Fatah’s General Conference
Aug 5, 2009 | AIJAC staff
August 5, 2009
Number 08/009 #01
As this Update goes out, the Fatah movement, which has dominated Palestinian politics for close to 50 years, is holding its first General Conference in two decades in Bethlehem. Virtually all observers view this conference as a watershed moment for the future of Palestinian politics, as Fatah struggles to cope with a need to renew itself and the challenge from Hamas. This Update offers some analysis and background on the conference.
First up is a general backgrounder on the conference from the British-Israel Communications and Research Institute (BICOM). It details the specific issues that are making this Fatah conference such an important event – especially the extent of the crisis in Fatah’s traditional leading role in Palestinian politics and the struggle to replace the largely corrupt Fatah old guard with younger leaders from the West Bank. As the backgrounder makes clear, the challenge for Fatah is to overcome its own very substantial internal divisions sufficiently to survive in its competition with Hamas, and possibly, create a viable return to some sort of “National unity” agreement with Hamas. For all the key details, CLICK HERE.
Next up, the Jerusalem Post editorialises about Israeli hopes that Fatah will endorse negotiations and reconciliation with Israel as a way forward, and the current poor signs for this eventuating. The Post notes Fatah’s continued endorsement of “resistance”, ie armed violence, in its internal negotiations and the way Hamas rejectionism has strengthened rejectionism within Fatah. The paper highlights several instances where the delegates seem to be determined to honour terrorists and promote terrorism internally. For the Post’s complete argument, CLICK HERE. Supporting the Post’s points, PA President Mahmoud Abbas stresses that “Resistance” must be retained as a Palestinian option, while a Fatah leader calls for Fatah to align with Iran to fight Israel,
Veteran Israeli Palestinian affairs journalist Pinchas Inbari notes another very bad sign from the conference that has not been widely reported. In addition to the Fatah “political program” being passed at the conference, which at least de-emphasises “armed struggle” without renouncing it, the conference will also endorse a very radical internal document know as the Fatah “Internal Order”. This document not only is crystal clear that “armed struggle” remains the main strategy but also says “the struggle will not end until the elimination of the Zionist entity and the liberation of Palestine.” For Inbari’s important, if depressing, revelations, CLICK HERE. Israel’s Security Minister, Avi Dichter, the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security services, is warning that decisions at the Fatah conference may set the stage for a third violent intifada.
Readers may also be interested in:
- With much being written about the court-ordered eviction of some Palestinian families in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, here is some background on the actual situation in that neighbourhood, while the Jerusalem Post editorialises about the complex reality of the dispute, generally over-simplified in the media, that lead to the evictions.
- There has been much soul-searching in Israel following a deadly shooting attack on a gay club in Tel Aviv. Some good commentary comes from education minister Gideon Saar, columnist Yoel Marcus, and a Jerusalem Post editorial.
- Washington Insider Steven Rosen reports on differences within the Obama Administration on a compromise with Israel on a settlement freeze, and has another piece reporting that Israel is primarily concerned about what will happen after a temporary freeze expires. Finally, Barry Rubin explains why be both believes that most settlements should be dismantled for peace, but opposes a settlement freeze now.
- Reports of more setbacks in the US Administration’s efforts to get Arab states to promise reciprocal confidence-building measures in exchange for an Israeli settlement freeze.
- Former US National Security Council expert on the Middle East Elliott Abrams has another piece on why he thinks the current Administration’s dealings with Israel and the Arab-Israel conflict are going astray.
BICOM ANALYSIS, 03/08/2009
- Fatah’s Sixth General Conference, due to be held 4-6 August in Bethlehem, is an opportunity many Palestinians have been desperately waiting for to renew the dysfunctional faction’s aging leadership and make way for the frustrated younger generation of leaders who grew up in the Palestinian Territories.
- Having failed to implement real reform or tackle corruption, without a diplomatic breakthrough for an independent Palestine, and threatened by the rise of Islamist opposition in Hamas, this is a critical time for Fatah.
- The rivalry between the Fatah-dominated West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip which characterises Palestinian politics today has tended to overshadow the deep internal splits within Fatah itself. There are serious questions about how far the party can achieve renewal and unity at this time.
- Hamas has been trying to obstruct the conference and stir tensions which have escalated within Fatah lately. But if the event is perceived as a success, it could be significant for Cairo’s efforts to broker a deal between Hamas and Fatah and for US efforts to persuade Mahmoud Abbas to return to peace talks with Israel.
On Tuesday, 4 August, Fatah plans to hold its Sixth General Conference since its founding in 1959 by Yasser Arafat and others. [i] That the conference is due to take place is itself significant; it has been twenty years since the last such gathering was convened. For many Fatah activists, it presents an opportunity for renewal of the secular national leadership of the Palestinian people. Yet a complex web of divisions runs deep within Fatah and throughout Palestinian politics, creating considerable uncertainty around this important event. This document sets out the context and nature of the conference, the type of change that might be invoked and possible implications for Palestinian unity talks and Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Background: from crisis to conference
On 24 June, Fatah held an emergency meeting and agreed to hold the organisation’s Sixth General Conference on 4 August in Bethlehem.[ii] Amid ongoing uncertainty as to whether it will go ahead after repeated delays, the organising committee released a final schedule of the three day conference last Friday.[iii] Elections will be held for the 21-seat Fatah Central Committee, which serves as the party executive, and the 120-member Revolutionary Council, the second most important Fatah institution. Though the Fatah leadership is supposed to be elected every five years, internal rifts have meant no forum has been held since 1989. Long-time leaders have repeatedly sought to delay it.
Fatah today is in a state of deepening crisis. Notably, in the 2006 general election, rival Fatah candidates contested against each other in the same electoral districts, thereby splitting their own vote. Along with widespread corruption, this severely damaged the party and enabled Hamas’s victory, ending Fatah’s domination of Palestinian politics. With Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and presidential elections due in January 2010, the need for cohesion within Fatah’s ranks is becoming ever more pressing. If the conference goes ahead as planned, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will seek to reinvigorate the party with fresh blood in support of his political agenda.[iv]
Changing of the guard?
Divisions within Fatah are manifold. There are personal clashes and alliances, rifts between the various party bodies, and tensions between affiliated armed groups (the popular committees, Al Aqsa Brigades and Tanzim), branch chiefs and district heads.[v] Leaders also hold contrasting political outlooks vis-à-vis the peace process and attitudes towards ‘resistance’ – the use of violence to obtain the movement’s goals.[vi]
The greatest fault line over the last two decades is between the ‘old guard’ and the ‘young guard’ leaderships. The veteran old guard is itself subdivided into those who came to the Palestinian Territories from Tunis with Arafat in 1994 and run the Palestinian Authority (PA) today and Fatah’s leaders abroad. It is those within the Palestinian Territories that have long feared losing power to the younger generation of Fatah activists who grew up locally, led operations during the First and Second Intifadas, and are frustrated by the nepotism and manipulations of their elders.[vii] This rift makes every aspect of this week’s conference politically sensitive, from who attends and the choice of location to substantive issues about future policy and strategy.
Despite the old-timers’ initial preference for invitations to be restricted to around 650, Azzam Al-Ahmad, head of the Fatah bloc of the PLC, stated over the weekend that 2,265 delegates would attend.[viii] Most delegates will be ‘insiders’ from within the PLC, PA security forces and local grassroots branches. Whilst this should play to Abbas’s advantage, he also has an interest in the conference being broadly representative, so as to ensure its legitimacy in the eyes of the movement and on the Palestinian street.
Actual numbers will not be clear until the conference gets underway. Israel, for its part, has been cooperating with the PA to facilitate the arrival of delegates from Arab countries via the Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordan.[ix] But the main opposition to Fatah in Palestinian politics, Hamas, has been trying to scupper the event. It demands the release of up to 900 Hamas followers being held in PA West Bank prisons before authorising some 400 Gaza-based Fatah delegates to attend.[x] Its interest is in its political rivals remaining weak and divided. Ironically, it is a shared disdain for Hamas that offers the greatest hope of renewal and unity within Fatah this week.
But it is also unclear to what extent Abbas’s rivals within Fatah – of which he has many – will boycott the affair. A senior leader, Mohammed Ghneim (better known as Abu Maher), has entered the Territories, and he plans to run for a top post in the party hierarchy. Another of Fatah’s founders, Farouk Qaddumi, has refused to attend and remains in Tunis. Qaddumi has always fundamentally opposed the peace process and any form of compromise with Israel. In a carefully timed move to destabilise the Mahmoud Abbas’s leadership ahead of the conference, he produced a transcript accusing Abbas and former security commander Mohammed Dahlan, a senior young guard figure who advises the president, of conspiring with Israel and the US to assassinate Arafat. They have denied it vehemently, but the media frenzy has led some to seek to debate the issue at the conference. Aged 78, Qaddumi is among those expected to be ousted.
Whilst experienced Palestinian observers such as Abu Zaida and Khalil Shikaki are optimistic that the conference will bring meaningful change, with more than half the current leadership being replaced, leading young guard representatives such as Hatem Abdel Kader and Husam Khader have been sceptical in the conference build-up. Kader said over the weekend that the veterans had the money and resources to defeat them for the most coveted Central Committee seats.[xi] Notably, however, the prominent Fatah young guard leader Marwan Barghouti, who was convicted by Israel on five counts of murder in 2004, is running for a seat from his prison cell, possibly unopposed.[xii] A strong win for Barghouti could help be the basis for a future presidential campaign when Abbas leaves office.
Fatah’s political agenda
With Fatah preoccupied by pre-conference political jostling, little energy seems to be going into substantive policy reform. A draft ‘political plan’ leaked to Arab press over the weekend indicates intentions to oppose recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and to consider opening a strategic dialogue with Iran.[xiii] Although Abbas and others in Fatah are sincere in their commitment to non-violent means, the plan also proposes reiterating Fatah’s long-held option of ‘armed resistance’ in order to achieve an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. This would be to reject the wish of some Fatah activists who want to bring the party in line with PLO’s formal renunciation of violence agreed as part of the Oslo accords. Nabil Shaath, considered a genuine moderate, says that Fatah is dedicated to peace talks, but that ‘armed struggle’ will remain in official documentation as a theoretical right.[xiv]
These issues have practical implications on the streets of the West Bank. The ‘resistance’ narrative frequently crops up in Fatah rhetoric. Just last week, Barghouti said in an interview that Fatah would not abandon the option of armed struggle as long as a single Israeli soldier was located in the Palestinian Territories.[xv] But recourse to violence would be deeply problematic for Abbas. His newly trained PA security forces have begun clamping down on paramilitary groups operating in the West Bank. His strong relationship with the US and the future prospects for peace negotiations with Israel are premised on his commitment to non violence.
Owing to these entrenched political difficulties, Abbas seeks to contain his own party to enable him to pursue his aims in government. Under US pressure, he has stuck with his independent ally, Salam Fayyad, as prime minister, and denied Fatah key ministerial portfolios – a further source of friction, and a further rationale for trying to create unity. He stated recently that “Fatah must be a companion to the PA” but noted that “Fatah is not the Authority”.[xvi]
Towards broader negotiations
Even if Fatah can renew itself this week, the big challenge hanging over the Palestinian arena will remain the geopolitical division between the West Bank-based PA and Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. A successful Fatah conference could impact on the protracted Egyptian-brokered ‘national unity’ talks. The dialogue is essentially aimed at reaching an interim understanding which both Fatah and Hamas can live with until general elections are held.[xvii] But Egypt has been struggling to secure agreement even on some form of temporary joint committee.
A deal may become more likely as a result of a renewed Fatah leadership in which Barghouti and other ‘Young Guard’ types may be more willing to cooperate with Hamas. Barghouti is a popular figure in Palestinian society with credentials as a unifier. In 2006 he presented the ‘prisoners’ document’, outlining an agreement between five Palestinian factions including Hamas that garnered widespread support. However, it is unclear how Hamas would react. Their response is likely to be affected by whether they assess elections, which would follow on from a unity government, to be in their interest. The absence of Fatah delegates from Gaza at this week’s conference as a result of Hamas’s refusal to allow them to attend will sour the negotiations climate. The next round of Cairo talks are scheduled for 25 August.
As regards the wider region, the picture is pretty clear-cut so far as this week is concerned. The west, Israel and most Sunni Arab states all want the conference to go smoothly, whilst their foes in the Iran-led bloc would rejoice at the reverse. Whilst all recognise the deep flaws in Fatah, the consensus among moderates is that it offers the only mainstream force for compromise in Palestinian politics. “Any blow to Fatah at this convention will be a blow to the international vision of solving the conflict,” says Palestinian analyst Khaled Hroub.[xviii] Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher agrees.[xix] On the flipside, a chaotic affair which does little to bolster Abbas, reinvigorate his party or offer impetus for wider peace negotiations, would serve a victory to Hamas and its patrons in Tehran and Damascus.
Last time Fatah held a general conference it was able to dictate the Palestinian cause. Today it is locked in a power struggle with Hamas. The younger generation of Fatah activists are worried. As one observes, “The average age of the Palestinian leaders, specifically in Fatah, is approximately 70 years. A youthful leadership, such as in Hamas, owns the political future… because the average age of the Hamas leaders is 45 years.”[xx] Qaddura Fares, a leading Fatah advocate of change and peace with Israel, said in May, “We are on a sinking ship… We have to wake up and stop lying to ourselves.”[xxi]
The international community wants to see a rejuvenated Fatah and an emboldened Abbas, which would strengthen Palestinian nationalists and undermine their Islamist opponents. A key question will be whether Abbas ends the conference with greater legitimacy than before, and whether a new leadership will emerge that is capable of providing new energy for the future. This is a sensitive moment for Fatah.
[i] ‘Fatah’ (or ‘Fateh’) is the reverse acronym of the Arabic Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini (which literally means ‘Palestinian National Liberation Organization’).
[ii] ‘Fatah Sixth Conference To Be Held In August The 4th In Bethlehem’, Palestine Media Center, 25 June 2009.
[iii] ‘Fatah releases agenda, elections rules for conference’, Maan News Agency, 31 July 2009.
[iv] ‘Abbas willing to continue peace talks if Israel halts settlement construction’, Maan News Agency, 7 July 2009.
[v] Ethan Bronner, ‘Palestinians Try to Prune Branches of Core Party’, The New York Times, 21 May 2009; Avi Issacharoff, ‘Dispute with Hamas may derail major Fatah convention’, Haaretz, 31 July 2009.
[vi] Some analysts triangulate ‘moderates’ who drove and supported the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, ‘radicals’ who continue to reject its core principles, and ‘hardliners’, whose views are close to those held by Arafat and so dim the prospects for a final status compromise. See, for instance, Barry Rubin, ‘The Region: Fatah’s power structure spells trouble for peace with Israel’, The Jerusalem Post, 26 July 2009.
[vii] Among them is Marwan Barghouti, who commanded Fatah’s armed wing, the Al Aqsa Brigades. Along with Hatem Abdel Kader, Hussam Khader, and others, Barghouti has long been campaigning for Fatah leaders to step aside and pave the way for new leadership.
[viii] ‘Fatah committee confirms delegate count’, Maan News Agency, 1 August 2009; Ethan Bronner, The New York Times, 21 May 2009
[ix] ‘Top Fatah leader back in W. Bank after over 40 years in exile’, Associated Press/The Jerusalem Post, 29 July 2009; ‘Top Fatah figure Abu Maher Ghneim returns to West Bank’, Maan News Agency, 29 July 2009.
[x] According to a Palestinian news agency, some Fatah members have resorted to smuggling themselves out of Gaza, which has led Hamas to summon virtually all Fatah delegates to report to the Interior Ministry in Gaza. A female Fatah delegate, Ghalya Abu Setah, managed to slip out of Gaza by donkey last Friday. A deal was reportedly done last week but Hamas apparently upped the ante since then. See ‘Fatah woman smuggles self out of Gaza’, Maan News Agency, 31 July 2009; ‘Hamas adds demands to alleged deal for safe passage of Fatah members’, Maan News Agency, 29 July 2009.
[xi] Khaled Abu Toameh, ‘’Old guard’ want to keep young reps out of Fatah’, The Jerusalem Post, 1 August 2009.
[xii] ‘Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti to run unopposed as candidate for Central Committee of Fatah Movement in the General Conference’, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, 25 July 2009; Avi Issacharoff, ‘Report: Fatah to oppose recognizing Israel as Jewish state’, Haaretz, 1 August 2009.
[xiii] For more information about Fatah policy, see Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, ‘Historic opportunity at Fatah Sixth General Conference’, Palestinian Media Watch, 28 July 2009; ‘Former PA minister: Fatah should ally with Iran’, Maan News Agency, 2 August 2009; Khaled Abu Toameh, ‘‘Old guard’ want to keep young reps out of Fatah’, The Jerusalem Post, 1 August 2009; Avi Issacharoff, ‘ Report: Fatah to oppose recognizing Israel as Jewish state’, Haaretz, 1 August 2009. The draft ‘plan’ is available online (in Arabic): www.fatehconf.ps/pdfs/fatehpolitical.pdf
[xiv] Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, 1 August 2009.
[xv] See ‘Fatah disarray to continue despite talks’, Oxford Analytica, Global Strategic Analysis, 24 July 2009.
[xvi] ‘Abbas willing to continue peace talks if Israel halts settlement construction’, Maan News Agency, 7 July 2009.
[xvii] ‘Marwan Barghouthi urges Palestinian, Arab unity in face of Israeli crimes’, Maan News Agency, 26 June 2009.
[xviii] Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, 1 August 2009.
[xx] Interview with Deputy Husam Khadir, by Walid Awad, from Ramallah: [“Fatah Is a False Witness on a Degenerate Era; I Hope that Abu-Mazin Will Restore to the Movement Its Role”], Al-Quds al-Arabi, 14.2.09, BBC Monitoring Middle East, 16 February 2009.
[xxi] Ethan Bronner, The New York Times, 21 May 2009.
THE JERUSALEM POST, Aug. 4, 2009
There’s nothing all Israelis – no matter what their political inclinations – would like better than to receive a genuine message of reconciliation and accommodation from Fatah’s sixth General Assembly, which opened in Bethlehem yesterday. Nearly 16 years after the advent of the Oslo process and 20 years since the last Fatah convention, nothing would gratify us more than unambiguous indications that peaceful reconciliation is indeed possible and that we have true partners with whom to negotiate in good faith.
But thus far, the signals from Bethlehem are not the sort to bolster hope. Fatah – widely seen as the more moderate force in Palestinian society, certainly when compared to Hamas – is hardly in good shape. Its deep-seated malaise may indeed be the underlying reason for PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to call the gathering in the first place. Fatah has not only lost Gaza to Hamas, but fears losing further support in the West Bank.
Unfortunately Fatah’s make-or-break rivalry with Hamas is underpinning the more radical elements within it rather than inspiring ideals of coexistence. In the competition for the hearts and minds of ordinary Palestinians – already indoctrinated by hostile, anti-Israeli propaganda in the classrooms, media and mosques – readiness for compromise isn’t regarded as an attractive selling point.
The fact that Gaza is cut off – its Islamist government refused to cooperate by allowing Gaza-resident delegates to travel freely and participate in the Bethlehem assembly – is Fatah’s major and glaring handicap. It cannot speak for the entire Palestinian constituency, and is helpless as Hamas moves to gradually alter Gaza’s character and mind-set via the Islamization of daily life. Thus hobbled, Fatah’s aging leadership – saddled with a history of corruption – seeks to play simultaneously to all galleries.
For foreign spectators, it offers resolutions that ostensibly relinquish “armed struggle” (code for terrorism). Yet domestic audiences are sometimes simultaneously exhorted to continue the “resistance” over the settlements, security fence and Jerusalem.
In other words, while appearing outwardly temperate, Fatah often engages in semantic games. Fatah members adept at interpreting such nuances are liable to exit this week’s conference understanding that they have received an updated carte blanche to attack Israelis. The hero’s reception given to Khaled Abu-Usba – one of the perpetrators of the March 11, 1978 bus massacre in which 35 Israelis were murdered – speaks volumes.
It’s against this backdrop that MK Avi Dichter (Kadima) – a former Shin-Bet head and public security minister – has warned that “this convention might spur a third intifada.”
WHILE THE PA accepted Israel as a de facto entity, the PLO’s central Fatah component did not. Hence the convention’s expected unequivocal rejection of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Dropping insistence on the “right of return” is equally out of the question. In that context, the determination of Israeli Arab MKs like Ahmed Tibi and Taleb a-Sanaa to participate in the event should more than raise eyebrows.
The surreal nature of Fatah’s deliberations is embodied by the inordinate attention accorded Farouk Kaddoumi’s assertions that Abbas’s predecessor Yasser Arafat did not die a natural death but was, rather, assassinated via collusion between Abbas and former prime minister Ariel Sharon. That so much energy would be squandered on a canard – at the expense of real problems and hardships – is profoundly depressing.
Where the culture of mendacity reigns, the opportunity for mutual trust cannot flourish. Muhammad Dahlan, one of Arafat’s foremost loyalists and a man once perceived as an exemplar of relative moderation, lauded Arafat’s duplicity on the most sensitive of issues in a recent interview broadcast from Ramallah on PATV. According to an approving Dahlan, Arafat condemned terror attacks “during daytime, but did the honorable thing at night.” By “the honorable thing,” for those not schooled in these nuances, Dahlan meant fostering terrorism against Israel.
Israel’s government and the new American administration are seeking to create a climate for substantive progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The Fatah conference represents an opportunity for Abbas and his colleagues to assure the watching world, and emphasize to their own constituency, that their goal is real peace – that they are committed to the path of viable reconciliation with Israel. Sadly and counterproductively for all sides, the indications thus far are quite different.
Jerusalam Issue Briefs, Vol. 9, No. 6
4 August 2009
- Many observers are watching to see to what extent Fatah’s Sixth General Congress will advance or retard the prospects for re-launching the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. In this regard, the crucial question is: Is Fatah going to waive its historical principle of “armed struggle” and devote itself to peace negotiations based on compromise?
- The two relevant documents to be discussed and approved by the Fatah Congress are the Political Program and Fatah’s “Internal Order.” The Political Program might be seen as reflecting progress in terms of accepting a political solution and rejecting violence – but it falls short of waiving the principle of armed struggle.
- The real problem lies in the Internal Order document, which restores all of the phrases that were omitted in the Political Program. While the Political Program sought to subordinate the struggle to the need for “international legitimacy,” the Internal Order is very clear in rejecting all international peace initiatives.
- In the Internal Order document, Fatah retains the armed struggle as a strategy in order to liberate the whole of Palestine and eliminate Israel. Article 12 calls for “the liberation of Palestine completely and the elimination of the state of the Zionist occupation economically, politically, militarily, and culturally.”
- Article 13 calls for “establishing a sovereign democratic Palestinian state on the entire Palestinian territory.” While the Political Program lists the “one-state solution” as an option in case the “two-state solution” fails, the Internal Order document mentions the “one-state solution” as the only solution.
- Should there be any question regarding Fatah’s objectives, Article 17 states: “The armed popular revolution is the only inevitable way to the liberation of Palestine,” while Article 19 notes: “The struggle will not end until the elimination of the Zionist entity and the liberation of Palestine.”
The Sixth Fatah General Congress, convening for the first time in twenty years, will be judged mainly by two factors: its decisions and the composition of its new leadership. Here we will examine the nature of its expected decisions and leave the evaluation of the new leadership for future examination.
There is great international interest in the Fatah Congress since so much of the international community perceives the Palestinian problem as the key to the entire spectrum of conflicts in the Middle East. Many observers are watching to see to what extent the congress will advance or retard the prospects for re-launching the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and even launching a regional peace process based on the Israeli-Palestinian bilateral track.
In this regard, the crucial question is: Is Fatah going to waive its historical principle of “armed struggle” – muqawama – and devote itself to peace negotiations based on compromise, as was discussed extensively between the former Kadima-led Israeli government and Palestinian negotiators – led by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and former Prime Minister Abu Ala?
Two Documents: One for International Consumption and the Other for Internal Use
The two relevant documents to be discussed and approved by the Fatah Congress are the Political Program1 and Fatah’s “Internal Order.”2 The Political Program might be seen by many as reflecting progress in terms of accepting a political solution and rejecting violence – but it falls short of waiving the principle of armed struggle. The document endorses the Arab Initiative, talks in vague expressions of the “right of return” – using a formula “based on UN Resolution 181” and not on fulfillment of this resolution, and offers the model of the “Intifada of the Stones” (the first intifada) as preferred over the model of military struggle.
The principle of the “armed struggle” is mentioned as an option of the past that must be re-examined in comparison to other options of struggle. The model seen to fit our times is the anti-wall campaigns in Nil’in and Bil’in, but “10,000 times as fierce.” The political program uses the term “the struggle” (not quite describing it as the “armed struggle”) and even the “peaceful struggle.” However, there is more than one reference to the term “the struggle of all options,” that includes the armed struggle as well. In an interview with Maan News, the Fatah leader in Lebanon, Sultan Abu al-Einein, made it clear that the “struggle of all options” includes the armed struggle as well.
Fatah’s Internal Order Presents a Different Face
Developing the Nil’in-Bil’in model of struggle is problematic because it can easily deteriorate into violence, as past experience shows, but the real problem lies in the Internal Order document. All of the phrases that were omitted in the Political Program are present in this would-be “bureaucratic” document. The term “armed popular struggle” appears at the very beginning. While the Political Program sought to subordinate the struggle to the need for “international legitimacy,” the Internal Order is very clear in rejecting all international peace initiatives: “The projects, agreements, and resolutions that were issued or will be issued by the UN or group of states or any separate state on the Palestinian problem that waives the rights of the Palestinians on their homeland is null and void.”3
Furthermore, Article 22 calls for: “objection by force to all political solutions that are offered as an alternative to the extermination of the occupying Zionist entity in Palestine and all the projects that aim for the elimination of the Palestinian problem, or seek to internationalize it or put an outside custodian on its people from any possible party.”4 This article is in contradiction to the call in the Political Program for greater international involvement in the problem and its welcome for the involvement of international forces in Palestine.
Article 9 states clearly that “the liberation of the Holy Land and the defense of its holy sites (that are forbidden to infidels) is an Arab, Muslim, and humanitarian duty.”5
Fatah Retains the Strategy of the Armed Struggle
And here we come to the essence: Fatah retains the armed struggle as a strategy in order to liberate the whole of Palestine and eliminate Israel. Article 12 calls for “the liberation of Palestine completely and the elimination of the state of the Zionist occupation economically, politically, militarily, and culturally.”6 (Indeed, one of the methods mentioned in the Political Program for the “peaceful intifada” is an economic boycott of Israel.)
Article 13 calls for “establishing a sovereign democratic Palestinian state on the entire Palestinian territory that will preserve the legitimate rights of the citizens on the basis of justice and equality without discrimination on the basis of race, religion and belief, and Jerusalem will be its capital.”7 While the Political Program lists the “one-state solution” as an option in case the “two-state solution” fails, the Internal Order document mentions the “one-state solution” as the only solution.
Article 17 says: “The armed popular revolution is the only inevitable way to the liberation of Palestine.”8
Finally, Article 19 notes: “The armed struggle is a strategy and not just a tactic and the armed revolution of the Arab Palestinian people is a decisive factor in the war of liberation and the elimination of the Zionist existence, and the struggle will not end until the elimination of the Zionist entity and the liberation of Palestine.”9
While Fatah’s Political Program tries to accommodate international expectations and seems designed to mobilize international legitimacy for the re-launching of a “peaceful intifada,” Fatah’s “Internal Order” reminds us how deeply ingrained in Fatah is its ideology from the 1960s and 1970s.
* * *
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5 Ù„Ù…Ø§Ø¯Ø© (9) – ØªØØ±ÙŠØ± Ø§Ù„Ø¯ÙŠØ§Ø± Ø§Ù„Ù…Ù‚Ø¯Ø³Ø© ÙˆØ§Ù„Ø¯ÙØ§Ø¹ Ø¹Ù† ØØ±Ù…Ø§ØªÙ‡Ø§ ÙˆØ§Ø¬Ø¨ Ø¹Ø±Ø¨ÙŠ ÙˆØ§Ø³Ù„Ø§Ù…ÙŠ ÙˆØ§Ù†Ø³Ø§Ù†ÙŠ.
6 Ø§Ù„Ù…Ø§Ø¯Ø© (12) – ØªØØ±ÙŠØ± ÙÙ„Ø³Ø·ÙŠÙ† ØªØØ±ÙŠØ±Ø§Ù‹ ÙƒØ§Ù…Ù„Ø§Ù‹ ÙˆØªØµÙÙŠØ© Ø¯ÙˆÙ„Ø© Ø§Ù„Ø§ØØªÙ„Ø§Ù„ Ø§Ù„ØµÙ‡ÙŠÙˆÙ†ÙŠ Ø§Ù‚ØªØµØ§Ø¯ÙŠØ§Ù‹ ÙˆØ³ÙŠØ§Ø³ÙŠØ§Ù‹ ÙˆØ¹Ø³ÙƒØ±ÙŠØ§Ù‹ ÙˆØ«Ù‚Ø§ÙÙŠØ§Ù‹.
7 Ø§Ù„Ù…Ø§Ø¯Ø© (13) – Ø§Ù‚Ø§Ù…Ø© Ø¯ÙˆÙ„Ø© ÙÙ„Ø³Ø·ÙŠÙ†ÙŠÙ‡ Ø¯ÙŠÙ…Ù‚Ø±Ø§Ø·ÙŠØ© Ù…Ø³ØªÙ‚Ù„Ø© Ø°Ø§Øª Ø³ÙŠØ§Ø¯Ø© Ø¹Ù„Ù‰ ÙƒØ§Ù…Ù„ Ø§Ù„ØªØ±Ø§Ø¨ Ø§Ù„ÙÙ„Ø³Ø·ÙŠÙ†ÙŠ ØªØÙØ¸ Ù„Ù„Ù…ÙˆØ§Ø·Ù†ÙŠÙ† ØÙ‚ÙˆÙ‚Ù‡Ù… Ø§Ù„Ø´Ø±Ø¹ÙŠØ© Ø¹Ù„Ù‰ Ø§Ø³Ø§Ø³ Ø§Ù„Ø¹Ø¯Ù„ ÙˆØ§Ù„Ù…Ø³Ø§ÙˆØ§Ø© Ø¯ÙˆÙ† ØªÙ…ÙŠÙŠØ²ÙÙŠ Ø§Ù„Ø¹Ù†ØµØ± Ø§Ùˆ Ø§Ù„Ø¯ÙŠÙ† ÙˆØ§Ù„Ø¹Ù‚ÙŠØ¯Ù‡ ÙˆØªÙƒÙˆÙ† Ø§Ù„Ù‚Ø¯Ø³ Ø¹Ø§ØµÙ…Ø© Ù„Ù‡Ø§.
8 Ø§Ù„Ù…Ø§Ø¯Ø© (17) – Ø§Ù„Ø«ÙˆØ±Ø© Ø§Ù„Ø´Ø¹Ø¨ÙŠØ© Ø§Ù„Ù…Ø³Ù„ØØ© Ù‡ÙŠ Ø§Ù„Ø·Ø±ÙŠÙ‚ Ø§Ù„ØØªÙ…ÙŠ Ø§Ù„ÙˆØÙŠØ¯ Ù„ØªØØ±ÙŠØ± ÙÙ„Ø³Ù€Ù€Ø·ÙŠÙ†.
9 Ø§Ù„Ù…Ø§Ø¯Ø© (19) -Ø§Ù„ÙƒÙØ§Ø Ø§Ù„Ù…Ø³Ù„Ø Ø§Ø³ØªØ±Ø§ØªÙŠØ¬ÙŠØ© ÙˆÙ„ÙŠØ³ ØªÙƒØªÙŠÙƒØ§Ù‹ ÙˆØ§Ù„Ø«ÙˆØ±Ø© Ø§Ù„Ù…Ø³Ù„ØØ© Ù„Ù„Ø´Ø¹Ø¨ Ø§Ù„Ø¹Ø±Ø¨ÙŠ Ø§Ù„ÙÙ„Ø³Ø·ÙŠÙ†ÙŠ Ø¹Ø§Ù…Ù„ ØØ§Ø³Ù… ÙÙŠ Ù…Ø¹Ø±ÙƒØ© Ø§Ù„ØªØØ±ÙŠØ± ÙˆØªØµÙÙŠØ© Ø§Ù„ÙˆØ¬ÙˆØ¯ Ø§Ù„ØµÙ‡ÙŠÙˆÙ†ÙŠ ÙˆÙ„Ù† ÙŠØªÙˆÙ‚Ù Ù‡Ø°Ø§ Ø§Ù„ÙƒÙØ§Ø Ø§Ù„Ø§ Ø¨Ø§Ù„Ù‚Ø¶Ø§Ø¡ Ø¹Ù„Ù‰ Ø§Ù„ÙƒÙŠØ§Ù† Ø§Ù„ØµÙ‡ÙŠÙˆÙ†ÙŠ ÙˆØªØØ±ÙŠØ± ÙÙ„Ø³Ø·ÙŠÙ†.
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Pinhas Inbari is a senior policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is also a veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently reports for several foreign media outlets. He is the author of a number of books on the Palestinians including The Palestinians: Between Terrorism and Statehood.