After leading the Palestinian national project and its official institutions for more than fifty years, the Fatah movement finds itself at a historic crossroads. It has major decisions to make about its future.
When it was launched, Fatah was dynamic and had extensive mobilisation capabilities, as well as the willingness to make great sacrifices. Its emergence in 1965 was a milestone which launched the notion of Palestinian national action, in addition to armed resistance. It contributed to independent decision-making away from the hegemony of regional regimes.
In 1968, Fatah led the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), revolutionised it and put its vision of national action and liberation into practice. Since then, Fatah has passed a number of major crossroads, including the resistance movement’s position in Jordan; its relocation to Lebanon and subsequent forced dispersal to Tunis and other places; and its political positioning between the comprehensive liberation project and the one democratic state (1969), the Ten Point Programme (1974), the two-state solution (1988) and the Oslo Accords (1993).
After the official announcement of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” last month, the 26 years of failure post-Oslo and the collapse of the two-state solution, Fatah needs to be bold and responsive if it is to save the national project. At this juncture, Fatah needs to have a serious review and reset its focus, before events crush the movement and it is lost to history.
In the first instance, it has to deal with the so-called peace process. After thirty years of chasing the mirage of an independent Palestinian state there is no room for delay or escape from this issue. The US is now open about backing the Zionist project advocated by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party; Israeli society has become more racist and extreme; regional Arab states nominally involved in the peace process are impotent, weak and fragmented; and the international community is unable and unwilling to enforce even one UN Resolution against Israel. Thirty years of a “peace process”, “renouncing terrorism”, “chasing the resistance forces” and “begging” in the corridors of international power have not convinced the Israelis and their allies that the Palestinians are people who deserve a dignified life. What Fatah has offered is not seen as anything other than a tool to legitimise the occupation, Judaise the land and holy sites, and suppress the resistance.
Moreover, Fatah has to consider its position vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority. The movement assumed the burden of running the PA in pursuit of the dream of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders (in reality, the 1949 Armistice — “Green” — Line), but now finds that it is actually managing a self-rule authority with nothing to look forward to but the establishment of little more than Bantustans and ghettos under Israeli domination. It is an authority devoted to serving the occupation rather than the Palestinian people. There is no longer any justification for a militant liberation movement like Fatah to play such a role, because the Israelis have emptied it of meaning apart from doing dirty jobs such as security coordination with the occupation authorities and managing the daily life of the population, relieving Israel of the burden in the process. Everyone knows that 26 years of the Fatah-led PA’s functional role has only strengthened the Zionist project; provided cover for its illegal settlement and Judaisation projects; targeted the resistance forces; and provided justifications for the normalisation and recognition of Israel by Arab, Islamic and international governments.
Fatah has a major problem as far as doing anything about the PA is concerned, for tens of thousands of its members earn their living from and are connected to the authority and its institutions, and have adapted their lifestyles accordingly. Hence, any decision to drop the PA or redefine it as a resistance authority, will involve paying a high price and require great sacrifices. However, whether Fatah likes it or not, it has reached the crossroads where such decisions have to be made; it has to choose either to pay the price for its national choices (while coordinating with other resistance forces), or find itself emptied of its national and militant role as part of the Israeli establishment.
Finally, Fatah has to review the official structure of the Palestinian national project; it has been leading the PLO for more than fifty years, and the PA for nearly 26 years. Regardless of the reasons for such dominance, and the argument that the Arab and international community reject the resistance or “political Islam” movements, the Palestinian condition has reached a critical point that no longer offers the possibility of delay. Major issues must be confronted, including the Trump “peace plan” and the liquidation of the Palestine issue. The luxury of time for political manoeuvres, rivalries and factional quotas is no longer available (if it ever was).
All observers of the Palestine issue, as well as Fatah itself, know about the weakness, deterioration and collapse of the PLO institutions. We have all seen the strange insistence of the PLO leadership to carry on with the same style, monopolising the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and the PLO Executive Committee and its branches, and dominating the PA, its government, ministries and institutions. We know that the Provisional Leadership Framework is being ignored, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has been dissolved and a Fatah government has been formed, at a time when the greatest need is for national unity and a comprehensive national programme.
All that Fatah has done to be accepted in Arab and international circles, according to US standards and Israeli requirements, has only emptied it of its national and militant role, reinforced the occupation and obliterated the Palestine issue. The movement has to stand up to this situation, take the initiative, and put the Palestinian political house in order by rebuilding the PLO on the basis of Palestinian basics and a real national partnership.
There are more than the three major points noted above, but they should be priorities, otherwise the biggest losers will be Palestine and Fatah itself. Other issues to be tackled, though, include the successor of Mahmud Abbas and the future structure of the Fatah leadership. If and when it makes its decisions about the peace process and the PA, then the matter of armed resistance, ending security coordination with Israel, allowing a popular uprising in the West Bank and reactivating the role of Palestinians in the diaspora need to be considered. They are all vitally important questions that affect the nature and structure of the Palestinian national project although, in essence, they are all connected to the three main issues.
More delays and procrastination by the movement will lead to the further decline of Fatah’s status, role and impact, and the loss of its identity. This is especially so because the Israeli authorities to whom it has been beholden for a quarter of a century no longer accept it as anything other than a tool and cover for Israel’s ongoing colonial-occupation.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.