The pitfalls of Palestinian national consciousness

24 August 2009

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Fatah leaders, including some of those newly elected to the Fatah Central Committee, pray next to the tomb of the late Fatah leader and founder Yasser Arafat, 13 August 2009. (Omar Rashidi/MaanImages)


The sixth congress of the Fatah movement, held in Bethlehem earlier this month, gave us a front row seat to the closing act of an important period of Palestinian nationalism.

True, the conference was held on Palestinian soil, but, ironically, under the watchful eye of Israeli soldiers. The failure of the Palestinian Liberation Movement (Fatah) to achieve any of its declared goals was symbolized in its holding the conference under occupation. This reflects not only the demise of Fatah — the faction that dominated the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for decades — but the general demise of contemporary Palestinian nationalism.

A national liberation movement that started with such slogans as “the only way to liberation is through the barrel of the gun,” and “liberation from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean,” and “the right of return is sacrosanct,” has moved into the post-colonial condition without achieving independence. The specter of the Oslo accords was everywhere at the conference, but no one wanted to refer to it. All those ex-fighters-turned-politicians would not have been granted an Israeli permit to enter Israeli-controlled territory had it not been for the Oslo accords.

The opening speech given by Fatah chairman Mahmoud Abbas was approved as the political statement of the conference. The speech itself was the manifestation of what Oslo, Taba, the Road Map and the Annapolis summit aimed at; namely, the transformation of the Palestinian cause from one of self-determination and liberation into a charity case to which the slogan “independence” is applied. Critical appraisal of the last 20 years since the convening of the fifth Fatah congress, or even the period since the disastrous Oslo accords were signed in 1993, was never on the agenda. Questioning the logic of Israel’s tolerance of the conference was also a taboo.

The U-turn taken by the Palestinian right wing as represented by the founding and current Fatah leadership should not come as a surprise as it has historically expressed an undemocratic worldview, both in general and in relation to the Palestinian agenda in particular. This lack of democracy is, of course, the outcome of its direct, intimate contact with the official Arab regimes.

As a result of this dominant orientation, this leadership, with the complete backing of the NGOized “left,” could not accept the results of the January 2006 Palestinian elections. (In the years since Oslo was signed, foreign funding of non-governmental organizations — NGOs — staffed by leftists, led to the depoliticization and demobilization of these groups. This is what “NGOization” refers to). As most critical intellectuals have argued, these elections, in fact, were the only non-ethnoreligious elections in the entire Middle East to date. Instead of learning from previous historic mistakes, and instead of building on this unprecedented achievement for people power in the Arab world, the leading Palestinian secular force opted to focus on creating convoluted justifications for its failure to secure convincing electoral gains.

Through mechanical and self-pitying analysis of events in the Gaza Strip, Fatah has made its position clear: the situation in the Gaza Strip has been caused by the democratically-elected Hamas. There is no mention of the role of the US General Keith Dayton who is training anti-resistance militias nominally under the control of the Palestinian Authority, nor of the Israeli wish to eradicate all forms of resistance, nonviolent or otherwise.

Oslo has been associated with corruption and the selling-out of principles of self-determination (as defined by international law), and liberation.

Now, the stated goal, for which rivers of blood flow (and the blood is not yet dry in the streets of Gaza), has become the establishment of an “independent” Palestinian state in any dimension — the “two-state solution.” But how that would lead to the implementation of UN resolution 194, which calls for the return of the Palestinian refugees and their compensation, is a mystery in the minds of Palestinians observing the conference. How a Palestinian state would end the brutality of the apartheid system against 1.4 million indigenous Palestinians who are citizens of Israel is another disturbing question that the conveners preferred to duck.

Ignoring the paradigm shift resulting from the Gaza massacre and reiterating the long-held belief that sees accords signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as the only political route to a Palestinian state, is an indication of the loss of faith in the power of the Palestinian people to reclaim their land and rights. This approach is a repudiation of the undeniable, unprecedented steadfastness shown by the people of Gaza, the growing forms of popular resistance in the West Bank, and the success of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Instead, again and again, we are asked to rely on the benevolence of the US, the European Union and reactionary Arab regimes to give us a truncated state, as if Gaza 2009 did not happen.

Not a word was mentioned about the fact that Israel has rendered the establishment of an independent state on 22 percent of historic Palestine — the West Bank and Gaza Strip — impossible. Many Palestinian and international critical thinkers have already reached the conclusion that the two-state solution has come to an end, thanks to Israeli colonization in the West Bank. What, then, is Fatah’s — and the rest of the Palestinian national movement’s — alternative?

What we saw in Bethlehem is the embodiment of Frantz Fanon’s “pitfalls of national consciousness” — albeit with a Palestinian gown. The irony, of course, is that Fanon was theorizing about the future post-colonial states after independence. He wrote of neo-colonial subjugation of the native elites. Black cars, fashionable suits, bodyguards, are some of the characteristics of the rising nouveaux riches of (occupied) Palestine. Fanon wrote scornfully that “[t]he national middle class which takes over power at the end of the colonial regime is an underdeveloped middle class. It has practically no economic power, and in any case it is in no way commensurate with the bourgeoisie of the mother country which it hopes to replace” (emphasis added).

But are we, in Palestine, close to the end of the colonial regime? Here is the crucial difference between the national bourgeoisie of, say Algeria or South Africa, and our own. Ours have fetishized statehood before attaining independence, a game — unsurprisingly — encouraged by the US, Israel and even the official Arab regimes. What is independence at the end of the day? A national anthem, flag, ministries, premierships and presidencies? We already have them.

For Fanon, the cycle of delusion, ostracism and dependency goes on unabated after independence. But we are yet to get there!

Haidar Eid is an independent political commentator.