​Fateh`s "Tanzim" Formations: a potential challenge that is liable to intensify in the face of scenarios of deterioration in the Palestinian arena


By Dr. Michael Milshtein​​ | June 29, 2020

Tanzim - the Fateh movement
Photo: Nicoleon | CC BY-SA 4.0


The grave crisis between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over the annexation question is accompanied of escalation in the Palestinian arena. In this framework, interest is rising in the Tanzim - the Fateh movement's frameworks of personnel in the field.


Against this backdrop, the painful memory resides, still deep in the collective consciousness - Israeli and Palestinian - of the period of the Second Intifada. The campaign that broke out in the year 2000 was personified by a sharp and swift transition of the Palestinian Authority led by Fateh, from a period shaped by diplomatic negotiations and focus on Palestinian 'state building', back into the pit of armed struggle against Israel.


As in 2000, today again apprehension is salient of the potential for deterioration in diplomacy and security that would be accompanied by a weakening of Palestinian civil governance, where the Tanzim would 'raise its head'. This is liable to be reflected in promotion of violence against Israel, and the spread of anarchy (Fawda in Arabic) in the Palestinian street, with local armed militias controlling various hubs in Judea and Samaria.


The roots of the Tanzim ('organization' in Arabic) are in the 1980s. It is a framework though which Fateh promoted its political, military, ideological-'doctrinizational' and civic operations in the 'Territories'. With the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, many of the heads of the Tanzim – who were subsequently sidelined by the influx of the PLO and Fateh movement leadership from abroad forming the new government - were disappointed [1]. Frustrations piled up in the course of the 1990s and broke out in 2000 when Fateh, led by the Tanzim, returned to armed struggle, including terror attacks inside Israel proper. The power of the Tanzim emanated, among other things, from the flexible boundaries between itself and the governing Establishment, particularly the security machinery - what allowed PLO operatives to move back and forth between the two zones of operation - the movement's and the governmental sphere, and gain ongoing material assistance from the regime in Ramallah.[2]


Two decades after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, the profile of the Palestinian system is fundamentally different, and so is that of the Tanzim. Ever since the ascent to power of Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] in 2005, processes were promoted that reflected Palestinians having corrected lessons from the bitter experience of the Second Intifada, first of all, strengthening of the governing structure, and in particular the security formation. This trend (that was accelerated significantly in the course of Salam Fayyad's tenure as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority between the years 2007-2012), refrained on principle from promoting armed violence and adopted strict preservation (at least until recently) of coordination with Israel in all realms.


Against this backdrop, the Tanzim was gradually weakened, relative to its position during the period of the Second Intifada. A large portion of their operatives integrated into the Palestinian security network (among others due to the 2007 "amnesty agreements" for wanted militants with blood on their hands'). Others are today behind bars in Israel. The Tanzim do not operate in orderly hierarchic frameworks (allegedly they are subordinate to Mahmoud al-Aloul, Abu Mazen's deputy at the head of Fateh's central committee, but this linkage is solely symbolic). Overall public support for them (and for Fateh in general) is limited compared to the past.


Most of the Tanzim leaders today are local one who head armed cadres that are often involved in criminal activity or anarchy, events that engender a deep sense of aversion among the majority of the Palestinian pubic (a sense that has sharpened in recent weeks in the face of public apprehension that crime and anarchy will spread with the weakening of the central government as a result of the current crisis).


The Tanzim frameworks contain thousands of operatives throughout Judea and Samaria (whose weight is particularly prominent in the refugee camps), most between the ages of 20-35, many of whom have served time, the majority 'graduates' of Israeli prisons. The older one serve as Fateh movement district chiefs (al-Akalim), such as Jihad Ramdan in Nablus, Emad Kharwat in Hebron or Muhammad al-Masri in Bethlehem, and the younger ones serve as key operatives in the field who organize local actions such as popular demonstrations of support for the Palestinian Authority or clashes with IDF forces.


As in the past, today as well, the Tanzim's machinery continues to maintain a close tie with the Palestinian regime, and the security machinery in particular, and a portion of its operatives 'wear two hats': in the movement and in the government.


In light of the crisis between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, there is growing likelihood of escalation in the situation that is not necessarily the product of planned policy of the leadership (who presently aspire to manage the crisis without a violent component). Escalation would be due to dynamics on the ground that are liable to spiral out of control, In this framework, there is a danger of misconstrued interpretation of the shrill rhetoric of Palestinian leadership by elements in the field from Fateh and within the Palestinian Authority's own security network.


The power of the Tanzim (that as previously noted, is for the present 'contained' within the Palestinian governmental structure) can be expected to grow in the face of any loosening of the reins of the Palestinian Authority, whether such a decline is triggered by economic crisis reducing the efficacy of governmental machinery, or as a result of the continuous erosion in the status of the Authority in the eyes of the Palestinian public. In such scenarios, it is likely that in key hubs in Judea and Samaria the boldness of Tanzim operatives to promote violence will increase (that is, it is likely they will operate as local cadres, not according to 'orders from above' from the Palestinian Authority leadership. This is likely to be accompanied by 'leakage' of personnel within the Authority's security formations, into the ranks of the Tanzim, as occurred in the Second Intifada with some of the groups sliding into an extremist ideological stance, nurtured from Islamic and Salafi-Jihadi wellsprings. This as already noted, would be paralleled by ongoing erosion of the stable 'fabric of life' that has taken form over the past decade in Judea and Samaria.


At this stage, Abu Mazen is using the Tanzim as a deterrent mechanism against Israel. As long as annexation is not implemented by Israel, the Tanzim remains focused solely on theatricals of declarative threats to 'return to the trenches' and relatively limited grass-root ('popular') actions, particularly rallies demonstrating public identification of the Palestinian Authority and organizing disorderly conduct against IDF forces throughout Judea and Samaria But in the face of implementation of steps for annexation, it is likely that the Palestinian Authority will aspire to jack-up and intensify the moves of the Tanzim, primarily employing tactics of resistance to Israel and clashes of a "popular and legitimate character" favored by the Palestinian Authority. Such a decision could very well turn out to be a two-edged sword, where the Palestinian Authority will find it can't fully control the Tanzim for long, let alone quickly reverse the situation, should it choose to do so.


From Israel's standpoint, this would be the seeds of destruction, which while not fully evident at this time, is liable to spiral quickly as a result of escalation on the ground. This necessitates, first of all, focused intelligence surveillance of the actions of the Tanzim in key hubs in Judea and Samaria. At the same time, it is imperative to keep in contract with heads of the Fateh (to the extent this is at all possible), particularly through the auspices and mechanisms of the Unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). Among other things, there is the imperative to transmit messages and prevent miscalculation, should and when escalation occurs. Furthermore, no less important are informational or cognative efforts directly to the Palestinian public, designed to make clear that outbreak of anarchy will spell the ruin of the fabric of life, build with so much labor over the past decade and a half, and a repeat of the trauma experienced in the Palestinian arena in the past.


Delay or postponement by Israel in taking the annexation concept forward, perhaps can be expected to curtail overall tension in the Palestinian system, including the likelihood that elements within the Tanzim will 'raise their heads' with a rapid growth in the challenge they present, in the meantime 'contained' and under cap.




[1]. To expand on the history of the Fateh, particularly since establishment of the Palestinian Authority, see: Michael Milstein, Ben Mahapecha ve-Midina: Ha-Fateh veha-Rashut ha-Palestinei (Between Revolution and Polity: The Fateh and the Palestinian Authority), Tel Aviv: Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, 2004)


[2]. For expansion on the conduct of the Fateh in the course of the Second Intifada and the lassociation between its operatives and the Palestinian Authority, see: Khalil Shikaki, "Palestinians Divided," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 81, No. 1 (2002), pp. 89-105.




Authored by Dr. Michael Milshtein, a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.



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