50 years of Palestinian struggle: A critical analysis

By Gilbert Achcar

In 2017 and 2018, a series of anniversaries have been and will be commemorated. From the 50th anniversary of the June 1967 war, to the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel and the start of the Nakba (Catastrophe) in 1948, the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, and the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan of 1947. It is a catastrophic history to which we must add the 10th anniversary of the dividing of Gaza from the West Bank in 2007. 

Between these dark anniversaries, however, there are also brighter ones, including the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Palestinian resistance, shortly after the 1967 defeat, and the establishment of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which would become the most prominent left-wing faction in the Palestinian liberation movement after Fatah.

Perhaps the brightest of these Palestinian national anniversaries is the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada – the wave of popular struggle that was launched from Gaza in December 1987 and which the PFLP played a prominent role in. This great Intifada, named the Stone Revolution at the time, peaked in 1988, and represented the greatest chapter in the history of the Palestinian struggle to this day, as well as its most successful moment.

The participation of the men, women and youth of Palestinian society was highest during the first year of the Intifada, presenting to the entire world one of the most successful and prominent examples of self-organizing through popular committees in history. This confused the Zionist state and created within it a deep crisis that extended to all of its institutions, particularly its military forces. It also pushed many youths and intellectuals in Israel to stand against their government, some going as far as to radically critique foundational Zionist myths. Additionally, the Intifada led to an increase in negative perceptions of Israel on a global scale, completing the degradation started during the Zionist invasion of Lebanon five years prior to the Intifada.

From a historical perspective, the Intifada resulted from the fizzling out of Palestinian armed struggle, which began after the defeat of 1967 and was made final with the forced exit of the PLO’s fighters from Beirut.

This period of armed struggle, which relied primarily on the Palestinians of the diaspora, played a major role in putting the Palestinian cause back on the agenda of the international community and global public opinion, but also failed to liberate one inch of Palestinian land. The Intifada inaugurated the second stage of the Palestinian struggle based on the masses whose lands fell under Israeli occupation in 1967. Its momentum was powerful enough to force the Zionist state to give up the direct governance of high-density areas within the Occupied Territories and to hand their administration over to the right-wing of the PLO administration headed by Yasser Arafat.

The Oslo Accords of 1993 allowed the Zionist state to placate and reign in the Palestinian people as it accelerated its settlement project on 1967 lands. The situation exploded into a second Intifada in the fall of 2000, during which Palestinians in the OT fell into the trap of raising arms against an enemy that out-armed and out-equipped them by far. Everyone knows the story of how the Oslo-derived Palestinian Authority transformed into an authority of collaboration with the occupation under Abu Mazen.

What is the lesson from this long path of struggle? It is, in the first place, that the Palestinian people cannot impose their rights on the Zionist state through armed struggle if they are to do so alone, but can achieve greater success alone through popular struggle.

The situation now is one in which the Popular Front, which played a very important role in the stage of armed struggle up until the Lebanese Civil War, played a greater role, nay a leading role, in framing the popular Intifada on 1967 lands, especially by leading the Unified National Leadership of the Uprising.

The question then becomes: why did the Popular Front not succeed in building on this great role, but rather suffered from atrophy while the role of Hamas, which was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood after this very Intifada, grew significantly? Is the answer in the Front’s reluctant acceptance of what was decided by the Palestinian National Council in Algiers in the summer of 1988, a decision which accepted the state of Israel and laid the groundwork for the unfortunate Oslo Accords, while Hamas played the role of radical opposition to all of the PNC’s policies? 

What is certain is that the Palestinian left will not rise again except by taking a strong, radical position against both reactionary poles of Palestinian governance, represented by Ramallah’s Palestinian Authority and Gaza’s Hamas, in order to build on the revitalization of self-organization witnessed on the Palestinian scene on 1967 lands 30 years ago, and to build on the revival of the Palestinian National Council as a framework for the struggle of the people of Palestine in all of their diversity, under the condition that it changes its organizational structure democratically to end the over-representation of one party over the rest.

Translated by Omar Abbas. Edited by Sophie Chamas

(Originally published in arabic in El Hadaf, Dec 11, 2017)