By Majed Kayali
Fatah was the foundation of the modern Palestinian national movement and launched the armed struggle on 1 January 1965. Although it has led the Palestinian struggle for the past 50 years, it has been facing a serious crisis in its structure, policy and leadership for some time.
The Fatah crisis is represented in the failure of the options it has pursued throughout its existence, including the abandonment of armed resistance, the failure of the two-state solution, the absence of an agreement on the horizon, transforming into an “authority” with no tight organisational structure and the marginalisation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and limiting its position in the leadership. The status of its political entities (including the PLO, Palestinian Authority and popular organisations and factions), which it defined with its own characteristics or which have been influenced by it, has declined.
This summary of Fatah’s experience and transformations does not aim to hold the movement responsible for everything that has happened to and around it over the years. It is a fact that political movements may succeed on some occasions and fail on others; sometimes they exceed expectations. They also exhaust themselves with tired policies and activities. Whatever applies to other movements applies to Fatah as well.
I do not mean to say that Fatah as a movement is finished; as it now stands it will continue for many reasons, despite the fact that it has developed way beyond its beginnings as a national liberation movement and pluralistic popular movement. It may continue to exist by virtue of its consistency on the political level, or because international diplomacy believes that it still needs the movement.
Fatah is indeed still needed. The situation in occupied Palestine confirms the desperate requirement for a pluralistic national movement that can reinstate the national liberation project, under Fatah’s or any other name. Historical, political and social factors demand this.
However, it is fair to say that the movement has two options; there seems to be no third way. It can either prosper and grow, or decline and die. Which way depends on the leadership on this, the 51st anniversary of its founding.
I would argue that it would have been more constructive to mark the occasion with discussions at all levels of Fatah, rather than celebrations. It should use this time to conduct a critical review of past experiences, from Jordan to Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza; of the option of armed struggle, uprisings, agreements and negotiations; and of the political entities including the PLO and PA, as well as the other factions.
The movement’s leaders should have asked some pertinent questions: Where were we, and where are we now? Why didn’t Fatah succeed in achieving the objectives it took for itself over the past 50 years? Why couldn’t it preserve and maintain the achievements it did make, despite the fact that the Palestinians did not fall short in making sacrifices under difficult circumstances?
The problem is that Fatah, like other factions, is not accustomed to such self-reflection. This is because a critical review leads to responsibilities and assumes an understanding of a political state based on democracy and representation. The Palestinian movements are lacking in this.
There is still a legitimate role for a Palestinian political movement such as Fatah as it was in the beginning, but lessons must be learnt from past experience. Such legitimacy of purpose, though, does not offer a “blank cheque”; it is conditional upon the movement’s development, focusing on its innate status as a national liberation movement rather than an “authority”, and the renewal of its political ideas, structure, internal relations and modus operandi.
This is what should be at the centre of discussions among the Fatah leadership, cadres and members, because this is the urgent task required of the movement’s upcoming seventh conference. New visions and activities need to be adopted if Fatah is to halt its long decline.
On the movement’s anniversary, then, perhaps it will consider the following proposals which I believe can bring about change for the good in the Palestinian reality.
Internally, Fatah needs to present the political programme for discussion before it goes before the conference. This will not only enrich its content but also provide some insight into public opinions about it, as well as get more people involved in determining the movement’s ideas and options. People are, after all, at the heart of the movement and its cause.
In order to change the system that was formed around the commonalties between the PLO and PA to serve the interests of the latter, it would be better to keep these two bodies and Fatah entirely separate. This is preferable from a practical point of view and may also rehabilitate Fatah and push it to assume its position in the struggle.
The election of a central committee from amongst members of Fatah’s revolutionary council will contribute towards reinforcing the institutional and democratic nature of its structure. It would also widen the circle of responsibility within the movement and deter any monopoly within the committee.
We have to end the system at the moment through which Fatah controls and dominates the national institutions, without subjecting its representatives to accountability. This applies to its representatives in the PLO, PA, popular organisations and Palestinian embassies around the world.
At the level of the PLO and PA, the quota system should be dropped in favour of enhancing the representative aspect in political entities based on national foundations and elections, and in accordance with relative lists that allow for wider representation and participation. This would allow tribal and territorial considerations to be overcome. Representation and sticking to the results from the ballot boxes in all Palestinian areas would re-prioritise the popular aspect of engagement, and contribute to establishing internal balances within the factions and bridging the gap between Palestinian communities inside and outside historic Palestine.
It is also important to re-build and re-activate the PLO. This must also include the re-constitution of the Palestine National Council (PNC) based on qualifications, representation and the spirit of the struggle, rather than quotas. Fatah must also find equations that guarantee the inclusion of active factions, including Hamas, in this process.
Indeed, after all that has happened, there is a need for changing all of the equations; this does not require the dissolution of the PA and handing the keys over to the Israeli occupation. Instead, it requires an end to security coordination with the Israelis, developing self-dependence in the economic sector, embracing all forms of popular struggle and supporting all means of delegitimising Israel and boycotting it. This also requires the establishment of the PA in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a political entity for all Palestinians in the occupied territories, and tasking it with managing the affairs of their society in all aspects, including political, economic, educational and cultural institutions.
Politically, Fatah needs to adopt a culture which is clear that the Palestinian struggle against the Zionist project has two dimensions: confronting Israel and resisting its policies, and building Palestinian society and developing its political entities. It is worth noting that the second process is the basis for improving the position of the Palestinians in their conflict with Israel, and for enabling them to invest in their sacrifices and resistance.
Along with Fatah’s attempts to establish an independent Palestinian state must be linked a vision that is based on international standards and noble human values. It must also be tied to seeking the establishment of one democratic state with free and equal citizens. This discourse does not contradict with international law and legitimacy and is backed by solidarity from international public opinion. It is, in addition, the best answer to the Palestinian and Israeli issue.
What I have mentioned above means adding international and humanitarian values to the idea of “liberation” and expanding it from the idea of a conflict on the ground to a conflict about individual and collective rights. This can be achieved by not considering the issue to be one of military invasion, a destructive war or one nation taking the place of another. A part of this includes restoring the concepts of “liberating the Jews from Zionism” and establishing a democratic state in Palestine, as proposed by Fatah in its early literature (articles 13 and 14).
In terms of the national struggle, Fatah should focus more of its efforts on building the infrastructure of the homeland; building the community and developing its capabilities; and improving its political entities (the PLO, PA, factions and popular organisations). The latter should be built upon foundations which take the institutions, struggle, national cause, democracy and representation into account. All must be done despite the unfavourable international and regional circumstances and potentially dangerous consequences and developments.
Working in the context of Israeli society and its political and cultural trends, Fatah should reinforce solidarity and support for our people’s rights and cause against colonial-settler, racist and religious Israel. It must also work on clarifying the idea of a single state as the best solution to end the conflict, and boost the boycott of Israel politically and economically, as well as its security institutions, in an attempt to delegitimise the state as it stands.
Palestinian communities in the diaspora need Fatah’s support to reinforce their stability in facing everyday challenges and problems. The movement must also work on organising their ranks, finding the means to reinforce their role in the national Palestinian process, including the activation of the PLO frameworks, and stressing the legitimate right of refugees to return as well as self-determination.
Fatah should develop a strategy for the struggle that is based on enhancing the idea of perseverance, all forms of popular resistance and the fight against all manifestations of the occupation and racism. This strategy must enable the Palestinians to develop their society and political entities, their capabilities and their perseverance in their land. It must also reinforce international solidarity and highlight the Israeli contradictions; social resistance is key as it allows the largest group of people to participate and contribute in different ways.
The movement should explain and clarify to Palestinians that there is no one “holy” means of struggle, and that all forms are subject to their circumstances and capabilities, as well as to the ability to transform sacrifices and heroic acts into achievements. It must also stress that they are in need of adopting forms of resistance that possess two characteristics: neutralising the Israeli military machine or stopping its ability to use the highest level of violence against them whenever possible; and allowing for the strengthening of Palestinian society, including its political entities, rather than weakening them. The Palestinians are in need of a resistance that hurts Israel more than it hurts themselves, fuels fragmentation and contradictions in the enemy’s society and does not reinforce its coherence and unity.
In short, Fatah cannot improve its situation without developing its structure and without possessing an inspiring political vision based on a national project that answers the various questions posed by the Palestinian cause in every place that Palestinians live. There is a need to restore the alignment between the Palestinian cause, land, nation and national movement.
(Source / 12.01.2016)