Hassan Khader
Al-Ayyam (Opinion)
June 30, 2009 - 12:00am

I have been reading newspaper accounts over the past few days about a conference in Ramallah entitled "Experiences of unifying and activating the left in Palestine and the world." I recall the memory of a young woman from the cold and distant north who asked me during the Beirut civil war thirty years ago what was preventing the unification of two large leftist organizations. I instantly responded: stupidity.

Fortunately, my unguarded outburst contained much of the truth, perhaps among the best and the fullest in a history of slips of the tongue, characterizing the “petit bourgeoisie” with an accuracy that has not expired. And today, without relying on unlikely contingencies, what held true in the past will most likely continue to be so in the present time. However, given that there is always a certain degree of uncertainty, it is important to address some of the confusion that naturally arises in such cases.

Before talking about its unification and empowerment, we must first consider the very definition of the Left. More specifically, what does it mean to be Palestinian leftist in 2009, what ideas and principles need to be promoted, and what goals must be achieved?

If we look at the rhetoric coming out of the conference I cited above (and here I am relying on press accounts), it emphasized ending the political marginalization of the Left, defending the people and the cause, ending the Left's division and fragmentation, and serving the citizenry. This, of course, was in addition to all the discussion about local and global experiences and how to make good use of them, etc.

This language of generalities does not serve any purpose, does not help the Left emerge from the Palestinian fringes, and does not serve the citizenry, but actually reinforces the Left's own marginalization. What is needed instead is a careful re-examination of the definition of terms, such as: what is the meaning of the Left (i.e., what distinguishes it from other political orientations); what is the meaning of defense and service of the people (i.e., specific ideas to help the general public and the means to accomplish them); and what precisely constitutes "the people" and "the cause" to be served ("the people" are in fact peoples, and "the cause" in fact causes, and "the interest" in fact interests -- if this were not so, then the national movement could not have become fragmented, and the Palestinians would not have become divided).

Therefore, instead of preaching about generalities, it is important to think critically and plan carefully, without, of course, challenging the sincerity of the people who participate in such conferences, who are mostly individuals who grew out of the armed Palestinian Left of the late sixties, and have subsequently transformed into independents and activists in non-governmental organizations that are concerned with civil society and human rights.

I do not think that under these circumstances the leftist organizations in Palestine will able to unify their ranks or emerge from the margins. Such organizations could well remain on the sidelines for many years to come, and could continue to subsist on the memories past achievements accumulated in an earlier era. Indeed, some of them are being turned into puppets of Hamas, under the pretext that we are going through a phase of national liberation that requires postponing all significant social issues, and giving the confrontation with the occupation more weight than supposedly marginal differences between national partners, and all the other empty talk with which we are all too familiar.

Equally, the ambition of independents and former members of leftist groups to form a united leftist front is not achievable without a careful re-examination of the concepts of primary and secondary contradictions, the idea of the primacy of the phase of national liberation, and similar notions. In Gaza and Ramallah, there is political authority that enacts laws and makes decisions that affect the lives and fates of millions of Palestinians, which means that social issues, even though the occupation still continues, must be given their due consideration and importance.

I do not think that there is a relationship between the occupation and issues such as personal status laws, the complete equality between the sexes, and co-education in schools and universities. There are countless such vital issues that cannot be dismissed as secondary or irrelevant. And these issues have the ability to uplift those currently consigned to humiliating social marginalization.

And what exactly is the relationship between the right-wing fundamentalism in Palestine and the occupation? The truth is that the emergence of right-wing fundamentalism has weakened the Palestinian national movement, prolonged the life of the occupation, and postponed the realization of the dream of independence and statehood for an unknown and indefinite period. And if challenging the right-wing fundamentalism is not a responsibility and task of the left, then how can it be worthy of that name?

Moreover, we must ask, what is the relationship between the occupation and the development in the Palestinian system, after its establishment in the mid-nineties, of a populist politics and culture that emulates the models of the Arab political systems that have become blatant dictatorships ruled by a big daddy, an inspiring overlord to whom the public sings praises of genius?

There is no relationship between any of this and the occupation. And there is no contradiction in combining resistance to the occupation with the resistance to the emergence of these internal phenomena. What is the difference, then, between the Left and the others if the Left allows others to kidnap the national cause, and allows itself to become trapped into serving as a puppet of those who are better equipped and more conniving in return for a couple of minutes on Al-Jazeera?

The Palestinian Left has suffered from a stroke since the mid-nineties, and I do not think that it has yet recovered in an ethical, cultural, and political sense. In any case, if secularism and the issues of poverty, corruption, and civil rights, and especially and above all the issue of women’s rights, are not central concerns of the Left, then what exactly are its issues?

If this effort at ending the state of division and fragmentation is intended to unite the leftist organizations, then it would be better to coordinate their positions on issues defining parliamentary, union, and student council elections. But if it is intended to end the rift between Fatah and Hamas, then the Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman is executing that role more effectively, and has more persuasive tools than appeals and invitations to brotherhood. It would be quite surreal if trying to play such a role turns into one of the main concerns of the Left in Palestine. Therefore, I reiterate previous words from a distant city, as old habits die hard.


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