August 10, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9489

Palestinian Politicians, Journalists Slam Fatah: It Has Transformed From A Liberation Movement Into A Militia Suppressing All Legitimate Criticism Of Palestinian Authority

August 10, 2021
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 9489

The recent weeks have seen ongoing protests in the West Bank against the Palestinian Authority (PA) over the killing of opposition activist Nizar Banat by the PA's security apparatuses.[1] The PA has faced intense criticism, both for the killing of the activist and for the harsh suppression of the public protests that erupted in its wake, measures which were in flagrant violation of freedom of expression and of the press.[2] The protests also expressed the intense dissatisfaction of the Palestinian public over systemic problems afflicting the PA, such as the absence of democracy and the rampant corruption, especially in light of Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas' April 2021 decision to once again postpone the PA elections until further notice.

In response to these protests, the PA's ruling party, Fatah, organized counter-demonstrations with the support of the PA leadership, which overlaps with Farah's leadership. Fatah members called to oppose what they called "a coup attempt led by Hamas," especially after some of the anti-PA protesters began calling to overthrow the PA regime. Fatah officials also threatened the opposition. For example, the movement's deputy chairman, Mahmoud Al-'Aloul, said at a Ramallah rally: "Don't provoke Fatah, for we will not show mercy to anyone,"[3] and Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub warned all those who had called to overthrow the PA "not to put Fatah to the test." [4] In addition, Fatah spokespeople largely ignored the protesters' main demands, for a fair investigation into Nizar Banat's death and for democratic reforms in the PA, and Fatah activists even participated in the security apparatuses' brutal suppression of the anti-PA protests and in beating up protesters.

Against this backdrop, the Palestinian press published articles expressing sharp criticism of Fatah's handling of the Nizar Banat affair and condemning the movement's officials. The articles came out against the blurring of the boundaries between Fatah and the PA, a phenomenon that gained momentum due to the long period without elections to the PA institutions. During this period the Fatah ruling party became synonymous with the PA itself, used the PA's security apparatuses to consolidate  its control, and started to treat any criticism of the PA as a threat that must be forcefully suppressed.   

The authors of the articles, including renowned intellectuals and current and former politicians, expressed sorrow that Fatah, originally founded as a national liberation movement, has over the years departed from the program of liberation and from its national goals, and transformed into a ruling party and even an armed apparatus of the regime, whose members blindly defend the PA and its institutions, even against legitimate criticism. The authors stressed the need to draw a distinction between Fatah, a political movement, and the PA, and the need to hold democratic elections to the PA institutions. They also emphasized that Fatah must examine itself and resume its original goals, namely the struggle against the occupation, not against fellow Palestinians.

Fatah mass rally in support of President 'Abbas, held in Ramallah on July 10, 2021 (Source: July 10, 2021) 

Below are excerpts from some of these articles:

Palestinian Politician: Fatah Must Understand It Is Not Synonymous With PA, It's Not Its Job To Defend PA Against Criticism

Nihad Abu Ghosh, a member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and a columnist for the daily Al-Quds, condemned Fatah officials for threatening oppositionists during the protests against the PA, and stating that, even though Fatah is the PA's ruling party, it is not this movement's job to defend the PA institutions against criticism. Warning Fatah not to follow the example of Algeria's former ruling party, the FLN, which turned from a liberation movement into a corrupt and tyrannical ruling party, he called on it to go back to fighting the occupation instead of the Palestinian people.  

Abu Ghosh wrote: "The recent statements by some of Fatah's officials and leaders, especially the statements of the movement's deputy chairman, Muhammad Al-'Aloul, and the secretary of its Central Committee, Jibril Al-Rajoub, have sparked concerns and lack of clarity as to the position of this movement and its leaders vis-à-vis fellow Palestinians who disagree with them, whether they are [members of various  political] factions and social movements, or independent activists.  I refer to the statements that warned against 'provoking Fatah and testing it,' and the claim that 'Fatah would not show mercy to anyone.'

"…These statements were made in a very strained climate, after the killing of activist Nizar Banat and the forceful suppression of the demonstrations and protests [against the PA]. Consequently, many people expressed concern that these statements and threats [are meant to] complement the oppressive measures of the PA security apparatuses against their opponents, and to set up a new and firm principle in the relations with the opposition forces, which forbids any criticism against the movement and against the conduct and actions of the security apparatuses. 

"Clearly, a movement of Fatah's magnitude, with its history and expected role [in the liberation of Palestine], must not be judged based on two momentary statements that may have been made at a moment of tension and crisis. But these statements are connected to certain events and facts, and to statements made by other prominent [Fatah] officials in the PA, which means that they are part of an overall pattern that does not befit this movement's history, [political] program and revolutionary national tradition of containing disagreements with other [Palestinian factions] and of finding the broadest common denominator.

"What complicates matters further is the absence of [the PA's] legislative and oversight institutions [due to the dissolving of the Legislative Council]. Therefore, the first task to focus on is drawing a distinction between Fatah, which is a political movement, organization or faction, and the PA, which is an organizational institution that must be based on principles of expertise and professionalism.  Even if Fatah members man most of the civil and military leadership positions [in the PA], the [Fatah] organization is not responsible for the conduct of the security apparatuses, just as it is not responsible for the spread of the Covid pandemic, for the traffic crisis in the cities or for the performance of the [Palestinian] embassies and political representations. Moreover, [I say] with equal certainty that the security apparatuses are not responsible for organizing mass political action for or against any [political] position[5]

"Another point worth stressing is Fatah's vital need to maintain its identity as a liberation movement, rather than a ruling party that defends every action of the PA and its leaders… For the Palestinian people is still under occupation and is still in a stage of national liberation. In [seeking] liberation, one principle that must not be forgotten or underestimated even for a moment is the principle of national unity and of [maintaining] broad national fronts. Any undermining of this principle will harm Fatah more than others, for [Fatah] is the one spearheading the Palestinian national liberation, and it is too early to limit the main task for which it was founded and turn it into a public or militia-like arm of the PA apparatuses. For the sake of comparison, we should take a lesson from our sister Algeria, where the National Liberation Front [FLN] led the country towards freedom. [The FLN] continued to rule the country after independence, but more than 30 years after defeating colonialism, it was overthrown due to the spread of corruption, ineffectiveness and tyranny. Fatah, its members and its supporters still face many years of struggle against the occupier,  and it will be unwise [of Fatah] to waste its efforts fighting its partners in the homeland…

"I hope Fatah regains its glorious image. It must defeat its enemies, not its people and partners. It must be more tolerant, patient and accepting towards those who disagree with it or criticize it, for criticism – even the peaceful democratic demand to hold elections or replace the leadership – is not defiance. It is a democratic right explicitly guaranteed by the [Palestinian] Basic Law and Declaration of Independence, and a deeply-rooted tradition of the Palestinian revolution and of the PLO. Therefore, those who disagree with the Fatah movement are not guests in this homeland, but rather major partners."[6]

Fatah Deputy Chair Mahmoud Al-'Aloul speaking at the Ramallah rally (Source:, July 10, 2021)

Palestinian Journalist: Fatah's Self-Appointed Role As Defender Of The PA And Its Mistakes Contravenes The Historic Role Of This Movement, Harm Its Status And Palestinian Cause; Fatah Must Be Separate From PA

Palestinian journalist Muhannad Al-Hamid, a columnist for the Al-Ayyam daily, also came out against Fatah for appointing itself the defender of the PA and its mistakes. He called to amend this situation by ending the PA's hegemony in the political arena, separating it from Fatah, consolidating democracy and holding elections to establish legitimate rule.

He wrote: "The [political] positions and the attention of the Palestinian decision-maker are [currently] focused on restoring the [PA's] legitimacy in the eyes of the regional and international [power] centers, [legitimacy] which has declined since the postponement of the elections. This approach ascribes no importance to the [PA's] main source of legitimacy, namely the Palestinians inside and outside Palestine, and this is a major flaw that can cause further collapse. No leadership, organization or authority is entitled to disregard the people, who are the regime's source of authority and the basis of all legitimacy... If the leadership of the PLO and PA continue to be disconnected from the people… [they should know that] any leadership or element that disregards the people suffers ongoing failure…

"For the Palestinians, a democratic society is a [vital] need, not a luxury. Democracy entails the participation of broad sectors of society in the struggle against the occupation and settlements; in building the institutions of the PLO, the PA and civil society; in developing human and economic [resources]; in the struggle against internal corruption… and in establishing collective and individual freedoms, especially the freedom of speech and criticism and the freedom to demand accountability and transparency. The road to mending and strengthening the Palestinian homeland begins with ending the PA's hegemony over the political sphere and creating a distinction between the PA, Fatah, the civil [society] associations and the professional syndicates…

"The basis for redefining Fatah's authorities must be a reexamination of its status and role… It must be said that, as long as the occupation exists, it is a mistake [to let] Fatah form the government, even if the government's positions are identical to those of the [Fatah] movement. The government of Dr. Muhammad Shtayeh has proved the truth of this assessment. The government is supposed to be criticized by, and accountable to, the Legislative Council. But if [the Legislative Council] is absent, for a long or short period, [the role of] supervising the government and holding it to account passes to the civil society [organizations], and especially to the existing political organizations [including Fatah and Hamas] and the reemerging ones. But when Fatah is the government [in the West Bank] and Hamas is the government in Gaza, democratic life ends, and a regime emerges in which the government is above criticism and accountability and the response to popular protest is oppression. Moreover, defending the government, its mistakes and its violations [also] becomes the role of the [Fatah or Hamas] organizations, which recruit their members and supporters [to carry out this task]. In this situation, defending the government is just a matter of organizational loyalty, based on  the slogan of 'defend your brother, whether he is the oppressor or the oppressed.' When Fatah becomes a faction that defends the PA, including the mistakes and violations of [the PA] and its security apparatuses, this contradicts [Fatah's] historical role… In the absence of a national democratic alternative, the decline in Fatah's [status] harms every part of the Palestinian national spectrum…  

"There is a need to reexamine the role of Fatah and its government, investigate the Nizar Banat incident and prosecute those responsible without delay, and set up a new date for the elections…"[7]     

Sign in Ramallah protest: "Down with 'Abbas, we want elections" (Source:, July 11, 2021)

Palestinian Former Minister: Our Situation Is Dire Because The PA Has Abandoned The Path Of National Liberation, Has Failed To Build A State And Behaves As Though It Is Synonymous With The Fatah Movement

Ziad Abu Zayyad, former PA minister of Jerusalem affairs, wrote in his column in the daily Al-Quds that the Palestinians' main problems are that they have abandoned the original program of national liberation, that the PA's institutions and apparatuses no longer serve the national interests and are not committed to the rule of law, and that no distinction is made between the PA and Fatah. He called to hasten and fix this situation, if it is not already too late.

He wrote: "Since the founding of the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] in 1964, its common denominator with the other [Palestinian] fronts and movements founded before or after it has been the concept of 'liberation.' In other words, the national program on which all Palestinians agree is that of liberation, whether it is the liberation of all of Palestine, from the river to the sea, or [only] the territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem… This continued to be the dominant program until [the PLO's] retreat from Lebanon in 1982 and its growing disconnect from the occupied territories…Later, the PLO sought to join the arena of diplomatic action, after the option of military resistance was eliminated. This new path was reflected in its serious attempts to engage in discourse with the U.S. administration…

"The Oslo Accords marked the beginning of a retreat from the national program of liberation and the adoption of a political plan based on excessive assumptions of good will, [such as the assumption] that it is possible to achieve liberation through a political process with ambiguous goals – ambiguity which was presented as constructive. But the implementation of this political process was partly based on a kind of self-delusion and wishful thinking.  

"The [Oslo] Accords never defined their [hoped-for] final outcome, and did not call for suspending the [expansion of] settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. This enabled Israel to continue its program of expanding the settlements, which prevents any possibility of establishing a Palestinian state on free and liberated Palestinian soil. The Oslo Accords can thus be seen as the point where [we] began to depart from the national program of liberation and became preoccupied with the construction of institutions for a state that does not exist on the ground. [In other words], the paradoxical result was that [we] relinquished the national program of liberation, and engaged [instead] in a political program based on the establishment of institutions for a state, authority or regime whose characteristics had never been defined. Call it what you will, it is definitely neither a state nor a national program…

"This is the trap we fell into when we thought that [the Oslo Accords] would be an interim program ending in May 1999. Then we discovered that the temporary had become permanent, and that the state  does not exist in reality but [only] in the minds of the leaders, or in decrees, memos and documents that they sign and pass between them… All this is the result of [our] relinquishment of the national program – the program of liberation – and entering the corridors and cellars of a political program that was based on illusion and became a hostage of the reality in which it had been born. Because of all this, and due to the interference of the occupation, the [PA's] security [forces] became the government's most powerful institution…

"What moves me to write this article is the implications of the murder of political activist Nizar Banat. His murder was a crime in itself, with all the physical, moral and legal aspects of [a crime], and it should have been quickly handled in the framework of the law… This heinous crime is the best indication that we have failed to establish security apparatuses that respect the law and act within its boundaries… The members of these apparatuses – [albeit] not all of them – deal with reality from a personal perspective, as though engaging in a quarrel between tribes or criminal gangs that operate outside the law. If these people violated the law, they must be held to account and given the severest possible punishment. But an [even] graver crime was [perpetrated by] the political groups that took to the streets in order to achieve political objectives that have nothing to do with Nizar's killing, and demanded the ouster of the regime and the president… These groups' claim that they speak on behalf of the people is groundless. How can they say 'the people want…'? Have the people empowered them to speak in their name? Certainly not. This conduct is [rather] an attack on the people's right to express themselves and their will. These groups, which made the mistake of purporting to represent the people, encountered another mistake, no less grave, [made by those who] claimed that the PA is synonymous with Fatah and called for Fatah 'militias' to take to the streets to defend the security apparatuses and the PA.

"When [we try to] fix a mistake with another mistake, and our national cause becomes the cause of only one faction; when [political] factions become tribes, and calls for intimidation and revenge take the place of law enforcement – we must ask ourselves what we have come to, and who is responsible [for this fiasco]. There is no doubt that, as a first step, we must resume the national program of liberation, and examine all the institutions and apparatuses we have built, to see whether they serve the program of liberation or threaten to destroy it.  To this end, we must examine whether the principles upon which we built our institutions are national principles that are part of the national program, or have been violated and distorted to serve a program that contravenes our national program…

"Our internal situation requires two things: first, that we agree on a national program and on the goal we want to achieve; second, that we [formulate] a gradual and realistic work plan to extricate ourselves from the present situation and pursue the goal defined by our national program. Is this possible, or have we crossed the point of no return? I fear that we have, but pray to Allah that I am mistaken."[8]


[2] This conduct was also a stark violation of a decree issued by Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas on February 20, 2021, before his decision to postpone the PA elections. The decree ordered a halt to political arrests and recognized the freedom of all Palestinian factions to carry out political activity ahead of the elections. Palestinian human rights organizations claimed that the decree was never implemented and that political freedom in the PA only deteriorated after its issuance. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1564 - New Decrees By Palestinian Authority President 'Abbas Restrict Civil Society – March 15, 2021.

[3], July 11, 2021.

[4], July 4, 2021. His attitude also infected some of the movement's activists. At the Fatah rally in Ramallah, activist Murad Ishtiwi called the anti-PA protesters "traitors" and "infidels" (, July 15, 2021). Activist Abu Ghadhab  Mara'aba posted on his Facebook page a picture of oppositionist 'Amr Hamdan with the comment: "There will be no mercy and no negligence in [handling] anyone who dares to malign our leaders, our [security] apparatuses and honorable Fatah members…" ( profile.php?id=100070299979846), July 19, 2021.

[5] The reference is to the counter-protests organized by Fatah in support of the PA, and the recruitment of Fatah members to help the security forces suppress the opposition protests.

[6] Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), July 18, 2021.

[7] Al-Ayyam (PA), July 13, 2021.

[8] Al-Quds (PA), July 4, 2021.

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