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Fatah


Insurgency Overview


Formerly the Palestine National Liberation Movement, Fatah is a Palestinian nationalist political party. The group was founded in the late 1950s in Kuwait by Yasser Arafat and Khalil al-Wazir. At the time of its founding, the goal of Fatah was to liberate the Palestinian territories from Israeli occupation through the use of guerrilla warfare. The group engaged in violent conflict with Israel before signing a peace agreement (The Oslo Accords) in 1993 and seeking a two-state solution. This change in approach created rifts within the organization and led to the creation of splinter groups. Fatah governed the Palestinian territories, leading the Palestinian Authority, until the group was defeated in the 2006 elections by Hamas (Britannica, 2024).


History and Foundations


Fatah was founded in the late 1950s as one of many different organizations that were birthed out of the Israeli occupation and the desire to see a liberated Palestine. The decade following Fatah’s establishment would see numerous conflicts arise between Israel, its surrounding states, and resistance organizations. This culminated in the War of 1967 (or the 6-Day War). The specific events that sparked this outbreak are complex, but the tensions between Israel and its neighbors had been building for years. The war began on June 5th and within 6 days Israel had defeated Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. In the wake of the defeat of the Arab states, Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip (previously under Egyptian control), The West Bank, East Jerusalem (previously under Jordanian control), and the Golan Heights (previously under Syrian control). After numerous iterations of diplomatic accords, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, but they have continued to occupy the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem to this day (Office of the Historian).


After its founding, Fatah was supported by Syria and based in Damascus before moving to Jordan. The group remained in Jordan until the 1970 Black September civil conflict between the Jordanian Armed Forces and Fatah/Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In the wake of this conflict, thousands of Palestinian refugees were expelled from Jordan and the leadership and headquarters of Fatah relocated to Lebanon (UNRWA).


The Black September War of 1970 began when the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the more radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked four planes, diverted three to a Jordanian airstrip to blow them up, and took dozens of hostages. The Jordanian King Hussein had maintained secret relations with Israel throughout the 1950s and 60s and was not eager to see the PLO continue to launch attacks on Israel from Jordanian territory, or from the West Bank which had been under Jordanian rule (Tristam, 2019). After the hijacking and destruction of the planes, King Hussein set the Jordanian Military on the PLO, a bloody conflict ensued which left around 15,000 Palestinian militants and civilians dead, many Palestinian towns and refugee camps flattened, and between 50,000 and 100,000 people displaced. Before the war, the Palestinians had maintained a state-like regime in Jordan, with militias controlling many areas and imposing disciplinary measures on residents with impunity (Tristam, 2019).

After the war, in early 1971, the PLO and Fatah were expelled from Jordan, forcing them to relocate their headquarters to southern Lebanon. The consequences of this expulsion were not only a relocation for the PLO but also the creation of the Palestinian Black September Movement, a commando faction that broke off from the PLO and directed several retaliatory attacks including the assassination of Jordanian Prime Minister Wasif Tel in Cairo on November 28, 1971, as well as the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich (Tristam, 2019).


The PLO and Fatah’s existence in Lebanon was similarly short-lived and violent. With their base established in Lebanon, the PLO continued to launch operations against Israel, something that many Lebanese — particularly Christian militias— opposed. In retaliation to the continued attacks, Israeli special forces launched a secret attack in April of 1973 in Southern Lebanon which killed three PLO leaders. In 1975, the Lebanese Civil War broke out, embroiling the PLO in yet another conflict with state military forces (Salhani, 2023).


Meanwhile, Israel continued to launch counter-offensives against the PLO in Lebanon and finally, in 1982 they invaded the country and successfully expelled Fatah and the PLO once again. The two-month attack, led by General Ariel Sharon, brought the Israeli army into the southern neighborhoods of Beirut. This invasion cost the lives of some 18,000 people, mostly Lebanese civilians. In August of 1982, under international mediation, Yasser Arafat and the PLO left Lebanon and their leadership relocated to Tunisia, from where many ended up back in Gaza and the West Bank (Tristam, 2019). Along with the ousting of the PLO, and the destruction left in Lebanon, the Israeli invasion sparked the creation of Hezbollah, with the support of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (Salhani, 2023).


Following this expulsion and dispersion of Fatah and the PLO, internal rifts within the organization further challenged the group's coherence in the following years. Along with the internal division, tensions with Israel were once again on the rise. This boiled over in December of 1987, when an Israeli vehicle crashed into two vans of Palestinian workers, killing four. This was seen by many Palestinians as revenge for the stabbing of an Israeli in Gaza a few days before, and the already heightened tensions rose, sparking the beginning of the first Intifada. The incident resulted in widespread Palestinian protests and attacks against Israeli forces, as well as severe Israeli repression (Britannica, 2024).


Approach to Resistance


In 1988 as the Intifada continued, after beginning peace talks facilitated by the US, the Fatah-led PLO declared independence as an exiled government, recognized the state of Israel, renounced terrorism, and sought to pursue a two-state solution — fundamentally changing their approach to resistance. This culminated in the 1993 signing of a peace agreement (the Oslo Accords) by Israel and the PLO which established a framework for peace and reconstruction (Britannica, 2024) — these negotiations led to Arafat being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 along with Shimon Peres (the then President of Israel) and Yitzhak Rabin (the then Prime Minister of Israel) (Nobel Prize, 1994).


Though the signing of the Oslo Accords and the end of the first Intifada served to de-escalate the violence and establish the Palestinian Authority (PA), a new organization that refused to accept the agreements came to prominence — Hamas. Hamas rejected the peace talks, envisioned a traditional Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, and launched a series of suicide attacks against Israel (Britannica, 2024). Despite the work of Hamas however, and following the peace accords, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established in 1994 and Fatah moved its headquarters to Gaza City. Arafat then won the presidency in the first PA-organized elections in 1996 (Britannica, 2024).


Currently, the official position of Fatah is a non-violent one. Fatah’s espoused aim is that of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, and they aim to achieve this vision through a diplomatic rather than militant approach (Al Tahhan, 2017). Though Fatah follows the diplomatic path, some splinter organizations that came from Fatah are more violent. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — the armed wing of Fatah which was sidelined following the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004 — have remained a militant resistance force, and participated in the October 7th attacks on Israel and the ensuing conflict (Smyth, 2023) (France24, 2023).


Military and Political Capabilities


At the time, the Oslo Accords seemed to be a potential turning point, but both sides continued to violate the agreements in their wake — Israel continued to establish settlements in the occupied territories and the PLO continued to import arms. Then, in 2000, as tensions continued to rise on both sides, riots broke out among the Palestinians and the second Intifada began. During the Second Intifada, high-powered weaponry became much more common among resistance fighters. M16s, Uzi’s, and other automatic weapons had become much more accessible — largely due to underground smuggling and seizures from Israeli military targets. Corrupt army members, along with smugglers and gunsellers had created an underground network to sell weapons from the Israeli army's supplies on the black market (Goldenberg, 2000). The second Intifada was more violent than the first, with 4,300 registered fatalities, compared to 2,000 in the first Intifada. The uprising lasted for 5 years, coming to an end in 2005 (Britannica, 2024).


Another factor contributing to the violence was the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah. The group initially utilized drive-by shootings and suicide bombings within the West Bank to target Israeli forces and civilians. In 2001, the Brigades leader — and co-founder with Arafat — Yasser Badawi was killed in a car bomb, which sparked an escalation in the Brigade's tactics. They began to launch attacks on civilians inside Israel — a notable attack occurred in January of 2002 when a Brigade member killed 6 people and wounded dozens at a bar mitzvah in Hadera. Following this, a wave of shootings and suicide bombings throughout March of that year led the US State Department to classify the Brigades as a terrorist organization (Pearson, 2023).


During all of this, Arafat remained the president of the PA until his death in 2004, when Mahmoud Abbas, one of the original Fatah members, replaced him as leader of the PLO and then president of the PA in 2005 (Britannica, 2024).


At the time of Mahmoud Abbas’s election, Fatah’s popularity was waning. Critics saw them and the PA as largely ineffective, tensions were rising between them and Hamas, and many Palestinians were turning to Hamas as an alternative in light of the second Intifada and accusations of corruption against the PA. However, Abbas reached a tenuous agreement with Hamas at the beginning of his presidency, and Hamas entered the political process and worked with the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) to participate in the next round of elections (they had refused to participate in previous elections). Then, surprisingly, Hamas won 57.6 percent of the seats in the PLC in the 2006 elections.


After the elections, Israel and the US rejected the results and implemented heavy sanctions on the newly Hamas-led PA. Tensions increased and fighting broke out, with Hamas fighters overrunning Fatah’s security forces compounds. Then, in February 2007, after the fighting had already broken out, the two sides agreed to the Saudi-brokered Mecca Accords to enter into a unified government. This did not last long however, and in June of 2007, it was dissolved by President Abbas along with a call to emergency in the West Bank after Hamas wrestled control of the Gaza Strip away from Fatah. Following 2007 there were sporadic clashes between the groups in Gaza, but the power had settled with Hamas (JustVision).


The first attempts at reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas came in 2011. Though they reached an agreement that year, it was never implemented. Agreements were reached again in 2012, 2014, and 2017, and while these agreements saw scattered results they never saw a true reconciliation. One of the notable attempts to secure peace was the election of Rami Hamdallah as Prime Minister, who was not a member of Fatah or Hamas but the president of the Al-Najah University. Though Hamdallah was not explicitly a member of Fatah, it was well known that he had close ties to the organization. Then, in 2019 amidst another failure of reconciliation, uncertainty over the future of the PA, and growing tensions in the West Bank, Hamdallah resigned and the tenuous unity between the governing forces came to an end (Britannica, 2024).

International Relations and Alliances


The degree of alliances and relations that Fatah has are somewhat convoluted. While the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were officially disbanded and absorbed into the PA’s security forces after Araftas death, the group has continued to claim responsibility for a large number of suicide bombings and shootings — sometimes carried out with other organizations like Palestinian Islamic Jihad (Pearson, 2023).


Fatah’s seventh conference was held in Ramallah in November 2016. There, Abbas was unanimously elected the commander in chief of Fatah. An eighty-member revolutionary council and a new eighteen-member central committee were also elected at that time (Charif). Most recently there were plans to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in 2021, but before they could happen Abbas canceled the elections – citing concerns that Israel would prevent voting in East Jerusalem (Britannica, 2024).


After the events of October 7th, Fatah’s position has become even more tenuous. Fatah has been careful to not show signs of approval for the attack committed by Hamas and has remained intent on peace talks and a de-escalation, despite some of its members having praised or defended the attacks (Pacchiana, 2023). Following the October 7 attacks and the ensuing conflict, at least one of Fatah’s senior officials has been arrested in Gaza (Al Jazeera, 2023). In the West Bank, where Fatah has held sway, the old guard remains unchanged, but many of the younger generation are no longer content with what they view as Fatah’s ineffective approach. Many feel that the peaceful tactics of the PA have not created tangible results — an example of this is the continued expansion of Israeli settlements into the West Bank, despite the fact that these settlements are against international law. Along with these challenges, the recent Israel-Hamas war has led to increased support for Hamas in the West Bank, where Fatah and President Abbas were already losing popularity. Many Palestinians view the PA as conforming to Israeli policies — either through their inaction or infectivity. Among the younger generation, many of whom feel they have nothing to lose, there is a desire to fully revive the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (France24, 2023).


Fatah’s silence is a major reason that their support has fallen off among many Palestinians. Many view them as conforming to the Israeli occupation, and in October the PA sparked outrage when they suppressed protests over the violence in Gaza with tear gas and live ammunition, which led to the death of a 12-year-old Palestinian girl and injuries to other protesters (Tahhan, 2023). With rival factions vying for control, waning popularity, and increased unrest, Hamas in power, and the violence from the Israeli occupation in Gaza escalating to unprecedented levels in 2024, the future of Fatah remains unclear.



Works Cited (MLA-Style)

Al Tahhan, Zena. “Hamas vs Fatah: Same Goal, Different Approaches.” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 12 Oct. 2017, www.aljazeera.com/features/2017/10/12/hamas-and-fatah-how-are-the-two-groups-different


“The Arab-Israeli War of 1948.” Office of the Historian, Office of the Historian, history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/arab-israeli-war#:~:text=The%20Arab%2DIsraeli%20War%20of%201948%20broke%20out%20when%20five,Israel%20on%20May%2014%2C%201948. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024. 


“Black September.” UNRWA, UNRWA, www.unrwa.org/content/black-september. Accessed 17 Feb. 2024. 


Charif, Maher. “The Palestinian National Liberation Movement – Fatah (II).” Palquest, Palquest, www.palquest.org/en/highlight/23462/palestinian-national-liberation-movement-%E2%80%93-fatah-ii. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024. 


“Dozens Arrested, Killed in West Bank and Gaza in Israeli Raids Overnight.” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 1 Nov. 2023, www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/11/1/dozens-killed-arrested-in-overnight-raids-on-west-bank-and-gaza. 


“Fatah.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 7 Feb. 2024, www.britannica.com/topic/Fatah


​​“Fatah in Freefall as Hamas and Israel Wage War.” France 24, France 24, 7 Dec. 2023, www.france24.com/en/live-news/20231207-fatah-in-freefall-as-hamas-and-israel-wage-war


Goldenberg, Suzanne. “Guns for Sale - How Stolen Israeli Weapons Arm Fatah’s Fighters.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 16 Dec. 2000, www.theguardian.com/world/2000/dec/16/israel


“Hamas-Fatah Conflict.” Just Vision, justvision.org/glossary/hamas-fatah-conflict. Accessed 29 Feb. 2024. 


“Intifada.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 15 Feb. 2024, www.britannica.com/topic/intifada


“The Nobel Peace Prize 1994.” NobelPrize.Org, NobelPrize.org, www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1994/summary/. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.

 

Pacchiani, Gianluca. “Senior Fatah Official Justifies Oct. 7 Massacre as ‘Defensive War’ ...” The Times of Israel, The Times of Israel, 26 Nov. 2023, www.timesofisrael.com/senior-fatah-official-justifies-oct-7-massacre-as-defensive-war-against-israel/


Pearson, Erica. “Al-Aqṣā Martyrs Brigades.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 27 Jan. 2023, www.britannica.com/topic/Al-Aqsa-Martyrs-Brigades


“Rami Hamdallah.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., www.britannica.com/biography/Rami-Hamdallah. Accessed 29 Feb. 2024. 


Salhani, Justin. “Beyond Hezbollah: The History of Tensions between Lebanon and Israel.” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 17 Oct. 2023, www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/17/beyond-hezbollah-the-history-of-tensions-between-lebanon-and-israel#:~:text=1973%3A%20On%20the%20night%20of,Arabic%20as%20the%20Verdun%20Massacre


Smyth, Philip. “The Path to October 7: How Iran Built up and Managed a Palestinian ‘Axis of Resistance.’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Dec. 2023, ctc.westpoint.edu/the-path-to-october-7-how-iran-built-up-and-managed-a-palestinian-axis-of-resistance/


Tahhan, Zena Al. “Palestinian Authority Cracks down on Protests over Israel Gaza Attacks.” Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 18 Oct. 2023, www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/18/palestinian-authority-cracks-down-on-protests-over-israel-gaza-attacks


Tristam, Pierre. “Black September and the PLO.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 3 July 2019, www.thoughtco.com/black-september-jordanian-plo-civil-war-2353168. 


Tristam, Pierre. “Timeline of the Lebanese Civil War from 1975-1990.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 13 Aug. 2019, www.thoughtco.com/timeline-of-the-lebanese-civil-war-2353188. 



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