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Part 6: Palestinian youth revolt - Any role for political parties?

Nov. 29, 2015 4:17 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 29, 2015 5:49 P.M.)
A masked Palestinian youth kicks a garbage container during clashes on September 21, 2015 in Bethlehem. (AFP/Musa al-Shaer, File)

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 sixth 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 Mjiriam Abu Samra, a doctoral researcher in International Relations at the University of Oxford, whose work focuses on Palestinian transnational student movements and their contribution to the broader liberation movement through different periods.

In order to address the overarching issue of why the historical political parties have not been able to catalyze current youth frustration so far we need to consider the way Palestinian politics have been transformed, primarily the shift in the PLO political discourse and strategy from a liberation struggle to state-building. This deprived the struggle of its foundational principles and slowly undermined its strategies: A neo-colonial normalization with the occupier replaced the original anti-colonial framework that shaped the struggle. As a result, the national movement was paralyzed in terms of its capacity for grassroots mobilization.

The neo-colonial relationship between the colonizer and the colonized isolated the Palestinian leadership from its popular constituencies and the struggle stalled. The crisis between Hamas and Fatah is one demonstration of the complex colonial condition imposed on Palestinians and the inability of Palestinian parties to give priority to the will of their people over the neoliberal interests. Although its most acute manifestation is the Fatah-Hamas crisis, the neoliberal project ushered in by Oslo has affected all Palestinian parties to varying degrees and has made them unable to give expression to the popular will.

With this broader framework in mind, we are unlikely to see any significant role for the historical parties in the current uprising - unless they restore the anti-colonial political vision and discourse of the Palestinian movement. However, such a radical shift could mean the very extinction of the ruling class and the dismantling of the apparatus of economic and political interests in the occupied Palestinian territory. This is a risk that the Palestinian leadership seems unwilling to take at the moment.

Indeed, any other effort to provide a solid and long-lasting leadership to the spontaneous movements on the ground needs to reposition liberation and justice at the core of the struggle. It is more likely that Palestinian youth will eventually play a role in a radical re-definition of Palestinian politics than that the historical parties will make a genuine contribution to the current uprising.

In this regard, we should pay attention to the new efforts coming from Palestinian youth in the Diaspora (shatat) and in historical Palestine, who are providing a solid political framework to the current uprising and, in general, to Palestinian discontent. It is too early to assess the strategic potential of these initiatives, yet it is important to highlight the radical discourse they are endorsing. It is also important to recognize, above all, the strenuous effort to re-unify – if only symbolically, for now – the political message of all constituencies of Palestinian society: those under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, those in “48 Palestine” and those in the Diaspora. See, for example, the transnational mobilization called by Palestinian youth from all over the world on Nov 29, which the United Nations marks as the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Such efforts are a new trajectory for Palestinian politics that aim to unify Palestinian society around a shared vision of justice, liberation and return. These nascent initiatives might provide a new space for the emergence of a national leadership able to elaborate – and sustain – a renovated strategy of resistance for the Palestinian struggle.

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 5 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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