Abbas Battles Growing Discord in Fatah Party ahead of Palestinian Elections

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (Photo: Mahmoud Abbas Facebook Page)

Facing elections for the first time in 15 years, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is battling a growing rift within his powerful Fatah party that poses a new threat to his dominance over Palestinian politics, reports Reuters.

A breakaway bid by one of Abbas’s party allies has intensified speculation he might cancel a presidential vote planned for July, fearing a potential challenge by Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader detained by Israel.

Abbas’s office denies he has plans to delay or scrub the presidential vote.

Barghouti, now 61, was a driving force in Palestinians’ 2000-2005 uprising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. He was sentenced by an Israeli court in 2004 to life imprisonment after being convicted of multiple lethal attacks on Israelis by Palestinian militants. Barghouti has always denied the charges.

Abbas, 85, has ruled the Palestinian Authority (PA) in self-rule areas of the West Bank by decree for over a decade. In January, he announced presidential and legislative ballots – a move largely seen as a response to domestic and Western criticism of his presidency’s democratic legitimacy.

Barghouti has not said if he will join the list or run on the presidential ballot. He and his lawyer declined a request to interview him. But opinion polls suggest he would win comfortably against Abbas and leaders from Hamas, the Islamist movement that seized control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007.

Aides to Abbas point to the split with Hamas as having contributed to the long delay in holding new elections.

The Palestinians’ last parliamentary ballot, in 2006, resulted in a surprise victory by Fatah’s main rival Hamas. That created a rift that deepened when the group wrested military control of Gaza from the Fatah-led PA two years after Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from the territory.

The elections are part of a broader push for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, seen as vital to building broad popular support for any future statehood talks with Israel, frozen since 2014.

Party lists for the legislative ballot are due by March 20.

(MEMO, PC, Social Media)

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