July 23, 2010 - 12:00am

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has warned the Fatah party he leads that its days are numbered unless it puts its house in order.

His remarks underscore the troubles facing a party in decline since the death of Yasser Arafat, its co-founder, in 2004. The movement's weaknesses have contributed to the rise of the Islamist group Hamas, which has governed the Gaza Strip for three years.

Abbas, who replaced Arafat, attacked the party over its failure to agree on nominations for local elections that had been scheduled for July but had to be cancelled because Fatah could not agree on who would run.

"We must hold ourselves to account over what happened," Abbas told a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council on Tuesday, according to an official who attended.

"If what happened is allowed to pass, I tell you that this movement must say goodbye," he quoted Abbas as saying, in remarks which were omitted from a broadcast version of the speech.

"This test does not bode well for any official in Fatah, including myself," Abbas said in unusually candid remarks. "I don't exclude myself from responsibility."

Fatah, which supports the idea of a permanent peace treaty with Israel, was defeated by Hamas in the last legislative elections held by the Palestinians in 2006.

After winning the election, Hamas, which is hostile to Israel, struggled to govern in the face of a boycott by world powers. Accusing Fatah of conspiring against it, Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Palestinian presidential and legislative elections scheduled for earlier this year were cancelled as a result of the divide between the rival movements. As soon as Abbas called the elections, Hamas said they would be banned in Gaza.

Hamas had also decided to boycott the municipal elections, which were ultimately derailed by rivalries within Fatah.

"Even with competition, we managed to fail," said Abbas, who had been on an official visit to Washington at the time of the cancellation. He expressed anger at being woken up early so he could order his cabinet in Ramallah to postpone the vote.

Fatah's influence has been limited to the West Bank since Hamas seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas in 2007. Yet even in the West Bank, some Fatah officials fear the movement is on the wane, its credibility damaged by the failure of Abbas's strategy of negotiating peace with Israel.

Some Fatah officials admit that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an independent appointed to the post by Abbas in 2007, is gaining popularity among West Bank Palestinians who credit him with better law and order and an improving economy.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017