August 20, 2009 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 538

Fatah Members: The Principle of Resistance and Armed Struggle Must Not Be Relinquished

August 20, 2009 | By C. Jacob*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 538


Statements made on the eve of the Fatah conference, and during its opening session, indicate that the dominant position among Fatah members is that resistance (muqawama) of various forms is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people. Most Fatah members advocated a combination of the political path with various forms of resistance - from non-violent measures such as demonstrating and planting trees to armed resistance. Except for one lone voice, none expressed a willingness to completely rule out armed resistance. Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 'Abbas took an ambiguous stand, in contrast to past statements in which he explicitly opposed violence. It is clear that his position supports both the political process and popular resistance, but what is not clear is whether he is willing to remove the option of violent resistance from the table altogether.

The following are excerpts from the statements, representing the broad spectrum of positions within Fatah regarding the struggle against Israel.

A Combination of Various Forms of Resistance

Struggle by Peaceful or Limited Violence Means, à la Bil'in

Fatah's official political platform states: "The struggle stems from the Palestinian people's right to oppose the occupation and the settlements, the expulsion and the racist discrimination - and this right is [a] right guaranteed by international law. Our revolutionary struggle began with armed struggle against the armed robbery of our land; however, it was never limited to armed struggle alone, but included various means and methods, such as struggle by peaceful means with limited violence: intifada, demonstrations, strikes, civil uprising, clashes with settler gangs, political, media, judicial, and diplomatic struggle, and negotiation with the occupation authorities.

"The choice, timing, and place of the methods of the struggle are based on the ability of the individual and of the public, taking into account external and internal circumstances, power relations, the considerations and constraints of preserving the movement [i.e. Fatah], and the people's ability to rebel, to stand fast, and to continue the struggle.

"In Fatah's judgment, the end does not justify the means. There are means that contradict the general long-term goals - particularly since Fatah proposed, from the outset, humane solutions that would assure future coexistence among Muslims, Christians, and Jews in a single democratic state, or in two neighboring states.

"Since its founding, the Fatah movement has opposed harming and terrorizing civilians, just as it has opposed transferring the battle arena abroad. It did not fight abroad, except in self-defense; therefore, it was against hijacking airplanes, taking women and children hostage, carrying out attacks on innocent civilians, or firing missiles of limited accuracy against civilian targets. Therefore, it opposed the [Palestinian] weapons anarchy, chaos, and use of weapons [for negative aims]...

"The struggle against the settlements should be encouraged, particularly the civilian struggle through peaceful and limited violence means ([such as the struggle in] Bil'in, but in 10,000 [locations]) against the settlements and the fence, in order to save Jerusalem and to fight its Judaization." [1]

Resistance Is a Legitimate Right

In his speech opening the Fatah conference, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud 'Abbas said: "The popular resistance being carried out by our people against the settlements, the separation fence, and the destruction and expropriation of homes is an example of our people's ability to conceive various forms of struggle that can penetrate the conscience of the world and mobilize the support of the peoples.

"I salute and express my esteem for our people in [East] Jerusalem, in Bil'in, in Ni'lin, in Ma'sra, and everywhere defenseless demonstrators armed only with hope, determination, and belief in victory [participate] in demonstrations that express their opposition to the deeds of the occupation...

"When we stress that we espouse the option of peace and negotiations based on the U.N. resolutions, we retain our fundamental right to legitimate resistance guaranteed by international law. This right is also linked to our perception and to the national consensus, which is what must determine the appropriate forms of the struggle and the proper timing for [each] - while learning lessons from the past and making sure that we are not dragged into places where the steadfastness of our people and our adherence to our moral superiority and to the principles of our struggle might be harmed." [2]

Palestinian Legislative Council member Jamal Huwail, who was recently released from an Israeli prison, presented his own perception of resistance: "This conference must confirm the right of resistance by all means, as they appear in U.N. conventions, considering that Fatah is a national liberation movement and its people are under occupation. The resistance is carried out not only with guns, but also [with] political activity and serious negotiations." [3]

Attorney Fadwa Al-Barghouti, wife of Marwan Al-Barghouthi, wrote: "The younger generation clings to its national rights more than any past generation, and also clings to the option of resistance to the occupation. This conference must mobilize Fatah and the Palestinian people, preparing them to embark upon the greatest operation of popular nonviolent resistance against the settlements, the Judaization of Jerusalem, and support for the prisoners." [4]

Struggle by Non-Violent Means, While Retaining the Right of Resistance

Muhannad 'Abd Al-Hamid, columnist for the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, wrote that resistance is the legitimate right of the Palestinian people, but that, in light of its steep cost and limited results, other means of struggle should be used: "The result of armed resistance like in the second intifada was: 11,000 prisoners, 4,000 martyrs, the building of the racist separation fence, the Judaization of Jerusalem, the doubling of the number of settlers, and the destruction of the infrastructure of society and of the government. Doesn't this demand that we stop for a minute, in light of these tragic outcomes? Isn't the aim of resistance to defeat the occupation - not the society that carries out the resistance? Why don't we think about other forms of struggle when the resistance is not accomplishing its goals?

"Resistance is survival and steadfastness. It is planting trees, developing education, boycotting Israeli products, [launching] a popular uprising against the racist separation fence, building homes in [East] Jerusalem, reopening the institutions [there], struggling against all forms of corruption, boycotting companies that contribute to the Judaization of Jerusalem and also to the building of the fence and the settlements, and also boycotting companies that supply arms and equipment to the occupation army. There are a hundred more ways of resistance that will damage the occupation more than they will damage us, and that will make ending the occupation an achievable goal - while preserving the legitimate right of resistance under conditions that will not harm the security and interests of the [Palestinian] people.

"The discourse about the resistance [is being conducted] without stopping to examine the reality and the results of [past] experience - including the experience of Hamas, which ceased resistance after the reins of power were transferred to its hands, and especially after the barbaric [Israeli] attacks that destroyed the Gaza infrastructure. Indeed, those who defend the resistance do not raise the essential question of why Hamas prohibits resistance members who refused to accept the tahdiya [from acting], and arrests anyone who violates these orders, confiscating his weapons... Those who do sanctify resistance lay aside their reason and the reason of their listeners and opt for populism, which provides only words and slogans." [5]

Fatah member Naif Suitat wrote: "A professional political program should be proposed, that will be adapted to the international, regional and local changes and will be underpinned by the struggle in all forms - [because] it is not only negotiations that are a legitimate right of the Palestinian people in order to rid itself of the occupation, particularly when negotiations reach a dead end." [6]

Armed Struggle in Parallel to Negotiations

Husam Khader, a senior member of the interim Fatah generation who has spent the last few years in an Israeli prison for active participation in the Al-Aqsa Intifada, declared: "Fatah has not changed its national identity, and it retains the option of resistance and armed struggle. But now, for the first time... it is permitting the option of negotiations as one of the Palestinian people's strategic options and as a possible way of attaining its political goals." [7]

Armed Struggle Must Not Be Ruled Out

Marwan Al-Barghouti, a senior Fatah member imprisoned in Israel, said in an August 4, 2009 interview with the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida: "Resistance to the Israeli occupation is a national obligation, and it is a legitimate right..." [8]

In an earlier interview, on July 21, he said: "Fatah believes in a combination of all forms of struggle, and it will not abandon, thwart, or rule out any form of struggle. As long as a single Israeli soldier or settler remains on the Palestinian land that was occupied in 1967, Fatah will not relinquish the option of resistance.

"There isn't a single Fatah member who does not believe in resistance, because the very essence of the Fatah [movement] is resistance, [more] resistance, and eventual victory. There isn't a single people in history that was under occupation and did not resist. Resistance is a legitimate right that is confirmed by religious law, U.N. resolutions, and international law.

"We in Fatah think that political activity and negotiations complement resistance, and harvest its fruits. Therefore, we have always called for adhering to the option of resistance, negotiation, and political activity alike." [9]

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commander Zakariya Al-Zubeidi called on the Fatah conference "to propose a plan that will combine the political line with the resistance line within Fatah, against the backdrop of the past failure of [each path alone] to obtain results favorable to the Palestinian cause." He likewise rejected the possibility that Fatah would omit the armed struggle from its plan. [10]

Fatah spokesman Fahmi Al-Za'arir stated: "It is not possible to rule out or to marginalize the military option. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are the jewel in Fatah's crown. We must strengthen their status... [and] maintain them in a state of alert.

"We know that every warrior has a [period of] rest [11] - and also we know that this does not mean the end of the national battle, but only a wait to obtain the goals, and to give the leadership sufficient opportunity for political activity." [12]

The Armed Struggle Should Be Abandoned

The lone voice against armed struggle was that of Fatah activist Khalil Abu Ziad, who said: "Fatah must stop for a moment, must be honest with itself, and must be objective in its assessment according to the needs of the reality in which we live today.

"We do not want the Fatah conference to chant slogans and revolutionary statements of struggle, and to call for armed struggle and for violence that is far removed from the reality in which we live today." [13]

Cartoon in London Daily

The process undergone by Fatah in the course of six conferences" [14]

*C. Jacob is a research fellow at MEMRI



[2] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), August 5, 2009

[3] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), August 4, 2009.

[4] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), August 4, 2009.

[5] Al-Ayyam (PA), August 4, 2009. Muhammad Yaghi wondered why the armed resistance was still part of Fatah's bylaws. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2472, "Columnist for PA Daily Asks: Why Is the Armed Struggle Still Part of Fatah's Bylaws?," August 4, 2009, Columnist for PA Daily Asks: Why Is the Armed Struggle Still Part of Fatah's Charter?.

[6] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), August 5, 2009.

[7] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), August 3, 2009.

[8] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), August 4, 2009.

[9] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), July 21, 2009

[10] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), August 4, 2009

[11] "Warriors' rest" is a term that was used by Hamas Political Bureau Head Khaled Mash'al to explain the tahdiah with Israel.

[12] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 30, 2009

[13] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), August 4, 2009.

[14] Al-Hayat (London), August 6, 2009. Cartoonist: Habib Haddad.

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