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Part 4: Palestinian youth revolt - Any role for political parties?

Nov. 27, 2015 7:01 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 29, 2015 4:19 P.M.)
Palestinian security forces block off a pro-Hamas rally from a West Bank checkpoint. (AFP/Hazem Bader, File)
By: Al-Shabaka

Al-Shabaka is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law.

The following is the fourth segment of an eight-part publication on the current absence of authentic Palestinian national leadership and the current youth uprising against Israel’s prolonged military occupation and denial of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT).

The segment is authored by Khalil Shaheen, a Palestinian journalist, media expert, researcher, and well-known political and media analyst. He is currently the director of research and policies and board member at Masarat - The Palestine Center for Policy Research and Strategic studies in Ramallah.

The Palestinian political system is nearing its demise after forsaking its identity as a national liberation movement by recognizing the legitimacy of a racist settler colonial system in the Oslo Accords. The current wave of anger is a rebellion against this relationship and the ideology on which it was based. The wave is also an extension of forms of expression and political action that have evolved outside the traditional political and organizational system established in the 1960s, which itself has experienced a slow and terminal decline.

However, one must acknowledge the "coexistence" between the traditional politics of the PLO, the PA and the Palestinian factions on the one hand and the new forms of political action on the other due to the transitional nature of the present stage. In particular, the traditional national movement continues to have a political role despite its inability to realize its historical goal of achieving the national rights of the Palestinian people.

This realization should stimulate Palestinians to think strategically about the repercussions of a failing ideology and set of practices and what is needed to restore the Palestinian national project and a national body capable of achieving its objectives.

In the past few years, some have taken the position that there is no need to rebuild the national movement as a prerequisite to adopting programs of action. Rather they believe that recruiting a broad range of actors into participatory programs of action is the way to rebuild the national movement. This approach focuses on creating a new path based on uniting Palestinians in the homeland and the diaspora. The global BDS movement, the right of return movement, and the popular resistance committees against the separation wall are all expressions of new forms of action outside the traditional framework of party political action.

Similarly, the current wave of anger is a new form of popular and youth-based action. The traditional political party system failed to predict the consequences of this action at a time of heightened division and internal conflicts over power and influence. This wave may falter or intensify but it is likely that it is one of a series of waves that will continue to gain momentum until they become a tsunami expressing the collective recognition of the Palestinian cause as one of national liberation and the need to rebuild the national and institutional structures capable of creating a new path for struggle.

The current wave of anger shows that there is a new generation redefining the people's relationship with the Israeli occupation as one based on conflict rather than "understanding." It is doing so by defying the monopoly of politics within the Bantustans run by the PA, which Israel’s occupation been transforming into an administrative, economic and security agent within a system of colonial domination.

However, this does not mean the end of the political role of factions, despite their state of internal division and lack of popular legitimacy. The factions still govern the practice of politics and forms of armed resistance, especially in the Gaza Strip. They dominate the PLO, PA, trade unions, professional associations and student bodies.

The current signs for emerging new forms of political action and struggle may seem similar to those witnessed in the late 1950s and early 1960s when a young generation used favorable Arab and international conditions to set a new path for struggle that overthrew the pre-Nakba and post-Nakba leadership in a relatively short time. That generation developed political bodies and armed groups that derived their legitimacy from the people, who proclaimed their allegiance to the new leadership without elections.

However, the conditions today are different and key elements of this process are still missing. There is still space for the traditional actors to play a role. Yet it will not be possible to restore politics as an organized activity with broad popular engagement unless the goals, work methods and rules change. At some point, the traditional parties must deal with the new forms of political activism that is redefining the relationship with the colonizer.

This will require working with the younger generation to establish the goals and demands of the current wave of anger rather than attempting to monopolize or contain it. This could help to transform the traditional parties’ forms of political action into a proactive struggle led by the younger generation and hasten the evolution of a comprehensive uprising capable of creating a new path in the struggle for liberation.

This piece is part of Al-Shabaka's roundtable discussion publication. The full version was originally published on Al-Shabaka's website on November 23, 2015.

Part 3 can be found here.

The views expressed in this article are the authors and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.
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