By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
Fatah is grappling with four crises on which this article focuses, that impact its dealing with the dangerous phase the Palestine issue has entered, and dealing with the elections and the requirements of putting the Palestinian house in order. The four crises are: First, the internal one; second, the leadership; third, the strategic path; and fourth, the soft dismantling and “statization.”
The Fatah leadership decision to oust Nasser al-Kidwa, the member of its Central Committee since 2009, is a sign of internal turmoil. He was expelled on 11/3/2021, after insisting on forming an electoral list—called the National Democratic Forum, separate from Fatah’s main slate—to run in the Palestinian legislative elections. Al-Kidwa asserted that he remains a faithful member of Fatah and considered his dismissal as “arbitrary,” while Fatah considered his move a rebellion against the movement, and that it would encourage its fragmentation and weaken it, at this critical moment.
The ousting of al-Kidwa was preceded by the Fatah leadership expelling the member of its Central Committee, Muhammad Dahlan, on 11/6/2012. Dahlan, who still considers himself a Fatah member, enjoys wide popularity among Fatah ranks, especially in Gaza Strip (GS). He decided to run in the legislative elections with a list independent from the official Fatah list.
As for Marwan Barghouti, the member of the Fatah Central Committee and a prominent icon who is serving five consecutive life sentences in Israeli jails, he has announced that he is running in the Palestinian presidential elections, contrary to Fatah’s position, which has nominated Mahmud ‘Abbas. Barghouti has a high chance of achieving victory, for opinion polls over the past years have indicated that he would win if he runs for presidential elections.
Fatah leader Nabil ‘Amr has also made his desire clear of forming another list.
These conditions reflect an old new phenomenon in Fatah, i.e., defections and a flaccid status of its organizational structure throughout its history. Among the most prominent defections was when a number of Fatah leaders led by Sabri al-Banna (Abu Nidal) defected and formed “Fatah: The Revolutionary Council,” in 1974, and when another group of Fatah leaders defected, led by Abu Musa and Nimr Saleh, and formed “Fatah al-Intifada” in 1983. Furthermore, in the first legislative elections that the Palestinian Authority (PA) held in 1996, many Fatah figures ran independently and as competitors to Fatah’s main slate. Nineteen of them won seats, and eventually joined the Fatah parliamentary bloc, thus imposing themselves on it.
The different ideological backgrounds of Fatah members have affected the internal cohesion of the movement. Moreover, the milestones and different phase requirements have instigated conflicts, particularly since many of these milestones were accompanied by blood sacrifices and heavy prices paid by the Palestinian people. They also led to political concessions rejected by large sectors of the Palestinian people and from within Fatah itself. The wide margin of freedom within Fatah has allowed a number of leaders to form currents within the movement, or use their powers and jurisdictions to mobilize support in their favor.
In the past ten years, Fatah President Mahmud ‘Abbas has managed to maintain high level of internal discipline and organizational cohesion, in addition to addressing many flaccid aspects in the movement. However, this has led to him being the sole leader and made Fatah lose part of its leadership vitality, and this approach has not been entirely successful when a big entitlement is due, such as the legislative elections, as shown nowadays.
The Leadership Crisis
Fatah faces a second crisis, the succession of Mahmud ‘Abbas, who has reached the age of 86 (born in 1936), controls all powers and jurisdictions, and has managed to weaken any potential competitors or “heirs.” There are fears that the new Fatah leader will not be able to fill the void and understand and navigate the Fatah “tribe” with all its entanglements and overlaps. There are several possible successors who are popular within the Fatah ranks, such as Mahmud al-‘Aloul, Jibril Rajoub and Marwan Barghouti; also, the PA “security trend” led by Majid Faraj and Hussein al-Sheikh are supported by some Arab and international parties and also preferred by the Israelis; whereas Muhammad Dahlan, with Emirati support, is trying to reposition himself as the strongest candidate to succeed ‘Abbas. Setting up separate electoral lists by some Fatah leaders, which challenge the main Fatah slate, reflects part of Fatah’s leadership crisis. Matters have reached a level where there were threats to reveal “facts” about the assassination of Yasir ‘Arafat, and so the revelation of ‘Arafat’s killer has become more of a political blackmail than a matter of finding out the truth about a great historical leader like ‘Arafat.
The Strategic Path Crisis
The strategic path crisis is a major crisis facing Fatah, not only concerning its political choices, but also the core of its identity, vision and goals, regardless the theoretical discourse (Lip service) circulating within the movement. Since the Oslo Accords in 1993, Fatah has entered a stage where the “role-playing” game that its leaders are good at, no longer helps. It began to unequivocally position itself in the peace process path, while carrying the burden of ceding most of historic Palestine, abolishing or disrupting the Palestinian National Charter and dwarfing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in order to form a Palestinian Authority. This authority has failed to become an independent state in the West Bank (WB) and GS, while Israel has turned it over time into a functional tool that serves its purposes and security, rather than the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
Therefore, Fatah, via the PLO and PA, has led the Palestinian people to a dead end, where the program—on the basis of which it accepted the peace process—does not have the slightest chance to be implemented. At the same time, its leadership still insists on the peace process as the only path, and rejects the option of armed resistance and uprising (Intifadah). This may make Fatah liable to become history, if it does not conduct a genuine review of its strategic path.
The Soft Dismantling
As for the fourth crisis, it is the crisis of the “soft dismantling” of Fatah or its “statization,” to which the movement has been subjected, for more than fifty years of its leadership of the PLO. However, its severity and major manifestations emerged after the establishment of the PA in 1994. For the “institutionalization” of the revolution and its assimilation into “official” frameworks were a great challenge to a revolutionary force, whose vitality and effectiveness lie in its ability to go against the tide, impose facts on the ground and depart from the general Arab and international order, which sought to assimilate it and drain its energy in service bureaucratic frameworks. As this article has no room to talk about the weakness, flaccid aspects and corruption of the PLO, we will only point out the fact that the PA has included most of the Fatah leaders and cadres in its institutions, where the livelihood of about 150 thousand people (Their families include about one million people) has been tied to the PA and its security and administrative systems, which are linked to Israel.
As time has passed, and after Fatah had its heroes and freedom fighters who imbued it with a revolutionary character, the generation of the “Dayton’s baby” battalion, associated with security coordination and its entitlements, has appeared. Consequently, “interests” became associated with “stability” rather than “revolution,” and an “acceptable” degree of popular resistance that is easy for the occupation to deal with has become sufficient. As a result, many of the patriotic and honorable Fatah members who made sacrifices—whether killed, wounded or imprisoned—no longer find that the Fatah leadership really reflects their aspirations. Narrating about the “beautiful history” and the heroism of founding generation have become the resort of Fatah’s cadres to defend the movement and its path, and at the same time, they would use an apologetic justifying rhetoric to defend the current policies and behaviors.
Faced with these crises, Fatah enters the Palestinian elections. These crises indicate that Fatah’s performance will not be good, despite the wide popular base that Fatah still enjoys. Perhaps some Fatah leaders, driven by internal calculations or external Arab, international, and even Israeli pressure, want to postpone these entitlements. However, what is more important for Fatah is to seriously review its paths and insist on continuing to reform and put the Palestinian house in order, because reforming this house is in itself a major contribution to reforming Fatah.