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Palestinian Left: Needed, Overdue

Thursday 7 November 2013, by Haidar Eid

“The struggle against the Zionist enterprise could last another hundred years; those lacking the stamina should step aside.” George Habash

A “new,” representative Left is necessary, free from Oslo. It must act with other resistance forces to strategize and build on international solidarity to confront the Zionist, imperialist onslaught. If the Left fails to develop an alternative, we will be dealing with the Fatah-Hamas dichotomy for a long time. Haidar Eid explains.

The status of the Left and its role in the liberation of Palestine continues to be the focus of analysis and discussion. The opportunistic and unprincipled position taken by what I would call the right-wing, neoliberal, NGOized “Left” of the PLO vis-à-vis the standoff between Hamas and Fatah is yet another indication of the Left’s inexorable deterioration which followed its implicit acceptance of the Oslo accords—despite its alleged opposition to that agreement. In fact, the People’s Party (ex-Communist Party) never opposed the accords, but rather legitimized them by its acceptance of ministerial positions in almost every government formed since establishment of the Palestinian Authority. And both the PFPL and the DFLP participated in the Legislative Council elections of 2006, thus providing legitimacy to one of the most important institutions of the Oslo Accords—an issue to be discussed at a later stage.

Judging by statements and analyses presented by the main Left organizations and individuals, one could conclude that, in spite of its rich revolutionary tradition, the Left has been hijacked by right-wing cabals whose interest is intertwined with that of the political elite of Oslo. Although I fail to understand how a nation can have elections under the boot of a brutal occupying power, I, like most residents of the West Bank and Gaza, still naively thought that the Palestinian Left, and liberal forces for that matter, would seize this “unique opportunity” which arose as a result of that democratic process in January 2006 and support and strengthen it in order to democratize the Palestinian national movement in a way that would weaken the authoritarian—not say dictatorial—grip of the right-wing of Fatah on the politburo of the PLO . The long held slogans of “from and for the masses” and “long live the people” turned out to be hollow.

No honest supporter of the Left would disagree with the statement that the Oslo agreement has brought disaster to Palestine. In the words of the late world-renowned Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, Oslo was a “second Nakba.” It brought an unprecedented level of corruption into Palestine; and security coordination with Israel has become the norm. To guarantee itself an easy ride, the controlling party—itself hijacked by a right-wing cabal —has managed to bribe the major secular forces belonging to the PLO. Most members of the political bureaus of the major Left parties are either directly employed by the PA, or get paid monthly salaries without being directly employed! Does that not jeopardize their position vis-à-vis the dissolution of the PNA as called for by some respected Palestinian activists and intellectual? Those who are not employed by the PA have become directors of mushrooming, Western-funded NGOs, with all strings attached to that funding! 1993, the year Oslo was signed, ushered the taming of the Palestinian revolutionary Left into an Osloized, evolutionary political force.

However, instead of harnessing all efforts to fight the outcome of the Oslo Accords, and instead of respecting the outcome of the 2006 elections and working on the formation of a united front with the party that won the elections with a clear majority on a platform of resistance and reforms, the Left has, alas, fallen in line with the undemocratic methods adopted by the controlling party (Fatah) and failed the historical test. I am aware of the differences within the Left itself, but I am more interested in the position of its supposedly most radical faction, i.e. the PFLP. In its statements and in most interviews with its leaders, the PFLP has shown an unexpected undemocratic position by mainly dovetailing its position with that of the unelected government in Ramallah and the ’ancient’ leadership of the PLO. They went on to turn a blind eye to the open secret of General Keith Dayton’s widely circulated plan to orchestrate a coup de’ tat using the PA security forces against the Hamas government - in effect colluding in a plan to subvert the democratic choice of the people. By claiming to be taking a neutral position, but blaming Hamas for defending itself against General Dayton and General Abrams plans to oust it and liquidate the Palestinian cause altogether, the PFLP has taken not just a short-sighted position, but an opportunistic one. Not a single PFLP leader in Gaza and the West Bank has mentioned the names of the American generals and their roles in the bloody clashes that took place in Gaza in June 2007. In fact, Abdul Rahim Mallouh, Deputy Secretary General, has made it more than clear in almost all the interviews he has given to Palestine TV (itself a tool of right wing propaganda) that Hamas is responsible for the current situation. Other senior PFLP leaders in Gaza have reiterated the same position. None of them seems to be aware of the role played by the American generals in arming and financing the internal conflict in Gaza.

In support of the unconstitutional Ramallah government, the Palestinian Left in Gaza has been revived within the PLO so that it can fight the caretaker right-wing government of Hamas. “Freedom of expression” has become the new slogan of the Palestinian left, but with great selectivity. For example, the banning of two Hamas affiliated newspapers in the West Bank; the shutting down of the offices of Al-Aqsa Satellite Station; the imprisonment of political prisoners by the PA without a trial or charge; the PLO decision to return to the negotiating table; the shutting down of charity organizations in the West Bank; the obstruction of The Goldstone Report at the SC of the UN; and the brutal force with which the PA security forces attacked anti-Oslo demos—have not motivated the Left to take a principled position that would “persuade” the official leadership of the PLO to reconsider its positions.

To understand the reasons behind the rapid deterioration of the Palestinian Left, especially following Hamas’ June 2007 take-over of the Gaza Strip, one needs to scrutinize the verbalized positions of its’ leaders. Interviews and media statements made by Abdul Rahim Malouh, Deputy Secretary General of the PFLP, indicates that the PFLP has chosen to support the right-wing within Fatah. Amazingly, this is also the position of the DFLP and the People’s Party, in spite of the pro-American agenda spouted and supported by the official leadership of the PLO, not to mention the latter’s numerous violations of the BDS criteria, around which there is a national consensus, and in spite of the numerous normalization meetings attended, or called for bythe chairman of the PLO and members of the Central Committee of Fatah and politburo of the PLO.

The U-turn taken by the Palestinian Left should not come as a surprise since it has historically expressed an undemocratic world-view, both in general and in relation to its Palestinian agenda in particular. This lack of democracy is, of course, the outcome of its Stalinist ideological orientation. As a result of this dominant orientation, both the People’s Party (which recognized the disastrous Partition Resolution of 1947) and the DFLP (which made the proposal that led to the interim solution later accepted by the PLO and leading to the two-state dogma), could not accept the results of the January 2006 Palestinian elections. By accepting to take part in those elections, the Palestinian Left, like Hamas, has made it crystal clear that it was prepared to accept the outcome of the infamous Oslo Accords. These elections were at the time the only non ethno-religious elections in the entire Middle East. Contrary to popular Western myth, these elections once again proved that Israel is NOT the only democracy in the region. Israel on the other hand, is a democracy for Jews only, exactly like South Africa’s Apartheid democracy was for Whites only. Instead of building on what seemed at the time to be an unprecedented achievement for people’s power in the Arab world, the Palestinian secular forces chose to focus instead on creating convoluted justifications for their own failure to secure convincing electoral gains.

At the time, some activists argued that the Palestinian elections, despite only representing only 1/3 of the Palestinian people, i.e. West Bank and Gaza residents, could have ushered in a new era with the potential to consolidate real democracy in the Middle East: it would have shared its political and social dimensions with other established Liberal democracies. But it was not to be. The Palestinian Left, who have been compromised by their participation in the PA itself, have allowed themselves to be emptied of their revolutionary program, thus the retreat to Stalinist tactics to ensure the rejection of the outcome of the elections. Only a lack of a revolutionary programme can explain their current support of the undemocratic and dictatorial wing within the PLO. Through its undialectical and self-pitying analysis of events in the Gaza Strip, the Left has made its position clear: the situation in the Gaza Strip has been caused only by the democratically elected Hamas and there is no mention of the role of American Generals John Abrams and Keith Dayton, Gone is historical materialism, and anti-imperialist discourse. Empty rhetoric has turned out to be the weapon not only of “Arab reactionary regimes;” it has been adopted by the Left itself. Stalin would have been happy to see his disciples at work in Palestine.

In a different context, I call it “Osloization.” That is, a combination of corruption, a selling-out of revolutionary principles and sloganeering. The ultimate goal of the current river of blood has become the establishment of a Palestinian state in any dimension, i.e. the two-state/two-prison solution. The one state solution, as in the South African example, is, for the Palestinian Left, a Utopia! They fail to explain how 7 million Palestinian refugees will return to the Israeli State of the Jews and an independent Palestinian state will be created at the same time. Nor do they outline how the PLO will be reformed to include other popular organizations, i.e. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, while it is being hijacked by the same people who have been controlling it for more than 40 years and who are the allies of the left. They offer no proposal to end the current schism between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank other than a “return to the pre-June 2007 reality.” Nor do they show any resistance to the security coordination between the PA and the IOF in the West Bank, or even a serious challenge to Hamas’s repressive, autocratic rule in Gaza.

Furthermore, some argue that the Palestinian Left is dead and has subsumed its historic role to that of the right wing within Fateh for too long to be considered an independent force anymore. Others argue that the Left’s participation in the PLO is necessary because the PLO is a Palestinian national achievement that was created to embody the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. This view sees the PLO as a coalition of most Palestinian political organizations who subscribe to the Palestinian National Charter and the Interim Program. A key demand in the Interim Program is the right of Palestinians refugees to return to the villages and towns from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948 - a right also guaranteed by UN resolution 194.

With the rise of the two-state solution as a possible resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and more especially following signing of the Oslo Accords, the official leadership of the PLO began to use the right of return as a bargaining chip in its’ endless rounds of negotiations with the Israelis. However, in spite of this, they have never clearly and directly indicated a willingness to abandon this right in its entirety. It was only in the semi-official Geneva Document— rejected outright by almost all political parties and civil society organizations in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, 1948 Palestine, and the Diaspora— that an attempt was made to force Palestinians to give up this right in exchange for a truncated ‘state.’

Mahmoud Abbas has in some recent interviews (with theIsrael’s TV Channe2 TV and with the Israeli Haaretz newspaper) indicated that as he does not expect Israel to accept the return of 5 million Palestinian refugees, he therefore is willing to accept a symbolic return. Here we have the chairman and head of the executive committee of the PLO, clearly abandoning the right of return. In doing so, he sends a very strong message to more than 5 million refugees that their horrific exile has no end; and that moreover, they are not part of the Palestinian people because the PA, gaining political power at the expense of the PLO, represents those who live in the West Bank and Gaza.

Following this seismic change, one has to ask what still remains of the Interim Program and the PLO and in fact, what remains of the Palestinian question at all. What is the position of the left-wing organizations that are represented in the executive committee, after these declarations? Surely the organizations representing the left within the PLO cannot continue to participate in the executive committee of the PLO. What rationale can they possibly have for their "ongoing commitment" to a PLO that they say has been "hijacked?" Are their supporters to be satisfied with their condemnations of the interviews and the tired mantra of calling for reforms? The heavy burden of the legacy of Stalinism is still stifling the Arab Left in general, and the Palestinian in particular. This is one of the major differences between the Arab/Palestinian Left and that of Latin America.

The Left needs, with the utmost urgency, to present both its analysis of the current situation in Palestine and its alternative programme. Undoubtedly, the participation of the Left, including ‘radical Leftists’ in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, legitimized both the elections, and as a consequence of the elections being legally based on the Oslo Accords themselves.

The dominant political discourse in Palestine sees the Accords and the PA as the only political route to a Palestinian state: this analysis has lost faith in the power of the Palestinian people to reclaim their land and relies instead on the largesse of the US , EU, reactionary Arab regimes to give them that state.

Taking this important issue further, the concept of ’disparticipation’ needs to regain the ideological power that it is claimed to have lost. To disparticipate is to put the legitimacy of the actually existing order at stake, and to argue for other alternatives/possibilities at the same time. Put crudely, to participate as a candidate is to legitimize pragmatically. It is an ideological distortion to claim that elections for the LC were a manifestation of plurality—in plurality there is no exclusion of ideas whatsoever. (Needless to repeat that the Diaspora refugees never participated in these elections.) However, any opposing radical points of view should work ’within’ the system as the only legitimate ones, as incorrectly claimed by those who called and participated in the elections in the presence of the occupation. Rejecting the system and its political, and even ideological, basis by revealing and opposing its exploitative, distortive, authoritarian features would have led to exclusion and accusations of ’illegitimacy’. Even if one is not ’persuaded’ by the Oslo Accords, one is still expected to accept them; otherwise, one is considered ’undemocratic’ and ’radical’ even though the elections are not taking place in an independent state.

The PLO has demanded that all factions accept the PA and participate in elections, forcing some left organizations to falsely claim that elections for the LC were a manifestation of plurality. This has resulted in a situation in which political legitimacy is only granted to those who agree to work within the system.

Mesud Zavarzadeh and Donald Morton[i], in a different context, put it very persuasively, "...the options come down to either being ’persuaded’ of the legitimacy of working within the system and thus accepting the existing structures, or finding that there is no space for radical change. Disparticipation as a revelation of the socio-economic and ideological basis of the elections is rejected completely by the official participants because it points out the illegitimacy of the existing system by a refusal to ’play the game’ according to its distorted manipulative rules, and because "it is to point out the possible which is suppressed in the pragmatic is" (Zavarzadeh and Morton 150:1994). Of course, the alternative should also emphasize the importance of democratic elections but this can only be legitimate if they take place in an independent sovereign state—be it on 22 or 100 percent cent of historic Palestine.

The PLO is not a state; rather, it is the vessel of the Palestinian national liberation movement. Elections have never taken place to elect the members of its National Council. But this also allows for a tactical move: you can keep your "seat" within the unelected National Council and resign your position in the Executive Committee since it legitimates concessions made by the controlling party. Furthermore, the PLO’s is considered as the “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” As a national liberation movement, it is essential for the PLO to speak with one voice. The question that the Left, represented in the politburo of the PLO, has failed to address, following the 1993 Oslo Accords is the representation crises resulting from the creation of the PA as the only authority in the West Bank and Gaza. Is there a way of addressing the democratization of the Palestinian national movement, which the Left has been paying lip service to, without seriously challenging the predominance of Fatah within the PLO?!

The Left-wing organizations ought to, dialectically, analyze this particular moment in the history of the Palestinian struggle for liberation. What is, for example, their contribution to the rising debate about the one state solution? If most of their ideologues have recently reached the long-gone conclusion that the two- state solution has come to an end, thanks to Israeli colonization policy in the West Bank, what, then, is their alternative? The PFLP, for example, claims to support a secular, democratic alternative, but also supports the racist two- state solution as a step towards that strategic goal! This is unlike accepting the defunct Bantustan system, engineered by the architects of Apartheid South Africa, and justifying it by using the same argument, .e a step toward liberation. The more Stalinist PP and DFLP are for “an independent state in the WB and GS.” The former’s Stalinist stand is displayed in its numerous arguments in support of its recognition of the extremely problematic 1947 UNSC Resolution 181 which called for the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Jewish minority, 660.000 out of 2 million people, was offered the larger part of the land, 56 percent.

Moreover, Left organizations must rather show more interest in backing the call for the BDS campaign, launched by more than 170 Palestinian organisations in 2004. This call has been backed by progressive organizations all over the world because it represents a progressive and challenging alternative to the status quo.

The creation of a Palestinian Bantustan in the GS and WB which denies the right of return is not a political programme that could ever gain legitimacy among the Palestinian people. A Palestinian state without the right of return is slavery, not liberation. The Palestinian cause is the right of return for all refugees and nothing less because the “original sin” is the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, the Nakbah.

The Palestinian Left has a historical mission that it has failed to live up to; a mission that should take resistance and democracy as the two torches which will lead to freedom. Alas, it has failed miserably and what is left of the Left is just empty rhetoric that has nothing to do with the rich legacy of the historical leaders and fighters that radicalized the concept of struggle, not only locally, but also internationally. This Left has not been able to adapt to the new realities which face the Palestinian people. The current leadership of the Left has lost “the stamina” referred to in the epigraph, quoting one of the Left’s most charismatic leaders, and therefore it “should step aside!” Judging by the outcome of the recent municipal elections in the West Bank, again under the barrel of the occupier’s gun, where there was low voter turnout since Hamas did not participate and Fatah was split; the leftist parties did not receive a significant number of votes or seats. Osamah Khalil, in a different context, sums it up: “Without a significant improvement in organizing, fundraising, and outreach it is highly unlikely that the Palestinian Left will be able to revive its moribund status if participatory elections for the PNC are held. Instead, much as they experienced in the PLO after 1988, the Palestinian Left’s desperation for relevance will be used to further the agendas of stronger parties whose positions and platforms are antithetical to their own.”

A “new” Left is, therefore, necessary; a Left that is completely free from the Oslo legacy; one that can provide a democratic alternative to the two-state industry; a revitalized Left that offers the masses, to use a word that is loved by the Left, hope of succeeding where the previous efforts have failed; a Left with a different way of thinking about what the post-Oslo, Post-Cold War Left looks like. It must be truly representative and it will require abandoning the previous Stalinist, undemorcatic structures. This “new” Left must, together with other popular forces of resistance, strategize and build on international solidarity and boycott campaigns, in a united front, to confront the Zionist and imperialist onslaught. And if it is unable to develop an alternative revolutionary program, and divorce itself from the two-state dogma, we will have to deal with the Fatah-Hamas dichotomy for a long time to come. Without de-Osloizing and de-Stalinizing itself, the Palestinian Left will remain irrelevant.

[i]Zavarzadeh, Mesud and Donald, Morton. 1994. Theory as Resistance: Politics and Culture after (Post)structuralism. New York: The Guilford Press

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University and a policy advisor with Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.