Palestine Pulse

Is Fatah pressuring Palestinian parties to form Shtayyeh's government?

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Article Summary
Members of the Palestinian Democratic Union Party and the Palestinian People's Party submitted their resignation following the decision of their parties to participate in the new Palestinian government.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Eight members of the Palestinian Democratic Union Party (FIDA), including Secretary-General Zahira Kamal, submitted their resignation April 3 from the party’s political bureau, the highest regulatory authority in the party. The resigning members also included FIDA parliamentarians Khaled al-Khatieb and Siham Barghouti.

This wave of resignations follows the decision of FIDA's Central Committee March 23 to partake in the government to be formed by Mohammad Shtayyeh.

Ahmed Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and secretary-general of the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, told Al-Monitor, “The government formation will be presented to President Mahmoud Abbas before the April 14 legal deadline. The parties that have so far agreed to take part in this government are Fatah, FIDA, the Palestinian People's Party (PPP), the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, the Arab Liberation Front and the Palestinian Liberation Front. The parties boycotting the government are the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Palestinian National Initiative, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”

During a meeting April 6 in Ramallah, FIDA’s political bureau refused the resignations by Kamal and her colleagues, and reaffirmed in a statement on the same day its decision to partake in the government.

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Kamal told Al-Monitor that she and the resigning members had boycotted the meeting, and explained that FIDA’s political bureau had previously discussed the issue of joining the government and decided not to participate in it. “This was before President Mahmoud Abbas entrusted Shtayyeh to form the government on March 10. But the bureau reversed its decision,” she said. “I will insist on my resignation as long as the political positions based on which we decided not to participate in the government remain unchanged.”

On April 4, Kamal posted a statement on her Facebook page recalling the political reasons behind the party’s previous refusal to participate in the government. She stressed the “necessity of continuing Palestinian-Palestinian dialogue to form a government of national unity or if this appears to be impossible, to form a government of technocrats subject to consensus, for a mandate of six months at most, whose task is to prepare for presidential and legislative elections and a national council, if possible.”

She also underlined the importance of “implementing the decisions of the National and Central Councils of the PLO to suspend the implementation of the Oslo Accord, in particular, security coordination, to gradually break free from the Paris economic agreement and to halt contacts with Israel.” Kamal called for the cessation of punitive measures against the Gaza Strip, urging for the payment of employee salaries.

Saleh Abu Laban, who also submitted his resignation as a member of FIDA’s political bureau, commented on the party’s reversal of its decision. He told Al-Monitor, “The political bureau composed of 20 members in addition to the secretary-general held three meetings to discuss participation in the government. It resolved not to participate in the government.”

He said, “During the third meeting March 3 the issue was put to a vote and a 10-10 tie was reached. According to partisan customs, the secretary-general would have the casting vote in this case, but those who sought to reverse the nonparticipation decision objected and resorted to FIDA’s Central Committee.”

Sources from FIDA's political bureau told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that FIDA members who support the participation in the upcoming government exploited Kamal’s travel and held a meeting of the Central Committee on March 23. “This was when the nonparticipation decision was reversed and the party’s position was announced in the media,” one of the sources said.

Asked whether those who voted in favor of participating in the government were pressured by Fatah to change their party’s position, Kamal said, “There is always pressure, but that does not mean that parties and their members yield to pressure. I was not at the Central Committee meeting to know what happened.”

Jihad Harb, a political analyst and author, told Al-Monitor that the resignations of FIDA political bureau members prove that there is a power struggle within the party. “This is the reason behind the reversal of the nonparticipation decision,” he said, asserting that Fatah exerted various pressures to ensure the participation of PLO factions in the government.

In regard to the implications of the resignations on FIDA, he said, “These resignations could overthrow the party, especially the resignation of some of the party’s most prominent leaders. FIDA does not have a wide popular base in the Palestinian street.”

FIDA is not the only Palestinian party to be troubled by the government formation. The PPP, whose position on taking part in the government so far remained unclear, announced April 3 it will be part of Shtayyeh’s government. On the same day, Walid al-Awad submitted his resignation from the PPP’s political bureau and Central Committee.

Awad justified his resignation in a post on his Facebook page on April 3, saying, “This is not to protest against the [PPP] decision to participate in the government or against the election of the party’s representative in the government, but against the immature acts that followed.” He provided no further clarification.

The PPP rejected Awad’s resignation in a press statement it published on its official website the next day. Al-Monitor could not obtain a comment from Awad.

Al-Monitor talked to Fahmi Shaheen, member of the PPP political bureau and the party’s spokesman, who said that Awad resigned against the backdrop of leaks on social media and some media outlets reporting false information.

Palestinian media outlets had focused April 3 on the results of the PPP’s internal vote on the party’s representative in the upcoming government as a minister. The vote that took place on the same day pitted Awad against PPP leader Nasri Abu Jaish, who received 22 votes against 12 to Awad. “Awad’s resignation is being resolved,” Shaheen added.

The London-based Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed newspaper had published on Aug. 19, 2018, an article that pointed to a “stifling financial crisis hitting the PPP due to some unprofitable investments.”

The article quoted sources saying that this crisis led the PPP to participate in the PLO Central Council’s 29th meeting. The article noted that the PPP’s popular base is experiencing “a state of anger and indignation” against the unilateral decision of its secretary-general, Bassam al-Salhi, to participate in the PLO’s Central Council meeting. The same sources noted that Abbas had disbursed the financial allocations to the PPP for one year, while such allocations were usually disbursed on a monthly basis.

The PPP’s participation in the 2018 Central Council meeting was contrary to the position of the Palestinian factions that boycotted the meeting. The PFLP, the DFLP and the Palestinian National Initiative had objected to Abbas and Fatah’s monopoly over the Palestinian decision-making within the PLO and the failure to implement the Central Council decisions.

Shaheen said the PPP did not decide to partake in the government out of pressure by Fatah or in light of its financial crisis. “This is not true,” he said. “The party's decision to participate in Shtayyeh’s government is independent and based on its political vision.”

Ahmad Melhem is a Palestinian journalist and photographer based in Ramallah for Al-Watan News. He writes for a number of Arabic outlets.

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