For the past 40 years Fatah has symbolised the Palestinian resistance movement.For the past decade the party has also dominated the Palestinian Authority, thanks to its majority in parliament, with 49 seats in an 88-seat assembly.
And yet, little has improved for ordinary Palestinians in recent years.
Mohammed Dahlan, a Fatah candidate in Gaza, defends their record: “The Palestinian Authority has been paralysed both by Israel and by Hamas. I believe that despite what’s going on, and the difficult situation in which we find ourselves, the Palestinian people will vote for Fatah. Hamas have no experience, all they do is shout slogans, it’s not enough to be in opposition making speeches.”
Hamas did not take part in the last legislative elections in 1996.
It has built a considerable following by denouncing the lack of progress in negotiations with Israel, and highlighting corruption scandals in the Palestinian Authority.
The Islamic group also appears to be disciplined and coherent.
Fatah’s response was to regroup. Marwan Barghouti ditched plans to run on his own and instead headed the Fatah list.
Despite being in jail in Israel he is a highly influential figure, who welcomed an election battle with Hamas.
“I was trying all the years before, and in the last year, to convince them and to reassure them to participate in the election,” he said. “So I welcome the decision, the historical decision, from Hamas. Because the participation of Hamas in the election means that they believe in democracy, that they are ready to work according to the rules of the law and the democracy, and this is very important.”
That is the kind of conciliatory note that suggests the old nationalist party is getting ready to share the political stage with Hamas, not just in the parliament, but also in the cabinet.