The limits of Palestinian nationalism in the fight against Apartheid

Palestinians protest in support of Palestinian political prisoners (Mahmoud Nasser - AP Images)

Haidar Eid

Mondoweiss  /  July 27, 2021

The Palestinian people have not only been fragmented by Israel, but also by its own corrupted leadership. It is up to the grassroots to correct the capitulation of Oslo.

Before delving into a critique of the current crisis of the political leadership in Palestine, let me state very clearly that one of the most important achievements of the current Unity Intifada is the rise in regional and international visibility of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and the 1948 areas, namely historic Palestine. 

The Palestinian people’s integrity derives exactly from the strength of their position vis-a-vis the actual political state of things. Within this context, it becomes crucially important to listen to critical South African warnings which provide important lessons for Palestine from South Africa. The current unrest and popular dissatisfaction across South Africa are warnings for all of us here in Palestine that unprincipled compromises on the socioeconomic rights of historically disenfranchised communities should never be part of our liberation agenda. 

In fact, the leadership of the Palestinian national movement, like the ANC leadership, has already betrayed its own principles. We have reached a time where we can argue that Israel has intellectually and morally lost the battle. We, Palestinians, like Black South Africans before us, have proven to be the ones at the forefront of the fight for universal justice. However, by the end of the second decade and the beginning of the third one of the millennium, a spirit of dictatorship and tyranny has pervaded the soul of Palestinian nationalism as defined and controlled by the Right. 

It takes only a look at its failures to see that Palestinian nationalism, as defined by the Right in cahoots with the Stalinist Left, is coming to an end. And I am saying this from a deep sense of commitment to the Palestinian cause, but also from a self-critical viewpoint. The achievements of Palestinian nationalism have been made and now is the winter of its decline, its promises of liberation and return undelivered. 

Palestine today is more divided than ever between the overwhelming majority who are abused by the “peace industry” and the very few who are its beneficiaries.

The Palestinian Right has managed to fragment the Palestinian frame of collective identity by reducing the Palestinian people to only those who live in the 1967 occupied territories – Palestinian refugees (the source of the Palestinian cause) are ignored, as are those who live as third-class citizens of apartheid Israel. Palestinian nationalism seems to have taken a vacation from critical resistance! Critical activists and intellectuals, therefore, have to deal with the historical burden of correcting the capitulating thrust of Oslo pseudo-intellectual life.

To add insult to injury – and further fragmenting the already fragmented components of the Palestinian people – Palestine’s class character (disguised in a nationalist discourse) has lately revealed itself in a resentment toward the Palestinians of Gaza who are perceived as either Hamas supporters and members, or unwanted dissident voices, and who therefore constitute a serious threat to the so-called “National project.” Palestine today is more divided than ever between the overwhelming majority who are abused by the “peace industry” and the very few who are its beneficiaries.

But as Antonio Gramsci says: “the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born: in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” And one of these symptoms is the vociferous call for alternative programs, including the call for the establishment of a secular-democratic state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean – a call to move away from Bantustanization and separatism. 

Many, including some of those who were at the forefront of the fight for a Palestinian State on the 1967 borders, have come to the realization that the racist two-state solution has always been used to justify further Palestinian capitulation. Throughout history, Palestine has always had a multicultural character; that can only be restored in one Democratic state that represents the collective will of all its people: Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others. Again, and learning from the mistakes of South Africa, that should not be at the expense of the basic socio-economic rights of all those disenfranchised, especially refugees living in miserable camps across the region and in the diaspora. 

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University