Changing course, Fatah officials call for Palestinian protests against Israel
After years of muting Palestinian rhetoric of 'popular resistance,' senior officials in Fatah, which governs the West Bank, are calling for protests against Israel's settlement expansion and construction of its separation barrier.
Senior officials in Fatah, the mainstream faction of the PLO, have for several years taken a backseat approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- leaving negotiations to a few leaders at the top and demonstrations to the grass-roots activists on the street.Skip to next paragraph
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Now something is changing. This week, for the first time in years, senior members of the Fatah Central Committee – who provide a political backbone for Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas – called for an escalation of popular protests against symbols of Israeli occupation in the West Bank: the construction of the separation barrier as well as settlements. Moreover, veteran Fatah heavyweights came out to the protests, which resulted in the arrest a Fatah Central Committee member, Abbas Zaki, along with 10 other Palestinians.
The increased involvement, top Fatah officials say, is a result of what Palestinians say is an decrease in faith in restarting peace talks, and an increase in what Palestinians see as provocative Israeli actions on the ground.
"It's appropriate for the Fatah leadership to lead a new phase of popular resistance, because Fatah has motivated the masses to resist the Israeli occupation since the movement's inception in 1965," says Jibril Rajoub, a member of the Fatah Central Committee and a former West Bank chief of security for the PA. "We led the resistance during the first intifada, and have also engaged in negotiations. However, when negotiations have not been fruitful, it's only natural that the Palestinian leadership and people have opted for resistance."
Fatah higher-ups note that at the Sixth General Assembly of Fatah, held in Bethlehem last August, members endorsed the option of using "popular resistance" as a means of confronting Israel as part of a revised party platform. The decision to do so met with much concern in Israel, for which Fatah has been an on-again, off-again peace partner since the two reached their historic Oslo Peace Accords in 1993. What Palestinians dub resistance, Israelis call violence.
Despite the decision last year, sporadic protests since then have mostly been limited to teenage boys or college-age men. In addition, there are longstanding weekly protests in the Palestinian villages of Bilin and Nilin, two West Bank locales that are being affected by the ongoing construction of the separation barrier, which in more populated areas is a wall and in more rural areas is a guarded fence. These protests each Friday have sometimes resulted in casualties among local Palestinians and international activists. But they are rarely attended by well-known Fatah figures.