The Normalization of Fatah

RAMALLAH – Fatah, the leading guerrilla movement within the Palestine Liberation Organization, has moved one step closer to becoming a normal political party. Its just concluded sixth congress was held for the first time in the occupied territories, which meant that former guerrillas from Lebanon and Jordan were allowed entry by Israel. The conference, it appears, succeeded in reuniting and reinvigorating the movement, which has suffered since the death of its founder and long-time leader, Yasser Arafat.

More than 2,000 delegates, representing former Fatah fedayyin (guerrillas) and intifada activists, voted to continue all forms of resistance for the liberation of Palestine. Yet the term “armed resistance” was missing from all the documents approved at the conference. Mahmoud Abbas – unanimously elected as Fatah’s leader and commander-in-chief – made clear that while all options remain available for ending the occupation, the preference is still negotiations. While some (such as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak) took the resistance rhetoric of some delegates seriously, Fatah spokesman Nabil Amr officially assured all concerned that Fatah is committed to “peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Any organization that has not provided democratic mechanisms for change and renewal tends to age and become monotonous and ineffective. This aging and dullness became most evident in the past few years, as Fatah first lost the 2006 legislative elections to Hamas, and then its presence in the Gaza Strip.

Signs that Fatah is moving towards becoming a normal political party were ample. Gone were the khaki suits and militaristic paraphernalia, replaced by business suits and proper conference IDs for delegates. Backroom decisions and top-down guidance was replaced by a democratic free-for-all that saw many of Fatah’s historic leaders fall to the wayside, making room for younger, locally popular leaders. Prisoners held in Israeli jails were granted 20 seats in the enlarged 100-member revolutionary council. A jailed intifada leader, Marwan Barghouti, was among the highest elected new leaders to the central committee, the movement’s executive body.