Popular resistance

Given up on liberation

Many militants are coming round to the view that, as well as the enemy being the Israeli occupation forces, there is an enemy within too. Lorna Anderson reports.

This is the first of two articles that look at the development of the struggle in Palestine, the nature of the Palestinian Authority and the importance of the political economy of Israel’s occupation for the future of the ‘popular resistance’ movement. It draws on my observations during a recent visit to Palestine. On October 31, Khalida Jarrar, a member of the suspended Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and supporter of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was arrested in Ramallah by Israeli troops. Her detention was extended by an Israeli court on November 3, although no reasons for her arrest have been given by the authorities. Like many other Palestinian activists, Jarrar is no stranger to Israel’s jails: she has been arrested twice since 2015 and was only released from prison in February after serving 20 months.1 At the time of writing her fate remains unclear - will she be accused of a specific offence or simply held without charge in administrative detention? Jarrar’s prominence as a political figure and women’s rights campaigner has drawn international attention to her case, but in many ways what has happened to her is quite typical of the treatment of the over 5,000 Palestinians currently held by the Israeli state.

Khalida Jarrar’s case tells us a great deal about the nature of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the current state of politics on the West Bank. Jarrar was arrested in central Ramallah, effectively the capital of the Palestinian Authority. Ramallah lies in ‘Area A’, which under the terms of the Oslo accords is one of the three districts over which the PA has full civil and security control, but which Israeli troops enter at will to arrest activists, frequently with the collaboration and cooperation of the PA’s security forces.1 A central theme of the peace process from 1993 was the ‘two-state solution’: in return for recognising Israel, the emerging Palestinian Authority would be the basis for an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza. However, Jarrar’s detention, along with that of the hundreds of other Palestinian prisoners, shows where the real power lies in the West Bank. The ‘state’ that has developed during the peace process in no way fits the description of autonomy - much less that of the much-heralded stepping-stone to a fully independent state at some point in the future.2

My previous reports from Palestine outlined the political and economic power that the Israeli state exerts over the PA and the impact that this has on the everyday lives of the Palestinian people.3 In this report I would like to consider the nature of the PA and some themes that are emerging in the discussions amongst Palestinian militants about the way forward. It goes without saying that there is widespread cynicism about the PA and the political leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. Its collaboration with Israel - evident in cases like that of Khalida Jarrar - only adds to a sense that the PLO leadership has long since abandoned the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. To many activists, whose attitudes and militancy were forged from the first intifada onwards, the Abbas leadership is now exposed as a corrupt and self-seeking group of cronies, simply intent on holding on to power and feathering their own nests. It is no surprise that increasingly in discussions you hear the view from these militants that today the real enemy lies at home.

These criticisms of what one comrade described as the “sclerotic clientelism of the PA” are both widely expressed and easy to make. What is less clear is the strategy and tactics that should be adopted. For many the first intifada of 1987-93 remains a model of mass struggle that should be revived. Ideas of ‘popular resistance’ of this type remain strong, and discussions usually begin with ideas of how such a movement can be resuscitated. However, whilst it is recognised that local protests against ‘the wall’, the settlements and particular examples of Israeli state repression and arrests are still taking place throughout the West Bank, most agree that the extent and scale of these actions are somewhat more limited than even five years ago.4 These more sober assessments recognise that the conditions that gave rise to the first intifada cannot be repeated. For example, the geo-political context of the cold war and the widespread revolutionary confidence that sustained 1980s national liberation struggles globally have been replaced by the dominance of American imperialism and a series of defeats for revolutionary movements, from South Africa to Ireland. The revolutionary strength of the first intifada produced the peace process, which transmuted the goals of national liberation into the betrayals of the Oslo accords and the dead end of the ‘two-state solution’.

Linked enemies

If the mass struggle of this period cannot simply be recreated by an act of will, it remains an inspiration of sacrifice and heroism, and a formative experience for contemporary activists. Significantly, in discussing how an intifada can be rebuilt the more important question of why it should it be built at all quickly comes to the fore. The Abbas and Fatah leadership have responded to these growing demands for change by promising new elections to the PLC and suggesting that, for the PA, ‘areas A, B and C’ were no longer in place.5 They have also attempted to co-opt demands to rebuild popular resistance by supporting protest actions against the settlements and the wall, although their definition of ‘the occupied area’ is clearly limited to the PA territory as defined by Oslo rather than “Palestine from the river to the sea” - in the words of the popular chant heard at demonstrations.

Any grassroots movement built from both the existing popular resistance committees and the new ad hoc groups that have emerged from specific local protests in the West Bank must be clearly independent from the PA and the Fatah leadership. Despite the recent ‘militant’ words of Abbas, the PA continues to play an openly counterrevolutionary role, both in its open cooperation with Israel and in upholding a ‘two-state solution’. Clarity on this is an essential starting point for any new movement. Popular resistance should be directed at two linked enemies - the occupation by the Israeli state and their PA collaborators.

In the discussions now taking place amongst Palestinian militants, strategy and tactics must also be linked to a revolutionary programme. This is still, understandably, at a very early stage. Given the defeats that the labour and national liberation movements have suffered internationally since the late 1980s - not to mention the bloody stalemate following American imperialism’s interventions in Iraq and Syria, combined with the failure of the Arab spring - it is no surprise that many activists remain sceptical that a revolutionary movement can be rebuilt at all.

The experience of the PA and the disillusioning failure of the ‘peace process’ to secure even modest gains for Palestinians only reinforces such moods. It is in this light that two interrelated strands in the discussions attempting to chart a way forward for the popular resistance movement need to be viewed. Both attempt to internationalise the Palestinian struggle by drawing on the ‘South African model’ and the importance of ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ in mobilising support. The ‘South African model’ correctly understands the importance of mass struggle by the black working class through strikes and protests in ending apartheid. The nature of the PA which functions as a series of Bantustans adds further credibility to this comparison, as do the obvious similarities between the white minority regime in South Africa and the Zionist project in Israel. But, if a real revolutionary movement is going to emerge in Palestine, it needs to understand the differences in the contemporary situation and that of South Africa in the 1980s, as well as assessing the results of that struggle.

The political economy of the PA and its relationship with Israel is not the same as apartheid South Africa. For example, around 100,000 Palestinians either work in Israel or in West Bank settlements; Israeli policy has been to reduce dependence on Palestinian labour, both on ideological and security grounds. Whilst Zionism’s ‘Jewish labour’ policy was weakened after 1967, Palestinian workers do not have the same decisive role in the Israeli economy that the black working class did under the apartheid regime. Indeed, in the last 20 years Israel has actively encouraged immigration from China, Africa and the Philippines to substitute for Palestinian labour in its economy.6 Although an important asset for Israeli capitalists, the exploitation of Palestinian workers is not a key factor in the occupation. Indeed, many Israelis debate whether the costs of the occupation and its impact on Israeli society make it any kind of asset at all, much less a profitable source of economic advantage.7

It is these implications of the political economy of the occupation and its impact on the possible evolution of the Palestinian struggle that I will discuss further in my next article.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Bank_Areas_in_the_Oslo_II_Accord#Divisions.↩︎

  2. www.haaretz.com/1.5142158.↩︎

  3. Weekly Worker October 3 and 10 2019.↩︎

  4. For some examples of recent protests in the Jordan Valley see https://imemc.org/article/peaceful-protesters-suffocate-as-israeli-soldiers-attack-demonstration-in-jordan-valley; and https://electronicintifada.net/content/palestine-pictures-october-2019/28806.↩︎

  5. https://mondoweiss.net/2019/10/palestinian-general-elections-more-empty-promises-from-abbas. For Abbas’s position on Areas A, B and C, see www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-07/26/c_138258279.htm.↩︎

  6. www.haaretz.com/israel-news/business/.premium-bank-of-israel-cites-advantages-of-palestinian-workers-1.5331908.↩︎

  7. S Hever The political economy of Israel’s occupation London 2010.↩︎