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Friction in Fatah

How Generational Differences Threaten to Derail the Faction

A youth waves a Palestinian flag as he climbs a tree during a rally marking the 48th anniversary of the founding of the Fatah movement, in Gaza City, January 2013. Ahmed Zakot / Reuters

On August 22, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and nine of his colleagues tendered their resignations from the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to force the election of a new executive committee—likely an effort to fill the committee with Abbas supporters. The news shined a spotlight on the PLO, but the real attention should be on Fatah, the dominant faction in the PLO, whose internal politics pose the largest threat to the future of Palestinian politics.

As the Fatah leadership prepares for its annual congress, its internal turmoil has become more pronounced. Younger members, known as the “young guard,” who were raised in the West Bank and Gaza and participated in the first and second intifadas, have aired a number of grievances against the Fatah leadership and the “old guard,” the older members who have spent most of their lives fighting for the Palestinian cause in the diaspora.

Tensions came to a head following the overwhelming loss of the Fatah student bloc at Birzeit University, on April 23, when the son of a jailed Fatah leader and militant, Qassam Barghouti, published a scathing critique of the Fatah leadership in the Palestinian press. Speaking for many younger members of Fatah, he criticized Fatah’s inability to integrate the “new guard,” its lack of accountability, and its poor liberation strategy.

THE OLD AND THE NEW

Fatah’s Central Committee and Revolutionary Council hold primary decision-making power, and have left little room for the views of younger members. Even as younger Fatah leaders reach middle age, they find it difficult to assume influential roles within the organization, remaining stuck in the rank and file. As Barghouti wrote in a June 26 email, “If we carry out a simple calculation to determine the average age of the members of the Central Committee, Revolutionary Council, and regional councils, we would find that representation of the younger generations is almost nonexistent, and the average age is 60.”

Palestinian members of the Fatah movement roll down a poster of

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