When the Palestinian National Liberation movement known by the name FATAH was established in Kuwait in 1959, it chose to make its public announce its launch following an anti-Israel military operation.
As 1,500 delegates set on November 29, 2016 to start the Fatah’s seventh congress in occupied Ramallah, the movement has changed a whole lot since those days. The change will be obvious both in its political rhetoric, it approved liberation tactics, base of operations and its leadership profile.
The January 1, 1960 attack that was launched from South Lebanon against northern Israel signaled that Fatah would employ the armed struggle as its means of liberation of Palestine.
Led by a charismatic leader, Yasser Arafat, the movement would continue its attacks and move even into higher gear after the Israeli occupation in 1967 as it quickly became the leading Palestinian guerrilla movement.
‘The gun has long disappeared’
Over the years Fatah (which took over the PLO in the late 1960s) would become a national movement that would energize and unite Palestinians as it moved into the political realm that was climaxed 42 years ago with Arafat’s olive branch and gun speech at the UN speech in November 1974.
The gun has long disappeared from the Palestinian movement’s rhetoric and actions as the PLO moved into the political and negotiations mode. During the last decade Fatah has basically been trying to be involved in state building (even under occupation) and has dabbled part time with negotiations. Fatah’s current leader and Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas has defended security coordination with Israel and has totally denounced any attempts (especially by Hamas) to militarize resistance to Israel.
The newly elected leaders of Fatah will be entrusted with the role of keeping the liberation struggle alive and leading the Palestinian people and will provide Abbas an honorable way to exit the political scene.Daoud Kuttab
Since the Israeli occupation has not ended, settlements activities have not stopped and the siege of Gaza is not even newsworthy any more, no Fatah congress can take place without at least lip service to resistance.
When Abbas led the sixth congress in 2009 in Bethlehem after a 20-year hiatus, the delegates approved the need to use “popular struggle” as the means of continuing the resistance to the occupation. With the exception of Ziad Abu Ein a Palestinian cabinet minister who died in 2014 while trying to protest Israeli settlement activity, few Palestinian leaders have gotten their hands dirty trying to initiate or participate in a serious nonviolent campaign.
A changing Fatah?
On the eve of the seventh congress, Fatah activists have introduced a new concept namely “smart popular resistance.” According to Fatah central committee leader Mohammad Shtieh who has been assigned to present a paper on the issue, the smart popular struggle will attempt to use some of the successes of the first intifada and try to apply them to the current struggle.
The seventh congress of Fatah which will be held on the International Day for Solidarity with the Palestinian people, will have the fewest Palestinians living internationally.
The majority (73 percent) of the delegates (1,100) have been born and raised under occupation a far cry from previous Fatah congresses in which the majority represented Palestinians who had left Palestine during the 1948 and 1967 wars and were based in the diaspora.
Another feature of the upcoming congress that will be the profile diversity and age of the delegates attending the congress in President Abbas’s muqata’a headquarters in Ramallah. 167 (11%) delegates are women and 33 delegates (2%) are Christians. One delegate, Uri Davis an Israel Jew was elected to the Revolutionary Council in the sixth congress in 2009. The list of delegates includes 151 military cadres (50 of them retired) 44 members of Palestinian diplomatic missions and 66 are prisoners (among them 50 prisoners come from the West Bank). The prisoners will vote by proxy. Leading Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti’s wife Fadwa and son Qassam are delegates to the congress and will be able to vote on behalf of one of the most popular figures in the movement.
But the most important category of delegates will be the youth. Nearly 312 (21 percent) delegates (200 West Bank and 112 from Gaza) were elected by their communities over the past two years in a primary-style internal elections. And unlike the sixth congress in which Palestinian delegates from Gaza were not allowed to leave, this congress has already seen a change in that Hamas has already allowed the nearly 400 delegates from Gaza to leave most of who have already arrived in Ramallah.
Fatah has come a long way since it launched its first attack against Israel in 1960. By holding the congress without, Mohammad Dahlan and his supporters, Mahmoud Abbas would have succeeded again in keeping the organization relatively united and independent. Abbas has resisted pressure from Dahlan’s supporters in some Arab countries. In so doing Abbas will lead a smaller but more united Fatah and most importantly he is going to keep the movement independent of regional and international interference.
The seventh congress will most probably be the last major Fatah event that Abbas will preside over. The newly elected leaders of the movement will be entrusted with the role of keeping the liberation struggle alive and leading the Palestinian people and will provide Abbas an honorable way to exit the political scene. Many are looking to this congress to see what kind of post Abbas direction in policy and personnel it will yield.
Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on twitter @DaoudKuttab