Ramzy Baroud writes in The Palestine Chronicle:
If imprisoned Palestinian leader, Marwan Barghouti, becomes the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the status quo will change substantially. For Israel, as well as for the current PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, such a scenario is more dangerous than another strong Hamas showing in the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections.
The long-delayed elections, now scheduled for May 22 and July 31 respectively, will not only represent a watershed moment for the fractured Palestinian body politic, but also for the Fatah Movement which has dominated the PA since its inception in 1994. The once-revolutionary Movement has become a shell of its former self under the leadership of Abbas, whose only claim to legitimacy was a poorly contested election in January 2005, following the death of former Fatah leader and PA President, Yasser Arafat.
Though his mandate expired in January 2009, Abbas continued to ‘lead’ Palestinians. Corruption and nepotism increased significantly during his tenure and, not only did he fail to secure an independent Palestinian State, but the Israeli military occupation and illegal settlements have deepened and grown exponentially.
Abbas’ rivals from within the Fatah Movement were sidelined, imprisoned or exiled. A far more popular Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, was silenced by Israel as he was thrown into an Israeli prison in April 2002, after a military court found him guilty of involvement in Palestinian resistance operations during the uprising of 2000. This arrangement suited Abbas, for he continued to doubly benefit: from Barghouti’s popularity, on the one hand, and his absence, on the other.
When, in January, Abbas declared that he would hold three successive rounds of elections – legislative elections on May 22, presidential elections on July 31 and Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections on August 31 – he could not have anticipated that his decree, which followed intense Fatah-Hamas talks, could potentially trigger the implosion of his own party.
Fatah-Hamas rivalry has been decades-long but intensified in January 2006 when the latter won the legislative elections in the Occupied Territories. Hamas’s victory was partly attributed to Fatah’s own corruption, but internal rivalry also splintered Fatah’s vote.
Although it was Fatah’s structural weaknesses that partly boosted Hamas’ popularity, it was, oddly, the subsequent rivalry with Hamas that kept Fatah somehow limping forward. Indeed, the anti-Hamas sentiment served as a point of unity among the various Fatah branches. With money pouring in from donor countries, Fatah used its largesse to keep dissent at a minimum and, when necessary, to punish those who refused to toe the pro-Abbas line. This strategy was successfully put to the test in 2010 when Mohammed Dahlan, Fatah’s ‘strong man’ in Gaza prior to 2006, was dismissed from Fatah’s central committee and banished from the West Bank, as he was banished from Gaza four years earlier.