Are the PA and Fatah ready for national unity ?

Motasem A. Dalloul

Middle East Monitor  /  July 14, 2023

Due to the repeated major Israeli offensives on the cities and villages of the occupied Palestinian West Bank and the enduring suffering inflicted by the Israeli occupation on Palestinians, head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), PLO and Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, invited the leaders of the Palestinian factions for a meeting to discuss the situation and agree on a joint national plan to face off the Israeli occupation.

There were many reasons that pushed Abbas to seek such a meeting. One of the main reasons is that the Palestinian resistance brigades, who always fight against the Israeli offensives, consist mainly of members of the Palestinian resistance movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Some of them include members of Fatah’s military wing – Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. However, they do not get the support of the secular movement’s leadership, but the support of the military wing of Hamas. This has repeatedly become evident when videos appeared of the fighters after they were martyred showing them referring to Mohammed Deif, head of Hamas’ military wing, as their supporter and saying they were loyal to him.

This reflected negatively on Fatah and the PA, showing them as loyal contractors for the Israeli occupation. This was very clear when the Palestinians heckled senior Fatah official Mahmoud al-Aloul when he delivered a speech during the funeral of some of the Palestinian martyrs killed during Israel’s latest offensive on Jenin.

Videos on social media showed angry Palestinians chanting against Fatah and the PA, as well as against the continuous security coordination with the Israeli occupation. They then pushed Al-Aloul and Azzam al-Ahmad, who was accompanying him, out of the refugee camp before the funeral processions had come to an end.

Abbas is also seeking such a meeting to reflect an image that Fatah and the PA’s condemnation of the Israeli aggression on the Palestinians in Jenin and their fury over the silence of the international community towards what happened there was real. He wants to prove his support for the residents of the neglected part of the northern occupied West Bank. His visit to Jenin on Wednesday was part of this.

The third major reason is that Abbas, his government and security services, who became inactive in Jenin and almost lost control of its people, want to make a kind of goodwill gesture to the Palestinian people, who showed massive solidarity with Jenin and were angry with the PA during the Israeli offensive. He seeks to show that he has corrected his mistake and is willing to return to the Palestinian consensus to end divisions.

Azzam al-Ahmad has said that all heads of the Palestinian factions received invitations from Abbas for attending a meeting in Cairo at the end of the month. He claimed that all of them gave positive responses regarding their attendance, but the Palestinian factions did not say the same thing.

The Palestinian factions conditioned their response to the meeting called for by Abbas on taking practical measures on the ground. Hamas said it will not attend such a meeting without the release of Palestinian fighters and political detainees being held in the PA’s prisons. Islamic Jihad and other factions said that an invitation for such a meeting must be preceded by the release of political prisoners enduring harsh torture in PA prisons.

At the same time, all of the Palestinian factions invited to the meeting insisted that Abbas must halt security coordination with the Israeli occupation. A decision to stop security coordination has been taken a million times before, but it is still active because, according to Abbas’ senior aide Hussein Al-Sheikh, “there are strategic relations with Israel that would be harmed should the security coordination be ceased.”

It is worth noting that while I was writing this article, the PA security services kidnapped the commander of the resistance fighters in Balata refugee camp in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus. The kidnapping triggered fierce gunfire between the fighters and the PA security services and the closure of main roads. The situation turned quiet after a while, but the commander remained in custody.

Abbas recognizes that he is the most unpopular Palestinian leader. According to a poll conducted last month by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), some 80 per cent of the Palestinians want Abbas to resign. The same poll also showed that 84 per cent of Palestinians believe the PA is corrupt and 63 per cent view the existence of the PA as being to serve Israel not the Palestinians.

As part of his efforts to look for a lifejacket, Abbas decided to carry out an “solidarity visit” to Jenin following the two-day destructive Israeli offensive, claimed the halt of security coordination with Israel and announcing his invitation to the Palestinian factions for a meeting to discuss Palestinian unity and agree on a national strategy to face off the occupation.

His visit to Jenin, where he did not meet any of the families of the victims, was seen as part of the security coordination as, prior to the visit, his security agency removed the flags of the Palestinian factions, dismantled landmines placed by Palestinian resistance fighters in preparation for an Israeli tank invasion and helped the redeployment of PA security services across the city and the refugee camp.

The continuous detention of dozens of Palestinian fighters by the PA, the Fatah members’ aggression against Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, the PA security personnel’s disappearance during the daily Israeli incursions into the occupied West Bank and the clear Israeli interest to prevent the collapse of the PA refute all claims that security coordination has been halted.

Meanwhile, the continuous targeting of Palestinian fighters, the cutting of salaries of thousands of PA employees on the grounds of their political affiliation and the arrest of students from the Islamic Bloc who won the university Student Union elections in the West Bank prove that Abbas, his PA and his Fatah movement are not ready for the national unity at all.

Motasem A. Dalloul is Middle East Monitor’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip