Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Fatah’s Principles & Transitions

The anniversary of Fatah should be a chance for contemplation, assessment and criticism rather than just a celebration.

Fatah's Principles
A Palestinian man carries a child as he takes part in a rally marking the 58th anniversary of the foundation of Fatah, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on December 29, 2022. ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

Majed Kayali

The anniversary of Fatah should be a chance for contemplation, assessment and criticism rather than just a celebration.

The movement contributed to the Palestinians’ rally and crystallised their identity. It also led their national struggle, dying the Palestinian struggle with Fatah’s colours to this moment, through its leading position in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since 1969 and the Palestinian Authority since its founding in 1994.

In this regard, we should examine the results of Fatah’s political ideology, which revolved around its primary principles.

One of the most prominent principles is the second article, which provides for the unity of the Palestinian people, as “they have the right to self-determination and have absolute sovereignty over all of their lands.”

Additionally, article 12 designates the complete liberation of Palestine and the economic, political, military and cultural dissolution of the Zionist occupation state.

Article 13 stipulates the establishment of an independent, democratic, sovereign Palestinian state on the entire Palestinian territory that ensures its citizens’ rights based on justice and equality without discrimination based on race, religion or belief.

Regardless of our opinion, these ideals shaped Fatah’s identity and distinguished it from other movements. They also boosted the movement’s popularity in an environment full of nationalist, leftist and Islamist ideologies.

These principles have not remained unchanged as Fatah shifted its objective from liberation to the establishment of an Authority in liberated lands. This transition started after the adoption of the so-called “Phased Plan” in 1974. One of the reasons for this significant transition was that Fatah did not pay adequate attention to its political ideology.

Moreover, the leading class in the movement has monopolised decision-making on major affairs. It should be noted that democracy does not function effectively in the political sphere of Palestinian factions. In this way and through secret negotiations, the Oslo Accords were adopted in 1993.

It is not the intention here to criticise change in political ideologies. Instead, it is healthy for political movements and parties to evolve. Change, however, must result from internal interaction stemming from a democratic process and in the context of enrichment and development.

Additionally, change should preserve the original objective or the spirit that shaped said movement or party. Regarding Fatah, this objective’s core was to strengthen the identity of Palestinians and their political institutions and support their struggle to subvert the colonial racist Zionist project.

In summary, Fatah transitioned from a liberation movement into an Authority and from the Nakba narrative to the 1967 occupation narrative. This shift has negatively affected the Palestinians’ perception of their identity – an identity that is being torn apart.

It, too, affected their ability to reach consensus as positions have grown divergent. The same applies to their symbolic unifying entity, the PLO, which has regressed in the Palestinian Authority’s favour.

Abandoning or surpassing the Nakba narrative, under the pretence of adhering to reality, worsened matters by removing the refugees from all political equations.

This approach, in addition to the reduction of the historical objective of liberation to the mere establishment of a fractional state, posed many questions about the definition of “the people.” The definition of Palestinians is, in practice, confined to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. If this situation is institutionalised or legitimised, it could undermine the Palestinian identity.

Some might believe that reality, circumstances and the complex challenges Fatah faced forced it into this transition. However, after examining its political choices and how Palestinian action has been carried out, it is evident that internal factors have played a major role in subduing Fatah and deflecting its path.

These factors include the frailty of the institutional structures, the weakness of the democratic movement and the reliance on pretentious external action. Naturally, they also encompass the monopoly of a particular political class on political action for over 50 years.

In the end, matters are reversed. Instead of dedicating themselves to retrieving Palestinians’ rights, preserving their own presence has become Fatah and other Palestinian factions’ only objective. The national movement altered itself to cope with reality rather than changing Palestine’s racist colonial reality.

Nevertheless, Fatah could have preserved the essence of its ideology as a movement fighting against racist settler-colonial Zionism by developing its notion of “one democratic state.” Such an objective includes realistic ideas since it stems from reality across Palestine. It also addresses Palestinian and Israeli questions concerning the international humanitarian principles; freedom, equality, truth, justice and democracy.

Founded almost six decades ago, Fatah has still not been able to realise its goals for various reasons. Several aspects have exacerbated its problems, including its lack of internal movements, frail structures and ageing leadership.

Since founding the Palestinian Authority, Fatah has only held two general conferences in 2009 and 2016. Moreover, Mahmoud Abbas, the movement’s leader, is also the head of the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority.

As is known, Abbas is in his late 80s and has no deputy. Also, no date has been set for elections, despite the fact that Abbas has been presiding over the PLO and the Authority for only 18 years!


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our writers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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