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In 1964, in partial response to the wider trend of militant radicalism, the Arab League founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Fatah joined the PLO in 1968 and won the leadership role in 1969. Formerly headed by Yasser Arafat, Fatah subsequently became dominant in the PLO and between 1968-2007 the organization monopolized nearly all aspects of factional politics in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. " Fatah" is an acronym for Harakat At-Tahriri Al-Filistiniya [Palestinian National Liberation Movement], with the first letters in reverse order giving Fateh = conquest. Its commanders were expelled from Jordan following violent confrontations with Jordanian forces during the period 1970-71.

Blows to Arafat's leadership occurred, including his crushing defeat of Arafat's Fatah and other guerilla groups by the Jordanian army in September 1970 [ Black September ], Arafat's initial loss of office during a secret vote of Fatah's 40-member revolutionary council in January 1971, and his imprisonment in Syria.

The situation in the West Bank in 1974, saw Arafat's inability to establish a base of operations among the 600,000 Palestinians there. The majority of West Bankers preferred to end Israel's occupation by Israel, rejected rule by King Hussein of Jordan and wished to send their own representatives to Geneva. They chose to let Arafat represent the Palestinians outside the West Bank and Jordan.

Arafat's background and his relationship to the Muslim Brotherhood and to the former grand mufti of Jerusalem point to a resemblance between the disunited and splintered terrorist groups of the PLO and the mufti of 40 years ago. The PLO and terrorist groups were agencies which had enormous amounts of money at their disposal, which devote much of their existence to public relations and fund raising activities as well as to terrorist attacks, and which provide channels for conservative regimes to buy off terrorism and secure their own governments against the 'revolutionary' impulses of the Arab world.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 led to the group's dispersal to several Middle Eastern countries, including Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, and others.

Leadership and Structure

President Mahmoud Abbas is the Chairman of the PLO and the head of Fatah. The leading political body within Fatah is the Central Committee, elected by the general membership. Fatah's Revolutionary Council parallels the Central Committee as a decision-making body and includes armed resistance as an option. Additionally, three militia-type organizations have developed from Fatah: the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a designated foreign terrorist organization that emerged during the intifada that began in September 2000, and takes a violent approach to force Israel to end its occupation; Force 17, a personal security force for PLO leaders that was involved in attacks on Israeli targets in the early 1980s; and the Tanzim (or organization) militia, which is considered to be an armed offshoot of Fatah.

The leaders are often described as follows:

Mahmoud Abbas: Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen) was sworn in as President of the PA on January 15, 2005. Prior to that, Abbas served as Prime Minister in 2003. A founding member of Fatah, Abbas also holds a doctorate from the Oriental University in Moscow.

Ahmed Qurei: Qurei first joined Fatah in 1968 and headed the PLO's financial portfolio. He founded the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Construction. He also served as Prime Minister between 2003-2005.

Mohammed Dahlan: Dahlan, a longtime Fatah member and founder of the Fatah Youth Association in 1981, was jailed in Israel for political activism between 1983-1988. He participated in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and is considered a major political figure in Gaza. He is the former Minister of the Interior and now heads the Third Way Party.

Nabil Shaath: Shaath, the Palestinian foreign minister, has been a member of the Fatah Central Committee since 1971, and headed the PLO's first delegation to the United Nations in 1974. He was chief negotiator from 1993 to 1995, and participated in peace talks conducted at Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001.

Marwan Barghouti: Barghouti is a militant political figure currently serving consecutive life sentences in Israel for murder. He is the leader of the Tanzim. Though currently jailed, Barghouti won a parliamentary seat in the election, and many see him as an opponent to Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.

Political Role

On January 26, 2006, Hamas won a stunning victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections that gave it a decisive majority in the legislature. Election officials say Hamas won 76 of the 132 seats in parliament, while the Fatah party, which had dominated Palestinian politics for decades, secured only 43. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his cabinet resigned in the wake of the election.

Charges of widespread corruption plagued the Palestinian party of Fatah. Its leaders were oftentimes accused of siphoning funds from ministry budgets, passing out patronage jobs, accepting favors and gifts from suppliers and contractors, and soliciting bribes. Many analysts also claimed that ongoing power struggles between "old guard" Fatah stalwarts and "young guard" members contributed to political fissures within the party, which Hamas exploited in the elections. The inability of Fatah leaders to contain these tensions reportedly increased internal political dysfunction. As a result of poor party discipline, multiple party lists, and limited technical preparation for the parliamentary vote, Fatah gained only 45 parliamentary seats (out of 132). Fatah did, however, capture 42% of the popular vote.

On April 7, 2006, the United States and the EU announced they were halting assistance to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) government. The resulting fiscal crisis left the government unable to pay wages regularly and deepened poverty levels in the Palestinian territories. By the end of 2006, tensions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were rising as living conditions deteriorated and PA employees, including members of the security forces, went unpaid for weeks or months. Armed supporters of Fatah and Hamas clashed repeatedly, trading accusations of blame, settling scores, and drifting into lawlessness. More than 100 Palestinians were killed in the violence.

After months of intermittent talks, on February 8, 2007, Fatah and Hamas signed an agreement to form a national unity government aimed at ending both the spasm of violence and the international aid embargo that followed the formation of the initial Hamas-led government. The accord was signed by PA President and Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas and Hamas political leader Khalid Mish'al in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, after two days of talks under the auspices of Saudi King Abdullah.

Under the agreement, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas remained prime minister. In the new government, Hamas controled nine ministries and Fatah six, with independents and smaller parties heading the remainder. Among the independents are Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, and Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, a reformer and ally of President Mahmud Abbas.

Demonstrating the differing priorities of Fatah and Hamas, the new government's platform called for the establishment of a Palestinian state "on all the lands that were occupied in 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital," and at the same time affirms the Palestinians' right to "resistance in all its forms" and to "defend themselves against any ongoing Israeli aggression." The new government committed to "respect" previous agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) but did not explicitly renounce violence or recognize Israel. The government platform stated that any peace agreement reached would be submitted for approval to either the Palestine National Council (the PLO legislature) or directly to the Palestinian people in a referendum.

The marriage was short lived, however, as tesnsions between the rival Palestinian factions escalated. The new government was still unable to lift the economic embargo and living conditions continued to deteriorate. As each side jockeyed for position during the ensuing power struggle, fighting finally broke out in May. A series of cease fires could not stem the violence and by June turmoil had gripped the cities. The streets became the scenes of gruesom public executions and local government officials were forced to shut down businesses, schools, and public offices. As the situation worsened President Abbas sacked Prime Minister Haniyeh and dissolved the government on June 14, 2007. After he declared a state of emergency Abbas swore in a new cabinet under the leadership of Salam Fayyad on June 17, 2007. Ismail Haniyeh said he planned to ignore the decree issued by Abbas and would continue to operate as if his government were still in place; but the international community threw its support behind Abbas. In addition to receiving the backing of the Arab League and the European Union, both Israel and the United States announced that they were prepared to lift the financial and economic sanctions against the PA since a new government had been formed bereft of Hamas.


In the 1960s and the 1970s, Fatah offered training to a wide range of European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and African terrorist and insurgent groups. Carried out numerous acts of international terrorism in Western Europe and the Middle East in the early-to-middle 1970s. The organization has not recently engaged in terrorist activity.


6,000 to 8,000.

Location/Area of Operation

Headquartered in Tunisia, with bases in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries.

External Aid

Has had close, longstanding political and financial ties to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other moderate Persian Gulf states. These relations were disrupted by the Gulf crisis of 1990-91. Also has had links to Jordan. Received weapons, explosives, and training from the former USSR and the former Communist regimes of East European states. China and North Korea have reportedly provided some weapons.

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