The Decline and Fall of the Palestinian National Movement

The Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) June 2006
Barry Rubin

The victory of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group, in the January 2006 parliamentary elections seemed like an earthquake transforming the Arab-Israeli conflict, Palestinian politics, prospects for democratization, and even the region as a whole. Yet this development should not have been a surprise. More than just heralding the rise of Hamas and Islamists, it was both based on and ensured the Palestinian nationalist movement’s overdue collapse. While the nationalists will, of course, survive, they have lost their long-held monopoly on power and on setting the Palestinian agenda.

This article analyzes that breakdown as resulting from the policies of Yasir Arafat and Fatah, the Palestinians’ leaders for 35 years; the weaknesses of his successor, Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin); the movement’s overall strategy and ideology, and how Hamas will seek to consolidate and perpetuate its own rule.

In the long term, Fatah and the nationalists outlived their usefulness. On one hand, they were responsible for almost 40 years of failure. Despite promising–and often falsely claiming–victory, they brought on one defeat after another. The Palestinian movement was chased out of Jordan in 1970 and then out of Lebanon in 1982 and 1983. Israel grew stronger and did not collapse; Arab states provided far less help than the PLO sought. Year after year, the West Bank and Gaza Strip continued to be under Israeli control. Total victory in 2006 seemed no closer than in 1990, 1980, or 1970.[1]