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Home > Issue 21: Democratic Formation in Palestine Periodic Report (6) >

The Role of the PLO in Making the Palestinian Political System

by Hani Al- Hassan

The late historian Jamal Hamdan used to discuss Egypt s history from the angle of the genius of the place. A Palestinian historian discussing the history of the Palestinian political system cannot ignore the genius of the crisis of the place. (Crisis of the Place Al-Jiser) For centuries and centuries, Palestine has found itself time and time again stuck in history between global forces fighting over its land as if it really was the political center of the world. This explains why Palestine is an outcome of the interaction of historical developments on its land rather than an outcome of geography or a gift of a river.

The beginning of the twentieth century witnessed the holding of a workshop aimed at destroying the Ottoman Empire. This workshop was based on the connection between the decision of the Western European colonial powers to destroy the Ottoman Empire and their aim to control the Arab and Egyptian empires and establish a state for Jews in Palestine. As a result, Egypt and Greater Syria found themselves fragmented into smaller countries, each busy dealing with its national concerns. Sate Al-Husary portrayed the nationalistic situation by saying:

Here s a Palestinian considering Zionism the first problem to be dealt with, and there s a Syrian considering France s ambitions the greatest threats to the Arab cause, and there s an Iraqi emphasizing the necessity of revolting against the English before doing anything else.

The Palestinian tragedy was characterized by some kind of uniqueness. If each specific stage in the history of peoples and their political movements has its specific characteristics than the condition of independence is the first condition for the making of a political system with all it means both in academic and legal terms. However, Palestine was not known as a state, having the boundaries drawn by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, until it was placed under British Mandate. In deed, the above mentioned agreement was aimed at drawing the stage ( Palestine) that was going to be targeted by the Zionist invasion so as to establish on its ruins a racist entity called Israel. This would be achieved by exterminating the majority of the Palestinian people “ who own the land “ and fragmenting them on the global political map by stripping their land and national identity once and forever.

This brief historical background is necessary for shedding light on the tough birth of the political system of a people viewed since the beginning of the twentieth century as a surplus. The conflict over Palestine was characterized from the beginning by the interconnection and interaction between its local, Arab and international elements. This interconnection and interaction has deepened and widened with time, and has lead to two clear diametrical opposites which could be described as two sides of a coin. In the thirties and forties the leadership of the Palestinian national movement failed to utilize the divergence of interests between the local and the Arab in confronting the international because of the absence of a comprehensive strategy and existence of a personal crisis. As a result, the Palestinian national movement collapsed with the fall of the Palestinian government, the Palestinian political system disappeared and the Palestinians were fragmented into Palestinians of the interior and Palestinians of the exterior. In other words, Israeli citizenship was imposed on some Palestinians, while others had to become Jordanians, and the rest refugees.

In fact, the Palestinian people have forcefully become a people of refugees; some strangers in their land and others refugees outside their land. However, all of them, even the young, found that politics was imposed on them as a reality of life and had to learn because learning was their only way to survival. They joined Arab parties, thinking that they were on the verge of return. When they realized this was a dream, they began forming secret organizations and searching for a vision and a leadership through which they could resist their political dismissal and physical eviction and ensure their return.

This feeling was exacerbated by the tragedy of the 1967 war, the occupation of all of Palestine and the transformation of the problem of the Palestinian people from a political problem as viewed by Resolution 242. As a result, the idea of establishing a Palestinian national movement that is neither submissive nor subservient began growing gradually. The most tangible turning points that lead to foiling the attempts to dismiss the Palestinian people and prohibiting the establishment of a world without a political system for the Palestinians (a state) can be summarized in the following positive historical turning points:

  • The emergence of President Jamal Abdul Nasser in the south and the Ba athists in the north, who considered besieging Zionism as a primary task of Egypt, Syria and Iraq.
  • The founding of Fatah Movement and its assumption of the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization after 1967, and the drafting of the Palestinian National Charter (Watani) as an alternative to the Pan-Arab Palestinian Charter (Qawmi).
  • The Intifada.
  • The founding of the Palestinian National Authority.

The Egyptian response to the challenge of the establishment of Israel and the defeat of the Egyptian army in 1948 was embodied by the Egyptian army s coup d etat against the monarchic regime and birth of Nasserism which was able to contain a Zionist attack for nearly 20 years. Nasserist Egypt concluded from its own experience the strategic importance of establishing a Palestinian political entity, so it worked with Mr. Ahmad Ash-Shuqeiri on establishing the Palestine Liberation Organization as soon as President Kennedy suggested, in his letters of 1961, resolving the Palestinian question in accordance with the partition plan and beginning to return half of the refugees to Palestine.

With the assassination of President Kennedy, the PLO became a political tool that was an extension of Nasserism. As the purpose of its establishment ceased to exist, it was transformed into a tool of national mobilization and expression of Palestinian national demands, within the framework of the Nasserist movement and its allies. Hence, the new political framework of the Palestinian political system was born from the womb of the Nasserist movement. It is true that it was formal, but Fatah provided it with content.

Since its establishment, Fatah worked on regenerating the Palestinian political system in a complicated political situation that necessitated adopting the policy of swimming against the political stream which prevailed at the time and which confiscated the Palestinian identity under the slogan of national struggle. The liberation of Palestine was second to the struggle for Arab unity, which was unattainable due to the existence of Israel.

After the 1948 defeat, the Palestinian national movement acquired exceptionally negative characteristics that were unfound in any other liberation movement in the twentieth century. These included its lack of immediate control over even a part of its people and natural resources. As a result, it had to lead fragmented people, the majority of whom lived outside their land and were governed by the reality and psychology of the refugee. This necessitated going along a road coined by Mao Tsi Tong as the impossible road, a road burdened by the weight of the confrontation along the borders of Palestine before being transferred after twenty-three years to the inside (the Intifada). This required from the beginning, gaining legitimacy that formed three necessary, albeit not enough, bases of implementing the national work plan. These are gaining the Arab legitimacy toward the Arab countries and the international legitimacy toward the international system while at the same time not losing the Palestinian revolutionary legitimacy which contradicted with the requirements of the Arab and international legitimacy.

Gaining Arab legitimacy ensures the legitimacy of the existence of the legitimate revolutionary leadership of the Palestinian people on the Arab lands to be crossed in order to clash with the Israelis. Moreover, it enables the establishment of a Palestinian political system enjoying moral sovereignty over all Palestinians wherever they were while at the same time coexisting with the Arab regimes, especially those of the belt countries.

The beginning of the modern Palestinian revolution (1965) was the legitimate revolutionary birth of the Palestinian people after the failure of the Arab Higher Council. Consequently, all belt countries except Syria resisted it.

The 1967 defeat proved the correctness of the Palestinian vision: that Israel was preparing for expansion since 1963 and that we had to fight in a war that was imposed on us and to prepare for its political consequences. This explains Fatah s behavior in 1967: instead of standing at the ruins, Fatah used its revolutionary legitimacy to ally itself with Nasserist Egypt to assume the leadership of the PLO, the practical and material embodiment of the official Arab recognition of the Palestinian national movement. It immediately formulated the Palestinian National Charter (Watani), as an alternative to the Palestinian Pan Arab Charter (Qawmi).

The birth of the Palestinian National Charter was a unique development on the road of rebuilding the national identity of the Palestinian people and laying the foundations of the relationship between the nation and the Arab.

Sarter has invented, on the tongue of Dopwavier,the expression a pot full of contradictions. The Palestinian people are full of contradictions in a way never witnessed in any other people in the Middle East. The Palestinian National Charter came to dismantle these contradictions and restructure them to serve a Palestinian entity having a national identity. It placed the Palestinian national struggle within the Arab national frame and emphasized that the Palestinian resistance did not have an independent plan from the Arab situation. But, it rejected the idea of timed succession between unity and return, explaining that they were dialectically correlative and that each served the other provided that each preserved the independence of its decision within the frame of its independent entity. Independence automatically breaks the battles of custodianship that have negatively shackled the Palestinian national liberation because positive custodianship means automatically canceling independence, as the case was during the era of President Jamal Abdul Nasser after 1967. Furthermore, the Palestinian National Charter made it clear that the PLO represented the Palestinian people wherever they were -identifying the Palestinian as any person born from a Palestinian father or whose siblings were born from a Palestinian father- and that every Palestinian was a natural member of the PLO.

In 1974 Arab legitimacy was secured when all members of the Arab League recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. With this the Arabs reconciled with Palestinian revolutionary legitimacy. The comprehensive official Arab recognition of the PLO was achieved in return for the latter s recognition of the redlines of Arab politics and a promise not to interfere in their internal affairs.

Consequently, the Palestinian national movement developed institutional content and form that prepared for the birth of the new Palestinian regime, although it was a small fetus. The PLO established a legislative institution in spite of the absence of Palestinian sovereignty over Palestinian land. Moreover, the Palestinian people were organized, mobilized and looked after socially, educationally and medically, etc. Furthermore, the PLO tried to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people and to secure their basic rights of work, mobility and residency under circumstances that necessitated extremely sensitive balancing on the Arab and international levels and working within the framework of conquering and ending the occupation. Hence, the framework of the PLO provided a political ground consolidated by the factions of the feda yeen (political parties) as a self-existent regional factor. This framework established a symbolic homeland for the Palestinian people and put the Palestinians on the road of transformation from a case into a cause, and from a past into a future.

The PLO, the State and the Current Political Regime

The difference between Al Toubawi(idealist)and the realist is that the only clear thing the first sees is the final aim, while the realist sees the steps leading to the achievement of that aim, and can achieve goals while preparing for transition at the same time.

The PLO has always mastered the operation of correctly seeing the steps leading to the target and possessed the ability to practice the processes of preparation and transition regardless of the human and material sacrifices that were made. With this it was able to undermine the possibility of absenting the Palestinian people from the political map of the world and to gain the world s recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to establish their state. However, it found itself for the first time in its history entangled in the trap of the Israeli containment and its mechanisms which are based on controlling the land and water and controlling the freedom of the Palestinians to move inside their land. This has dangerously threatened the nature of the upcoming state, as well as its regional boundaries, sovereignty, identity and representation of all Palestinians.

After Oslo, the Palestinian political regime found itself in a transitional stage between an occupation whose end has been declared (although it was still existent), and an independence that was celebrated with the establishment of the PNA. At the same time, the PNA found itself sinking in non-independence and subordination to a security-economy-water equation drawn by Israel in accordance with its ultimate interests. Paradoxes and probably even dilemmas that require intervention in order to be solved accompany a stage having such characteristics. These paradoxes can be summed as follows:

  • The relationship between the PNA and the PLO:

No two persons disagree that the PLO, which lead the struggle of the Palestinian people toward achieving their goal of return and establishing a sovereign independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, will have its duty ended with the realization of these national goals. When this is realized, the Palestinian people will replace its political framework with a new political framework, which is the framework of the state, not the framework of the authority.

The important question that requires an answer is how to react to this paradox. How to make the PLO crystallize, the axis of the authority- the state rather than the authority-control as the difference between the two is very wide.

There is a permanently existent interconnection between the national and the social, and realization of one cannot be achieved with the postponement of the other. The maximum limit of struggle against the Israeli existence is achieved through struggle against the internal because renewal of the internal always ensures conquering the external. The alternative to this is falling in the trap of the Israeli containment which aims, among other things, at keeping the Palestinian society in a state of stagnancy and allowing it to move circularly more than moving vertically if it was to move at all.

The process of terminating the Israeli occupation must be accomplished in the name of the future the authority-the state which means achieving the task of modernizing the Palestinian society through the process of terminating the occupation.

Modernization of the structures of the contemporary Palestinian society requires coping with modernization of the process of terminating the occupation because the two are parallel tracks and linking each with the other through an argumentative relationship enables each to serve the other. This requires setting integrated national visions of our civil society. Such visions must be based on freedom of will, which depends on democracy and social justice in distributing wealth.

Immediately after its establishment, the PLO laid the microcosmic foundations of the institutions of the state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Such foundations included municipalities, universities, schools, hospitals and sponsorship of health and housing projects.

More important, it consolidated the idea of plurality as a basis for the relationships between the various political forces within the framework of freedom of thinking and expression. Furthermore, it enriched deep inside the Palestinian people the values of national belonging which gradually began forcing aside narrower belongings like the clan. This fact was demonstrated in the results of the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. The elections proved among other things, the success of the PLO in establishing the framework of the nation-state through its important achievement of progress on the road of molding the fragmented Palestinian societies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

However, in light of the absence of brave Palestinian party forces and brave pressure forces that have a vision and possess an ability to achieve the project of building the Palestinian civil society, the PLO had to shoulder this duty. As a result, the duties of the PLO in national liberation interconnected with the duties of the authority-the state in building the civil society to a degree that it is no longer clear where the PLO ends and where the PNA begins. This is especially true as the PLO finds itself hostage to the Israeli interpretation of the Oslo agreements and the Paris Economic Agreement. As a result, the PLO, which interconnects with the PNA, was forced to implement a policy whose characteristic was prioritizing the preservation of security before politics. Subsequently, the Palestinian political regime was forced toward the authority-control rather than the authority- the civil society.

Meanwhile, controlling unemployment, whose growth rate was alarming, was realized through piling employees in the PNA apparatuses and institutions rather than through creating a productive society. This resulted in the establishment of an authoritarian ruling system that hides within it the crisis of masked unemployment. At the same time, the security obligations inherent in the Oslo Agreement, some of which contradict with human rights and the bases of the civil society, have necessitated the imposition of an authoritarian reality that requires proportionate growth of the number of security apparatuses with the growth of the forces opposing it. Hence, there was the birth of a huge political regime whose political philosophy was limited to ensuring control over all components of the general situation until accomplishment of the duty of national liberation. This resulted in stopping work in the name of the future, for the sake of rescuing the present, and forced the society to enter a state of stagnancy. In fact, in the past two years this regime has been moving circularly more that moving vertically because rescuing the present cannot be done in the name of the past but in the name of the future, since building the internal and developing it is the only guarantee to terminating the occupation.

The current stage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the stage that precedes progress toward the establishment of the Palestinian State. The tactic of Israeli strategists is based on merciless destruction of the tools of the Palestinians political struggle under the leadership of the PLO in order to prevent the establishment of (the authority-the state) before the end of the permanent status negotiations.

It has become necessary for the PLO to readjust itself with the new and the distinguished which is necessary for rebuilding its infrastructure if it wants to guarantee continuity with the Palestinian people inside through establishing the institutions of the authority-the state and outside through devising a mechanism for continuity with the Palestinians in the Diaspora, whose issue will soon reoccupy the top of the list of the national goals.

The role of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and as its leadership necessitates preventing the PLO from replacing the PNA in order to make way for the establishment of the (authority-the state) to replace the regime (the authority-control).

Civil and authoritarian societies cannot be distinguished from each other because the latter monopolizes legislative and judicial authorities and political plurality. They are unique from each other in terms of an internal logic that determines the rules of the interaction between their institutions, their relationship with the elite and the means of the transfer of authority and distribution of wealth.

The civil society is based on the principle of preventing the authority of the state from completely superceding the society. The mechanism of doing this is establishing the principles of democracy as a tool, whose use enables questioning of the authority, then accountability and then change. This realizes the principle that was advocated and consolidated by Montesque (authority limits authority). It also makes the existence of plurality an indicator of the existence of democracy.

In a civil society the legislative authority is determinative, but in an authoritative bureaucratic society it becomes remonstrative. In the latter case it provides a democratic cover rather than a democratic structure because the legislative authority is vital for the establishment of a democratic society.

The Palestinian political regime is currently undergoing a comprehensive crisis that the Israeli political regime placed it in. This crisis makes way for moving toward a new situation in order to avoid sinking in it.

The primary dilemma in the current situation is to avoid the trap of Israeli economic and political containment, which forces the Palestinian society to move inside a closed cycle. In order to do so we have to overcome the illusions in ourselves about the ease of achieving this duty.

The aim of our participation in such meetings and forums is to evaluate the reality and needs for change to occur. It is to activate our political fiction and creative thinking in order to devise policies that can lead to the creation of a new reality through which we can undermine the Israeli policy of containment. This works on two levels: internal and external.

The Internal: The Paris Economic Agreement must be replaced by a new agreement that guarantees freedom of mobility for individuals and goods, prohibits Israel s resort to the policy of closures and makes way for the re-growth of the private sector and the middle class. Additionally, a democratic culture must be advocated in order to prevent the consolidation of the elements of an authoritarian-bureaucratic society. Enforcing the principles and values of civil society can do this: human rights, plurality and democratic practice. Moreover, the idea of loyalty to the political or ideological option must replace loyalty to the clan or to certain individuals. Furthermore, the concept of social justice and rule of the law must be consolidated as two conditions that must exist for the establishment of a positive rather a negative authority.

The External: European and American institutions must understand that peace leads to security, not vice versa. They must also be asked to help the Palestinians modernize their society by supporting civil society institutions and exerting pressure for the sake of their growth and development, rather than the security apparatuses who function at the expense of the democratic practices and human rights.

The United States and Europe must utilize their influence on the Israelis to guarantee freedom of mobility for individuals and goods and opening crossing points for this mobility. They must also reject the Israeli security demands that violate human rights, especially since democracy cannot exist without opposition, including Islamic opposition within the limits of the law.

The birth of the Palestinian civil society is not an easy thing. The occupation has destroyed the Palestinian people s middle class and scattered their class hierarchy. As a result, the Palestinian enlightened elite and popular leaderships shoulder the responsibility of spreading awareness among the Palestinian people through escalating their critical rhetoric of the existent situation and forming appropriate pressure groups on the existent authority for the sake of taking steps toward the establishment of a real civil society through reviving the Palestinian Authority to shoulder its responsibilities and the PLO to play its role in coordination rather than contradiction with the Palestinian National Authority .

Source: ATF Shuun Tanmawyyeh Issue 21

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