Re-evaluating the Disengagement Process: the Case of Fatah

Gordon Clubb


Recently, a number of studies have looked at the disengagement/de-radicalisation of terrorist groups and individuals. This article critically assesses part of this literature in relation to the process of voluntary collective disengagement, using the case of the Palestinian Fatah organization as an example. It questions the specific focus of most de-radicalisation studies upon solely ending the use of the terrorist tactic, arguing that the disengagement process should be studied in conjunction with groups ceasing to use other forms of political violence as well. Although the article favours an objective definition of terrorism, it also recognises the salience of the term's normative power and argues that both perspectives can play a role in the disengagement process. This process can be divided into a number of stages: (i) declarative disengagement, (ii) behavioural disengagement, (iii) organisational disengagement, and (iv) de-radicalisation. Fatah's disengagement process demonstrates that the process can be conditional, reversible, and selective. Consequently, a number of problems arise in terms of defining when an organisation has actually ceased to use terrorism and other forms of political violence. The article argues that Fatah represents a case of mixed disengagement; it was selective, conditional and mostly only behavioural. However, despite the disengagement process only being partially successful during the Oslo period - and reversed considerably during the al-Aqsa Intifada - it has had some lasting effects on the organisation, making it less likely to re-engage in terrorism.

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Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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