To observers, Fatah is not the organisation it once was under its founder Yasser Arafat. The former Palestinian leader had complete control over the organisation, which he launched in Kuwait in the 1950s as a means of liberating Palestine from Israeli control.
After years of bloody armed struggle, Fatah turned towards finding a political solution to the Palestinian problem. This led to secret negotiations with Israel and culminated in the Oslo peace accords in 1993. Three years later the Palestinian Authority was up and running with Fatah members making up the majority of its administrative services and security forces. But this meant that the movement was directly linked with the problems and failures of the Palestinian Authority. With the advent of the second Intifada in 2000, Fatah lost influence to Hamas, the Islamist movement created in 1987 which seeks Israel’s destruction. The death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004 led to a change of direction. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, rejected violence and pushed for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian question. This weakened Fatah further, and the organisation lost local elections in 2005 and then a general election in 2006. It meant that for the first time, Fatah had no direct power in the Palestinian territories, and was eventually forced to form a unity government with Hamas. Their uneasy political co-existence lasted 18 months before exploding into a 22-day pitched battle in June 2007. Henceforth Hamas, under Ismail Haniyeh, assumed sole control of the Gaza Strip, while Mahmoud Abbas was confined to the West Bank. Experts say Fatah’s legacy to date is a chequered one. Having dominated Palestinian politics for decades, it is now tainted by the Palestinian Authority’s reputation for corruption and incompetence and has lost the Gaza Strip. So far, attempts at reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas under the auspices of Egypt have got nowhere.