A Palestinian political faction formed in 1959 that, one decade later, became the most important faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the representative body of the Palestinian people. (The word “fatah,” which means to conquer, is the reverse acronym of harakat al-tahrir al-filastiniyya, Palestinian Liberation Movement.) Fatah was the first national group to be started by Palestinians after the Nakba in 1948, when many were made refugees. It grew out of a clandestine student organization that included Yasser Arafat and Khalil al-Wazir, among others, and advocated armed struggle to liberate all of Palestine, and independence from Arab governments. It claimed that the liberation of Palestine was the road to Arab unity. Initially, Fatah advocated a three-phase strategy that was inspired by the Algerian, Cuban, and other revolutionary models: small-scale guerrilla activity followed by all-out guerrilla warfare, and then a people’s war. In the early 1960s, it carried out paramilitary operations against Israel.
By 1969, under Arafat’s leadership, Fatah had taken control of the PLO. After the 1973 War, it shifted toward a phased approach, and by 1988, the Fatah leadership was instrumental in persuading the PLO’s parliament, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), to adopt a “peace initiative” based on a Declaration of Independence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, leading to US-led talks. The Fatah-led PLO found itself in a very weakened position after the first Gulf War in 1991; because it had not condemned Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, it suffered profound political and financial consequences. In this weakened state, the PLO accepted US and Israeli conditions for the Madrid Conference and the Oslo Accords, the latter of which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1994. Based now in the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT), the Fatah movement has lost ground, in part because voters associate Fatah with PA inefficiency and corruption. Hamas soundly defeated Fatah in the 2006 legislative elections. Since then, the two factions have been at loggerheads, unable to work together effectively. The result has been the establishment of separate authorities in the West Bank (headquartered in Ramallah and controlled by Fatah) and the Gaza Strip (controlled by Hamas).