Analysis: How Fatah has evolved into the Palestinian Ba'ath party

Many Palestinians drawing parallels between Fatah and Saddam's party.

abbas speaks 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
abbas speaks 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Fatah's sixth General Assembly has shown that the 44-year-old faction is still not ready to transform itself from a revolutionary movement into a governing body - one that cares about establishing institutions and infrastructure for the future Palestinian state. Instead, Fatah seems determined more than ever to maintain its status as a "national liberation movement." In light of the conference, many Palestinians are beginning to draw parallels between Fatah and Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party. As far as they are concerned, Fatah remains part of the problem and not part of any solution. The fiery rhetoric of the delegates and the signs and graffiti on the walls of the conference hall in Bethlehem are testimony that Fatah continues to live in the past and not in the present. Moreover, most of the resolutions that were adopted by the 2,000 Fatah delegates appear as if they were taken directly out of the fifth General Assembly that was held in Tunis two decades ago. The conference is about to conclude its meeting by endorsing almost the same political platform that has been accompanying Fatah since its founding. Delegates spent more time talking about the past than the present or future. They chose to blame Israel and Hamas for almost all the miseries that have hit Fatah and the Palestinians in recent years. The delegates spent more time attacking Israel and Hamas than discussing the reasons behind Fatah's defeat in the January 2006 parliamentary election and its expulsion from the Gaza Strip a year later. For some time during the conference, one got the impression that Israel and Hamas were responsible for Fatah's financial corruption and incompetence. Had it not been for the security fence and the construction in settlements, Fatah would be less corrupt. And had it not been for Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip, Fatah would have succeeded in turning the Palestinian territories into the Middle East's Hong Kong. In short, everyone is to blame for the miseries of the Palestinians and Fatah except for Fatah. Instead of forming committees to look into ways of reforming Fatah, injecting fresh blood into its veins and restoring its lost credibility among a majority of Palestinians, the delegates preferred to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the death of Arafat. Why is there a need for such a commission if Fatah has already (and unanimously) determined that Israel was behind the "assassination" of the Palestinian leader? And why establish a commission of inquiry into the defeat of Fatah in the 2006 election when every Palestinian knows that Hamas won that vote largely because of the state of financial corruption and anarchy under the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority? Most of the Fatah officials who appeared before the gathering spoke and acted as if they were still in the battlefields of Lebanon and Jordan. In scenes reminiscent of the last Fatah conference 20 years ago, old slogans such as "Revolution Until Victory," "Long Live Palestine" and "Fatah Will Liberate Palestine" were issued by almost all the speakers who took the podium. Political resolutions adopted by the conference also served as a reminder that Fatah has not changed much despite the Oslo Accords and the departure of its founder and leader. Leaving no room for doubt that Fatah is not headed toward moderation, one resolution stated that the faction "remains committed to its status as a national liberation movement whose goal is to defeat the occupation and achieve independence for the Palestinians. Fatah is part of the Arab liberation movement." Regarding the issue of armed struggle against Israel, Fatah chose ambiguity over straight talk. Aware of the sensitivity surrounding the use of the explosive term - armed struggle - and to avoid a clash with US and European donors, Fatah is now talking about its "right to pursue the resistance" against Israel "in all methods and forms." To Western audiences, Fatah leaders can always argue that they are actually talking about a "peaceful resistance" where Palestinians, together with Israeli and international activists, hold weekly demonstrations and marches in protest against Israeli policies and measures. On the other hand, the Fatah leaders can always defend their decision to replace the armed struggle term with the need to win the backing (and money) of the West. In addition, they can also explain that the resistance they are talking about includes the right to resort to armed struggle against Israel. Fatah after the conference remains the same Fatah it was before the meeting in Bethlehem. The Fatah leadership did not even see any need to provide its delegates with a report about the financial and administrative performance of the faction over the past 20 years. Why bother to do so when Israel is continuing to build in settlements and when Hamas retains its tight grip on the Gaza Strip?