Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Palestinian Political Arena: Between the Factions and Independent Figures

The Palestinian Political Arena
Politicians from the various Palestinian factions attend a meeting in Gaza City on November 20, 2021. Mahmud hams / AFP

Majed Kayali

The Palestinian political arena is not exclusive to factional political entities.  It also comprises a wide range of active and independent political figures. The list includes academics, intellectuals, writers, doctors, engineers, artists, and teachers, who represent all classes of society.

These figures are voluntarily active. Based on understanding their role in the national process, they seek the benefit of the cause and the people. They do that aside from factional interests, mentalities, and narrow and harmful competitions. Such a thing is an indication of the vitality of Palestinian society and its political effectiveness.

There is controversy about considering political forces and parties as part of civil society, next to unions, organizations, forums and associations, which are active in and for society. But this does not presuppose that the political forces in power are considered part of civil society, given that they have now acquired and exercised the means of authority and dedicate themselves to it. That applies to Fatah and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza.

It is worth mentioning that there is a kind of complexity in the Palestinian situation, as the factions represented the political movement in society in their beginnings. However, these factions obtained at a later stage power and dominance, whether in Lebanon or the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

It is possible to notice that these factions have long since become a kind of political community, on the side-lines of Palestinian societies, where their leaders have become a political class in itself. That can be explained by several motives, the most significant of which are:

1) The predominance of the apparatuses over the partisan entities and the military/militia character over the Palestinian work structure, at the expense of the popular dimension.

2) The factions are not dependent on their people for resources. Instead, large segments of the Palestinians have become dependent on these factions that became a “labour market” in a certain sense due to the services they provide to expand their influence (which are also authoritarian). That situation has negatively affected the relationship of the factions with their society. It weakened the relations of political participation, where the relationship is one of superiority and guardianship, and also because these factions prioritize their interests over national interests.

3) The fragmentation of Palestinian society, its subjection to varying restrictions and circumstances, and the absence of a specific and independent geographic space for it. Of course, all of this contributed to weakening the development of this society, restricting its independence, and marginalizing its existence, which made its ability to question the dominant political forces impossible or very difficult and complex.

4) The absence of a specific homeland, the growing sense of being deprived of identity, the weak political developments, and the marginalization in countries of asylum and diaspora. All this turned the relationship between the Palestinians and their political institutions into an emotional, spontaneous, and symbolic one. That relationship is a dependent one rather than being an interactive relationship. That is also related to the prevalence of patriarchal relations and the lack of democracy in the Palestinian arena.

5) No Palestinian movement can emerge and grow without gaining official Arab legitimacy. The reason behind that issue is the external interventions and pressures resulting from considering the Palestinian cause an Arab issue in a regional authoritarian reality, the presence of Palestinian groups in the countries of asylum, and the regional and international connections and deployments of the Palestinian cause.

6) The Palestinian elites and competencies, including intellectuals, academics, artists, and entrepreneurs have refrained from affiliating with the factions. They did not find an attractive space to express their role and ambitions in the stagnant political field. That has many reasons, such as the weakness of the internal movement in the factions, the dominance of patriarchal structures, and the lack of democratic relations, renovation and creativity, since most of the Palestinian factions are still monopolized by their founding political class. Not to mention their lack of political visions, declining position in society, and fading role in the struggle.

Perhaps all of these factors justify why the Palestinians don’t bother questioning their leaders about the choices they made. They did not ask about turning from revolution to reconciliation. The same applies to abandoning liberation for the sake of the two-state solution. They did not ask why the leadership stopped al-Intifada to go ahead with negotiations. The same applies to heading with the Palestinian Authority instead of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Also, these factors explain the persistence of many factions, although they do not have any role, neither in society nor in confronting Israel, because they do not derive their legitimacy from these two dimensions!

The aforementioned explains the lack of research, studies and media centres or institutions, such as the Research and Planning Centre, Unified Media, and the Palestine Film Institute. Nor a magazine like “Palestinian Affairs”, nor academic and intellectual figures such as Edward Said, Mahmoud Darwish, Hisham Sharabi, Michael Hanna (Abu Omar), Fayez Sayegh, Walid Khalidi, Youssef Sayegh, Ghassan Kanafani, Shafiq Al-Hout, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Anis Sayegh, Yazid Sayigh and Rashid Khalidi, to name but a few. Even the dominant factions no longer nurture intellectuals, poets, novelists, political writers, media figures and artists, as they did in the seventies.

The Palestinian factions, having failed to accomplish liberation, or defeating the occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, were preoccupied with becoming an authority. That authority, like any Arab or third-World authority, imposed guardianship over society. It marginalized elites and the middle class. It enlarged the military and security aspects, in addition to seeking the help of external entities. In other words, it relied on general slogans, as all of these are tools of legitimacy and domination.

The challenge now isn’t only related to the awakening of the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, but rather awakening the Palestinian civil society, increasing its effectiveness, and asserting its role, despite becoming an authority or two authorities in the West Bank and Gaza. Without awakening the Palestinian civil society, the Palestinians will remain marginalized, lost, and ineffective.



The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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