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Image:Fatah_Abbas_Carried.jpg Image:Fatah Flag.jpg PALESTINIAN FATAH

Fatah is the dominant secular nationalist party in the Palestinian territories, historically led by the (in)famous Yasser Arafat and the founding organization of the Palestinian Authority, the semi-autonomous Palestinian administrative body created as a result of the 1993 Oslo accords. It is currently the minority partner in the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, under Prime Minister Ismail Haniya (Hamas) and President Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah).

Image:Fatah_Young_Arafat.jpg HISTORY

Fatah emerged from the aftermath of the 1948 creation of the state of Israel, and was founded by communist and socialist Palestinian refugees who envisioned a secular, socialist Palestinian country emerging in the region after the destruction of Israel. In 1964 a variety of Arab rulers, most notably Gamal abd al-Nasser of Egypt, sponsored the creation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which during the 1960s became dominated by Fatah leader Yasser Arafat. Arafat’s leadership made Fatah the most influential faction within the PLO, and throughout the 1960s and 1970s the PLO developed significant ties with other insurgency groups around the world, though most in the west considered it a terrorist organization.


The PLO, and Arafat’s Fatah along with it, were distrusted by most Arab governments, who worried that rash Palestinian militant actions against Israeli targets would lead to Israeli reprisals against the PLO’s host countries. They were expelled from Jordan in 1970 after attempting to overthrow the monarchy in September 1970, which in turn led to the creation of a violent spin-off faction of Fatah known as Black September. Under this guise, the most militant members of the PLO were channeled into outright terrorist acts, which earned Fatah more international attention than it had ever gained previously. Most notoriously, in 1972 Black September members took the Israeli Olympic team hostage in Munich and proceeded to execute several of the athletes prior to themselves being killed by West German police. This act, and several others, in turn led the Israeli Prime Minister to declare a clandestine war against Fatah elements across the Mediterranean, in a campaign since referred to as the "War of the Spooks." Several innocent people died in the course of this shooting and bombing campaign, including an innocent Norwegian waiter mistakenly identified as a Black September ringleader, but nonetheless Fatah and the PLO were the main casualties of this campaign, carrying with them the irrepressible shame of having murdered athletes at the Olympics in front of millions of television viewers.

While this clandestine war waged across Europe, the PLO leadership was quickly pushed out of Syria, and ended up in Lebanon, where the sudden arrival of thousands of armed Palestinians directly led to the 1975 outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War. Taking advantage of this chaos, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 with the stated purpose of eradicating the PLO. They succeeded in expelling the command structure of the PLO from Beirut, but Arafat and the other high commanders, who overlapped with the Fatah political leadership, quickly regrouped in Tunisia, where they weathered the next decade in relative obscurity; in this period many of their leaders were assassinated by Israeli commandos and rival Palestinian militant groups. During their absence, other factions within the actual Occupied Territories began to take control of the vast refugee population still living under Israeli occupation, which culminated in the outbreak of the first Intifada in 1987, over which the shocked Fatah leadership had absolutely no control. Still, when the Intifada ended in 1990, Fatah capitalized on the revolt by opening up a new dialogue with the Israelis, who were suddenly willing to talk more seriously about Palestinian independence.

Image:Palestine_Handshake_Small.jpg OSLO AND THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY

As a result of secret negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian diplomats, in 1993 Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitkhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords, a set of agreements outlining the basic principles for the gradual creation of a Palestinian state comprising the majority of the West Bank and Gaza. The first stage of this agreement stipulated the creation of a Palestinian caretaker government which would run the Occupied Territories until actual independence was established, and in 1994 Arafat returned home to the West Bank and established the Palestinian Authority, and he was overwhelmingly elected to lead it as president. Unfortunately, the tremendous optimism generated by Oslo quick evaporated as factions on both sides failed to keep the agreement. Yitkhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by a conservative Jewish law student, a brutal massacre of Palestinian Muslims occurred in the city of Hebron, and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which had emerged from the first Intifada as the prime Palestinian dissenter to Arafat and Fatah, continued to target Israelis with bomb attacks. Due to bad faith on all sides, especially after the ascension of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, the process appeared to be at a standstill. To the Israelis, Arafat was unable to rein in violence, and to the Palestinians, Israel had neither stopped occupying most of the Territories militarily nor reined in its settlers, whose number actually doubled after the signing of Oslo, reaching the current number of 260,000 living on what has been internationally recognized as Palestinian land.


With the 2001 election of Ariel Sharon to the prime ministership and the concurrent eruption of the second Intifada (aka the al-Aqsa Initifada), the Israelis were finally fed up with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, which had proved both corrupt and completely unable to rein in Hamas. Internally, the Intifada also spawned a serious breakaway unit of Fatah, known as the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, named in honor of the great golden mosque called al-Aqsa which dominates the Jerusalem skyline. This militant group soon proved itself just as deadly as Hamas, and began a furious campaign of resistance against the Israeli military in the West Bank, which in turn encouraged further Israeli military incursions. In a move which outraged Arabs and provoked outcries from around the world, Sharon’s government moved to completely isolate Arafat, encircling his bombed-out headquarters in Ramallah with Israeli tanks. At the same time, Israeli soldiers reoccupied much of the West Bank and Gaza, depriving the Palestinians of the short lived autonomy they had gained after Oslo. Sharon and George Bush labeled Arafat an obstacle to peace, and despite his technical status as elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, both he and his organization were powerless to stop Sharon’s reassertion of Israeli military authority. Arafat died in 2004 of liver failure, and in 2005 Mahmoud Abbas, a veteran member of Fatah, was elected president of the PA. Outside observers were cautiously optimistic, and many hoped that the inoffensive and businesslike Abbas would be able to jumpstart the system Arafat and Sharon had watched spiral out of control.


After the isolation of Arafat and the heavy handed incursions of Sharon, many Palestinians were fed up with Abbas, and as a result of the al-Aqsa Intifada many new armed groups had sprung up to represent these frustrated masses. Even though he was elected president, Abbas could not control these groups, and the Israelis used this weakness on his part to further discredit the Palestinians as bargaining partners while stepping up the construction of settlements in the West Bank and campaigns of assassination against those branded responsible for attacks against Israel. Although the Israelis did unilaterally withdraw their presence from Gaza in summer 2005, they were simultaneously constructing a massive concrete wall around the boundaries of the West Bank, much of which ran through non-Israeli territory. At the same time, Abbas was trying to negotiate a labyrinthine infrastructure left to him by Arafat, who tended to appoint people based on loyalty rather than experience. This policy resulted in the creation of a bloated and incredibly corrupt bureaucracy which could not deliver basic services to many of its citizens. Exasperated and desperate, Palestinians went to the polls in early 2006 and chose Hamas, which had proven itself as efficient and incorruptible as it was uncompromising, to lead the government of Palestine. Abbas was still president, but he was forced to preside over a parliament, cabinet, and prime ministership led by Hamas leader Ismail Haniya. The international outcry over this election was deafening: owing to Hamas’ stated belief in the violent destruction of Israel, most western governments totally severed ties with the Palestinian Authority, while the Israelis completely withdrew from interaction with anyone affiliated with Hamas, which included most high government officials in the PA. Abbas, as head of Fatah and president of the PA, could only watch while his country was further isolated from the international community, losing billions in international aid and an incalculable amount of international sympathy.



After Hamas’ electoral victory, tensions rose to a boiling point in the Territories, largely over the power struggle between Abbas and Ismail Haniya. Abbas constantly tried to moderate Hamas activities, calling them counterproductive and damaging to the Palestinian cause, while at the same time trying to put a good public face on events for the outside world and thus attempting to salvage whatever international credibility the Palestinian cause had left. Unfortunately, the armed wings of both factions were disinterested in international politics, and in late 2006 open street battles began between Hamas and Fatah militants. Both sides were powerless (or unwilling) to rein in their militias, and the conditions came close to reaching civil war: several of Abbas’ bodyguards were murdered, and the Hamas foreign minister, Mahmoud Zahhar, narrowly escaped assassination in December 2006. This situation was only salvaged by the efforts of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, who brought both factions together in Mecca during February 2007. Out of this meeting between Abbas and Haniya emerged the so-called “Mecca Accords,” in which both sides agreed to stop their infighting and focus on creating a stable infrastructure for the Occupied Territories, which would strengthen the Palestinians in their bargaining with Israel. As a sign of good faith, Abbas and Haniya agreed to the creation of a Palestinian unity government, with a slight Hamas majority but with some major posts guaranteed for Fatah. This new government was voted in on 17 March 2007, with the blessing of the UN and the unfreezing of some western aid to the PA, but many governments remain unconvinced of this new government’s commitment to stability. Israel, for its part, has scoffed at this new government, consistently refusing to deal with any government which contains members of Hamas, once again leaving Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah stuck in the middle between their own radicals and an intransigent Israeli government.


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