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The Ghost of Fatah Past

August 9, 2009

PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/FATAH (Driving from Ramallah to Bethlehem for the Fatah conference, you can’t miss the countless images and posters of deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the founder of Fatah.The Fatah conference’s own publicity campaign has itself capitalized on Arafat imagery in its advertisements, from posters with the aging leader waving in the background, to TV advertisements with emotional music and Arafat’s image lightly transposed over footage of current leaders meeting. Old clips of Arafat and his followers, huddled together during the Israeli siege the Palestinian Authority headquarters, are being played now and then on the Palestinian TV station Al-Quds.

Arafat’s larger-than-life presence haunts the Palestinian street’s views on Fatah. Talk to Palestinians lingering in the square outside the closed conference proceedings, the conversation quickly turns to Arafat.

He was “part of the people, modest, and he listened to the average Palestinian’s concerns,” the narrative goes. Asked for an opinion on the conference, and most give apathetic responses, as if Fatah has nothing to do with them. More than one person responds by saying “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”

Whether it’s true or not, Palestinians remember Arafat as representing their needs, which many say they don’t see in Fatah anymore. It will be important for that feeling to be rekindled in light of the goals of the Palestinian Authority, made up mostly of Fatah members, to push on toward a two-state solution.

A recent article in the New York Review of Books sounded the death knell of the two-state solution, because under Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah and the president of the Palestinian Authority, that solution had morphed from what Palestinians saw as a national cause under Arafat, to a “foreign” (i.e. an Israel and Western-backed) idea that no longer represented Palestinian interest.

“If [Abbas'] actions are to be seen as legitimate and his endorsement of an agreement is to carry weight, he cannot appear as the president of only some Palestinians but must appear as the president of all… [the politicians ] currently speak and act as if they are at the head of some Palestinians-the more respectable ones-while leaving it to others to handle the more troublesome lot. All of which diminishes the PA’s standing, even in the eyes of many otherwise most prone to support its program, and inflates its opposition, even among many who share nothing in common with the Islamists’ agenda.”

Driving to the Intercontinental hotel, where most conference delegates are staying, one cab driver ( Christian) mocks the media focus on the Fatah conference: “And they still wonder why we voted for Hamas?”

He points to a large poster of Arafat, plastered to his cab’s ceiling: “He’s the last person in Fatah who was interested in us,” he says.

(See Reuters coverage of the conference here. Also check out our Q&A for background information on Fatah and its long awaited Sixth Conference)

 
PHOTO:Palestinian President Abbas sits in front of a banner depicting Arafat at Fatah conference in Bethlehem. August 4. 2009. REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun.

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