The statements made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, where he attacked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian leaders close to him, accusing them of supporting terrorism, have sparked discussions about the need to change the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza.
This is seen as a way to address the importance of Palestinian national unity in the face of Israeli plans to prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
In response to Netanyahu’s statements, Fatah and the other Palestinian factions mocked his remarks, especially those suggesting a need for a change in Palestinian leadership similar to the changes in Japan and Germany after World War II. Netanyahu’s desire to shift attention from his political predicament, exacerbated by his racist policies and the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people, has been evident in his continuous attempts to discredit and eliminate the Palestinian political leadership.
The Palestinians from various factions emphasise that the issue of electing a new leadership is a purely Palestinian matter, and they will not allow any interference. They see this as a tool for Netanyahu to escape his political and security crises at home, and they call on those who are trying to ride the wave of change promoted by some Arab and international entities to stand by their people instead of rushing to hide behind Netanyahu’s smoke and mirrors.
With the outbreak of the Israeli war on Gaza, plans to change the Palestinian leadership intensified. Israel began a campaign criticising the Palestinian leadership for refusing to condemn the 7 October operations led by Hamas. Netanyahu described Hamas as an Islamic State (IS)-like group and hinted at changing the leadership in Gaza and the West Bank.
Analysts see this as having been a recurring theme for Israel over the years, aiming to achieve its long-standing view that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. Israel argues that with the existing division of the Palestinian leadership, there is no one to negotiate with, whether in the West Bank or Gaza. But its own policies have deepened the division in an attempt to push through its agenda.
Since the start of the aggression on Gaza, some Arab, international, and Israeli media outlets have promoted the possibility of a leadership change. There have been rumours about the return of former Palestinian prime minister Sallam Fayyad, alliances forming a new leadership with dismissed Fatah leader Mohamed Dahlan and Nasser Al-Qudwa, and the recent Qatari hosting of Dahlan’s deputy Samir Mashharawi and Nasser Al-Qudwa on the Aljazeera TV network, where they discussed the importance of unity.
Additionally, there are the policies of some regional powers supporting Hamas and undermining the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Regarding accusations of anti-Semitism and support for terrorism, especially in relation to salaries for prisoners and the families of martyrs, Fatah has affirmed that all such attempts are destined to fail. The Palestinian people remain aware of what is happening, despite the massive targeting of the Palestinian national political project, it said.
Mohamed Abdel-Nabi Laham, a member of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah, emphasised that Netanyahu’s position has become clear. He has a personal project, harbouring illusions and dreams, Laham said, believing that it is time to settle the conflict and implement deportation projects in the midst of the brutal war he is waging against the Palestinian people.
Netanyahu has attempted to exploit the events of 7 October, portraying them as a Palestinian assault on Israel while ignoring Israel’s 75-year-long crimes against the Palestinian people, Laham said.
In response to these racist policies, President Mahmoud Abbas has adopted a policy of supporting the Palestinian people wherever they are and strengthening their resilience in Gaza and the West Bank through popular resistance.
Abbas seeks to maintain legal jurisdiction over Gaza despite Hamas taking control in 2007. He recognises the importance of preserving political and economic unity between the West Bank and Gaza. Despite Hamas’ control of Gaza, Abbas has allocated 57 per cent of the PA’s budget to maintaining national unity under the umbrella of Palestinian legitimacy, which Israel seeks to undermine.
Regarding the alleged efforts of the Dahlan faction, Nasser Al-Qudwa, a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, stated that they are trying to present their credentials to the Americans through meetings in Doha. They seem to be prepared to engage with the upcoming phase according to the Qatari, Israeli, and even American approaches, and their appearances in Doha have been highlighted in the media.
Laham believes they are attempting to undermine Hamas but are politically exposed and do not pose a real threat to Fatah and other national factions.
Concerning the Palestinian leadership’s trust in the US administration, Al-Qudwa said that on the contrary there is no trust in the US. President Abbas has rejected all international and American pressures. There is no confidence in statements about political solutions to the conflict from the US, Al-Qudwa said, as the US has positioned itself as an enemy of Fatah by supporting Israel financially and militarily.
Laham emphasised that Fatah is experiencing extremely complex conditions due to a massive campaign, both Israeli and Arab, to discredit and target the movement.
Al-Qudwa said that the US administration recognises the importance of the Fatah Movement and the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). He said that American delegations do not visit the region to seek a ceasefire without meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This was evident in the visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and in a call from US Vice-President Kamala Harris to the Palestinian president.
In the call, Abbas told Harris that the Gaza Strip is an integral part of Palestinian land. He emphasised the failure of security and military solutions to the conflict and of the genocidal war in the past and present. He stressed that the solution lies in establishing an independent Palestinian state, citing the failure of Israeli policies in the West Bank, including settlements, confiscation of Palestinian funds, and imposing a siege.
A solution can only lie in adhering to the aspirations of the Palestinian people for freedom and independence, rejecting any external interference in Palestinian affairs, and emphasising the failure of any attempts to impose a new leadership on the Palestinian people, he said.
FATAH:Fatah continues to resist and to exist politically, diplomatically, and in the field despite campaigns to tarnish its image.
Unfortunately, Fatah’s presence in Gaza is almost nonexistent due to Hamas restricting its movements. Fatah is working to prevent the breaking of the resistance out of national responsibility, despite Hamas continuing to attack and discredit Fatah.
The priority is to strengthen national unity rather than engage in defamation campaigns with certain Hamas leaders, Abbas said.
Al-Qudwa said that certain regional entities are seeking to undermine Fatah by presenting their credentials to the US administration. These entities prioritise pleasing the Americans at the expense of the blood of Gaza’s children, he said, but despite these challenges Fatah remains steadfast, with a strong popular base in the West Bank and Gaza. Fatah affirms its commitment to struggle, believing in partnership, unlike others who present themselves as alternatives, Al-Qudwa said.
Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Unified Framework within the PLO, emphasised that no external force or state has the right to impose a leadership on the Palestinians. The Palestinian people alone have the right to choose their leaders through free and democratic elections held in all the Palestinian territories, he said.
Barghouti insisted that Gaza cannot be separated from the West Bank. Stability cannot be achieved without the complete withdrawal of the Israeli occupation forces from Gaza. Only then can the Palestinians choose their leaders without external interference.
In response to such conspiracies against the Palestinian political leaders, people on the ground have also expressed their rejection of them.
Munther Amira, head of the Popular Resistance Committees in the West Bank, stated that all attempts to conspire against the Palestinian people and their leadership have failed and will continue to fail. He emphasised that the Palestinian people have a heightened awareness and can see through attempts to impose a new leadership as Israeli-led conspiracies.
Amira said that the only path to change is through elections, and the Palestinian people, through the electoral process, have the ability to choose leaders who adhere to national principles and reject compromise and domination. He highlighted the Palestinian people’s capability to confront conspiracies against their national leaders.
Mohamed Al-Jaafari, a member of the Factions’ Coordination Committee for the PLO in Bethlehem, stated that those who believe that the ongoing genocide and aggression against the Palestinian people will lead to their retreat are mistaken. He called for strengthening national unity, focusing on the desired goal of freedom, independence, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
He emphasised that Netanyahu has no say in the choice of the Palestinian leadership, which is an expression of the resilient will of a people determined not to be defeated.
Political analyst and journalist Iyad Hamad also said that Netanyahu is attempting to divert attention away from his own failures by launching a campaign against the Palestinian leaders. He called for reinforcing national unity and a complete national rally, focusing on the goal of freedom, independence, and the establishment of the Palestinian state.
Hamad urged the Palestinian leaders to unite around the blood of those who have been killed and the suffering of those in hospitals who cannot access treatment, rather than chasing illusions of imposing a new leadership.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 December, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly