Last Wednesday, 15 February, Fatah’s influential Central Committee came together and announced its decision to the Palestinian public and media that Mahmoud Al-Aloul, a long-time ally of Mahmoud Abbas, has become the movement’s new Deputy Leader. The party’s support base had indeed long called for such a move, but it is unclear if the decision will fundamentally alter Fatah’s internal power dynamics.
During the last party congress held at the end of November 2016, Fatah’s members voted for 18 of the Central Committee’s 23 members - the remaining members are chosen by the party’s leadership. Yet up until last week, no one could be quite sure how Fatah’s internal posts were to be divided among the movement’s leading figures. It is now clear that the new make-up of the Central Committee is a continuation of Abbas’ consolidation of power evident at the last party congress, where Abbas succeeded in excluding arch-rival Mohammed Dahlan and his supporters from participating.
The establishment of the position of Deputy Leader confirms rumours that had continued to swirl in recent months. The new Deputy Leader belongs to Fatah’s old guard and was active in the military wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the 1970s. Al-Aloul was a close confident of ex-Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and is also considered to be loyal to Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas. While he previously was Commissioner for Mobilisation and Organisation, Al-Aloul’s new post is surprising as other Central Committee members received more votes at the internal elections held at the last congress.
This includes Jibril Rajoub, who instead has been appointed as General Secretary, a position Abbas previously filled along with his many other realms of responsibility. Rajoub is an experienced Palestinian politician, having previously headed the West Bank’s Preventive Security unit and later holding the post of National Security Advisor. Today, Rajoub is President of both the Palestinian Olympic Committee and the Palestinian Football Association. The appointment of Rajoub as General Secretary is considered a concession by Abbas to a potential rival. Rajoub is publicly loyal to Abbas, but he is a powerful politician with close connections to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) influential security apparatus. As Secretary General, Rajoub may be close to the seat of power, but the newly elected post of Deputy Leader will likely serve as a convenient buffer between Abbas and potential challengers.
Nabil Shaath, former PA Foreign Minister, was unsuccessful – to the surprise of many – in his campaign to be re-elected to Fatah’s Central Committee at the last congress. Shaath was responsible for Fatah’s foreign relations and had developed an excellent international network and close relations to European governments. As a result, finding a successor was no easy task, not least as Nasser Al-Kidwa, Yasser Arafat’s well-known nephew, showed little interest in the post. Al-Kidwa was PA Foreign Minister between 2005 and 2006 and is now Fatah’s Commissioner for Media and Culture. Shaath’s successor is instead the former speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Rawhi Fatouh. Fatouh was also interim President between November 2004 and January 2005 following the death of Yasser Arafat. The appointment of Fatouh is a surprise for many as he lacks the international credentials of some of his peers. Shaath was eventually chosen by Abbas to serve as the President’s Special Advisor for International Affairs, a position especially created for Shaath and which is equivalent to a ministerial post.
What at first appears to be more internal democracy within the movement – less accumulation of power and the division of responsibilities through a deputy – is for many observers as a further step towards Abbas’ goal to monopolise his control over Fatah. The Palestinian President calmly continues what he started at the last congress by securing the place of loyalists in the party’s upper echelons. Potential rivals are conveniently managed to ensure that they pose no immediate threat to Abbas.