Julien Salingue interview: Rebuilding Palestinian Resistance and Solidarity

Julien Salingue interview: Rebuilding Palestinian Resistance and Solidarity

Of all the contradictions in the Palestinian situation, which seems to be the most fundamental issue in your view to be the most fundamental issue?

Regardless of the current evolution of the situation in Palestine, I think that it is essential to remember that the most fundamental contradiction that exists right now, as it always has, is the one between the Zionist project and the national rights of the Palestinian people. The establishment of a Jewish State in the greatest possible portion of Palestine meant and always means colonisation, expulsion and repression. This is the structural contradiction, which includes the current situation with it. Evidently this does not mean that things shall be simplified, and the blame for the dead end shall be put also on the contradictions in the Palestinian “camp”, especially in the current moment, but these contradictions must be thought about within the general framework of the negation of rights for the Palestinian people that is part of the Zionist project.

The two major events of the past two years (the victory of Hamas in the elections and the “events” of Gaza) are the product of the contradictions between, on one side, the interests of the minority that has controlled the Palestinian Authority since its creation in 1994 and on the other, the aspirations of the Palestinian people. This minority was clearly rejected by the population at the elections, who had punished them for the reasons of their abandonment of all the perspectives of struggle in order to only use means of negotiation, so much so that the situation on their home ground had deteriorated, due to their intense contacts and sometimes their open collaboration with the Israeli occupier, as well as the rampant corruption. In the days that followed the elections, the more radical wing (in the worst sense of the word) of this minority of privileged people, represented most notably by Mohammad Dahlan, did everything to return to power at any cost. This is what led to the events of Gaza last June.

Indeed, the “coup d’état” of which much was spoken when Hamas drove out the militia of Dahlan from the Gaza Strip, is actually the consequence of an attempted coup d’état, this one quite real, orchestrated by the putschist wing of the Palestinian Authority, with the support of Israel and of the Western countries. The latter organised the political, diplomatic and economic blockade of the new political power, while Israel reinforced the siege of the Gaza Strip, stronghold of the militant wing of Hamas, and took up once again its policy of liquidation of resistance fighters. On its part, the putschist wing of the Authority did everything it could to paralyse the new government and to short-circuit any attempt at establishment of a national unity government. The joint objective was to create the conditions of the fall of the Hamas government. The confrontations, initially sporadic, multiplied in the Gaza Strip and, when the militia of Dahlan, armed by the United States with the agreement of Israel, put on the high speed, Hamas answered on the same ground and quickly drove the putschists of Gaza out.

How it then transpired is known: Abu Mazen dismissed the Hamas government and created an “emergency government” directed by Salam Fayyad, former senior official of the international financial institutions, whose list had obtained hardly more than 2% at the legislative vote of 2006. Things are now very clear: Abu Mazen and his cronies made the choice that conformed exclusively to the requirements of the Western countries and Israel, without making even the pretence of being concerned about the Palestinian people. Their only objective is to remain in power and to be the future administrators of the Palestinian Bantustans, even if they must collaborate openly with the occupation forces for that. An event happened in Jenin at the end of August that is an example of this subject [1]: an Israeli soldier who got lost in the city was taken care of by members of the security forces of Abbas, who protected him from the population and accompanied him back to the nearest military outpost. We are talking about a soldier who belongs to an occupying army… There is only one word to qualify this kind of intrigue: collaboration, pure and simple.

For anyone who still has doubts about the intentions of the Abbas clan, about their positioning within the framework of the structural contradiction that I evoked a moment ago, it is without ambiguity: they work knowingly at the side of Israel against the Palestinian people.

What are the forms of resistance possible given today’s conditions?

I think that the current conditions are the most unfavourable for the organisation and the structuring of the resistance:

– More than 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners rot in Israeli prisons. Compared to the number of inhabitants, it is an incredible figure: imagine that in France there are nearly 200,000 political prisoners. I would not bet on a high level of development of any social battles… And for those who continue the fight, repression, arrests and assassinations continue.

– Geographical fragmentation between the Palestinian “autonomous zones” constitutes a sizable obstacle: total separation between Gaza and the West Bank, encirclement of the towns of the West Bank, only with very great difficulty, often impossibility, can one go from one city to the other… There are so many elements which impede any development or “national” organising of the resistance.

– The installation of the Palestinian Authority, consecutive with the Oslo Accords, had two broad consequences: initially a number of militants of Fatah were co-opted and integrated into the bureaucratic structures in construction in exchange for their renunciation of the struggle, a fact that has weakened the national movement and pushed political conscience back considerably. In the second place, the installation of this vast network of corruption and clientelism has delegitimated politics and policy, reinforcing operations in networks that are mainly structured around collecting financial aid from abroad.

– The multiplication of NGOs dependent on outside financing, even if it constituted an alternative for the many militants of the Intifada of 1987, in integration with the State apparatus, also contributed to this depoliticisation and this weakening of resistance. By disinvesting ground in the political struggle, the militants and leaders of these NGOs had given a free hand to the capitulating leadership of the PLO, many of them satisfying themselves by finding a working arrangement with it.

– The wait-and-see attitude of the left of the PLO (FPLP and FDLP) and its incapacity to formulate an alternative project of struggle to the treason of the direction of the Palestinian Authority had equally reduced the range of possibilities for whoever would have wanted to pursue resistance.

– In this situation, it was Hamas that knew how to play its cards. However, although this current incarnates a much more combative orientation with respect to the occupier and today refuses both compromises and the abandonment of the national rights of the Palestinians, it is a fact that the reactionary ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood school of thought – to which many of Hamas cadres and militants refer to – is contradictory to the construction of a popular resistance in which all the Palestinians, in particular women, would find their place.

Here, briefly, is the sum of the obstacles to both the construction and structuring of resistance. Economic asphyxiation, geographical and political fragmentation, the culture of corruption and clientelism and the bankruptcy of the left have favoured the development of a more and more marked individualism, to the detriment of collective action. What’s more, the sociocide inherent to the Zionist project destroys the Palestinian national conscience little by little. If in the minds (it is not the “minds of Palestinians” but instead a “collective mind” which keeps in its memory the idea of a people and its rights: this idea is then contrasted with “facts”) the Palestinian people and its rights always exist, in fact the prospects for a common struggle of all Palestinians (including those from the refugee camps of Jordan, Syria or Lebanon, as well as those who live in Israel) around a project of unified combat moves farther and farther away.

Under these conditions, which resistance is possible? For many Palestinian militants, today the essential task is double. The objective consists of reformulating resistance and, why not, the national movement structure, by learning the lessons from past failures and acknowledge that part of the “historical” leadership of the movement is now in the other camp. But the condition necessary to reach that point, and this is the second essential task, is to put the brakes on depoliticisation and individualism. This has been clearly understood by a certain number of militants working in the “Cultural centres” of the refugee camps. For them, organising numerous cultural, social and political activities, in particular for young people, is the only way to perpetuate the memory of the struggle, to fight against individualistic tendencies by developing collective projects, to fight the tendencies to withdraw into family and religion, in order to make people “go out” of their homes and allow them to meet, while at the same time guaranteeing the independence of their initiatives by refusing to be subsidized by the Palestinian Authority or Western countries.

All of that might seem very far from the conquest of their national rights by Palestinians. But such is reality and the power balance on the ground. It is necessary to remain lucid: for these militants it is a question of rebuilding the resistance, stone by stone, in the middle of a field of ruins. Anyone who feels solidarity with the Palestinians and wants to help them in their struggle has to know this: the situation is very difficult and the militants who, over there, invest themselves in the rebuilding of both national conscience and resistance need international support more than ever.

Has the Oslo Accords logic come to an end?

All of that depends on what you mean by “Oslo Accords logic “. For all those who perceived the Oslo Accords as an historical compromise between an Israeli left ready to make true concessions and a sincere and responsible Palestinian leadership, which in the long run would bring about the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, it is clear that such an era is over. But for those, of which I am part, who saw in the Oslo Accords a simple reorganisation of the Zionist project (2), which had as its objective the installation of Palestinian Bantustans dependent upon international assistance and under control of a power subjected to the State of Israel, there is nothing surprising or new.

Tanya Reinhart, a university professor who has recently passed away, wrote the following in 1994:

“From the start, it has been possible to identify two conceptions that underlie the Oslo process. One is that this will enable to reduce the cost of the occupation, using a Palestinian patronage regime, with Arafat as the senior cop responsible for the security of Israel. The other is that the process should lead to the collapse of Arafat and the PLO. The humiliation of Arafat, and the amplification of his surrender, will gradually lead to loss of popular support. Consequently, the PLO will collapse, or enter power conflicts. Thus, the Palestinian society will loose its secular leadership and institutions. In the power driven mind of those eager to maintain the Israeli occupation, the collapse of the secular leadership is interpreted as an achievement, because it would take a long while for the Palestinian people to get organized again, and, in any case, it is easier to justify even the worst acts of oppression, when the enemy is a fanatic Muslim organization” (3).

Tanya Reinhart was not a prophet. She simply understood from the very start the “logic” of the Oslo Accords. For Israel, the manoeuvre was simple: to give the impression of making concessions with the Palestinians without making any promises on the key questions, which are Jerusalem, the refugees and the settlements. During the “Oslo years”, colonisation, occupation and repression continued, the Palestinians who might have nourished some hopes quickly gave up their illusions. Obviously, colonisation had started before Oslo. But by creating the illusion of the construction of an official Palestinian State structure, the Oslo Accords involved a dangerous ideological change of focus, that was true as well in the international solidarity movement: the support for the rights of Palestinians was replaced by a support for “peace” negotiations. Result: starting in September 2000, with the Palestinian uprising (Intifada) and the brutal response of the Israeli army, many voices rose so that there could be a “return to the Oslo Accords”, which concretely meant a return to precisely the situation against which the Palestinians had rebelled.

The “logic of the Oslo Accords” is not finished. There has however been a notable change on the Israeli side: if in 1994 part of the Zionist Establishment thought that in the long run the PLO apparatus was a credible partner, in the neutralisation of resistance, today it is no longer the case. Israel has assumed the position of making “unilateral” decisions, the most obvious example of which was the withdrawal from Gaza: Israel does not bother to discuss the most important decisions with the Palestinian Authority’s leadership. The idea that there is no reliable partner on the Palestinian side has made inroads in Israel. Abu Mazen and his colleagues have neither the legitimacy nor the social base necessary to control all of the Palestinian cities. What is happening is that Israel is entrusting small local chiefs with the long-term management of microscopic autonomous zones. Israel could even ask Jordan to manage in some way the West Bank enclaves. Concerning Gaza, the “solution” for Israel will necessarily pass through a wide range military offensive. Lastly, Oslo, as an instrument of liquidation of the Palestinian question, is quite alive. Changes were only cosmetic.

If it is impossible to get around the PLO, how can one envision its evolution?

I don’t think that the PLO is “impossible to get around”. Even Arafat never failed to “get around it” himself. It’s opportune to remember that in 1993 only a minority of the PLO Executive Committee was in favour of the Olso Accords. It made no difference. This was the logical result of a choice made by both Arafat and Abbas during the negotiation process: the PLO authorities were not informed, neither of the content nor of the existence of the Oslo Accords before their signature… To me the birth of the Palestinian Authority meant the death of PLO.

It is not necessary to repeat the history of the Palestinian national liberation movement. For us it’s just important to remember that in the 70s, in Lebanon, the PLO was transformed from a “traditional” national liberation movement into a true State apparatus, gradually becoming an enormous bureaucratic-military structure employing tens of thousands of people all over the world. A report ordered by Arafat himself indicated at the time: “The PLO differs by its nature from other organizations which represented, or still represent, their respective peoples in their fight for national liberation. The PLO is not a political party and is broader than a liberation front. It is an institution which has the nature of a State.” The PLO was thus progressively transformed into a “State apparatus without a State”, to repeat Gilbert Achcar’s expression, a State apparatus in search of a territory where it could be established in a certain and definitive way. Considerably weakened by its expulsion from Lebanon in 1982, the PLO recreated in Tunis a great part of its bureaucracy and continued to develop its diplomatic representations abroad. The Oslo Accords were followed by the installation in the West Bank and Gaza of tens of thousands of PLO cadres and militants “from outside” who became the civil servants and the major functionaries of an under-construction Palestinian Authority.

The State apparatus without a State then thought it had found its State. Militants became officials of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO completed its process of bureaucratic degeneration and officially transformed itself into a State structure. The PLO factions which still considered it as the federating organ of all Palestinian political groups that would coordinate and direct the struggle were marginalized from decision making more and more, and the same happened to the executives who made the decision to remain out of it. Any essential decisions and representation went into the hands of the Palestinian Authority. This is why 13 years later it is not exaggerated to say that the PLO no longer represents anything. Abbas uses it sometimes as a loincloth when he wants to legitimise a decision that is particularly iniquitous or either to isolate Hamas, just as it happened last June when the PLO Executive Committee voted a motion calling for the destitution of the Hamas government and new elections. But this phantom PLO has no legitimacy anymore: the motion in question has no echo whatsoever in the Palestinian territories.

Today, among those who ask themselves about the state of the national liberation movement some say that it’s necessary to “get back to the PLO”, others say that it should be reformed and still others insist that it needs to be dismantled in order to create “something else”. I myself think that the PLO has no future in its current form and that for some time it will remain the scenario of disputes of individuals or groups of individuals in search of a little power or some small benefits. What the Palestinian people need today in the current situation is a re-establishment of both the project and the structures of struggle, something that will need the re-organisation of resistance in all its forms (political, cultural, social, armed struggle) by the militants and left wing Fatah and Hamas cadres who will choose unity and collective interests, not personal ones. Even if this prospect seems remote and very few initiatives of this sort have been taken on this direction, it nevertheless underlies a certain number of discussions in Palestine among sincere militants of all political factions of Palestinian society, both in the Occupied Territories and among the exiled living abroad since 1948.

Is it possible to reconcile democratic development with occupation?

One thing is certain: it is impossible to build successful structures of representative democracy under military occupation. If as we saw both in the January 2005 presidential elections and in the January 2006 legislative ones, it was possible to organise satisfactory elections for the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip with massive participation and little fraud, this “democracy” nevertheless remains subordinate to the interests of the occupying power and its allies. After the Hamas victory it was not at all difficult for the EU, the US and Israel to prevent the government elected at the ballot boxes from holding office and to try to declare null and void the democratic choice of Palestinians. As long as the occupation lasts, “Palestinian democracy” will be dependent upon goodwill from abroad.

But if one thinks of democracy in a broader sense, not only as calling elections, it is obvious that the development of democratic practices is not only possible, but essential in the struggle against occupation. By this I mean the development of democratic practices like the installation of structures set up for the management of everyday life and struggle favouring both widespread involvement and participation. At the beginning of the 1987 Intifada the “popular committees”, set up in the majority of refugee camps, villages and city districts played this role: they were composed of political militants, associates or just “ordinary citizens” who were given legitimacy by their communities. They dealt with all aspects of everyday life (health care organisation, schools, conflict resolution between neighbours…) and the struggle itself (strikes, demonstrations…). That is what gave this Intifada its strength, at least during its first year.

Nothing of the sort happened during the “second Intifada” (with quotation marks as it had almost nothing to do with the 1987 Intifada): the creation of inter-coordinated local structures composed by all those who wanted to take part in the struggle was aborted by the fact that the Palestinian Authority imposed itself as the only legitimate leadership of the movement, instructed the Fatah militants not to renew the experiment of the popular committees and as a result the struggle was quickly militarised. Popular involvement was thus very weak and the uprising, which was quite real in October 2000, was quickly brought down. That does not explain everything, but the inability of creating structures like these after October 2000 contributed very much to the degradation of the balance of power and boomeranged against Palestinians. A central task for anyone wanting to rebuild popular resistance in Palestine is to assure that the Palestinian citizens hold again their own destiny in their own hands through structures supporting everyone’s involvement as well as initiatives able to filling the gap that hinders and is weakening the struggle.

I am echoing here both my personal observations during several stays in Palestine and what I heard from many Palestinians. Indeed, the absence of a political perspective and its major consequence – the development of an increasingly conservative way of thinking with a return to traditional values (which, as they say, “do not lie”) – are causing considerable damage: the most visible manifestation of it is the increasing degradation of women’s conditions, as they are more and more excluded from the public sphere to remain confined only to domestic and reproductive activities. This degradation did not start with Hamas victory, but this last event of course did nothing to slow it down. It’s easy to understand that the absence of half of the Palestinians from the struggle can only harm the Palestinian people as a whole in the long run. That’s why the development of legitimate and “participative” structures is a fundamental issue in re-establishing the Palestinian resistance, even if the military occupation only permits it with great difficulty.

The solidarity movement with the Palestinian people seems to be in crisis. Isn’t it something paradoxically healthy?

It is true that the solidarity movement is not going very well. This crisis has its roots in past developments and, in my view, it has been produced by two main factors: the degradation of the situation “on the ground” and the hopes raised within the solidarity movement both during the “Oslo years” and after September 2000 (4).

It is indeed necessary to show a certain abnegation in order to continue mobilisation while the situation is worsening more and more and any new initiative seems to have no impact at all. The tens of thousands of people who had mobilised themselves at the time of the Jenin massacre in April 2002 have not disappeared but they are discouraged or disillusioned and they no longer take part in public initiatives where often one only finds the “hard core” of militants of the Palestinian cause.

The illusions that were part of the Oslo process did not help those who wanted to take part in solidarity initiatives to understand how things evolved on the ground, be it the degradation of the balance of forces between Israel and the Palestinian population or, more recently, the victory of Hamas and the half-aborted putsch attempted by Abu Mazen and his clique. Making the Palestinian Authority the “legitimate leadership of the Palestinian people” did not help either to develope tangible solidarity among those who in Palestine, in the refugee camps, in cities and villages took and still take initiatives to continue the struggle while the Authority affirms that only negotiation pays. Those who believed or who had convinced others that the Palestinian Authority – first led by Arafat and then by Abbas – was both the only legitimate representative of Palestinians and the unavoidable partner of the solidarity movement must have had a great disappointment with Hamas’s victory and the subsequent nomination to office of the banker Fayyad. In fact, no one has heard from them ever since.

This crisis would only be healthy if they learn from it and go to the root of the successive failures of the solidarity movement. Even if reaching an agreement on all questions shall not be a precondition to working together, at least they should return to basics: what kind of effective solidarity with the Palestinian people? Working here makes no sense if it has no effects over there. One cannot be satisfied with “putting pressure” on our government so that it “puts pressure” on its Israeli ally. In Palestine, 172 NGOs and associations called for an international campaign of boycott and divestment (5), in many refugee camps cultural centres carry out remarkable work and need support, 11,000 political prisoners feel particularly forgotten in Israeli jails, the commemorations of the 60 anniversary of the Nakba (the “catastrophe”, the expulsion of 1947-1948) are in preparation for an international initiative in 2008… There are many projects and campaigns which would allow rebuilding solidarity. But it is true that very few representatives of either the Israeli “peace camp” or Abu Mazen’s clique will support the boycott, the right of return of the refugees or the unconditional release of all political prisoners. These are however the principal demands of the Palestinian people and many political and associative militants. A critical analysis of the Oslo Accords and the illusions which accompanied them is thus indispensable. It will allow the passage from demanding a virtual peace to building an authentic solidarity.

September 2007

(1) One may consult a French dispatch on http://fr.news.yahoo.com/rtrs/20070827/twl-po-israel-soldat-38cfb6d_1.html
(2) See especially Gilbert Achcar, « Le sionisme et la paix, du Plan Allon aux Accords de Washington », in Achcar, L”Orient incandescent, le Moyen-Orient au miroir marxiste, Lausanne, Editions Page deux, 2003.
(3) Article of February 1994, cited in T. Reinhart, Détruire la Palestine, éditions La Fabrique, 2002.
(4) For a more detailed analysis of the “solidarity obstacle”, refer especially to P-Y. Salingue, Palestine, les termes du combat va changer, available (with others) on http://agircontrelaguerre.free.fr/article.php3?id_article=411
(5) See the appeal on http://agircontrelaguerre.free.fr/article.php3?id_article=388

*Julien Salingue, 27 years old, Doctoral student of Political Science at Paris, militant of the solidarity movement for Palestine, director of the film “Palestine, live free or die”, and co-director of the film “Samidoun”, answers Al-Oufok’s questions. Translated by Mary Rizzo and Manuel Talens.