Edition 2: No. 74
The Left and political options in Palestine
In this Q&A (See below article titled ““Revival of the Palestinian left: an outline” (see article below) AIC and OPGAI postulate some pertinent ideas which serious consideration not just for Palestine but for civil society in every part of the world.
The Q&A outlines the political challenges to the Left in Palestine, the Alternative Information Centre (AIC) and Occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI).
The writers ask: Why is the Palestinian left so weak in the face of these monumental challenges and what can it do to revitalise its role within Palestinian society?
They proceed to postulate that “the Palestinian left has a crucial role to play in promoting the socio-economic and political interests of the Palestinian people in the face of Israel’s strengthening occupation, the debilitating division between Fatah and Hamas and the economic crisis in Palestine.” Badayl-Alternatives offer this article to readers as yet another important insight into yet another of the political equations that can define the future of Palestine.
Around the world coherent left political alternatives are virtually non-existent. The struggles of the oppressed around the world are no longer the rallying point of the traditional Left. Political developments ignore an ineffective and disempowered Left for just that reason- their inability to rise up to the challenges posed by the declining economic and political fortunes of the vast masses of the oppressed groups- indigenous peoples, farmers, working classes, and other ethnic groups.
The support of the Left forces around the world to the apartheid struggle was significant and a major factor in dismantling of the apartheid system. The same cannot be said of the Left interventions at any level in the case of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. This is not to say that the Left has been absent in the struggle for Palestinian rights- just that the global decline of the political Left has left Palestinians deprived of an important ideological base of support and of the solidarity of the oppressed classes.
It is a gloomy prospect that Palestine does not have vibrant left forces that can tilt the scales in the dialogue for peace because it is only the left which can create massive public mobilization, to the occupation and bring greater ideological clarity that will, in the end, make a real variation in the nature of talks.
The situation is ripe for the emergence of a new left that must group together with progressive forces in civil society who may not necessarily define themselves as the ‘left’ but share the same paradigm of justice. The fusion of such left and progressive forces could well provide the defining leadership towards a just settlement of the decades of dispossession and continued displacement that Palestinians face. In solidarity with this grouping, left forces around the world must rally around the Palestinian struggle and mobilize the streets and civil society forces/churches who have dared to say “Enough is enough”. From there must follow viable patterns of struggle that will bring the occupation on its knees and submit to the demands of the international community of those to whom justice and only justice matters.
Revival of the Palestinian left: an outline
The Palestinian left has a crucial role to play in promoting the socio-economic and political interests of the Palestinian people in the face of Israel’s strengthening occupation, the debilitating division between Fatah and Hamas and the economic crisis in Palestine. Why is the Palestinian left so weak in the face of these monumental challenges and what can it do to revitalise its role within Palestinian society? Nassar Ibrahim explains in outline form, and responses are most encouraged.
Why is the Palestinian left so weak and marginalised?
Both external and internal factors have led to a weakening of the Palestinian left.
Objectively, there are three external factors which weakened the Palestinian left:
1. Fall of socialist bloc: This was a strong blow to all leftist movements around the world, and the Arab Middle East was no exception.
2. Weakness of European left: The weakness of the left in Europe has a detrimental impact on the Palestinian left, for left-wing movements around the world were dependent and influenced each other.
3. Rise of political Islam: This process began with the 1979 Iranian revolution and carried through the First Intifada and the Oslo process. As the paradigm of the left declined, that of political Islam increased. Hamas and the other Islamic groups were supported by the global movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, while Fatah was supported – both politically and financially – by the western powers. The left, now lacking in external support, began to perceive itself as an orphan. Additionally, there are eight major internal factors which contributed to the weakening of the Palestinian left:
1. Historical failure to unite: The existing plethora of leftist groups reflects a selfish attitude of their leaders, who allow tactical differences to take precedence over the existing strategic basis for unity.
2. Failure to analyse, meet social changes: The Palestinian left did not analyse, theoretically or politically, the profound changes within Palestinian society in the past twenty years. How did the Olso process, for example, impact the class struggle and social balances of power? Is Palestinian society precisely as it was prior to the First Intifada? What about the evolving role of women, youth, compradors, the bourgeoisie? What about Palestinians living in other countries? An effective political programme must necessarily be based on a real analysis of social reality, something the Palestinian left is currently lacking. Given this lack of analysis, the Palestinian left continues to employ old terminology and discourse, discourse incapable of effectively meeting the challenges of an evolving reality.
3. Ineffective response to rise of political Islam: The left took an extremely marginal role in reacting to the rise of political Islam and its impact on society, for example on women’s rights. Given the religiosity of Palestinian and Arab society in general, it is crucial that the left respond to this issue in a nuanced and intelligent manner, without abandoning its secular principles.
4. Failure to understand technological developments: Technology is not a minor, “technical” matter but one with profound political implications.
5. Internal organisational structure: Is the current structure of leftist parties, most of which practice central democracy, still an effective structure? Will such a structure attract new activists from the younger generations? The internal structures of parties must necessarily change, based on the aforementioned social analysis, from which both programme and form must be derived.
6. Failure to address Fatah-Hamas division: It was the historical task of the Palestinian left to mobilise the Palestinian people, the social movements, to pressure both Fatah and Hamas to reach reconciliation. The left proved unable to perform this vital role, which could not have been taken on by anyone else.
7. Insufficient relations with the Arab world: The Palestinian question is a pan-Arab one, and the Palestinians cannot effectively respond to western colonialism without strong relations with progressive Arab forces. The Palestinian left must be the national pan-Arab dynamic of the Palestinian question.
8. Negative impact of neo-liberal NGOs: The left has been negatively impacted by the neo-liberal discourse of Palestinian and international NGOs and “civil society”, losing its class analysis on the way. However, the left by definition must maintain an approach of political economy, employing it in ways relevant to today.
All of the above points impact upon each other, and all are reflected in the challenges of the left in Palestinian society: what is the role of leftists regarding Palestinian social and economic needs? Historically the left has focused primarily on the political issues and not the socio-economic ones. However, the left must find a balance between the political struggle on the one hand, and the social, economic and cultural struggles on the other. If one struggle marginalises the other, it is opportunism and ultimately to the detriment of both.
So, what can the left realistically do to overcome this weakness?
Becoming weak is a process, not a one-time event, and overcoming this weakness is also a process. Addressing the aforementioned points is key to this process.
1. Is the Palestinian left prepared to evaluate its role in Palestine and the region, to be self-critical and to change? Such an evaluation is foundational for moving forward. From here the left must conduct a deep analysis of changes within Palestinian society. Where did the Palestinian national movement fail and where can it be changed? What are the relations amongst the various groups of Palestinians – 1967, 1948 and those living outside? Following self-criticism and an in-depth social analysis, it is possible to define a concrete programme of action.
2. How can the left regain respect from Palestinian society? The left must return back to be part of street, the social movement, be close to the people. Without the people, the left is nothing; we are not waiting for assistance from the angels of God, like the Islamic groups, or financial support from the West like Fatah. The sole way for the left to reactive its role is to gain support of the Palestinian people, which is an ongoing process in and of itself.
3. Renew internal structures, leaderships; push new generation forward for leadership roles. We must trust the youth, and here the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia serve as an example for us. Prior to these revolutions, many thought today’s youth are empty and lacking in wider social concerns, yet we see that they are changing the history of the Middle East.
4. How to unite the Palestinian left: This is a historical question that must be faced sooner or later. Without such unity, internal competitions will continue, weakening the left even further. The basis for unity amongst the various left-wing groups is stronger than the reasons for divisions. To be a real force, the Palestinian left must unite.
What should the goal of the Palestinian left be in the coming year?
1. Transform into accepted leaders on the popular level: This is assuming the left conducts a critical analysis of both itself and the socio-economic and political situation of Palestinian society;
2. Rebuild relations with the Arab and global progressive forces
3. Directly confront the Fatah-Hamas division in Palestinian society
4. Protect socio-economic interests of people: Who but the left can protect the interests of the disempowered and middle classes in the face of neo-liberal economic policies promoted by both the PA and Hamas? There are other politically “radical” groups; it is the socio-economic aspects which distinguish the left from others.