PALESTINE: SALVAGING FATAH
Middle East Report N°91 – 12 November 2009
Why should anyone care about Fatah’s fate? The 50-year-old movement, once the beating heart of Palestinian nationalism, is past its prime, its capacity to mobilise withered. Racked by internal divisions, it lost the latest and only truly competitive election in Palestinian Authority (PA) history. It promised to fight for liberation, achieve independence by negotiation and effectively manage daily lives through the PA yet achieved none of this.
Those yearning for resistance can turn to Hamas or Islamic Jihad; the address for diplomacy is the PLO; governance depends on Prime Minister Fayyad in the West Bank, the Islamists in Gaza. President Abbas’ threat not to run in upcoming presidential elections is the latest sign of a movement and project adrift. Yet Fatah’s difficulties do not make it expendable; they make it an organisation in urgent need of redress. A strong national movement
is needed whether negotiations succeed and an agreement must be promoted, or they fail and an alternative project must be devised. Fatah’s August General Conference – its first in twenty years – was a first step. Now comes the hard part: to define the movement’s agenda, how it plans to carry it out, and with whom.
Fatah’s problems by no means are entirely of its own doing. They are an outgrowth of the singular Palestinian experience: still under occupation yet already in the process of state-building; clinging to the notion of armed struggle even as it embarked on negotiations. The nationalist movement first benefited from this condition: as the dominant faction in the PLO and the core of the PA when it was established in the mid-1990s, it controlled
the diplomatic agenda, ran the government and, largely through its charismatic founder, Yasser Arafat, retained the mantle of resistance. The balancing act soon became unsustainable. Governance afforded an opportunity to dispense patronage, but its corollary, corruption, earned the movement public scorn. Fatah was saddled with a moribund peace process. In 2004, it mourned the loss of its leader.
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