Fatah: History & Overview
Fatah is a major Palestinian political party that began in 1965 as the Palestinian National Liberation Movement. Yasser Arafat and aides Khalil al-Wazir, Salah Khalaf, and Mahmoud Abbas founded the organization. Originally opposed to the Palestine Liberation Organization, Fatah took over the organization in 1968 and became its largest faction.
With Syrian support, Fatah started launching terrorist raids against Israeli targets in January 1965 from Jordan, Lebanon, and Egyptian-occupied Gaza. Fatah carried out dozens of raids exclusively against civilian targets in its early years.
The word “Fatah” is a reverse acronym of the Arabic Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filistiniya or Palestinian National Liberation Movement. The word Fatah means to conquer. The Fatah flag features a grenade with crossed rifles superimposed on the map of Israel. This emphasizes the dedication of Fatah, along with the other “liberation” groups, to the “armed struggle” against Israel, which is a euphemism for terrorism against civilians.
While never abandoning terror, the organization chose to engage in negotiations with Israel after concluding the Arab states were not prepared to go to war for the Palestinians, and Arafat and the PLO were expelled from Beirut. In 1993, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin exchanged letters in which the PLO and Israel reciprocally recognized each other. Arafat also renounced violence, but the PLO never abandoned terror, which ultimately led to the collapse of the Oslo negotiations that followed mutual recognition and has impeded peace talks ever since.
Fatah opposes the existence of Israel, and its 1989 political program emphasizes the barbarism of colonial Zionism, the success of the (first) intifada, and the centrality of the Palestinian Arab national rights within the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 2009, Fatah adopted a new charter at its general conference in Bethlehem. It mainly concerns the organizational structure and political intricacies within the group itself, all the while reaffirming themes of revolution and resistance. A key distinction between the two charters is the inclusion in the first of “the worldwide struggle against Zionism” whereas the 2009 version does not even mention Israel, Zionism, or Jews.
1964: First Fatah terrorist attack against Israel.
1967: Fatah becomes the best-funded Palestinian organization, and takes over PLO.
1971: Jordan kills Fatah’s leader.
1972: Fatah’s Black September terror group murders 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games.
1982: Fatah transfers power base from Lebanon to Tunisia after IDF outs it & PLO from non-Syria controlled Lebanon.
1983: Struggle between Fatah leaders.
1990s: Arafat regains leadership of Fatah.
1993: Fatah-led PLO signs Oslo Accords with Israel.
1994: Palestinian Authority was established to govern autonomous Palestinian regions, and Gaza City becomes Fatah Headquarters.
2006: Fatah unexpectedly loses Palestinian Legislative Council elections to Hamas.
2009: First Fatah congress in two decades convenes in Bethlehem.
2011: Hamas and Fatah reconcile in agreement in Egypt-mediated negotiations, and sign the agreement. to form an interim joint government.
2012: Mahmoud Abbas becomes interim Prime Minister.
2014: Fatah and Hamas sign a reconciliation agreement in April and form a unity government, on June 2 Abbas swears in the new government. Soon after, the unity government falls apart.
2017: Fatah and Hamas sign a new reconciliation agreement in October. They begin to implement the agreement on November 1, as Hamas gives control of Gaza border crossings to the PA. The agreement later collapses.
After Hamas unexpectedly won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and overtook the Gaza Strip, it forced out all remnants of Palestinian President Abbas’s Fatah party. Since then, Fatah has largely been in charge of the West Bank and Hamas of the Gaza Strip. Fatah remains the Palestinian Authority’s largest political and military power, but its ties to terrorist activities cause strains between Israel and the Palestinians. The issue of uniting Hamas and Fatah has been up for debate – among Palestinians and externally – since 2007. Each side wants to keep its land and maintain control but acknowledges that political division within the Palestinian infrastructure is probably untenable. The de facto alliance between Israel and the PA aimed to prevent Hamas from overtaking the West Bank has been U.S.-assisted. The U.S. created the Security U.S. Coordinator’s Office that trains Palestinian security forces and organizes Israel-PA cooperation.
Although the two groups signed a reconciliation agreement in April 2014, during Operation Protective Edge Fatah members were intimidated, harassed, shot, and generally treated unfairly by Hamas members. Hamas members have placed hundreds of Fatah members under “house arrest” and have shot 125 for failing to comply. According to Fatah officials, Hamas is trying to silence the voice of Fatah and does not want any of the international attention pulled away from their struggle against Israel.
In light of the cease-fire beginning on August 26 following Operation Protective Edge, Senior Fatah Central Committee member Marwan Barghouti addressed Fatah in a letter written from an Israeli prison where he is imprisoned for directing multiple terror attacks which killed and injured several Israelis. He wrote that Fatah had the privilege of “fire[ing] the first bullet against the Zionist enemy,” and will eventually be the one to “fire the final bullet against this occupation”. He goes on to state that the Fatah fighters must dedicate themselves to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and that Israel is only interested in their land and not peace or reconciliation. According to Barghouti the steadfastness and sacrifices made by the Palestinian people will eventually convince Israel that the “occupation” is too costly economically, militarily, diplomatically, and morally. Lastly, Barghouti calls for a sweeping change within Fatah and an abandoning of the “illusion of achieving independence” through diplomatic negotiations. The letter calls for Fatah to renew “its ideology, its frameworks, its institutions, and its platform.” Barghouti was calling on Fatah to take advantage of Hamas’s weakened state after Israel’s ground and pound tactics during Operation Protective Edge and take back control of resistance in the Gaza Strip.
Although groups like Hamas and Fatah denied it, the Islamic State briefly gained a foothold in the Palestinian territories. Israeli security sources said that in late 2014 and early 2015 hundreds of Hamas and Fatah supporters defected to the Islamic State. Following the attack on the satirical French news magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, thousands of supporters of the Islamic State crowded the streets of Gaza in protest of the publishing of images of Muhammad by the magazine, and in support of the violent attack that left twelve people dead. Similar demonstrations took place in Ramallah and Hebron.
On February 16, 2017, the leaders of the Fatah movement elected their first ever Vice-President, offering a first look at who may succeed the aging Mahmoud Abbas. Former Nablus Governor Mahmoud al-Aloul, a close friend of Abbas, was appointed to the position. Al-Aloul has in the past also served on the Fatah Central Committee, and as the Palestinian Labor Minister. At the same time, the head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, was appointed secretary general of the Fatah Central Committee.
A reconciliation agreement was signed between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo, Egypt on October 12, 2017. Like other such agreements, this one was never implemented.
Sources: Federation of American Scientists.
Marwan Barghouti In Message From Israeli Jail: The Time Has Arrived For Fatah Members To Take Part In Comprehensive Resistance Against Israel, Middle East Media Research Institute, (August 27 2014).
Thousands of Palestinians protest Charlie Hebdo Mohammad cartoon, Reuters, (January 24, 2015).
Dov Lieber and Avi Isacharoff,
Fatah picks first-ever deputy for Abbas, sidelines Barghouti, Times of Israel, (February 16, 2017).
Zena Al Tahhan, “Hamas and Fatah: How are the two groups different?” Al Jazeera, (October 12, 2017).