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SOAS’ Conference on The Left In Palestine, The Palestinian Left.

22 March 2010

Socialism and Resistance meets in London.

Session Three: The Left of the PLO ‐ West Bank and Gaza Strip. From right to left: Chair: Dina Matar (School of Oriental and African Studies) Muhammad Jaradat (Campaign Unit Coordinator for BADIL) The Left’s Lessons from the First Intifada Toufic Haddad (Researcher for BADIL and Journalist) The Left in the Post‐Oslo Era Aitemad Muhanna (Swansea University) The Rise of Hamas, the Fall of Leftist Ideology? Jamal Zahalka (Chair, National Democratic Assembly/Tajamu and Knesset Member) The Relationship between the Palestinian Left in Israel and WBGS: Joint or Separate Struggle?

Session Three: The Left of the PLO ‐ West Bank and Gaza Strip. From right to left: Chair: Dina Matar, Muhammad Jaradat,Toufic Haddad, Aitemad Muhanna, and Jamal Zahalka. Picture by D. Rivera.

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has held its annual conference dedicated to Palestinian studies, researchers and activists. This event gathered an unusual group of leftist thinkers that rarely can be found in a single place. Authors and experts such as Azmi Bishara, Ilan Pappe, Leila Khaled, Gilbert Achcar, Sabry Hafez and Jamal Zahalka among others made a great effort to present and share with the audience issues and challenges that the Palestinian left has to face since the end of communism in Russia.It would be difficult to summarized all the lectures in a short post, and despite the risk of over-simplifying the complexity and variety of matters, I dare to introduce here part of the discussions.[1]

Azmi Bishara (former Knesset member in exile, writer and political leader) argued that since the fall of the Soviet Union, leftist movement have experience a serious decline not only in Palestine but around the globe. The paramount role that the Palestinian left played in the Palestinian resistance against the Zionist occupation has been diminished by the lost of financial, logistical, ideological and material support from Moscow.

Under these circumstances, the  Palestinian left chose to support al-Fatah, heavily criticized now for its corruption and ties with the U.S. while Hamas gain a lot of popularity through a new strategy based on four pillars: defense and resistance against the aggressor through gorilla-suicidal warfare strategy, the establishment of a welfare system with the creation of schools, clinics and other social projects that are having a great impact in Palestinian camps and other occupied territories like the Gaza strip, the creation of an independent financial network and its alignment with the regional resistance led by Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. In this regard, Aitmad Muhanna (Swansea University) gave us a first hand account about how Hamas’ popularity grew considerably in Gaza after the first intifada. She explained us how difficult was for the Palestinian women the rise of Hamas in Gaza and the fact that she as many other women had to follow new rules such as wearing the scurf (Hijab) did not diminish women’s ability to participate in politics and the resistance.

The vacuum left by communist was soon fill by Hamas in a process that started in the first intifada in 1987 and reached its peak after the Palestinian legislative election in 2006. This was the first time in Palestinian history that the secular and dominant al-Fatah lost its control of the Palestinian camp. Perhaps this lost was interpreted by many Palestinians as the only hope and option to free Palestine after decades of unfruitful negotiations led by the PLO and al-Fatah. The hope for change was soon overshadowed by bloody clashes between Hamas and al-Fatah, initiating the most serious and worrisome crisis that the Palestinian leadership has ever had. According to different speakers in this conference, the Palestinian people are exhausted and confused over these power struggles, and the support and popularity of the these two parties is declining among the population. This was the main issues discussed by Jamal Zahalka, Palestinian and member of the Knesset, who mentioned in his lecture: “many Palestinian are tired of the corruption and inefficiency al-Fatah and turned their vote to Hamas not because they supported their political positions or believes but because they thought that they were voting the less evil of both of them.”

The fighting between factions is a clear sign that there is also many doubts about how the resistance could better manage the struggle against Israel. There is a lack of hope and trust about the capacity of any of these two movements to change the situation in Palestine and this is a rare opportunity that the left could used to expand its constituency. The population is caught between radicalism and collaborationism and the left seems to be searching for its right place in order to become a third viable option that would engage the youth and the emerging leftist movement with those indecisive activists in both camps. The left has an “historic opportunity” to augment its constituency, Jamal Zahalka mentioned, and although we have to be realistic about our limitation to become a leading option due to Hamas and al-Fatah popularity, the left could become the “agent of change” if increases its constituency.

I have no doubt about the capabilities and abilities of the left to become a third option however I would like to open a debate about how this could be achieve. In the conference, the audience claimed the increasing necessity of coordination and networking among activists, in addition to an open platform where the various and sometimes very different movement that support the Palestinian cause could gather. What was more problematic and, unfortunately could not be discussed properly due to time restriction, was the kind of alliances that should be established on the ground.

The Palestinian left has two options and neither of them are easy. On one side, It may continue with its support to al-Fatah which from the ideological point of view is closer but their dialogue strategy with Netanyahu’s cabinet and other Israeli governments has repeatedly failed. The latest Israeli announcement about its plans to build another 1600 new homes on East Jerusalem is just another example of how serious is Israel about achieving peace and reconciliation. On the other side, Hamas has a clear vision of the role of the resistance and has rejected any negotiations with Israel under such terms, even if it does mean to die under attacks such as the one perpetrated by the IDF on Gaza one year ago. We could characterized Hamas a suicidal and fanatical organization against many key values supported by the left, religion is the opium of the people – and religious figures in Islam have always regarded communists as kafir or infidels– but it has succeeded in bringing up to the front the struggle against the occupation with their relentless resistance in the Gaza massacre last winter; now the entire world knows what it means to negotiate and live under such a brutal regime. The left should be aligned with Hamas and al-Fatah should follow, realizing that there is not other way to deal with the occupier.

The questions I would like to share are: will Hamas honor this alliance taking into consideration different views and means to resist? Does the left assume the risk of being diluted into Hamas or on the contrary, the left could help moderate some of Hamas’ positions such as rocket lunching and other operations?


[1] http://www.soaspalsoc.org/docs/The_Left_in_Palestine_SOAS_conf_2010_timetable.pdf

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