Palestinian Politics in the Melting Pot

by Gerry Foley / June 2006 issue Socialist Action

With elections coming up in both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel, the political situation in both areas continues to show more and more signs of fluidity.

Israel, a fortress state backed by world imperialism, is the more stable. But even there, the projected winner of the elections, Kadima, the new party of outgoing premier Ariel Sharon, is
not yet consolidated.

This party has come from nowhere to a commanding lead in the polls, but it is very much the personal creation of Sharon. And Sharon has just suffered a massive stroke, which at this writing (Jan. 5) he is not expected to survive—or at any rate to be able to continue to play a major role in politics.

The analysis in the liberal Zionist daily Haaretz is that the future of Sharon’s party is now doubtful, and the main beneficiary of his disappearance is likely to be Benyamin Netanyahu, the extreme right-wing leader of Likud, who is opposed to any concessions to the Palestinians. (He opposed the withdrawal of the Zionist colonies from the Gaza Strip.)

Kadima was formed out of the wreck of the traditional right-wing party, the Likud, with no new program other than an acceptance of the need to make some concessions to the Palestinians. In the Likud, the strength of the fanatical Zionists had become an obstacle to the policy of negotiations demanded by the United States as well as the section of the Israeli ruling class daunted by the cost of unending war with the Palestinians. With Sharon’s departure from Likud, right-winger Netanyahu took over party leadership.

On the Palestinian side, the conciliationist leadership represented by the PA president, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), seems less and less able to offer what Israel is demanding in return for concessions that would allow a Palestinian government to function. In the municipal elections held so far in the electoral period, the main Islamist party, Hamas, has been scoring stunning victories at the expense of Abu Mazen’s Fatah. In the major West Bank city of Nablus, it got 75 percent of the vote.

In the run-up to the PA legislative election, Fatah itself split into two slates, one representing the younger and more militant activists, the other the old leadership headed by Abu Mazen. The split followed a series of armed demonstrations by the militants at the polls in the Fatah primary elections. In the primary elections, the big winner was Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life terms in an Israeli prison and is the hero of the younger militants.

On the eve of the PA election, the two slates merged under the pressure of a looming Hamas victory. As a single, cobbled-together slate, Fatah may be able to maintain a relative majority, even if hard pressed by a big upsurge for Hamas.

Armed actions against Israel are carried out by the military organizations of all the Palestinian parties, including Fatah. But Hamas talks a more intransigent line, formally opposing any modus vivendi with Israel and calling for its destruction as a Zionist state.
It also has won a reputation for charitable work, financed by contributions from Muslims in the oil states, and it is seen as less corrupt than Fatah, which has been living off foreign state subsidies to the Palestinian Authority (mainly from the European Union).

EU leaders have made threatening noises about cutting off the subsidy to the PA if Hamas takes it over or becomes a major force in it. In an interview published Dec. 27 on the web page of Al Jazeera, the Arab nationalist TV station, Hamas leader Nayef Rajoub said that the independence of the Palestinian Authority was more important than the EU’s money. He also said that he thought the EU should take a fairer approach to the Palestinian conflict and denounce Israel’s abuses more.

In fact, it is unlikely that the EU will cut the PA off as long as there is any possibility that it can serve as a means to blunt the Palestinian struggle and buy off its leaders. And even if it wins the legislative elections, Hamas is unlikely to change the basic character of the PA.
On the other hand, Rajoub was not clear about whether Hamas would participate in the PA government, although he said he thought it was most likely that it would not. Asked about Hamas’s aim of destroying Israel, he replied that Israel was trying to destroy Palestine. But the implication of that could be that both sides need to lower their sights, that is, negotiate, except that Hamas would be tougher than Fatah.

The fact is that Hamas has no political program that can mobilize the force necessary to destroy Israel as a Zionist state, so the most likely result of its rise is negotiation but with tougher language. And to the extent that it takes power within the present framework, it is not likely to perform much differently from Fatah.

Hamas is currently in a truce with Israel, but the ceasefire was scheduled to end at the end of 2005, and the Islamic organization says that it has no intention of renewing it. In fact, the Israeli military has not been observing a ceasefire. It has continued to assassinate Palestinian militant leaders and has declared a free-fire zone in Gaza in response to rocket launchings against Israel. So, the conflict is simply continuing.

The greatest danger on the Palestinian side is that the escalation of the rhetoric and gestures of the Palestinian groups and the growing tensions in the besieged community will lead to social breakdown and a proliferation of irresponsible armed gangs, as happened in Lebanon in the time of the civil war there. There are already signs of this.

It is more and more urgent for the Palestinian movement to find a political strategy for a successful struggle against Zionist repression and genocide. The only one that has been mooted is a fight for a united democratic Palestine in which Jews and Arabs could live on the basic of equality. And that would require the dismantling of the reactionary and corrupt capitalist structures that continue to dominate both peoples.

Related Articles