Hard Times for the Left in Palestine
After a long journey in Palestine, the other half of Cafe Thawra is back to work. Our article brings us today to talk about the situation of the left in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Cafe Thawra has been able to meet a certain number of comrades all over the West Bank, with a fair majority still active in political parties while others acting as independents in institutions. Why concentrate and speak on leftist political parties while the situation in the Palestinian Occupied Territories is worsening with the ongoing occupation, the non stop building of settlements, while the direct negotiation between the Palestinian Authorities and the Israeli State are completely opposed by the people and perceived as a threat for Palestinian national interests and finally the division on the Palestinian political scene between Hamas and Fatah? This is why: I believe that the catastrophic situation on the Palestinian political scene is directly linked to the weakness of the Left in Palestine. This latter, which has played a key and even a leadership role in the Palestinian cause since the beginning of the struggle, is now quasi absent of any major political decisions and has no influence on the two political groups Hamas and Fatah. The left is actually powerless in the PLO and in the West Bank where the Fatah and people close to the rules of Mahmoud Abbas occupy the political scene, while in Gaza Hamas is the leading party leaving only small pieces for leftists. The Left is also not able to present itself as the alternative to the Palestinian people despite the division between Hamas and Fatah.
The left and the Oslo agreement
The Oslo agreements and the implosion of the USSR marked the beginning of the decline in the influence of the Left in the Palestinian society. The Left had to face an ideological crisis, what with the defeat of socialism against western liberalism, or at least with this perception by many at that time, only reinforced by the adversaries of the left in Palestine such as Hamas or Fatah or worldwide. Leftists ideologies and thoughts were therefore accused of being relic of the pasts.
The end of the Soviet Union also put an end to a great provider of financial resources for the left, which hence had to limit its activities. On the field, before the Oslo agreement, the Left was actually very active through many local popular organizations and used to deliver number of services to the population. The popularity of the left was notably greatly based on the services it delivered to the population, in addition to its political discourse. The establishment of the Palestinian Authority and the advent of thousands of International NGOs in the Palestinian Occupied Territories completely changed the atmosphere in the Palestinian society and leftist influence on the field. The Civil society has actually largely been replaced by governmental and professional non-governmental organizations that depend on foreign funding and are mostly unable to set their own agendas, a critic largely shared by leftist group.
The left is indeed not able anymore to deliver services because of their lack of resources, and after the Oslo agreement, PA institutions and INGOs were the substitutes for weak leftist organizations. The left could not in any way compete with this « new business » of donations from the International Community pouring money in the Palestinian society. The population in need of services has therefore turned away from the left in many aspects.
The ambiguous political opposition of the left in general towards the Oslo agreement did not help them as well. Firstly, there are different stands against these accords, ranging from strong opposition, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), or as the Palestinian Communist Party, which perceives the agreements as a possible first step for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but not without expressing certain reserves against it. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s position just followed Fatah’s stand, therefore acknowledging Oslo with no important critics. PFLP for example strongly rejects the Oslo agreements in its discourse, but the party is nevertheless still in the PLO which signed the accords, despite recent announcement from the PFLP leadership, mostly under the pressure of its members, to withdraw temporarily from the executive committee to protest against the direct negotiations between the PA and the State of Israel. Party members also participate and are present at all levels of the different institutions established by the Oslo agreement, which is a way to recognize it for many analysts.
Leftist participation in the PLO and the PA was definitely not a way to gain popularity and credibility towards the population, quite on the opposite, notably with the multiplication of corruption scandals and the complete failure of peace negotiations this past 15 years. Hamas’ success in the 2006 elections can besides be partially explained by its non-involvement in the PA or the PLO, which were by this time already considered as corrupted and failed institutions. The left, on its side, was not able to distance itself from the PA and the PLO, directly linked to it through different means such as financial resources, high positions and other advantages. In its great majority, the leaderships in leftist political parties are actually linked to the new system inherited from the Oslo agreement. The PLFP’s recent withdrawal from the executive committee of the PLO is certainly a first necessary step towards gaining credibility but many things still need to be done to distance itself completely from the PA, according to many specialists.
The unity of the left
The unity of the left has been a key issue for many years for members of leftist organizations and political parties. The division of the left on the field is definitely weakening all the different parties as well as their program. In the different elections, very rarely the left presents itself as a common and united group. Universities campuses are however the place where the different factions are more likely to present a united front. Unfortunately comrades in Palestine usually assist passively to a fratricide war between them. In the Palestinian legislative council, we only found 7 leftists deputies out of 130.
There have been attempts in the past to unite the left, notably the most serious probably in 2000 by the Secretary General of the FPLP Abou Ali Mustafa before its assassination by the Israeli army, which unfortunately did put an end to the discussion between the different parties. Following Abou Ali Mustafa’s assassination no debate or process of unification has been presented until today. Abou Ali Mustafa was actually a personality who could gather around him the left, but this should not blind us on the problems that made the unification over time impossible. Firstly, while the socio politico-economic programs of each party are quite similar, the opinions around the armed resistance are different. The PFLP on the one side has a hard stance on this subject, supporting very loudly and even participating in armed resistance. Their members are usually very proud of this position and they defend the resistance with passion. The PFLP has actually welcome the last operations of Hamas in the West Bank against the settlers in September. The PCP and DFLP on the other side do not encourage and do not call for armed resistance; in their view armed resistance has been and is counterproductive. They both claim that if armed resistance from the different groups had a true liberation strategy, they would join them, but they do not believe it is the case. DFLP ’s position, mainly for financial reason, is also closely linked to the PA, which is against armed resistance.
Another obstacle in the unification of the left is the feeling of « tribal affiliation » of comrades to their political faction and the enmity between the different groups. None of them are ready to make concessions towards unifications, each group believe that they are the best and sole representative of the left and that they have the right strategy to free Palestine, while others should follow them and submit to their leadership.
From time to time, we can nevertheless observe common declarations and positions taken by the different leftist groups these past few years such as the refusal to enter Salam Fayyad’s government despite ministries offers, as well as lately a common declaration from the PFLP, PCP and the DFLP opposing the direct negotiations between the Israeli State and the PA. Young leftists from 48 Palestine, the Occupied Territories and the Golan also gather and organize each year in Bethlehem a sort of summer camp of two weeks for the youth. Conferences and workshops are organized around varied subjects, as well as working sessions on the fields.
This is unfortunately not enough to speak of a united progressive front.
Relationships with the PA
The different leftists political groups have developed a clienteles’ relationship in many ways to the PA, which is the main financial and service provider in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The PA actually provides funds to the political parties, as well as jobs for many cadres of leftist parties. These latter are therefore in a position of client/patron with the PA, which takes advantage of it to weaken considerably any opposition. For example, leftist groups merely have now a token role in the PLO, all decision making powers now being upheld by the hands of Fatah and close associates of Mahmud Abbas. The PA, which is controlled by Mahmoud Abbas and its associates, actually receives the money from the international community and is in charge of its redistribution. The PA is therefore able to impose its decision on the PLO, and as leftist parties are financially dependent on this money, they finally balk to oppose. Equally, the numbers of leftist cadres working in the institutions of the PA prevent them to be fully critical of its general policy, fearing to lose their jobs. Many comrades expressed that if their parties had other financial resources separate from the PA, their political positions would definitely be much more critical towards the PA.
The lack of financial resources aside from the PA leads to a lack of autonomy of the leftist parties and their cadres in their political decisions and maneuvers. This has led many people within the Palestinian population to an identification of the left with the PA, a serious disadvantage if its objective is to be the alternative to it. The withdrawal of the PFLP might be a first step towards this much willed-for independence but many things should still be made to move away from the PA.
We should also point out that the PA has developed an important agency of secret services to limit opposition to its policy and resistance against Israel in the West Bank. The left, as well as Hamas, have suffered numerous arrests from these services such as Comrade Ahmad Al-Mesh’ati, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Nablus, who was kidnapped in Nablus by Palestinian Authority security and intelligence forces on Tuesday, August 24, 2010 or when the intelligence and police forces attacked, interrupted and shut down a Palestinian national conference against participation in direct negotiations with Israel in Ramallah on August 25, 2010. Organized by Palestinian political parties, independent figures and human rights organizations, the conference was convened in order to denounce the negotiations to be held under the auspices of the U.S. government as dangerous to the Palestinian national cause. Oppositions inside universities and on the streets have also become nearly impossible in many ways ; actually, leaflets and demonstrations criticizing the PA are rarely allowed. The PA went even further in forbidding demonstrations in 2009 against the war in Gaza. Those several examples show the difficulty of opposing the PA.
Relationships with Hamas
The relations between Hamas and leftist parties have evolved considerably from the end of the eighties until now. In the beginning, tensions were noticeable especially from Hamas towards leftist personalities, and the Islamic group was besides behind some assassinations of few comrades, especially in Gaza where the left was very powerful during the eighties. After the Oslo agreement, the situation changed and a rapprochement was operated between the PFLP particularly and Hamas which both opposed the accords, while DFLP and PCP were at the time supporting it. PFLP and Hamas have developed good relations since then, forming alliances in certain municipalities or universities elections. They actually shared common positions such as their opposition to the Oslo agreement or the necessity of armed resistance, while Hamas adopting more and more an anti imperialist discourse close to the PFLP. Hamas in many ways adopted the political program of PFLP in relation to the resistance, according to many comrades and also acknowledged by few cadres from the Islamic political party. The relations between Hamas and PFLP have been weakened and made more difficult since the division, many PFLP’s comrades denouncing Hamas behavior as being against national unity. Comrade Leyla Khaled notably denounced last August the actions of police and security forces in Gaza, under the authority of Hamas, who attacked a demonstration called for by the PFLP in Gaza, resulting in the injury of 21 members and supporters of the Front. The demonstration called for action regarding the electricity crisis facing Gaza. PFLP is now calling for national unity and to the end of the division, it is besides trying to play a role of mediator between Fatah and Hamas. For many comrades, the PFLP should not pursue a close relation with Hamas, which behaved just like corrupted Fatah after its arrival to power. For certain PFLP members, the party should only limit its collaboration with Hamas in relation to armed resistance, while denouncing violation of Human Rights by Hamas security forces, as they do it in relation to the PA.
Perception of Hamas is quite different according to DFLP and PCP. Firstly DFLP follows the Fatah’s and PA’s policy of constant opposition towards Hamas, while PCP’s position is less inflexible than them but always being very critical towards Hamas. Comrades from the PCP’s are very critical towards Hamas violations of Human Rights, and particularly against women rights. They condemn also Hamas undemocratic behavior since its victory in the 2006 elections that became as despotic as the Fatah, and therefore denounce for many the close relationship between PFLP and Hamas.
Many things could still be said on the left in Palestine, notably the lack of formation of new members as compared with the past who had to go usually through a six months training to enter the party or the lack of dynamism from ageing leaderships linked by personal interests to the PA. The weakness of the left for now few years definitely had severe consequences on the Palestinian cause, as we can besides observe with the division on the political scene between Hamas and Fatah or the failed second Intafada which did not achieve any objectives and was not able to gather the population behind it in terms of resistant activities as the first Intafada did and where the left played a key role in this popular uprising. The left needs to become a suitable alternative for the people, the Palestinian do not believe it now, quite rightly besides, and it is the duty of the left to demonstrate it can play this role. The left must present first a united front with a progressive political program and show its independence both from the Fatah on one side and Hamas on the other side. They must also work more actively towards national unity between Hamas and Fatah. They should also re-introduce unions to be closer to workers interests and demands, which they have neglected these past few years.
In conclusion I would like to thank the many comrades and Palestinians I was lucky to meet and spend times with, who continue to resist each in their own way, because as I read recently from a friend post on face book: between resistance and giving up only one solution is possible: Resistance!