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Difference Between Fatah and Hamas

Difference Between Fatah and Hamas

The decade-long conflict between Israel and Palestine dates back to the first half of the 20th century. Already in 1939, the Mandatory Power recommended that Palestine be a unified and independent country. However, the implementation of such Statement of Policy was hindered and thwarted by the massive Jewish immigration caused by the horrors of the Holocaust and by the growing Zionist opposition.

The Palestine question – which remains unsolved – was conferred to the United Nations. With General Assembly resolutions 181 (II)and 194 (III) – the former providing for the creation of a Palestinian Arab State based on partition borders and the latter calling for the return of Palestinian refugees – the international community de facto recognized the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.  Yet, Israel illegally occupied 77 percent of the territory of Palestine in the 1948 Israeli-Arab war – which is remembered by the Palestinians as the ‘Nakba’ (catastrophe) – and caused the internal displacement and expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians. Furthermore, with the 1967 war, Israel annexed the remaining territories and continued its agenda of forcible expulsion of Palestinians and reckless destruction of Palestinian villages and houses.

Today, Israel continues its illegal annexation of Palestinian territories and unabatedly infringes on the basic rights, including the right of return, of the Palestinian people. The Israeli-Palestinian question remains at the core of the international agenda, but no external involvement has been able to solve the decade-long deadlock nor to halt the ruthless violations committed by Israeli forces.

While Palestine is not recognized as an independent country, Palestinian political parties continue to engage in peaceful and non-peaceful actions to finally achieve independence and regain control over the territories occupied by Israeli settlers. The two main political factions of Palestine – both striving for independence but through very different means – are Fatah and Hamas.


  • Full name: “Fatah” is the reverse acronym of Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filistiniya (Palestinian Liberation Movement) – and literally means “conquest”
  • Origins: 1950s
  • Founder: Yasser Arafat

Fatah was created in the late 1950s to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation through armed and violent struggle. Mainly located in the West Bank, Fatah’s violent approach gradually changed into a more moderate stance. In the 1990s, Yasser Arafat recognized the validity of the two-state solution and signed the Oslo Accords with Israel.

The Oslo Accords – signed in 1993 – marked the first official mutual recognition between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the State of Israel. With the Accords, the two parties committed to negotiate a peaceful solution and to end the conflict. While the official creation of a Palestinian State was not officially stipulated, they transferred the control of the main Palestinian cities in Gaza and the West Bank to a new ad interim Palestinian authority. Yet, the Oslo Accords were never fully implemented and the relations between the two parties deteriorated again.

Fatah’s attitude towards Israel:

  • Today, Fatah advocates for peaceful resistance against the occupying power;
  • Supports the two-state solution; and
  • Wants to establish a Palestinian State in the occupied Gaza Strips and West Bank, with East Jerusalem as capital.

Fatah has abandoned its violent origins and is now the main supporter of non-violent, peaceful resistance against the occupation. In addition, the Fatah’s affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades have sided Hamas in a militant ceasefire against Israel for over ten years. Yet, while said brigades claim to be only conducting “retaliatory attacks,” it is undeniable that the violent side of the party has not entirely disappeared.


  • Full name: “Hamas” is the acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement) – and literally means “conquest”
  • Origins: 1987
  • Founder: it began as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood

Hamas is an extremist party considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the international community. The goal of the party is the creation of an Islamic State and the destruction of Israel. While recently Hamas has become more moderate, its main goal and policy is armed resistance.

Hamas’ attitude towards Israel:

  • Rejects the two-state solution;
  • Rejects the peace process as well as the possibility of achieving peace with Israel;
  • Conducts suicide attacks and other types of attacks against Israeli security forces and civlians;
  • Seeks Israel’s destruction; and
  • Wants to create a Palestinian State, which includes the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and Israel.

Hamas-affiliated Izzedine al-Qassam brigades are among the deadliest brigades in the area. Following the First Intifada, they took control over the Gaza Strips and, despite having committed to an informal ceasefire since 2005, they occasionally fire rockets and conduct retaliatory attacks.

Current situation

Fatah has always been the leading party; yet Hamas’ support has grown larger – to the point that Fatah was defeated in the 2006 elections. After months of unrest and internal instability, the two parties found an agreement and Fatah joined the unity government as junior partner while Hamas became the senior partner in March 2007.

Yet, March 2007 marks the beginning of a conflict between the two factions:

  • March 2007: the unity government takes office, but Hamas refuses to halt attacks against Israel;
  • June 2007: Hamas takes control over the Gaza Strip. As over 100 are killed in the fighting, President Abbas declared the state of emergency and dismissed the unity government;
  • November 2007: peace talks between Israel and Palestine are mediated by former U.S. President George Bush;
  • January 2008: the conflict in the Gaza strips intensifies and Palestine suffers of shortage of food, power, fuel and water;
  • December 2008: with Operation Cast Lead, Israel launches a brutal invasion of the Gaza Strip, killing over 1000 civilians;
  • January 2009: despite the end of its term, President Abbas decides to stay in power until presidential and parliamentary elections can be held;
  • Mid-2009: Egypt supports reconciliation talks between the two groups;
  • May 2011: Hamas and Fatah sign a unity deal; Abbas (Fatah’s leader) and Khaled Meshaal (Hamas’ leader) meet in Cairo to sign the reconciliation agreement;

Since 2011, the tension between the two factions intensified again, and a final and complete reconciliation is yet to be reached. Today, Mahmud Abbas – leader of Fatah – is the President of Palestine.

Difference between Fatah and Hamas

Fatah and Hamas are two of the main Palestinian parties. While both strive for independence from the occupying powers, their policies and perspectives could not be more different.

  • Fatah is a secular, moderate group bound by Israeli interest through the Oslo Accords while Hamas is a religious (primarily Sunni), extremist group, labeled as terrorist organization;
  • Fatah supports the two-state solution as well as the possibility of reconciliation with Israel while Hamas rejects the two-state solution and advocates for the destruction of Israel;
  • Fatah wants a Palestinian State in the occupied Gaza Strips and West Bank, with East Jerusalem as capital while Hamas wants a Palestinian State encompassing the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and Israel;
  • Fatah’s brigades are less violent and bound to an informal ceasefire agreement since 2005 while Hamas’ armed wings are more violent and continue to fire rockets against Israel despite the ceasefire; and
  • Mahmud Abbas – current President of Palestine – is the Fatah’s leader while Hamas has lost its grip on the government.


The struggle for independence and self-determination of the Palestinian people appears to be an endless battle against the Israeli occupying forces, which enjoy the support of international super-powers such as the United States. After decades of conflict, abuses and violence, the deadlock remains and the situation is further complicated by internal discrepancies among Palestinian parties, in particular between Fatah and Hamas.

Palestinian authorities and parties support the struggle for independence and advocate for the creation of an independent Palestinian territory, as provided for in General Assembly resolutions 181 (II) and 194 (III). However, the ways in which Fatah and Hamas strive for independence and freedom from occupation are very different:

  • Fatah is moderate and non-violent while Hamas is extremist and violent;
  • Fatah is a political party with affiliated militias while Hamas is considered a terrorist organization;
  • Fatah’s brigades only conduct (allegedly) retaliatory attacks while Hamas’ armed wings continue to fire rockets against Israel;
  • Fatah is secular while Hamas is religious – primarily Sunni;
  • Fatah supports the two-state solution and wants a state of Palestine with capital in East Jerusalem while Hamas wants to incorporate Israel into a Palestinian State;
  • Fatah signed the (failed) Oslo Accords and fosters diplomatic ties and relations with Israel while Hamas rejects peace talks and compromises; and
  • Fatah was created in the 1950s while Hamas in 1987.

Fatah has always been the leading party in Palestine but Hamas won the 2006 elections and, in 2007, the two groups created a joint unity government. However, internal conflicts between the two factions led to the so-called Palestinian Civil War. Today, the President of Palestine is Mahmud Abbas, leader of Fatah.

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References :

[0][1]Resolution 181 (II). Future government of Palestine, available at https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/0/7F0AF2BD897689B785256C330061D253

[1][2] Resolution 194 (III). Palestine -- Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator, available at https://unispal.un.org/DPA/DPR/unispal.nsf/0/C758572B78D1CD0085256BCF0077E51A

[2][3] Palestinian Rivals: Fatah & Hamas, BBC, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5016012.stm

[3][4] Palestinian Rivals: Fatah & Hamas, BBC, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5016012.stm

[4][5] Why Fatah and Hamas hate each other? The Telegraph, available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1537001/Why-Fatah-and-Hamas-hate-each-other.html

[5][6] Timeline: Hamas-Fatah conflict, Al Jazeera, available at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/05/2011549435141647.html

[6][7] Fatah or Hamas: what is the difference? Politics made public, available at http://politicsmadepublic.com/fatah-hamas-difference/


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