Palestinian have been celebrating across the West Bank today marking the 45th anniversary of the Fatah political movement. Although opinions differ as to exactly when it was founded, it is widely agreed that on this day 45 years ago the group pledged to destroy Israel.
But rifts started to emerge as Yasser Arafat and his allies clashed with Fatah’s higher central committee in Kuwait over how to bring in professional military expertise. After the internal conflict was resolved, pro-military figures dominated and they tried to escape Syrian control.
The Six-Day War with Israel played a crucial role, allowing Arafat and other leaders to renew their struggle from inside the Occupied Territories.
With financial backing from several Arab states, Arafat formally became field commander – attracting thousands of volunteers from refugee camps to join the Fatah cause.
Israel came under constant threat from guerrilla action.
But the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics proved to be a turning point for Fatah.
International condemnation and Israeli reprisals saw Fatah condemn hijackings and airport attacks in favour of guerrilla warfare as the main means of struggle.
Amidst increasing accusations of autocracy, Fatah experienced a severe internal crisis coinciding with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Once again, Arafat retained the leadership, even strengthening his grip on power. He could not prevent splits but he successfully managed to persuade the group that the Oslo Accord was in the Palestinians’ best interests.
The establishment of the Palestinian Authority with Arafat at its head saw deep divisions erupt again after the second Intifada. Allegations of corruption and nepotism contributed to a lessening of Fatah’s influence and the rise of the more militant Islamic group Hamas.
Its promises to end chaos, boost the economy and forcefully resist Israel proved to be popular, especially in its powerbase in the Gaza Strip.
With Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas saying he will not stand for re-election, the Palestinian Authority is again on the brink of internal struggle. So far Hamas has refused to agree to hold elections already postponed until June.