What is the way ahead for the resistance? Lorna Anderson concludes her report-back on a recent visit to Palestine.
y initial aim was to give readers an impression of what I saw and what I heard during my time in Palestine. In this concluding article I hope to outline what I have learnt from my discussions with activists and discuss how they see the way forward. These observations must be, by their very nature, somewhat limited, but I hope that other comrades, both within Palestine and further afield, will respond to my report and contribute to the necessary discussion amongst Marxists about future perspectives for the Middle East.
This international context is central to any discussion amongst Palestinian militants about their struggle. On the one hand, this is a realistic appreciation of the wider geopolitical situation: the historical and contemporary role of the great powers in the Middle East and the strong grip of the Israeli state upon the West Bank. On the other, it reflects an understandable sense of isolation and weakness amongst many Palestinians. The role of the Arab states and the collaboration of the Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership and Palestinian Authority (PA) in containing the revolutionary struggle reinforce these moods and encourage the hope that either forms of diplomatic manoeuvre or direct international solidarity can break the deadlock.
There are few illusions that the United States - even under the most ‘liberal’ of Democratic presidents - will shift its strategy away from support for Israel. However, there is a belief that some European states might be induced, through internal political campaigns, to support the Palestinian cause and apply some form of moral persuasion on the ‘international community’. Hence the hopes invested in Jeremy Corbyn, seen as the most pro-Palestinian political leader in Europe, and the anticipation that his election could mark the beginning of a decisive turn in the attitude of European states towards Palestinian rights.
The calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions are central to this diplomatic strategy. These demands provide a focus for Palestinian solidarity movements to apply pressure on governments internationally by mobilising support for the campaign and, of course, such international protest is important in drawing attention to the occupation and the demands for Palestinian self-determination. From my own experience, the visits by ‘internationals’ to Palestine and social media coverage of protests in other countries are genuinely welcomed as tangible signs of support. Direct links of this type between the international workers’ movement and activists in Palestine represent real solidarity, based on common interests and joint action in struggle rather than humanitarian gestures or diplomatic calculations.
It is important that this type of solidarity, which links struggles globally against the common enemy - imperialism and capitalism - is clearly distinguished from the politics of compromise and capitulation which produced the peace process, the Oslo accords and the collaborationist PA. In my discussions with activists, these international dynamics, alongside the experience of other struggles, were eagerly followed and increasingly understood. Above all, for many Palestinian militants, as for all revolutionaries, the real enemy is at home: their central task is to build a movement based on a revolutionary programme that challenges both the occupation and the existing Palestinian leadership.
As my previous articles have indicated, there is plenty of raw material and discontent to draw upon. The PA is a ‘failed state’. The leadership under Mahmoud Abbas survives through a combination of clientelism, cronyism and the repression of opposition. It is a partner in the occupation, acting as a mediator between, on the one side, American imperialism and the Israeli state and, on the other, the Palestinian population, through the distribution of aid, the management of economic resources and maintaining access to political influence in its own hands. Although the Fatah leadership promises fresh elections or appears to support ‘popular resistance’ to the occupation, these are simply responses to pressure and blatant attempts to manage growing calls for change and real action.
The PA is preparing for life after Abbas and it is already evident that a younger generation of Fatah politicians is being lined up to step into the old guard’s shoes. Whilst refreshing the line-up at the top, and making radical speeches pledging that the struggle will continue until final victory, may buy some more, albeit limited, time for the leadership, the fundamental contradictions and instabilities in the PA remain. For younger militants the ‘two-state solution’ is dead: it has failed to deliver either a sustainable economic ‘peace dividend’ or a viable Palestinian state, free from occupation. It can only survive as an oligarchy beholden to Israel and propped up by aid from capitalist states. However, if there is understandably widespread cynicism about the Abbas regime, how important is the opposition and what does it propose to do about it?
There are a number of ‘left’ and opposition parties that are formally organised and have contested PA elections, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the Palestinian People’s Party, the Palestinian Democratic Union (Fida) and the Palestinian National Initiative. Whilst all are critical of the PA and the Fatah leadership to some degree, many of these groups have something of the status of a tolerated and licensed opposition. The PFLP has been the most critical of the Abbas regime and subject to both Israeli and PA repression, but the nature of its opposition to the ‘two-state solution’ and its attitude towards rapprochement with Hamas remains unclear. These groups have an historical base in the West Bank and can draw on established networks of militants for elections or agitation.
Some of the militants I met were loosely affiliated to these organisations, either through family or other local connections, but the depth of their ideological commitment to the stated positions of, say, the DFLP, was less than clear. What brought these militants together was their opposition to the status quo - both the occupation and the PA (which many saw as the same thing) and their activity in the various protests and ‘popular resistance’ against settlements and the Wall. They are organising local committees and linking up various districts to generalise their struggles.
However, whilst it is clear what they are against, they have yet to develop a positive programme of their own. At this stage the focus is on ‘action’ and forms of protest that draw on the model of the first intifada. These activists correctly see that those forms of mass action and deep-rooted resistance posed a real challenge to Israel’s occupation in the late 1980s. They can see how the strength of that uprising was turned back against the Palestinian masses by the collaboration of the PLO leadership with Israel during the peace process. Above all they can see the endless cul-de-sac that Oslo has produced. As long as this ‘stable instability’ of occupation and repression continues, so will protests. But, as long as the PA remains in existence, it too will repress and act as a brake on the Palestinian struggle.
A programme and an organisation for real revolutionary struggle can emerge from these currents if the experiences of the past 30 years of the peace process and the failures of the existing Palestinian left are fully explored and discussed. Central to building these new revolutionary politics is to look beyond the West Bank and to see how the struggles against the PA and the Israeli occupation are intimately connected to other movements and dynamics in Israel and throughout the Middle East. If a ‘two-state solution’ is impossible, a ‘one-state solution’ is equally utopian.
The Palestinian revolution can only ultimately succeed as part of a wider revolutionary transformation of the Middle East and the Arab world. Despite the apparent strength of the United States and its Israeli allies and the disarray of the forces in opposition to imperialism, the future of the region remains one of instability and turmoil. The historical experience of the masses generally throughout the Middle East has been one of struggle and a heroic willingness to resist feudal reaction and imperialism. Nowhere has this been better demonstrated than by the Palestinian workers and peasants.
It is only in these traditions and in this revolutionary programme that a way ahead can be found for the next, emerging phase of the Palestinian struggle.