Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Factors Behind the Failure of the Palestinian National Movement

Palestinian men struggle to slip through a small window in a steel wall
Palestinian men struggle to slip through a small window in a steel wall leading from the Southern Gaza Strip Palestinian city of Rafah to Egypt 14 September 2005. PEDRO UGARTE/ AFPPAles

Majed Kayali

For more than 67 years, Palestinian politics kept changing. It is not unusual for a political movement to refrain from retaining a stable state as any other social phenomenon that arises, grows, flourishes, and then, eventually, demolishes or changes and develops. That applies to countries and even empires. 

Various profound regional and international changes have occurred throughout the past five decades on the Palestinian and Israeli sides. There has also been a change in Arab-Israeli relations, which moved from conflict to coexistence. In other words, it moved from processing the reasons for Nakba and denying Israel to debating the form in which Israel exists.

For instance, the Palestinian national movement originated at the international level while the world was torn between two poles during the cold war. When the USSR was dismantled, the national movement found itself in a new world dominated by the US, Israel’s strategic ally. Nowadays, the movement encounters a new multipolar phase. A world that is witnessing a kind of American regression.

Many wars broke out at the regional, Arab and Palestinian levels, and numerous developments occurred. In 1967, a war broke out, resulting in the defeat of several Arab regimes and the occupation of the west bank and Gaza. After that, there was the October war in 1973, the Lebanese civil war in 1982, and Camp David Treaty between Egypt and Israel. One of the prominent developments was The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which ended the armed Palestinian resistance after it had ended in Jordan in 1970 and in Syria in the mid-1970s.

Amidst these developments, the regime of the Shah of Iran fell. In its place, the Islamic Republic and Ayatollah’s regime were established. A series of wars broke out, including the Iranian-Iraqi war and then the First Gulf war in 1991, which weakened what was left of the Arab regimes. At the same time, the First Intifada erupted, and the Madrid Peace Conference was held during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of Arab solidarity, which led to the signing of the Oslo Accords with Israel in 1993.

As a result of the endless negotiations, Israel’s lack of commitment and the exposure of its intransigence in the settlement process in the 2000 Camp David Summit, the Second Intifada erupted. In the meantime, the September 11 terrorist attacks occurred, triggering the international war on terrorism. Subsequently, two incidents happened the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Among the repercussions of the occupation of Iraq is the reoccupation of the Palestinian territories and the death of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, after a three-year siege.

The aftermath of Hamas’s increasing influence on the Palestinian politics after winning the second parliamentary elections in 2006 was represented in the dispersal of the efforts of the Palestinians and their growing feelings of frustration, especially with the stagnation of the national movement, which turned into an authority instead of a national liberation movement.

Despite all the suffering, torments, sacrifices and complications, it was hard for the Palestinians to defeat Israel in the light of the international and Arab reality and all the other immense adversities. Especially since the Palestinian national vision, represented by the factions of the Palestinian Liberation Movement, had a problematic origin for many reasons, the most prominent of which are the following:

1- The unbalanced power and capabilities between the Palestinians and their national movement and Israel. Furthermore, Israel’s support from the west, especially from the United States of America, guarantees its security and ensures its military, technological, and economic superiority over neighbouring countries.

2 – They lack private and independent territory. Having social and geographical space is crucial for forming any political field; they are also the pillars of patriotism. The work of the Palestinian movement is hindered and distorted by the dispersion of the Palestinian community, which is subject to multiple and disparate political regimes. Thus, the communication between them is eminently difficult.

3- The Palestinian national movement was subsumed by the other Arab national movements relatively late, so they often conflict and clash, which is shown in the case of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Since the national movement that we are discussing is one that sought to battle the most powerful country in the middle east to earn its liberation, it is an armed movement. Therefore, any regime will not allow the presence of a military force in its territory or the existence of a liberation movement that contests its influence and prestige or jeopardises its stability. It might also be worth mentioning that the number of Palestinians who died amid clashes and conflicts outside Palestine exceeds the number of those killed inside it by Israel.

4- The Palestinians financial struggle led to their dependence on foreign resources. Being bound to those foreign policies affected the national movement’s choices and political speech. Consequently, they echoed the discourses of Arab regimes.

For all the aforesaid reasons, the Palestinian national movement was limited and restrained from any further development, which distracted it from the reasons for its existence. However, a great responsibility lies on the subjective factor, that is, on the shoulders of the Palestinian national movement, which neither reinforces any institutionalisation or democracy in its form nor maintains its achievements or preserves its relation with the community. Suppose the reasons above have restrained the Palestinians’ ability to emerge victoriously; the subjective factor could have reduced the losses and maybe retained a better, more robust, and more promising situation.

This introduction was necessary to identify the obstacles, complexities and challenges that faced the Palestinian liberation movement in its long, arduous and costly path, which affected its political discourse and the national choices it pursued, from liberation movement and the intifada to settlement, negotiations, and authority. It is essential to differentiate between the objective factors that held back the Palestinians’ struggle and the subjective factors that contributed to its failure, limitation of its capabilities, or its development.

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