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Palestine: Fatah needs to review its agenda, modes of action and political alliances

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Ramallah/Gaza City/Brussels - President Mahmoud Abbas’s threat not to run in the next elections is only the latest sign of the crisis facing Fatah, the movement he heads. Fatah’s challenge is to clearly define its agenda, how to carry it out and with whom. 

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Palestine: Salvaging Fatah, the latest background report from the International Crisis Group, examines the current state of the 50-year-old movement which has been the heart of Palestinian nationalism. It argues that while Fatah has begun long-overdue internal reforms to revitalise the movement, much remains to be done. In particular, Fatah’s leaders need to clarify its political strategy if it is to play an effective role in leading Palestinians toward a two-state solution.

“From the death of its historic leader, Yasser Arafat, to the electoral debacle in 2006 and Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in 2007, Fatah has gone from crisis to crisis”, says Robert Blecher, Crisis Group’s Arab-Israeli Senior Analyst. “Yet Fatah’s difficulties do not make it expendable; they make it an organisation in urgent need of redress”.

Since 1994, Fatah has been caught between pursuing national liberation via traditional methods of resistance on the one hand, and governing and statebuilding through the Palestinian Authority (PA) on the other. This balancing act ultimately proved unsustainable. At the same time, leaders lost touch with the rank-and-file and allowed institutions to wither. They failed to respond to or learn from a long list of setbacks, including the second intifada and the subsequent devastation of the PA and the rise of Hamas to power in Gaza in 2007.

Fatah’s General Conference, which took place in August, was an important step forward in renewing the movement’s leadership, conferring legitimacy on its institutions and laying the groundwork for further reforms. However, the challenges facing the movement will likely only heighten over the coming months: Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are at an impasse, inter-Palestinian reconciliation talks at a standstill, U.S. diplomacy adrift. Regardless of whether the January elections go ahead and whether Abbas fulfils his threat not to run, Fatah needs to ask hard questions about its agenda, modes of action and political alliances.

Fatah must decide whether to develop a strategy of non-violent, mass resistance which avoids the pitfalls of armed struggle but still provides an alternative if negotiations for a two-state solution fail. It also needs to decide how it will relate to the PA and specifically whether to reassert control over the government or disengage from it. Finally, the movement must assess under what conditions it will pursue unity with Hamas, how it will do so, and what price it is willing to pay.

“Outside actors, the U.S. and Israel among them, might not like all the answers a reformed Fatah ultimately provides”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director. “But they would be better than no answers at all”.
© Crisis International -
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