued before and since the  Oslo Accords and that have brought us to the current catastrophe we are facing. The occupation has deepened; settlements are expanding, so much so that there are now 800 thousand settlers in the West Bank [and East Jerusalem]; the Palestinian areas have been torn into separate parts; the inter-Palestinian [Fatah/Hamas] split has deepened horizontally and vertically; the gap between the poor and the rich has widened; corruption has spread; the level of unemployment is on the rise; education, health, and national production have all collapsed; and this is not to mention the violation of rights and freedoms, the destruction of the judicial system, the obstruction of the work of institutions; and the concentration of all power in the hands of a single person.
The president said that the year 2017 would be the year in which the [Palestinian] state will take shape, but without telling us what his plan is or how it will be achieved. In this regard, the president revealed that his real priority is to take political and diplomatic action by joining 520 international institutions without mentioning the fact that Palestine's membership in the institutions it has already joined – especially the International Criminal Court – has not been activated. He also repeated his talk of Security Council recognition of the Palestinian state as a full UN member, and of prosecuting the UK for the  Balfour Declaration. But he forgot to note that such aims cannot be achieved except as part of a political strategy and vision of struggle that can change the balance of power and ensure that the occupation is costly for Israel.
Nor did the president tell us anything about the results achieved by the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society. Did it expand the size of the [Israeli] peace camp and add to those who believe in Palestinians rights, or has Israel headed towards further extremism, so much so that what used to be referred to as 'the peace camp' has all but disappeared? And all for a number of reasons, the most important of which has to do with the policy that has been adopted especially under President 'Abbas, and that has only has whetted Israel's appetite for further Palestinian concessions.
The strongest evidence of this policy’s ineffectiveness comes from the president's insistence on clinging to the [2002/07] 'Arab Peace Initiative,' especially as regards an ‘agreed solution’ for the refugee issue. This gives Israel veto power, even though Tel Aviv wants Arab and Islamic recognition and normalization of relations with it up front, and even as the regional solution whose praises Netanyahu continues to sing, simply bypasses the Palestinian cause.
But clinging to Palestinian fixed [national] principles, as the president reasserted, calls for rescinding the recognition of Israel's right to exist that was included in the exchanged letters [of mutual recognition in 1993]. For this recognition has undermined the essence of these principles and adopted the Zionist narrative. In fact, the only thing that Israel offered in return for this recognition is recognition of the PLO as the Palestinians' representatives, and the establishment of self-rule under the occupation's control.
Nor should we rely on the positive climate that emerged between Fatah and Hamas during the conference. This is not enough to achieve a breakthrough in dealing with the reconciliation issue for one simple reason: The president has repeated his earlier position which calls for elections, preceded (or not) by the formation of a national unity government, with the understanding that whoever wins should take the lead. But that is only reflects a lack of seriousness; it repeats what we have heard and seen over the past years – namely, a disregard for the importance of reunifying the existing institutions, especially the security establishment, and agreeing on a national political program and the bases of political partnership before going to elections.
In this regard, suffice to ask: If elections are held as the president has demanded, and if Hamas wins, will Fatah and the president hand everything over to Hamas? And the opposite also stands: Will Hamas hand everything to over Fatah if the latter wins? And if, for the sake of argument, this would occur – something that is very difficult to imagine – would Israel allow Hamas to lead the PA before Hamas accepts the same political and economic commitments that the PA has agreed to and that have transformed it into a mere security agency in the service of the occupation?
Fatah’s Conference was expected to address the Palestinians deteriorating relations with a number of members of the so-called [Egypt/Saudi/Jordan/UAE] 'Arab Quartet.' It is not enough to praise the Quartet’s role whose job is to follow up on the Arab Peace Initiative, or to praise Saudi Arabia and Algeria's support for the PA. Nor is it enough to defend the Palestinians' 'independent decision,' since that has never meant abandoning the Arabs – neither in the past, nor now, nor in the future.
Of course, it is unacceptable for Arab concern to be confined to the demand for Dahlan and his group’s return. This downsizes the Arab role and portrays Dahlan as a figure who can descend upon Fatah by an Arab parachute, even though he bears no program different to that of 'Abbas. It is this that has led Abu Mazin and Fatah to reject Dahlan, who wants to compete for Abu Mazin's succession with Arab support. That would have speeded up the struggle for succession and hence the end of Abu Mazin's rule. This has led to the deterioration of Palestinian/Arab relations and the haste in holding Fatah's Seventh Conference that has consolidated Dahlan's exclusion.
Palestinian/Arab relations should have been kept separate from the issue of Dahlan's return by insisting on maintaining the closest relations with the Arabs based on the conviction that the Palestinian cause unites the Arabs, and that the cause’s Arab dimension is of critical importance. For without it, it would have been impossible for the Palestinian cause to remain alive and hold its ground despite everything it has undergone since it emerged more than a hundred years ago till today.
Blocking the road before harmful Arab, international and Israeli interventions, is always only achievable, first, by giving priority to ending the inter-Palestinian split and regaining national unity based on a program that upholds common national denominators, an accord democracy, and genuine political partnership, as the prelude to resuming the struggle to end the occupation and achieve Palestinian aims.
And second, by putting an end to the schemes to hold the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in the same manner as the Fatah Conference– namely, by tailoring the PLO to match the size of some particular person or number of figures, or even any specific faction. The PNC should not be held regardless of a quorum, nor should there be an insistence on holding it under the occupation's spears. For that already excludes the participation of many leaders and PNC members from Gaza or the Diaspora – especially from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, the PDFLP, as well as the factions residing outside Palestine.
If intentions are good, what is needed is for the PLO Executive Committee to form a preparatory committee that includes all factions inside and outside the PLO and to which representatives of the Diaspora, women, and the youth should be added. This committee should then prepare for a new PNC or call for the old PNC to meet after providing assurances for the factions and sectors that remain outside the PLO.
Finally, not everything that happened was bad. True, the Fatah Conference was more of an electoral event and a struggle over interests and positions. Also true is that it did not give the Palestinians' political program the importance it deserves. Instead, it consecrated the old and paved the way for lowering the Palestinian political ceiling even further. The fact is that while the president may have emerged stronger, Fatah has become weaker than before.
Nevertheless, a ray of hope emerges from some of has emerged and the success of some elements. Most important was that Abu al-Qassam and Um al-Qassam [Israeli-jailed Fatah leader Marwan al-Barghouti and his wife] won the largest number of votes. There was also the success of many leaders and members who still bear the banner of the cause and are not motivated by personal interests.
"Yet no individual can bear a magic wand. What we need is a national salvation team from inside and outside Fatah on the basis of a unifying national vision, from which a strategy that can achieve victory can emerge," concludes Masri.