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Palestinian elections: Fatah expels Arafat's nephew amid chaos in its ranks

Nasser al-Qudwa had refused to run on a single election list that represents all Fatah candidates, seeking to form a new party
Nasser al-Qudwa addresses a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 23 January 2019 (AFP)

The Palestinian movement Fatah has expelled one of its most prominent leaders, Nasser al-Qudwa, and stripped him of his party membership, in a major twist to an internal debate on how to campaign for the upcoming legislative elections on 22 May.

Qudwa, the nephew of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, had challenged President Mahmoud Abbas and refused to run on a single election list that represents all Fatah candidates, seeking to form a new party called the National Democratic Assembly (NDA).

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The NDA has been actively recruiting members of Fatah who disagree with Abbas and other independent candidates for the Palestinian Legislative Council election.

Fatah’s central committee gave Qudwa a 48-hour period to retract his position and align his candidacy under the umbrella of Abbas.

The movement, which runs the Palestinian Authority (PA), said that the sacking of Qudwa was made after exhausting all procedures and talks with him, and was necessary to preserve unity. 

In response Qudwa, who had been a member of the committee, said he would remain "a faithful member of Fatah," adding: "I look forward to the future and the day when reforming our internal affairs is possible."

He also tweeted a picture of the Palestinian flag, writing: “Palestine… first and last.”

Tensions with Abbas

Qudwa was Palestine’s permanent representative in the United Nations and a former foreign minister for the PA. He has served as a member of the central committee, the politburo of Fatah, since 2009.

Known for his tense relationship with Abbas, Qudwa resigned from the central committee in 2018, a decision the PA president rejected.

In February, a reconciliation meeting was held between Abbas and Qudwa to ease the tension and bridge the gap in Fatah ranks ahead of the election.

Qudwa had boycotted Fatah’s last meetings regarding the election, saying that he felt unable to influence its decision, “so there is no point in attending," he said.

He called on Marwan al-Barghouti, a Fatah leader and long-time Israeli prisoner, to join his newly formed Assembly.

He tweeted on Wednesday saying they had been trying to bring Barghouti to the Assembly and its leadership, writing that “we are with [Barghouti] if he runs for the presidency, and if he did not, and the election happened, then we will decide.”

In February, local media reported that Barghouti is mulling over whether to run in the upcoming PA presidential elections, planned for July, from his prison cell.

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Barghouti is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for allegedly plotting attacks on Israeli targets during the Second Intifada. 

If his candidacy becomes official, Barghouti would be the first candidate in the history of the Israeli occupation to run for the highest post of the Palestinian leadership from behind bars.

The last parliamentary elections for Palestinians took place in 2006 and resulted in a surprise win for Hamas, widening a political rift that led to internecine violence between Hamas and Fatah.

The PA announced in January that it will hold a legislative election in May, and a presidential one in July, followed by an election of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's national council, which seeks to represent Palestinians outside the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip.

Currently, there are three lists that branch from Fatah. The official list headed by Mahmoud Abbas, Qudwa's National Democratic Assembly and Mohammed Dahlan's Democratic Reform Bloc.

Dahlan also had a tense relationship with Abbas and was expelled from Fatah in 2011, before being driven out of Gaza by Hamas amid armed clashes in 2007.

Hamas has reportedly allowed members of Dahlan's Bloc to enter the Gaza Strip over the past few weeks to campaign for the election, in a bid to weaken the Fatah movement in the enclave.

On Wednesday, Hamas re-elected Yahya al-Sinwar as its politburo head for another term until 2025. With the elections fast approaching, Hamas seems to be on a solid footing in comparison to the chaos-afflicted Fatah.

Ismail Haniyeh, a leader of Hamas, said after Sinwar's re-election that, "We are all winners in this solid and coherent scene, and the victory is for the movement which honours us to belong to it."

He added that Hamas's commitment to hold an internal election every four years affirms its "belief in the exchange of power and the ballot box, which affirms the movement's determination in the upcoming legislative and presidential election and the Palestinian National Council's one."