The prolonged decay of the Palestinian National Movement
While the failure of the Palestinian National Movement (PNM) in achieving its stated objectives is widely acknowledged, the causes of this failure are subject to interpretation. The central argument of this article is that the priority accorded by the PNM’s leadership to the statehood ambition over the liberation precondition is a principal factor as it led to transformation of the PNM through the Oslo process. As a consequence, the PNM was stripped of structures, functions, and characteristics typically associated with national liberation movements and therefore categorizing the PNM in its current state as an anti-colonial liberation movement is specious and flawed.
Academic debates on the success and failure of liberation movements have identified a complex set of factors that shape the opportunities and outcomes of national liberation struggles. Some scholars emphasize the role of internal factors in determining the outcomes of a national movement. Among these factors are the leadership’s competence and charisma, organizational efficiency, resource availability and mobilization, the movement’s internal structure, national unity, social mobilization capabilities, and strategies of armed insurgency (Arreguin-Toft, 2001; Krause, 2014; Staniland, 2012). Other scholars suggest that the outcomes of national liberation struggles are chiefly determined by external factors. Most notably, these include the structure of power relations in the regional and international arenas, strategic and tactical alliances, transnational solidarities, international anti-colonial norms, and external support for liberation movements (Manela, 2007; Smith,Chatfield, & Pagnucco, 1997).
While examining the interaction between internal and external factors is necessary to understand the profound shocks that engulfed the PNM’s multiple structures and functions, this article focuses on a distinct dimension that contributed to the failure of the PNM, and which cannot be found in earlier experiences of national liberation. This is the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) obsession with the very idea of statehood,which emerged on its agenda in an early stage and gradually eclipsed the struggle for liberation. What makes the statehood ambition in the Palestinian context particularly problematic is that its ostensible implementation preceded decolonization. This stands in sharp contrast with almost every historical experience of national liberation, which affirmed that ‘colonial domination, nationalist emergence and struggle, and postcolonial state- and regime-building form a path-dependent chain’ (Boudreau, 2013, p. 171).
Political authorities in societies subject to colonialism can be divided into two principal categories: first, those structured by the context of ongoing colonization; and second,those that emerged in the immediate aftermath of decolonization. The first category comprises native political structures that were established, patronized and directed by the colonial administration, especially in the context of systems of indirect rule (Geschiere,1993; Lange, 2005). These structures were typically dominated by an acquiescent elite which administered local systems of governance through patronage and the use of coercive and cooperative methods to discipline colonized subjects (Killingray, 1986). Such rule by colonial prefects was viewed as the antithesis of national liberation struggle and was inevitably challenged by liberation movements. On the other hand, decolonization was typically accompanied by, and was conducive to, the emergence of the postcolonial state, which gained recognition as independent and sovereign following revolutionary victory or a negotiated transition. Most postcolonial states derived legitimacy from legacies of anti-colonial struggle; former leaders of liberation movements became political elites and their movements were transformed into ruling parties (Médard, 1996; Witsoe,2011). The combination of revolutionary rhetoric and modern state-building often failed to satisfy popular aspirations, as many postcolonial states were governed by autocratic or military regimes characterized by corruption, incompetence, and political exclusion(Médard, 1996; Witsoe, 2011; Young, 2012). Moreover, most postcolonial states were incorporated into a system of unequal economic relations with their former colonial power and with the capitalist world at large, which resulted in an advanced stage of indirect colonialism, widely referred to as neocolonialism (Alemazung, 2010; Barongo, 1980; Gladwin & Saidin, 1980; Koshy, 1999; Nkrumah, 1965).
For decades, the PNM, under its organizational umbrella –the PLO, founded in 1964– followed a path similar to that of other anti-colonial movements: constructing national identity, waging resistance, mobilizing and representing its people, and forming transnational alliances. However, the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 effectively broke the path-dependent chain leading through decolonization. The post-Oslo Palestinian dilemma includes contradictions forged by simultaneous interactions between colonialism (military occupation, settler-colonialism and exploitation of resources); neocolonialism (economic dependency, political asymmetry and subordination); post-conflict state-building (technical institution-building, donors’ intervention and the pursuit of neoliberal policies); and indirect colonial rule (governance through an acquiescent elite, security coordination, and suppression of resistance). This ensured continued asymmetric interaction between Israel as the colonial power and the PNM.
This status quo indicates the extent to which the PNM has been coopted and contained within a limited self-governing authority, functioning in harmony with the expansionist dynamic of Israel’s colonial expansion. The asymmetric power relations as reflected in the Palestinian Authority (PA)–Israeli coordination committees on matters of security, economic policy and civil affairs assimilate the logic of indirect colonial rule. Contrary to classical forms of indirect colonial rule, the Israeli formula is not exercised by a traditional local elite, but by what was once seen as an anti-colonial organization. This dynamic has been accompanied by an expansion of Israeli settlements, the erection of surveillance and military installations, and the imposition of discriminatory laws and regulations. As such, a highly developed and sophisticated system of apartheid has in recent years come to characterize Israel’s colonial order (Dana, 2017; Jacobs & Soske, 2015; Pappé, 2015; Peteet, 2016; Yiftachel, 2005).
The objective of this article is to shed light on the tension between the liberation mission and the state-building venture as a factor that contributed to the PNM’s historical failure and present decay — with the term ‘decay’ suggesting the degradation of crucial functions and structures associated with anti-colonial movements. The article proceeds by tracing the historical development of the statehood trend within the PNM, which over time supplanted the objective of liberation, leading to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. The article then explores how the dynamics of Oslo and the advent of the PA stripped the PNM of essential anti-colonial capacities. The last three sections of the article turn to the post-Oslo transformation of the factions representing the main ideological currents within Palestinian politics: Fatah, representing secular nationalism; Hamas,representing political Islam; and the largest leftist force, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
National Identities ISSN: 1460–8944 (Print) 1469–9907 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cnid20…
Palestine; national liberation movements; anti-colonial struggle; state-building; Oslo Process