What Now for the Palestinian People?

Palestinian children taking part in Gaza's Great March of Return. (Photo: via Social Media)

By Rima Najjar

The West Bank is under threat of annexation by Israel now; the caged Palestinians in Gaza are clamoring, at a grassroots level, for the right to return to their homes and property a few kilometers away in Israel, as per UN Res 194, and being pushed back with brutality. The “deal of the century” is looming darkly in the horizon.  So, what next for the Palestinian people?

It ought to be crystal clear but curiously isn’t to the media that, rather than deter Palestinians from their decades-long struggle to free Palestine, the collusion between the Trump administration and some Arab governments to impose “the deal of the century” on Palestinians will radicalize the mainstream Palestinian population, and plunge the struggle into, at the very least, another intifada (uprising).

At the heart of the matter is the struggle for the collective rights of the Palestinian people as a whole. What Palestinians are interested in are the questions of who is capable of undoing the disastrous consequences of the Oslo Accords; who can hold Israel accountable; who can build grassroots strategies for steadfastness rather than simply “ruling”?

But the reality is that Palestinians must contend with the complexities and failings of the political structures they already have.  Which political bloc is likely to emerge as stronger, once the chips are all down?

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Today, in addition to Fateh (also spelled Fatah) and Hamas, the political party most likely to emerge as a strong contender in the vacuum that will emerge after Mahmoud Abbas (now 83) is gone from the political scene is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), whose revolutionary strategy for the liberation of Palestine as published in February 1969 differs from that of Fateh’s pragmatic and concession-based approach .

As Khaled Barakat writes:

“The PFLP’s strategy emphasizes that we are not starting from scratch. There is no zero point in thought, history and struggle, and the Front is a democratic revolutionary party with a rich historical experience of half a century. It has lived a permanent, continuous experience amid battle and confrontation. The march of half a century of right and wrong, achievements and setbacks, and we want this situation to remain consistent with the general goals of the revolutionary party, a necessary condition for progress and growth.”

PFLP General Secretary Ahmad Sa’adat has been Israel’s political prisoner for 13 years now, but he and his comrades continue to be steadfast.

Another leader, Khalida Jarrar, recently released from Israeli administrative detention, is also steadfast.

What’s happening today in Palestinian politics is dismal, but there is hope.

In 2012, the UN recognized the “right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine”, but what transpires politically in Palestine is not happening in an independent Palestinian state; it is happening in the occupied West Bank and encaged Gaza Strip.

Palestinians have a new prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, whose political affiliation is with Fateh, the party that has control over the Palestinian Authority. This party is loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, who has little popular support or relevance, and run by Fateh strongmen known for their corruption and occupation profiteering.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which is supposed to represent all Palestinians, including those in exile, is Fateh-dominated, its National Council having elected Abbas as the Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee (May 4, 2018).

Keep in mind that neither Hamas nor Fateh (in the form of the PA) possesses political autonomy. Economically too, Israel has sole control over the external borders and collects import taxes and VAT for the Palestinian Authority, trimming what it passes on to the PA at will.

Some background and context on Palestinian representation:

It’s important to understand that the Palestinian government in the occupied territory derives its legitimacy from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The PLO was formed on May 28, 1964, to unite Palestinian political movements from the extreme right to the extreme left under one umbrella and approve the Palestinian National Charter , which proclaimed in Article 2 that “Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.”. The Palestinian National Charter legitimized support for armed struggle as a strategy of resistance against Israel and affirmed its morality.

The creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was prompted by a desire on the part of Palestinians to move away from the disastrous conventional political and military approach of the Arab Higher Committee in 1948.  The PLO quickly moved towards, as ‘Isam Sakhnini put it in 1972, “an autonomous Palestinian action by which the Palestinian people will address themselves to their cause directly and not vicariously.”

Early on, the Palestinian groups that espoused guerilla warfare against Israel emerged as the new leaders of the PLO. Less than a year later, Yasser Arafat, the head of Fateh, became chairman as both Fateh and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) made substantial political gains.

All that changed when the Oslo Accords established agreements between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO made huge concessions before even entering negotiations in order to be recognized by the United States after it had secured United Nations and Arab League recognition as “the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

And as Osamah Khlalil shows in Oslo’s Roots: Kissinger, the PLO, and the Peace Process – Al-Shabaka,

“The PLO leadership, in particular, key figures in Fateh, sought to establish a relationship with Washington at the expense of other Palestinian factions.”

In 2017 Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, organized a roundtable discussion among Palestinians on PLO and Palestinian Representation, in which the topics of discussion were the following three issues: Reforming the PLO, Representation Under Occupation, Leadership to What End?  Al-Shabaka is an independent, non-partisan, and non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law.

Fateh today dominates the PLO because the party of the “pragmatic approach” to the struggle of Palestinian liberation since Oslo has been the dominant and increasingly authoritarian party in the Palestinian Authority administration.

Now that the Oslo Accords, which had held them back for more than two decades, is defunct, the reform of the PLO or the formation of a new organization to represent all Palestinians is inevitable.

– Rima Najjar is a former professor (now retired) at Al-Quds University, Palestine. She comes from Lifta, Jerusalem and Ijzim, Haifa and currently lives in the United States.

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