Quarterly Updates for (16 Nov 2016 — 15 Feb 2017)

It was a relatively uneventful quarter for internal Palestinian politics. Pres. Abbas continued to consolidate power ahead of his expected retirement. The PA resumed its attempt to organize municipal elections, which had collapsed the previous quarter amid more Hamas-Fatah wrangling. Finally, having restarted talks late last quarter, various Palestinian factions continued with efforts to achieve Palestinian national unity (see JPS 46 [2]).



In his effort to manage an eventual transfer of power, and to better position his chosen successors against rivals like exiled Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan, Abbas announced last quarter that his Fatah party would hold its 7th General Congress on 11/29 (see JPS 46 [2]). A Fatah spokesperson said (11/21) that preparations were going well, and that more than 1,400 mbrs. were expected to attend and participate in elections for a new Fatah Central Comm. and Revolutionary Council.

When the congress opened in Ramallah on 11/29, rumor and speculation about Abbas’s retirement dominated press coverage. Attendees reelected him as party leader for a new 5-year term, however, resulting in a 3-hour address (11/30) in which Abbas highlighted the party’s dedication to the Palestinian people and reaffirmed the PA’s goal of joining more international institutions. He also proposed the creation of a temporary unity govt. with Hamas and invited the organization to yet another round of reconciliation talks. The congress concluded on 12/4, with the election of 18 mbrs. to the Central Comm., including 6 new additions (Ismail Jabr, Ahmad Hillis, Sabri Saidam, Samir Refaee, Rawhi Fattouh, and Dalal Salameh), and 80 mbrs. to the Revolutionary Council. The new composition of both bodies was taken to signal endorsement of Abbas’s political program (see “Palestinian Opinion” below).

Abbas continued to consolidate his control over Fatah in the aftermath of the congress. On 12/12, he revoked the immunity of 5 Fatah parliamentarians whom the public prosecutor reportedly wanted to investigate on charges related to money laundering and weapons trafficking, but because the 5 were deemed Dahlan supporters, the move was widely interpreted as being politically motivated. Later in the quarter, the new Central Comm. elected (2/15) Abbas loyalist Mahmoud al-Aloul to serve as vice-chair of Fatah. According to a senior official, the position had not yet been clearly defined but al-Aloul was expected to share duties with Abbas.



A little over 2 mos. after Abbas met with Hamas leader Mishal and former PM in Gaza Haniyeh in Doha (see JPS 46 [2]), Hamas and Fatah officials met to resume national reconciliation talks (1/5) in the Qatari capital once again. The 2 sides agreed to continue discussions in Beirut on 1/10, but few other details emerged. In Beirut, Hamas, PLO, and Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ) officials discussed the possibility of convening the Palestinian National Council (PNC), which had not met since 2009, and concluded that it was necessary for all sides to implement existing reconciliation agreements before the legislative body met. The Beirut meeting was described as “positive and constructive” by PLO Exec. Comm. mbr. Mustafa Barghouti (1/10). After 3 more days of talks in Moscow (1/15–17), the factions involved agreed on the election of a new PNC, which would then elect a new PLO Exec. Comm. Hamas and PIJ also agreed to join the PLO. Hamas official Musa Abu Marzuq said that the proposed unity govt. would be responsible for finding solutions to issues that had plagued previous reconciliation efforts, “including the holding of free and democratic elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

Although the various factions appeared favorable to the Moscow platform, several key disputes reemerged in the final weeks of the quarter. On 1/25, a Gaza court doled out punishments to 8 Fatah affiliates on charges related to information gathering on behalf of the PLO, including 3 life sentences. A Fatah military leader commented (1/25) that some in Hamas might not be so interested in reconciliation after all. A few days later, the PA cabinet announced (1/31) that it would go ahead with municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza on 5/13. The elections had originally been scheduled for 10/8/2016 and were postponed after Fatah-Hamas disputes threatened to undermine their legitimacy. Furthermore, a PA official said (1/31) that if the PA could not arrange for a ballot in certain regions then it should be postponed in those specific places (the last round of municipal elections in 2012 excluded Gaza, for example). The official added that Abbas had authorized a new elections commission to address the issues that had hindered attempts to organize a vote on 10/8. A Hamas spokesperson rejected (1/31) the announcement as well as the new commission, arguing that “elections should take place after disagreements are ended, reconciliation is achieved, and Palestinian institutions in Gaza and the West Bank are united.”



Mishal had announced last quarter that he would not be running for reelection as the head of Hamas (see JPS 46 [2]). While Haniyeh did not openly state that he would be replacing Mishal, he also opted not to stand for reelection as head of the organization in Gaza. Senior military official Yahya Sinwar was then elected (2/13) to fill Haniyeh’s position, causing some consternation in Israel and the international community because of his role in the gradual takeover of Hamas’s military wing from the ailing Mohammed Deif (Al-Monitor, 2/14). Amid the upheaval, Abu Marzuq emphasized (2/13) Hamas’s institutional character and asserted that “a change in leadership is not something that will bring about radical change in [the organization’s] policies.”