Fatah, Al- (Palestinian Liberation Movement; Fateh, Fath; Conquest, in Arabic)

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FATAH, AL- (Palestinian Liberation Movement; Fateh, Fath; conquest, in Arabic)

Palestinian political movement that surfaced in the late 1950s among students in Gaza and Egypt. The acronym FATAH comes from the first letters, in reverse order, of the Arab words Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filastiniya, or Palestinian Liberation Movement. Al-Fatah was officially created on 10 December 1959 in Kuwait. Its founders include Yasir Arafat, Salah Khalaf, Khalid al-Hasan, Faruq Qaddumi, and Khalil al-Wazir. Formed for the purpose of liberating occupied Palestine, the motto of al-Fatah was "Arab unity through the liberation of Palestine," a phrase conveying a degree of opposition to the dominant thinking in Arab countries that supported the Palestinian cause, for whom Arab unity was a precondition to the liberation of Palestine. The political program of al-Fatah specified: 1) "There is no other way to liberate the homeland than armed struggle"; 2) revolutionary action should be independent of parties and states and should be carried out, as a first step, by the Palestinian peoples themselves; and 3) the objective is the total recuperation of a unified and Arab Palestine. The governing organs of al-Fatah were the Central Committee, the Revolutionary Council, the General Congress, and the Council of Security. At the time of its creation, al-Fatah counted around 300 members, of whom two-thirds had belonged to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Fatah had a military wing, al-Assifa ("the storm," in Arabic), which made itself known on 1 January 1965 in a radio announcement by Abu Ammar (Yasir Arafat) claiming responsibility for an action on Israeli soil. The first countries to recognize al-Fatah were Algeria, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

In April 1966 Qaddumi was elected secretary general of al-Fatah. After the Arab defeat of June 1967, Fatah, backed by radical splinter groups that were starting up among the Palestinians, advocated armed struggle against Israel. Guerrilla actions multiplied, leading to Israeli reprisals, particularly in Jordan. The ranks of al-Fatah increased greatly in 1968 after the victory of the fidaʾiyyun over an Israeli unit in a confrontation that took place on 21 March in al-Karama, Jordan. The Battle of al-Karama symbolized the desire of the fidaʾiyyun to persist in the struggle against Israel, in spite of the defeat in the Arab-Israel War. On 15 April Yasir Arafat was named spokesperson for al-Fatah, which became the most important and best organized faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Al-Fatah took control of the PLO in 1969, with Arafat's election as head of the executive committee. Al-Fatah advocated the creation of a "secular and democratic" Palestinian state, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims would all have equal rights. In the course of a few months, the movement was transformed into a veritable national liberation party, in spite of the 1970 Jordanian-Palestinian confrontations of Black September, which caused many divisions. The leadership of al-Fatah was not able to counter the desire of some of its members to revenge the massacre of Palestinians by the Jordanian army. Thus the Black September group was born, which carried out several spectacular attacks, in particular the November 1971 assassination of Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi al-Tell, and the September 1972 attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

Forced back into Lebanon, al-Fatah once more found itself divided by the differing policies of its various leaders in the Lebanese conflict, in the course of which Palestinians fought against Christians, then Syrians, then Shiʿites, and finally among themselves. An armed group within the movement, Suqur al-Fatah ("Falcons of Fatah," in Arabic), drew its most radical members. On 22 June 1973 al-Fatah Secretary General Qaddumi became head of the political department of the PLO. At year's end, after the 1973 Arab-Israel War, which saw the consolidation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, al-Fatah became resigned to the creation of a Palestinian state "on a liberated portion of the occupied territories." In the autumn of 1974, Sabri al-Banna (Abu Nidal), who belonged to the radical wing, quit al-Fatah to form his own movement, the Fatah Revolutionary Council. The new group made itself known through terrorist action in the West as well as in the Arab world. Under the name Abu Nidal Group, the movement also assassinated al-Fatah cadres. In April 1979 the leadership of al-Fatah failed to convince the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to merge with al-Fatah.

Over the years, al-Fatah became impossible to ignore and its adversaries started calling South Lebanon "Fatahland." On 6 June 1982 Israel launched an invasion of Lebanon, Operation Peace for Galilee, allegedly against Palestinian splinter groups in Lebanon, resulting in the destruction of a portion of the political system of al-Fatah and the PLO. The expulsion of the Palestinians to Tunisia the following year magnified a rupture that had already existed in al-Fatah, some of whose cadres decided to join the opposition in the Palestinian National Salvation Front. On 29 November 1984, in spite of differences in the Palestinian movement, Arafat was reelected president of the PLO executive committee. Distant from the front in Israel, al-Fatah launched a political offensive that led to the recognition of the PLO by the socialist countries of that time, and to wider recognition by the United Nations, consolidating the position of al-Fatah and Arafat among the Palestinians. After December 1987, the outbreak of the Intifada in the Occupied Territories allowed al-Fatah to tighten its ties with the Palestinian populations of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A National Unified Uprising Command (NUUC) was constituted by various local committees in the Occupied Territories. The NUUC was linked to the western section of al-Fatah, overseen by the council of security headed by Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyad), who was then in Tunis. The NUUC included local representatives from al-Fatah, the Palestine Communist Party, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Arafat's proclamation of a Palestinian state, on 15 November 1988, strengthened the position of al-Fatah in the Palestine National Council and injected enthusiasm into the uprising in the Occupied Territories. At the Fifth General Congress of al-Fatah in Tunis between 3 and 10 August 1989, the leadership of the movement reaffirmed its commitment to continue the struggle for "the liberation of the homeland," while also taking a position favorable to pursuing a dialogue with "Israeli democratic elements that reprove the occupation and support the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people," notably the right of return, the right to self-determination, and the right to a Palestinian state.

During the night of 14–15 January 1991, Salah Khalaf was assassinated in Tunis by his bodyguard, an agent of Abu Nidal's al-Fatah Revolutionary Council. The death of one of al-Fatah's principal leaders, who was also considered the second most important leader of the PLO, was a great blow to Arafat and the whole Palestinian movement. In April 1992, while hospitalized following an airplane crash in the Libyan desert, Arafat designated three leaders of al-Fatah—Faruq Qaddumi, Mahmud Abbas, and Khalid al-Hasan—to head the organization in the interim. Arafat's support of Iraq during the 1990–1991 Gulf Crisis led to a reduction of financial aid from Saudi Arabia. Having negotiated a preliminary Israeli-Palestinian declaration of principles in September 1993, which caused much criticism in the Arab world, Fatah was again shaken by serious internal dissension. Arafat's leadership style was criticized by many Fatah and PLO cadres. Nevertheless, Fatah remained the major Palestinian political force in the territories, in spite of the opposition between the "Tunisians" (Fatah members who went to Tunis during the PLO exile) and "internal" Palestinians, who remained in the territories. Young people who participated in the Intifada reproached the leaders in Tunis with being insufficiently involved in resistance actions. After 1994, with the autonomy of the Palestinian territories, the unity of the Palestinian movements under the banner of Fatah was progressively de-emphasized in favor of the overall policies of the Palestinian Authority, headed by the leader of Fatah, Yasir Arafat. A radical current, opposed to the Oslo Accords, surfaced within the movement, to which flocked former members of the Falcons and the Black Panthers. One of the splinter groups allied with this tendency took the name Abu Reesh Brigade, after a Palestinian killed in the Intifada. On 15 March 1994 a Fatah delegation led by Soufian Abu Zayyad was received for the first time at the Knesset by the parliamentary Labor bloc. In the course of the year, although an Islamist influence surfaced in Fatah, the nationalist mainstream made efforts to strengthen its appeal to the young of the movement (Shabibat Fatah, in Arabic), whose principal leader, Marwan Barghuthi, was named secretary general of Fatah for the West Bank. On 21 January 1996, after the first Palestinian universal suffrage elections, Fatah became the majority party of the new Palestinian Legislative Council and the principal proponent of the policies of the Palestinian Authority (PA). That July, Jamal al-Shobaki was appointed secretary general of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah and Qaddumi was reelected to the leadership of the central committee. On 10 September 1996 Fatah became a member of the Socialist International. In December Ahmad Halas was named secretary general of Fatah for the Gaza Strip. In the spring of 1999 the leadership of the movement undertook a reorganization of its administration in the Palestinian territories to counter HAMAS, which was backed by elements within Fatah. They focused special attention on Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. The two regional administrations of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank were placed under the authority of a high committee, headed by Faysal al-Husayni, Zakariya al-Agha, and Hakam Balʿawi. After the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada in October 2000, Fatah strove to take charge of the uprising in order to avoid the PA being outpaced by radical elements. Concurrently, some Fatah cadres tried persuading the opposition to support Arafat's policies and also persuading the leaders of Arab countries to make the case for the Palestinian cause before the international community. In 2001 the membership of Fatah was estimated at 21,000.

SEE ALSO AMAL; Aqsa Intifada, al-; Arab-Israel War (1967); Arab-Israel War (1973); Arab-Israel War (1982); Arafat, Yasir Muhammad; Banna, Sabri al-; Barghuthi, Marwan Hussein al-; Black Panthers; Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Fatah Revolutionary Council; Fedaʾi; Gulf War (1991); Hasan, Khalid al-; Husayni, Faysal al-; Intifada, 1987–1993; Khalaf, Salah; Knesset; Muslim Brotherhood; Oslo Accords; Oslo Accords II; Palestine Communist Party; Palestine Liberation Organization; Palestine National Council; Palestinian Authority; Palestinian Legislative Council; Palestinian National Salvation Front; Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Qaddumi, Faruq; Right of Return; Wazir, Khalil al-.