In the January 25, 2006 parliamentary election, the party lost its majority in the Palestinian parliament to Hamas, and resigned all cabinet positions, instead assuming the role as the main opposition party.
The acronym "FATAH" is created from the complete Arabic name: HArakat al-TAhrir al-Watani al-Filastini, becoming "HATAF", which, since it means "sudden death" in Arabic, was reversed to become "FATAH". The word Fatah is prominently used for the Islamic expansion in the first centuries of Islamic history, and so has strongly positive connotations for Muslims.
The Fatah movement, which espoused a Palestinian nationalist ideology in which Palestine would be liberated by the actions of Palestinian Arabs, was founded in 1954 by members of the Palestinian diaspora — principally professionals working in the Gulf States who had been refugees in Gaza and had gone on to study in Cairo or Beirut. The founders included Yasser Arafat who was head of the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) (1952–56) in Cairo University, Salah Khalaf, Khalil al-Wazir, Khaled Yashruti was head of the GUPS in Beirut (1958–62).
Fatah's first major guerrilla attack came on January 3, 1965, when they attempted to sabotage the Israeli National Water Carrier, which had recently started operation and diverted vast amounts of water from the Jordan River which mostly bordered Jordan. The attack was thwarted by the Israeli Security Forces.
Fatah became the dominant force in Palestinian politics after the Six-Day War in 1967. It dealt the coup de grâce to the pre-Baathist Arab nationalism that had inspired George Habash's Arab Nationalist Movement, the former dominant mainly Palestinian political party. The November 1959 edition of Fatah's underground journal, Filastinuna Nida al-Hayat, indicated that the movement was motivated by the status of the Palestinian refugees in the Arab world:
The youth of the catastrophe (shibab al-nakba) are dispersed... Life in the tent has become as miserable as death... [T]o die for our beloved Fatherland is better and more honorable than life, which forces us to eat our daily bread under humiliations or to receive it as charity at the cost of our honour... We, the sons of the catastrophe, are no longer willing to live this dirty, despicable life, this life which has destroyed our cultural, moral and political existence and destroyed our human dignity.
From the beginning the armed struggle, as manifested in the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine and the military role of Palestinian fighters under the leadership of Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, was central to Fatah's ideology of liberating Palestine by a Palestinian armed struggle.
Fatah joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1967. It was immediately allocated 33 of 105 seats in the PLO Executive Committee. Founder Yasser Arafat became Chairman of the PLO in 1969, after the position was ceded to him by Yahya Hammuda. According to the BBC, "Mr Arafat took over as chairman of the executive committee of the PLO in 1969, a year that Fatah is recorded to have carried out 2,432 guerrilla attacks on Israel.
On the night of March 21, the IDF attacked Karameh with heavy weaponry, armored vehicles and fighter jets. Fatah held its ground, surprising the Israeli military. As Israel's forces intensified their campaign, the Jordanian Army became involved, causing the Israelis to retreat in order to avoid a full-scaled war. By the end of the battle, nearly 150 Fatah militants had been killed, as well as twenty Jordanian soldiers and twenty-eight Israeli soldiers. Despite the higher Arab death toll, Fatah considered themselves victorious because of the Israeli army's rapid withdrawal.
The Jordanian government moved to regain control over its territory, and the next day, King Hussein declared martial law. By September 25, 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.
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 USSR and some Communist regimes of East European states. China also provided some weapons.
Phalangist forces killed twenty-six Fatah trainees on a bus in April 1975. In 1976, an alliance of Christian militias with the backing of the Lebanese Army besieged the Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp. The PLO and LNM retaliated by attacking the town of Damour, a Phalangist stronghold. Over 330 people were killed and many more wounded. The Tel al-Zaatar camp fell to the Christians after a six-month siege, and a massacre followed in which thousands of Palestinians were killed. 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 March 11, 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.
After Israel withdrew from Lebanon, Fatah forces resumed firing rockets into the Galilee region of Israel, prompting another invasion 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.
Fatah has "Observer Party" status at the Socialist International.
Since 2000, the group is a member of the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces, which includes both PLO and non-PLO factions, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, listed as terrorist organizations in the West.
In 2005, Hamas won landslide victories in nearly all the municipalities it contested. Fatah is "widely seen as being in desperate need of reform", as "the PA's performance has been a story of corruption and incompetence - and Fatah has been tainted." Political analyst Salah Abdel-Shafi told BBC about the difficulties of Fatah leadership: "I think it's very, very serious - it's becoming obvious that they can't agree on anything.
Reactions to the news have been split. Some have suggested that the move could be a positive step towards peace, as Barghouti's new party could help reform major problems in Palestinian government. Others have raised concern that it could wind up splitting the Fatah vote, inadvertently helping Hamas. Barghouti's supporters argue that al-Mustaqbal will split the votes of both parties, both from disenchanted Fatah members as well as moderate Hamas voters who do not agree with Hamas' political goals, but rather its social work and hard position on corruption. Some observers have also hypothesized that the formation of Mustaqbal is mostly a negotiating tactic to get members of the young guard into higher positions of power within Fatah and its electoral list. A variant theory, highly plausible, is that after the elections, Mustaqbal will either be partially re-incorporated into Fatah, or will function as part of a Parliamentary coalition with it in opposition to Hamas and other political rivals.
While Quwwat Al-Sa'eqa is the official armed body of Fatah movement, many of the other factions have never been officially recognized by Fatah's major leading bodies: The Revolutionary Council and The Central Committee. At many instances, some of those factions were considered rebellious and outlawed by the Fatah official bodies, especially the Black September group.
The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades have close links to Fatah but do not always follow the mainstream and are often involved suicide bombings against Israel despite the Fatah condemnation. They are listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.
The Fatah Hawks have not been active since 1995 and have been virtually replaced by the Tanzim. Both the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Tanzim are led by Marwan Barghouti. Force 17 plays a role akin to the Presidential Guard for senior Fatah leaders.
Currently Fatah is negotiating with their rival political party, Hamas, to end their terrorist group and occupation of the West Bank, and Hamsas will end their occupation of the Gaza Strip. According to both Hamas and Fatah, there will be one unity government in Palestine. The talks are to be held in Egypt, as elections are quickly emerging.