Fataḥ (Arabic: فتح Fatḥ) (also known as Fateh, Levantine Arabic: [ˈfateħ]) is a major Palestinian political party and the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a multi-party confederation.
Fatah is generally considered to have had a strong involvement in revolutionary struggle in the past and has maintained a number of militant groups. Fatah had been closely identified with the leadership of its founder Yasser Arafat, until his death in 2004. Since Arafat’s departure, factionalism within the ideologically diverse movement has become more apparent.
In the January 25, 2006 parliamentary election, the party lost its majority in the Palestinian parliament to Hamas, and resigned all cabinet positions, instead of assuming the role as the main opposition party. Fatah’s size is estimated at 6,000–8,000 fighters with 45–300 politicians. However, the Hamas legislative victory led to a split between the two main Palestinian political parties, with Fatah retaining control of the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank. In April 2011, officials from Hamas and Fatah announced that both parties had reached an initial deal to unify into one government, with plans for elections to be held in 2012.
In the late 1960s, tensions between Palestinians and the Jordanian government increased greatly; heavily armed Arab resistance elements had created a virtual “state within a state” in Jordan, eventually controlling several strategic positions in that country. After their victory in the Battle of Karameh, Fatah and other Palestinian militias began taking control of civil life in Jordan. They set up roadblocks, publicly humiliated Jordanian police forces, molested women and levied illegal taxes – all of which Arafat either condoned or ignored.
In 1970, the Jordanian government moved to regain control over its territory, and the next day, King Hussein declared martial law. By 25 September, the Jordanian army achieved dominance in the fighting, and two days later Arafat and Hussein agreed to a series of ceasefires. The Jordanian army inflicted heavy casualties upon the Palestinians – including civilians – who suffered approximately 3,500 fatalities. Two thousand Fatah fighters managed to enter Syria. They crossed the border into Lebanon to join Fatah forces in that country, where they set up their new headquarters. A large group of guerrilla fighters led by Fatah field commander Abu Ali Iyad held out the Jordanian Army’s offensive in the northern city of Ajlun until they were decisively defeated in July 1971. Abu Ali Iyad was executed and surviving members of his commando force formed the Black September Organization, a splinter group of Fatah. In November 1971, the group assassinated Jordanian prime minister Wasfi al-Tal as retaliation to Abu Ali Iyad’s execution.
In the 1960s and the 1970s, Fatah provided training to a wide range of European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and African militant and insurgent groups, and carried out numerous attacks against Israeli targets in Western Europe and the Middle East during the 1970s. Some militant groups that affiliated themselves to Fatah, and some of the fedayeen within Fatah itself, carried out civilian plane hijackings and terrorist attacks, attributing them to Black September, Abu Nidal’s Fatah-Revolutionary Council, Abu Musa’s group, the PFLP, and the PFLP-GC. Fatah received weapons, explosives and training from the Soviet Union/Russia and some Communist regimes of East European states. China and Pakistan also provided munitions.
Since the death of Eljamal in 1968, the Palestinian cause had a large base of supporters in Lebanon. Although hesitant at first to take sides in the conflict, Arafat and Fatah played an important role in the Lebanese Civil War. Succumbing to pressure from PLO sub-groups such as the PFLP, DFLP and the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), Fatah aligned itself with the Communist and Nasserist Lebanese National Movement (LNM). Although originally aligned with Fatah, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad feared a loss of influence in Lebanon and switched sides. He sent his army, along with the Syrian-backed Palestinian factions of as-Sa’iqa and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) led by Ahmad Jibril to fight alongside the radical right-wing Christian forces against the PLO and the LNM. The primary component of the Christian militias was the Maronite Phalangists.
Phalangist forces killed twenty-six Fatah trainees on a bus in April 1975, marking the official start of the 15 year long Lebanese civil war. Later that year, an alliance of Christian militias overran the Palestinian refugee camp of Karantina killing over 1,000 civilians. The PLO and LNM retaliated by attacking the town of Damour, a Phalangist stronghold, killing 684 civilians. As the civil war progressed over 2 years of urban warfare, both parties resorted to massive artillery duels and heavy use of sniper nests, while atrocities and war crimes were committed by both sides.
In 1976, with strategic planning help from the Lebanese Army, the alliance of Christian militias, spearheaded by the National Liberal Party of former President Cammille Chamoun militant branch, the noumour el ahrar (NLP Tigers), took a pivotal refugee camp in the Eastern part of Beirut, the Tel al-Zaatar camp, after a six-month siege, also known as Tel al-Zaatar massacre in which hundreds perished. Arafat and Abu Jihad blamed themselves for not successfully organizing a rescue effort.
PLO cross-border raids against Israel grew somewhat during the late 1970s. One of the most severe – known as the Coastal Road Massacre – occurred on 11 March 1978. A force of nearly a dozen Fatah fighters landed their boats near a major coastal road connecting the city of Haifa with Tel Aviv-Yafo. There they hijacked a bus and sprayed gunfire inside and at passing vehicles, killing thirty-seven civilians. In response, the IDF launched Operation Litani three days later, with the goal of taking control of Southern Lebanon up to the Litani River. The IDF achieved this goal, and Fatah withdrew to the north into Beirut.
Israel invaded Lebanon again in 1982. Beirut was soon besieged and bombarded by the IDF; to end the siege, the US and European governments brokered an agreement guaranteeing safe passage for Arafat and Fatah – guarded by a multinational force – to exile in Tunis. Despite the exile many Fatah commanders and fighters remained in Lebanon.
When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, the faction was dispersed to several Middle Eastern countries with the help of US and other Western governments: Tunisia, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq and others. In the period 1982–1993, Fatah’s leadership resided in Tunisia.