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Goodbye Gaza Part 3: What the freak is Fatah?

Greetings again Plaid Friends! The Avenger has returned to this tumultuous topic of tremendous trepidation and tribulations—the troubles in Palestine, or what is left of Palestine depending upon your view.  We’ve talked about the territories, I’ve harangued you about Hamas, so let’s now get our freak on with Fatah! 

Fatah likes yellow flags, Hamas digs the green. Color code your conflict for clarity!So what the fuck is a Fatah? Fatah is all at once several things:

  • #1 Fatah is the largest organization in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a multi-party confederation.
  • #2 Fatah is a, if not the, major political party in Palestine (like the Democrats or Republicans in the US)
  • #3 Fatah is mostly a nationalist party (fighting for an independent state names Palestine) but also has a social network which includes many militant sub-groups, as well as many socialist/charitable sub-groups (not unlike Hamas).
  • #4 Fatah currently completely controls the government of the West Bank, and is recognized internationally as the only government in charge of Palestine in its entirety—in other words, Fatah is being recognized as the only politically legitimate voice of all Palestinian peoples, even if many in Hamas would beg to disagree.

Confusing enough for you?  Let’s take these one at a time…but a couple definitions to start:

The Palestinian National Authority/Palestinian Authority is the interim government of the Palestinian territories, first headed by headed by Yasser Arafat and now led by Mahmoud Abbas.  Basically, it’s the ‘government’ of Palestine, but since Palestine is not an officially recognized sovereign state in the eyes of the world, it’s still an ‘interim’ government.  The basic assumption here is that Palestine is in the process of becoming a state eventually, but it’s not yet there.  Israelis who do not recognize a Palestinian state, always drop the word ‘National’ and refer to it as the Palestinian Authority.  You will see it used both ways in lots of different places.

Yasser Arafat: forever leader of Fatah, of the PLO, of the Palestinian Authority….

Meanwhile back at the Bat-cave, the Palestinian Liberation Organization aka the PLO is an umbrella group of a shitload of different political and militant groups originially headed by Yasser Arafat.    The PLO started in Egypt in 1964 as a political movement uniting Palestinian Arabs in an effort to create an independent state of Palestine—their main objective has always been an independent Palestine, although in the past it also touted a need for the destruction of the state of Israel for this to happen.  For a good portion of its history, the PLO was considered a terrorist organization, and an extremely rich one at that ($8-10 billion in assets).  In 1968 Arafat became chairman; received recognition by the United Nations and by Arab states in 1974 as a government in exile; and thus has played a largely political role since the creation of the Palestine National Authority. The Palestine Liberation Organization is considered by the Arab League and by the United Nations to be the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and it holds a permanent observer seat in the United Nations General Assembly. Now, the story of the PLO is much more fact-packed and complicated than I’m explaining here, but there is one more specific tidbit that you must know about Arafat and the PLO to understand today’s Gaza debacle:

***This is critical: Yasser Arafat signed the ‘Declaration of Principles’ with Israel in 1993 and exchanged mutual renunciations of terrorism with Israel and a mutual recognition between the PLO and Israel, and was allowed to return to the Palestinian territories from exile in Tunisia. What’s so important about that? In this letter, Arafat is basically saying that his group will not officially condone any more terrorism, and most importantly recognizes Israel‘s right to exist. Kind of. Perhaps more factually, he says that the destruction of Israel is no longer a goal or demand of the PLO and by default the Palestinian National Authority.  This is why he was allowed to return and head the interim government, and why he became ‘legitimate’ spokesman for the Palestinians and a ‘legitimate’ player in the peace process. Why is this so crucial for our story? Because Hamas has not made a similar denouncement of terrorism and recognition of Israel—that’s why they are not ‘legitimate’ players in this game in the eyes of the West.

But wait Plaid Avenger! I thought you were just talking about the PLO! How can you compare the PLO legitimacy with Hamas illegitimacy? I thought this blog was about Fatah! I’m confused!

Mahmoud Abbas: current leader of Fatah, of the PLO, of the Palestinian Authority..I know, I know, my friends.  I’ve intentionally led you down a blind alley talking about the PLO so that I wouldn’t have to muddle terms.  I’ve left out one big component that you should now be ready to handle: Fatah is indeed a separate political party in Palestine, but it is also the most powerful political party in the PLO! Confused more or less now? Fatah has always been the major stakeholder of power in the PLO, Fatah has more or less controlled the action of the PLO, and what’s more, Yasser Arafat was simultaneously the head of the PLO, the head of the Fatah political party, and the head of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA)!  Damn, let’s make it more confusing: Mahmoud Abbas, the current President is the PNA took all of Arafat’s titles too! He is head of Fatah, head of the PLO, and head of the PNA. Got it yet? Shit! Good! Someone explain it back to me!

The Avenger is usually pretty astute with analogies, but I’m not sure one exists to compare to this situation.  But I’ll try.  It would be something like this: pretend for a minute that George Bush Jr. is the head of the Republican Party.  Now pretend that he is simultaneously President of the US. Oops, I keep forgetting that he kind of is….kind of. Finally, pretend that he also is the head of an international coalition of Republicans from across the world who are bound be a single mission…. I don’t know, maybe the elimination of all corporate taxes, or perhaps a world-wide country club membership that included a free-golf-for-life clause. Whatever. Hopefully you get my point. Arafat, and now Abbas, have always worn these three hats at the same time: 1)head of the political party (Fatah), 2)head of an international organization in which their political party is the major player (PLO), and 3)head of the government in which their political party controls (Palestine).

So now back to our Fatah story. The Fatah movement—promoting an independent Palestine which would be liberated by the actions of Palestinian Arabs—was founded in 1958 by members of the Palestinian diaspora (mostly professionals working in the Gulf States who had been refugees in Gaza and had gone on to study in Cairo). This is when Arafat became involved and quickly rose to leadership.  As referenced above, Arafat and his Fatah party became the foundation stone of the PLO in 1964.  For the following decades, Fatah/PLO provided training to a wide range of militant and insurgent groups, and carried out numerous attacks against Israeli targets in the Middle East and abroad—thus their ‘terrorist’ status. Fatah became the dominant force in Palestinian politics after the 1967 Six-Day War dealt seriously dismembered the already fractured Palestinian territory. 

Since then, Fatah has been the primary voice of the Palestinian plight, both internally but also on the international stage.  And I mean THE primary voice.  Like 90% of the politicians in Palestine were Fatah folks. However, like I alluded to in the Hamas blog, it is at its core a political party made up of lots of different folks with lots of different views.  Some are more worried about social issues, others more militant and concerned only with the intractable Israeli dispute, and yet others who want to seek political solutions to the whole debacle.  As time has wore on, many Palestinians have come to view Fatah as largely corrupt internally (it is), and largely incompetent and useless internationally (since there have been virtually no positive movements towards the territorial dispute). Yeah….these guys got troubles. 

As such, Fatah has been losing support from the Palestinian masses for years. And the final hammer just dropped: In 2005, Hamas won landslide victories in nearly all the municipalities it contested, and in the January 25, 2006 parliamentary election, Fatah lost its majority in the Palestinian parliament to Hamas, and resigned all cabinet positions, instead assuming the role as the main opposition party.

So where does that leave us? Is it over for Fatah? Not hardly! The turn of events of last month witnessed Hamas literally kicking the Fatah folks out of Gaza—but don’t count them out yet! Fatah retaliated by firing all the Hamas officials and taking over sole control of the West Bank.  And all this controversy has resulted in widespread international support for Fatah, to the exclusion of Hamas….And you’ll have to tune in tomorrow for the wrap-up to see the Plaid predictions of how this will all turn out…

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