The New Fatah Charter, "Long Live Palestine: Free and Arab"

The New Fatah Charter, "Long Live Palestine: Free and Arab"

JERUSALEM – The Federation of American Scientists is an organization concerned with the ethical responsibility of scientists to inform and help shape national discussions of science, technology and government policy. It is endorsed by 84 Nobel Prize laureates. Founded by Manhattan Project researchers after World War II, it runs a program opposing the abuse of government secrecy whose website is named (delightfully and oxymoronically) "Secrecy News" and often publicizes documents illegitimately kept from the public eye. "Secrecy News" recently publicized an English translation prepared by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence of the new version of the Fatah Charter, formulated at the confusing Fatah conference in Bethlehem last summer. (See Ed Rettig, "The Fatah Bethlehem Conference," August 11, 2009)

The charter offers a glimpse into what makes Fatah tick. Its introduction says: "You must know that our enemy is strong and the battle is ferocious and long…determination, patience, secrecy, confidentiality, adherence to the principles and goals of the revolution keep us from stumbling and shorten the path to liberation…Go forward to revolution. Long live Palestine, free and Arab."

While the call for a "Palestine, free and Arab" sounds like old-style revolutionary rhetoric, it is highly significant that there is no repetition of the old charter's determination that "Zionism is a political movement organically associated with international imperialism...." Indeed, the term "Zionism" is absent from the new document. So is the term "armed struggle" (as in the 1968 charter's "Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine.") On the other hand, the terms "Israel" or "peace" or "two-state solution" make no appearance.

Moving beyond the ambiguous introduction, the text is focused inward, on preventing the kind of chaos that has wreaked havoc on Fatah's capacity to govern. Reading through its 120 articles, the inescapable impression is of movement leaders who understand what was wrong with Arafat's legacy of strongman control. Without mentioning his name, the new charter implicitly judges his failures.
Of particular note in this regard is the section that reads "collective leadership is the sole method of the movement." Much of the charter deals with the need to institute "internal democracy" through increased communication up and down the hierarchy, responsiveness of leadership to the lower ranks, and "adherence of the minority to the views of the majority." Certainly, not all dysfunctions can be blamed on Arafat. Had Fatah been so disciplined and responsive in 2006 (two years after Arafat's death) it would not have run competing candidates in many electoral districts, handing the historic parliamentary election victory to Hamas.

Still, the work of democratization remains incomplete. The critical absence of provisions for transparency is the best example. There is a detailed chapter labeled "Confidentiality" that tell us much about the values of Fatah's elite. These are defined as "commitment," "discipline," "democratic centralism," "criticism and self-criticism," and again, as a subtopic, "confidentiality." The Fatah leaders retain their revolutionary movement's passion for secrecy. It is disappointing and certainly bodes ill for the future that they evidently still reject the democratic insight that shining light on the processes of governance is the best political antiseptic against autocracy and corruption.

Another missing piece is the lack of provision for an independent office to fulfill the role of ombudsman. Article 40 does set up what it calls Fatah's Court: "The Revolutionary Council will elect the head of Fatah's Court during its first session, and the Central Committee will form the court and draw up its regulations." This court is not independent. Its judges owe their jobs and working tools to some of the very people one expects them to investigate. (The Revolutionary Council is a kind of movement parliament; the Central Committee a sort of movement government; and there is also a General Conference, a large body that is to convene only at five-year intervals, but before August 2009 had not convened in two decades.) The court does not appear to have the power to spot and prevent faulty party governance in the way that the ombudsman or legal counsel functions within Israeli political parties.

Assuming that the translation of the text is accurate, we must be gratified by the disappearance of the appalling language about Zionism and armed struggle. This was a longstanding Israeli (and world Jewish) demand. However, for the pessimist there is that worrying revolutionary rhetoric of an "Arab Palestine"; no mention of peace or the two-state solution; and the lack of key oversight components that are crucial for any good-governance party that seeks to bring independence, peace and prosperity to Palestine.

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