Hamas & Al Fatah

Posted on June 17, 2008


This is just a point of education for me on this post.

While I’ve heard much about the Palestinian political parties, I actually know very little about them. These “Times Topic” explanations were helpful.


Hamas, one of the two main Palestinian political groups, derives its name from an acronym for the Arabic words ”Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya,” which translates into English as the Islamic Resistance Movement. It was founded in 1987 during the first Palestinian uprising with its roots in Muslim Brotherhood politics in Gaza and became more active in the second Palestinian uprising which started in 2000.

The groups’ 9,000-word charter, written in 1988, includes a description of the struggle for Palestine as a religious obligation, saying the land is an endowment that cannot be abandoned.

It recognizes the fact of Israel but refuses to recognize its right to exist, and has been responsible for many of the deadliest suicide attacks in Israel.

But the social programs that were the group’s initial focus made the group widely popular among ordinary Palestinians — it created centers for health care, welfare, day care, kindergartens and preschools along with programs for widows of suicide bombers. In January 2006, facing a divided Fatah, the party created by Yassir Arafat, Hamas won a decisive victory in parliamentary elections.

Since Hamas took office, it has faced increasing turmoil. Israel withheld tax revenues it collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, and Western assistance to the Palestinian government was cut off until Hamas renounced violence and agreed to recognize Israel. After months of negotiations, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah of Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, agreed in March 2007 to form a national unity government in an attempt to end the Palestinians’ international isolation. The pact did not succeed in restoring the flow of aid, and clashes between gunmen loyal to Fatah and Hamas began to increase, particularly in Gaza, where militant branches of Hamas operate independently of the government. A series of cease-fires have been proclaimed and quickly broken, raising fears of a civil war. (Christine Hauser, June 12, 2007)


Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, is the larger of the two main Palestinian political parties. It was founded in the late 1950s by Yasir Arafat and a small group of Palestinian nationalists.

Its name is the reverse acronym of Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Falastini, meaning the Palestinian National Liberation Movement. The name also means Conquest or Victory in Arabic.

In its early program, Fatah was committed to an armed guerrilla struggle for Palestine’s liberation from Israel. Its official emblem shows two fists holding crossed rifles and a hand grenade in front of a map of Palestine.

It was initially based in Jordan and later Lebanon; its leadership was dispersed during the 1970s and 1980s but returned to Gaza and the West Bank in the 1990s.

Fatah became preeminent among Palestinian factions in the 1960s though a series of strikes against Israel — in its eyes, successful military campaigns, though condemned by Israel and the West as terrorism — and by the end of the decade it was the largest and best funded of the Palestinian organizations. It became the vehicle for Mr. Arafat’s control of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the umbrella group for Palestinian movements.

In 1993 Mr. Arafat signed the Oslo peace accord with Israel, which sought to negotiate a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on a two-state solution. In the legislative elections for the Palestinian Authority created by the accord, Fatah captured a majority of seats, and Mr. Arafat became president. Mr. Abbas, another original member of Fatah, became president in 2005 following Mr. Arafat’s death.

By then, however, Fatah had become strained by internal divisions and tarnished by accusations of corruption, and began to lose ground to the more hardline Hamas. It lost power to Hamas in legislative elections in January 2006.

Hamas and Fatah in early 2007 formed an unsteady coalition government, a so-called unity government, but tensions reemerged between the two groups that quickly erupted into violence.

In June 2007, Fatah was completely routed from Gaza by Hamas, raising the prospect that the Palestinian territories would be divided between a Fatah-controlled West Bank and a Hamas-controlled Gaza.

As a result, Mr. Abbas dissolved the unity authority and appointed a new emergency government dominated by Fatah. It drew immediate support from Israel, the United States and the European Union, who were eager to isolate Hamas. Fatah had become the moderate alternative. (Graham Bowley, June 20, 2007)