by Khaled Abu Toameh
Fatah leaders in the West Bank announced this week that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is their only candidate for the presidential election expected to take place in May 2012.
The announcement enraged several disillusioned Fatah officials, some of whom called on the 76-year-old Abbas not to seek re-election so as to pave the way for the emergence of young and fresh faces.
Although Abbas made it clear over the past few years that he had no plans to run in another election, his aides in Ramallah are now saying that he does not plan to retire in the near future.
Abbas and his veteran colleagues in the Palestinian Authority and PLO believe they have a monopoly over the Palestinian issue and the decision-making process. They are convinced that they know better than anyone else what is good and bad for the Palestinians. Any young leader who dares to challenge them or question their wisdom is quickly denounced as a 'traitor" and "fifth columnist."
Fatah will never regain the confidence of a majority of Palestinians unless it paves the way for young activists to rise to power. The Palestinians are not stupid and they are not going to vote again for the same Fatah candidates they voted out in the 2006 parliamentary election. Fatah's failure to reform and inject fresh blood into its veins is a guaranteed recipe for a Hamas victory in any election.
One of the officials, Abu Ali Sheheen, said he was even prepared to help Abbas retire so more capable and young leaders could rise to power.
At this stage, it is not even clear if the presidential election will take place in May. What is clear is that if and when the vote takes place, Abbas's colleagues and friends will insist that he run for another term to prevent the emergence of new faces. Then Abbas will say that he had no choice but to succumb to "popular pressure" to seek re-election.
Palestinian mothers have apparently stopped giving birth -- at least as far as Abbas and his loyalists are concerned.
Abbas was elected to succeed Yasser Arafat in January 2005. Although his term in office expired in 2009, he chose to hold on to power, using the dispute with Hamas as the main excuse.
Abbas argued that it would be impossible to hold new elections in light of the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since the summer of 2007.
Abbas also used the power struggle between his Fatah faction and Hamas as an excuse to block the emergence of a new leadership in the West Bank.
Abbas is continuing, in fact, the same policy as his predecessor, Chairman Arafat, who systematically suppressed the emergence of the "young guard" in Fatah.
The Palestinian leadership is dominated by "old guard" leaders who have been in power for decades. These aging leaders have succeeded over the past few decades in preventing younger faces from rising to power.
Frustration over this "old guard" is why Hamas won in 2006, and why it will win again.Khaled Abu Toameh
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