Class forces in Palestine: a response

FRFI 171 February / March 2003

In FRFI 170, Robert Clough reviewed an important analysis of the class forces in both Israel and Palestine that Palestinian human rights worker ADAM HANIEH had written for US left-wing journal Monthly Review. We are very pleased to publish this serious and substantial response from Comrade Hanieh and will be continuing the discussion in future issues of FRFI.

Despite the fact that I don’t agree with the political implications you attribute to my analysis, you raise some important questions that do require discussion. I will attempt to deal with what I believe are the shortcomings of your analysis below.

Your major criticism of my article seems to be the fact that I did not explicitly state that the working class should lead the Palestinian revolution. While I agree with this standpoint on a general theoretical level, what I attempted to do in my article was to explain the concrete reality of class relations in Palestinian society and Israel. I strongly believe this should be the starting point of developing a political strategy if we are to avoid schemas that do not fit real life.

What are these concrete social relations? Firstly, the Palestinian working class is concentrated in three sectors: the Palestinian Authority (PA), small family owned businesses, or work in Israel or the settlements. The latter are currently (virtually) idle due to the closures and the economic changes that have taken place since Oslo.

There are no large industries. There is also no ‘national’ bourgeoisie or even imperialist capital directly exploiting cheap Palestinian labour. Instead, the bourgeoisie has a comprador nature as I attempted to describe in my article.

Secondly, and this is a point that was not adequately explored in the article, Palestinian farmers do not resemble the classic third world peasantry or a rural proletariat. In fact, the vast majority of Palestinian farm holdings are very small and form a supplement to wage labour relations in the cities. There are none of the large latifundia-type holdings of the type that are found in Latin America.

Instead, many Palestinians own a small piece of land which is worked seasonally by family members (usually women, children and the elderly) as a supplement to the normal income. Produce from these farms is either sold directly by the farmer (or their family) in urban markets or consumed directly by the owners themselves. Thus, it is very common in olive-picking season for Palestinians living in urban areas to take time off work to harvest olives on their land in the villages from which they originate.

It is important to remember that the land area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is very small, and that most of the land which was historically cultivated by Palestinian farmers has been confiscated by the Israeli army or settlers. Incidentally, this land confiscation played a crucial role in the breaking down of traditional village structures and the proletarianisation/urbanisation of a large section of rural youth during the 1970s and 80s.

Now, to turn to the discussion of working class leadership. Firstly, so there can be no confusion on this point, I agree that this is both necessary and desirable. This, however, is not the issue. The real question is what does this mean in practice? This is the question that you do not answer apart from vague exhortations that ‘the success of the Palestinian revolution crucially depends on a class-conscious Palestinian working class leadership.’

It is of little practical significance to state that Vietnam, Angola and Mozambique did not have an industrial working class but they still made revolutions. Those countries were particularly suited to guerrilla warfare strategies partly due to geographical factors and partly due to the confluence of global power at the time. The West Bank and Gaza Strip is a much smaller area with most of the population living in urban areas, there are no forests or hills to use as liberated zones, and Israel possesses weaponry far superior to anything that Palestinians can utilise. Again, these are all further reasons why the Palestinian armed struggle has taken the form that it has.

Now given that the Palestinian workers cannot use classic tactics such as withdrawal of their labour power in order to bring capitalist industry to a halt (in fact, what has happened in reality is that Israel has withdrawn Palestinian labour from the market place!), what does ‘working class leadership of the revolution’ mean? If you mean by this a determination not to sacrifice the interests of the Palestinian cause for pragmatic negotiated solutions then I am in complete agreement. Still, this does not go very far in suggesting an effective strategy.

I also don’t have any easy answers to this question and I don’t believe anyone on the ground here does either. What I can do is suggest a broad outline of how to approach an answer. Firstly, I believe it is imperative to begin with a correct understanding of the class nature of the Israeli state and the PA. The absence of this approach leads to grave political errors such as the belief that Zionism and socialism can be compatible, the Israeli Labour Party is left-wing, or even that historically Israel represented some form of socialism because of the historical weight of the labour movement and the kibbutzim. We see this today with the frenzy of calls from the so-called Zionist ‘left’ to support Mitzna’s candidacy and the Israeli Labour Party against Sharon. These calls stem from a mistaken view of who the Israeli Labour Party actually represents. The Israeli Labour Party is the first choice of Israeli capital (and indeed US imperialism), it always has been historically and it remains so today.

Secondly, we need to remember that the root of the Palestinian problem is the Zionist colonisation of Palestine which from the 1960s (as you point out) has been backed by US imperialism in order to defend the interests of US capital in the Middle East. Zionism is a racist ideology based on the expropriation of Palestinian land and is a form of Apartheid encapsulated in Israel’s self-definition as a ‘Jewish state’. There will not be peace or justice as long as Zionism is the ruling ideology of Israel.

This is the point that is obscured by those calling for negotiations and a settlement based on two-states. Even if a Palestinian state was to emerge in the West Bank and Gaza Strip this would only be a temporary step as long as a racist state based on Zionist ideology continues to exist in its current form. It would still be the duty of every revolutionary to oppose the Israeli state and seek the end of Zionism. The only lasting solution and indeed the only just solution is a democratic, secular state in the whole of historic Palestine. On a strategic level, this means that the Palestinian struggle will not be won solely in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians who remained in Israel after the establishment of the state will play a critical role as will those sections of the Israeli working class which also suffer because of Zionism such as the Mizrahim (even if their present level of consciousness denies this fact.)

Flowing from a critique of Zionism in all its forms is the central importance of the right of return of Palestinian refugees. This demand expresses the link between the current stage of the struggle and the foundation of the Israeli state in 1948. It is for this reason that a Palestinian leadership that actually represents the interests of the oppressed must stand firm with this demand. The current leadership has clearly failed in this regard and this failure stems from their reliance upon foreign capital and their symbiotic relationship with Israel that was fostered during the Oslo years.

Understanding the class nature of the Palestinian Authority and the concrete structure of the Palestinian working class points the way to how it is possible for the Palestinian people to take control of their struggle. I believe that in the future we shall see a resurgence of struggle at the level of the Palestinian workforce, particularly in the public sector. Public sector workers (especially teachers) are very poorly paid and work in extremely difficult conditions. Indeed, in the late 1990s, Palestinian teachers waged a long and bitter struggle over their conditions which was halted with the Intifada. There are signs that this struggle may be renewing along with calls for a democratic and accountable leadership that really represents the interests of the Palestinian people.

Thank you once again for the opportunity to reply to your review.
Comradely regards
Adam Hanieh


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