The urgent need to revitalize the Palestinian Left

It is worrying how the colonized, oppressed Palestinian, using left-wing jargon, has legitimized a racist solution disguised by liberation slogans. This has led to the disappearance of checks and balances from Palestinian politics and ultimately to the onslaught of right-wing politics on Palestinian basic rights as materialized in the Oslo Accords and the transformation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as two mega prisons, as the courageous Israeli activist and historian Ilan Pappe describes them in his book, The Biggest Prison on Earth.

The mainstream Palestinian Left basically consists of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and the People’s Party (ex-Palestinian Communist Party) all of which are, to various degrees, Marxist Leninist and considered themselves to be, like the Arab left, allies of the Stalinist Soviet Union during the cold war era. The collapse of the Stalinist Soviet Union was a fatal blow to all those organizations that had linked their fate to Stalinism. In fact, the Soviet Union supported the establishment of Israel as a solution to the so-called “Jewish Question” in Europe. This is why the Palestinian Communist party recognized the UN partition resolution 194 of 1947 dividing Palestine into two states, one for Jews and another for Palestinian Arabs. The ex- Communist party at the time failed to see the apartheid dimension of this catastrophic resolution which, alas, led to the 1948 Nakba.

As a result of adopting a Stalinist interpretation of Marxism, the Palestinian Left has historically expressed an undemocratic worldview both in general, and in relation to its Palestinian agenda, in particular. Lack of democracy and endorsement of the USSR’s position vis-a-vis the Palestinian cause, especially the two-state solution, were of course the outcome. The collapse of the USSR ushered the taming of the Palestinians Stalinist Left into an Osloized, evolutionary political force, ultimately leading to its implicit acceptance of the Oslo accords by accepting ministerial positions and participating in the Legislative Council elections of 2006, thus providing legitimacy to the institutions of the Oslo Accords.

It is very interesting to note that, in 1974, it was the Stalinist, left-wing DFLP which proposed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian “conflict” in the form of an interim program, but it was the Palestinian right-wing leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that adopted it and has turned it into a fetishized ideology, namely, an independent Palestinian state on 22% of historic Palestine, leaving the remaining 78% for apartheid Israel. 

The DFLP, in particular, takes pride in propagating the two-state solution i.e., two states based on ethno-religious identities, one for Jews and the other for Palestinian Arabs. This is, to my mind, the antithesis of left-wing and secular politics. But this is the legacy of Stalinist ideology that has been prevalent amongst left-wing circles in the Arab World and in Palestine.  

No wonder, then, that most Stalinist left-wing organizations in Palestine show a strong opposition to the secular democratic alternative, i.e., the establishment of a secular democratic state on the historic land of mandate Palestine, a state for all of its citizens regardless of their ethnic, religious, or gender identity. The exception is the PFLP which accepts the two state-solution as a step towards a secular one in historic Palestine. 

This is precisely why it is of paramount importance to come up with an alternative program of emancipation and liberation that moves away from the demagogic slogans of the Stalinist Left represented on the politburo of the PLO and dovetailing its right-wing leadership.

No to “flag independence”

The death of the Communist Party after the collapse of the Soviet Union, combined with the fact that the DFLP barely exists anymore on the ground, the apparent weakness of the PFLP, and the politics of NGOization adopted by the Palestinian National Initiative led by Mustafa Barghouti, means there is not a meaningful option within the existing Palestinian political structure for left-wing politics. An alternative political force that is grounded in grassroots politics, including BDS, is needed. With popular resistance in the areas occupied in 1967 and those colonized in 1948, with the mobilization of Palestinians living in the diaspora in refugee camps in particular, the Palestinian cause would definitely take a different path to freedom equality and justice. 

Without this serious soul searching and in the absence of a critique of the past 72 years, in general, and 52 years in particular (i.e., since the emergence of contemporary Palestinian Revolution led by the petty bourgeoisie in alliance with Stalinist left-wing organizations) the Palestinian cause as one of struggle against military occupation, apartheid, and settler-colonialism will certainly have to wait for a long time to be resolved. A bleak scenario would be for the Palestinian people to be left in the “political unconscious,” as the Marxist thinker Fredric Jameson calls it, exactly like native Americans, Aboriginals, and Maori. For the time being, it is obvious that the leadership of the Palestinian people, left and right, has unfortunately accepted the apartheid alternative—albeit beautified in the jargon of independence and Palestinian nationalism. 

What boggles the mind is how these organizations still believe in the so-called two state solution in spite of the fact that Israel has been following a strategy of colonization that has thwarted any future chance of creating an independent Palestinian state next to Israel by simply constructing irreversible facts on the ground. What we have ended up with in the Gaza Strip is an open-air, maximum security prison separated from the other prison in the West Bank. These two prisons cannot make a “sovereign, independent state” make, unless one calls ‘la la land’ a state, or what the late revolutionary intellectual and freedom fighter Amilcar Cabral derided as “flag independence.”

In the end, ss much as I emotionally understand the “logic” behind the two-state solution, I still cannot fathom as to how the left-wing in Palestine could not see the racist dimension implicit, and sometimes even explicit, in it. I fail to understand how those organizations accepted the legitimization of right-wing politics leading to the bantustanization of Palestine. Theoretically speaking, and this is very hard to say, the Palestinian Stalinist Left has not improved its theorization of the status quo and the Palestinian question. Moreover, it has also failed to show any progress in its position vis-a-vis the relationship between the Palestinian struggle and our international allies in the form of intersectionality.

After Oslo

It is obvious that we are witnessing the end of an era. It is the era of the so-called two-state solution and the interim program of the PLO; the end of Palestinian nationalism as defined by the petite bourgeoisie and the unauthentic middle class.  Hence the need for a paradigm shift in left-wing theorization of the Palestinian cause. We need an alternative paradigm that is characterized by a complete divorce with racist solutions, and with the Oslo era and with alliances made with reactionary Arab regimes. We need a paradigm that is based on a serious revolutionary understanding of the situation, an understanding that does not shy away from calling a spade a spade, calling Israel an apartheid settler colony that is based on the denial of the existence of the native population of Palestine, and pronouncing that Israel is an apartheid state not unlike the inhumane regime that ruled South Africa from 1948 until 1994.

It was with the support of conscientious people, international civil society, and the struggle on the ground that apartheid in South Africa came to an end. Likewise, we need the support of international solidarity groups and activists, and we need to empower ourselves through our struggle on the ground by combining two major pillars of the struggle – BDS and popular resistance – in order to be able to form what Antonio Gramsci called the “historical mass” that can bring about the desired revolutionary change. That has to come within a clear-cut political vision that is necessarily secular and democratic, combined with a social agenda that guarantees the rights of the oppressed classes, those refugees living in miserable conditions in camps in Palestine and in the diaspora. 

The most important lesson one learns from the South African struggle against apartheid, is not to shy away from linking racism to capitalism and its exploitation of the downtrodden classes. This is, to quote Cabral again, the “form of struggle which we consider to be fundamental” and which should not be forgotten or underestimated, “the struggle against our own weaknesses.” That narrow nationalism based on identity politics that threatens to move us away from the “historical mass,’ and away from what Edward Said calls “a cacophony of voices.” 

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