Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Rise and Fall of Fatah on its 57th Anniversary

Fatah 57th Anniversary
A masked Palestinian from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Fatah mainstream movement holds his sub-machine gun during a protest marking “Land Day” in the West Bank town of Bethlehem 30 March 2000. AWAD AWAD / AFP

Majed Kayali

No national movement could obtain a privileged position in a short period, as Fatah was able to. In a few years, it managed to inflame the passions of the Palestinians and inspire the imaginations of millions of Arab youth, thirsty for a kind of change that breaks the prevailing and stagnant political environment.

At the time, that is, in the mid- to late-1960s, especially after the Battle of Karameh (1968), this movement seemed like an awaited “saviour”. It presented itself as a national liberation movement and seemed to compete with Islamic, leftist and nationalist political movements that were much older, thanks to its revolutionary and democratic nature and diversity.

The official and popular Arab scene, at that time, needed the “commando” notion and the Palestinian armed struggle, as an alternative to the helpless Arab armies, and as a response to the defeat, or the second Nakba (1967), which was called the setback (as a less intense term).

During that period, Arab intellectuals (except a few) did not resist this emerging phenomenon, as it quickly overwhelmed them with its glamour and vitality, so they participated in cultivating its legend in poetry, story, novel, music, drawing, and political articles.

Over time, this “revolution” did not stand the test of time altogether. It quickly became apparent that a particular limit and specific political stakes capped it, mainly since it operates from outside its land and relies on foreign aid more than its own people. It soon became evident that there are significant complications, not only related to the balance of power, as much as it is to the particular circumstances of the Palestinians. Add to all of the above as well as the level of its maturity, and the maturity of the circumstances surrounding it, for this substantial shift.

Perhaps the Palestinian clash with Gamal Abd al-Nasser‘s policy (during the Rogers Plan 1969), the clash after that with the Jordanian regime (1970), getting involved in the Lebanese Civil War (1975), and the subsequent political or military clash with the Syrian regime (1976), did not only constitute a sign of the inadequacy of the Arab circumstances for Palestinian armed action only. It also indicates the weakness of the Palestinian leadership’s eligibility to deal responsibly and flexibly with the complexities of the Arab circumstances.

But the main indication resulting from all of this was the leadership’s tendency to switch to a cause other than the one on which it was founded. As a result, Palestinian calculations paid a heavy price by leaving Jordan (1970) and Lebanon (1982).

The significance of this is that transforming the national movement into a kind of authority (in the negative/authoritarian sense), relying on its armed militias, financial resources and regional relations, was at the expense of its adherence to its essence as a national liberation movement, and thus at the expense of its imagined and assumed image, which was clear, bright and promised new hope.

Thus, the glare of the revolution subsided, its imagined heroic image faded, and the “revolution” turned into domination and interference in the affairs of others, using misplaced violence, repressing opinions, claiming guardianship of the Palestinian cause, and marginalising society. The imagined image of the commando was replaced by the image of an armed man, who is trying to impose his personality and whims wherever he can, thanks to the misplaced weapon he carries.

The dilemma is that this situation did not change much when the Palestinian national movement operated from the inside (after the Oslo Accords of 1994); the “revolution” became a distorted, lame and restricted authority. The commando or fighter became an employee or a security man whose mission was to preserve and defend the authority, justify its actions, and benefit from its advantages. In this case, the authority has become the legitimacy, the legitimacy has become the authority, and resistance has become an extra activity outside the legitimacy context.

To be fair, many circumstances contributed to the transformation of the Palestinian national movement, including its incompatibility with the Arab circumstances, the ferocity of the Israeli attacks on it, and the difficult and complex conditions of Palestinian work. However, internal subjective factors played their role in hollowing out the Palestinian national movement from the essence of struggle and politics.

This movement lived and grew on catchphrases and ignored the pressuring reality, the balance of powers, and the surrounding data. This movement exaggerated by spreading illusions despite its weak capabilities. In short, this movement, which is supposed to be popular, has turned into a factional movement (for those who are devoted to it). Instead of criticising the Palestinian and Arab circumstances as it was supposed to, the movement rejects accountability and criticism. The movement launched to oppose the stagnant, powerless, and corrupt Palestinian and Arab reality has incorporated all of these elements in its structure and relationships.

That means that this movement turned against itself, against its base of existence, and what comes after that is a foregone conclusion or just manifestations of the disorder that has become rampant in the Palestinian body.

This basically means that disagreement, fighting and division, and then ridicule, accusations of treason are simply a few of the manifestations of this defect, or are indications of the state of disintegration that nests in the Palestinian body.

This could also pass for an analogy for the negative transformation the Palestinian national movement has gone through, and it is now preoccupied with transforming it into an authority (under occupation), which applies to Fatah as it applies to Hamas, who reached the point where Fatah ended (especially after its unilateral control over the Gaza Strip (2007).

In any case, the Palestinian national liberation movement’s fate is no different from all those other political movements, which lack institutional structures, internal relations, and democratic movement, and which abandon their nature.

National liberation movements and political movements have previously ended with the same negative result, with parties turning against themselves and diverting from their principles and objectives due to the death of politics, the prevalence of corrupt relations, the privileges of power, and the tendency to strengthen legitimacy by force and violence.

We must conclude that no national movement was given this much confidence and patience in suffering, all of the sacrifices and heroics, without accountability, as Fatah and the Palestinian national movement, in general, have been granted.

Undoubtedly, people who give all this deserve their leadership to have the minimum moral and patriotic responsibility level and leadership eligibility. The irony is that the Fatah movement, which inaugurated contemporary Palestinian nationalism, inaugurated a new phase by shifting from a national liberation movement to an authority in a part of the land for a part of the people with part of the rights.


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

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