The Palestinian national liberation struggle: A socialist analysis

by Mostafa Omar • Published 30 October 2023

Note: This article was written in 2002 before being updated and republished in 2020.[1] It provides vital insights into the trajectory of Palestinian resistance and an analysis of the different currents within the national liberation movement. It was written amid the turbulence of the Second Intifada, which signalled a deep discontent with the so-called Oslo peace process. The United States was publicly preparing for its illegal invasion of Iraq. Triggered by the events of 9/11, the (still) ongoing War on Terror was reshaping American empire. At the time of writing, Yasser Arafat was still alive and Fateh was still dominant in the movement. The Arab Spring had yet to unsettle and unseat dictators and despots. Despite the many historical moments and events that have unfolded since its original publication, this article provides important context for the ongoing revolts of the Arab Spring across the region, while making a strong case for why the struggle for Palestine inspires and rallies movements regionally.

Since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, endless rounds of negotiations between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel have failed to secure an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, a Palestinian state, or the right of return for five million Palestinian refugees. Moreover, living conditions for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have actually deteriorated. Poverty and unemployment have skyrocketed. And Israel has expanded its settlements. As Palestinian professor Edward Said described the situation:

In the Palestinian case, the tragedy of a dispossessed and militarily occupied people is compounded by a leadership that made a “peace” deal with its more powerful enemy, a deal that serves Israel’s strategic purposes by keeping Palestinians, whose land has been practically lost to Zionist conquest, in a state of depression and servitude… The fact is that by his behaviour Mr. Arafat[2] no longer represents the majority of Palestinians, and now survives without dignity by virtue of US, Israeli, and Arab support.[3]

In September 2000, as a result of deteriorating living conditions since Oslo and increasing frustration with the PLO’s political impotence, the Palestinians began their second mass uprising in fifteen years, the al-Aqsa Intifada.[4] Since then, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have taken to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza to confront the Israeli army and settlers directly. Despite brutal repression by Israel and repeated attempts by Arafat to rein in Palestinian anger, the Palestinians have shown, once again, tremendous courage and willingness to make huge sacrifices to win their freedom.

Unfortunately, the heroic struggles of the al-Aqsa Intifada are insufficient to stop Israel. The Palestinians simultaneously face a number of difficult obstacles: Israel’s brutal repression, unconditional US political and military support for Israel, betrayals and repression by the PLO itself, and manoeuvres by pro-US Arab regimes to end the Intifada before other Arab workers begin to emulate it.

Although formidable, these obstacles are not insurmountable. But in order for the Palestinians to overcome them, a mass movement needs to be built across the Arab world to challenge both US imperialism and the Arab regimes backed by it. Such a movement could provide the necessary political and economic support for the Palestinians to challenge Israel.

The success of any mass movement in challenging the US and the Arab regimes and supporting the Palestinians against Israel is linked to the question of building a socialist alternative in the Arab world. The case for this alternative starts from the realisation that Arab workers, who produce all the oil and wealth in the area, have to fight for real, democratic control over society in order to rid themselves of the miserable conditions imposed by the ruling Arab regimes and the United States.

But a socialist alternative in the Arab world would have to learn from the mistakes of an older generation of radicals that looked to Stalinist Russia and certain “progressive” Arab regimes, such as Syria and Iraq, as models for social change.[5] This means rejecting the compromises with Zionism of the PLO; looking to the struggles of ordinary people in Palestine against Israel; recognising that solidarity with the Arab working classes, not negotiations, is the way to stop Israel; and fighting for a secular and democratic Palestine based on equality between Arabs and Jews.

Building a socialist alternative in the Arab world, especially in Palestine, requires clarity on a number of key political questions. Why did the PLO surrender to Israel and Washington? Whose class interests does the PLO represent? Why did many Palestinians turn to Hamas? What happened to the Palestinian left, the Popular and the Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine? Why does the left tail Arafat’s policy? Is it really necessary (or realistic) to look to the struggles of Arab workers as the way to liberate Palestine?

These questions cannot be properly answered without a re-examination of the history of the Palestinian national liberation movement, especially of the rise and fall of the PLO and the Palestinian left. Such a re-examination is necessary to achieve theoretical clarity for those of us who want to continue to resist both Israel and US imperialism. This essay hopes to make a small contribution toward that goal.

The pre-1948 nationalist movement

In the three decades that preceded the 1948 Nakba (“catastrophe”), the Palestinians carried out a brave struggle to resist the Zionist project of building a Jewish state that would serve as an outpost for Western imperialism in the Middle East. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the Palestinians challenged Britain’s colonial mandate over Palestine and its policy of facilitating Jewish immigration and settlement. In 1929, Palestinians organised demonstrations and protests against Jewish settlements and businesses, in what became known as the Buraq Rebellion. The British army viciously suppressed these protests.[6]

The intensification of Jewish immigration, triggered by the rise of fascism in Europe during the first half of the 1930s, placed more pressure on Palestinians. The Palestinians resumed the fight against British colonialism and Zionism, turning to armed struggle as a means of resistance. Led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam,[7] a network of militias drawn primarily from peasants and urban intellectuals attacked British and Zionist interests all over Palestine. Mandate police killed al-Qassam in a gun battle in 1935, but the armed struggle continued.

In 1936, a mass social struggle joined with the armed struggle. In April, following weeks of clashes between Palestinian protesters and Jewish settlers, Arab dockworkers at the port of Jaffa struck to protest British support for Jewish immigration. Under mass pressure, the Palestinian elite, under the leadership of Jerusalem’s mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, was forced to call a general strike. Within days, the strike spread to other major Palestinian ports, cities and villages. All sections of Palestinian Arab society, including workers, peasants, small businesses, and even sections of large business, joined the strike. The strike demanded an end to Jewish immigration, a ban on the sale of land to settlers, and the replacement of the British Mandate by a government drawn from the majority population. Palestinians organised a mass civil disobedience campaign and stopped paying taxes to British authorities. Meanwhile, al-Qassam militias attacked British and Zionist interests all over the country.[8]

The general strike lasted for six months, before the British managed to end it with brutal repression. Armed struggle continued for two more years. Eventually, the British army and Zionist militias managed to crush the armed struggle. In total, this mass rebellion (which became known as the 1936 Great Arab Revolt) lasted for three years.

Despite the Palestinians’ heroic struggles and sacrifices, the 1936 revolt failed. This was attributable to two main factors. First, the poorly armed Palestinian militias were no match for the overwhelming military superiority of the combined British and Zionist forces. Moreover, Zionist displacement of Palestinian workers in strategic workplaces throughout Palestine helped the British to “block Arab nationalist efforts to spread the general strike and fully paralyse the country’s economy.[9] Second, fearing a total loss of control over the Palestinian masses, the Palestinian elite, backed by reactionary Arab regimes close to Britain, weakened the rebellion through its compromises with Britain and its constant manoeuvres to end the revolt.

Indeed, the conservative role the Palestinian elite played during the 1920s and 1930s presented many obstacles to the development of a successful struggle against Zionism. This elite, composed of big landowners and merchants, generally opposed British colonialism and the establishment of a Jewish state. However, two factors mitigated this elite’s opposition to colonialism. On one hand, different wealthy Palestinian families competed for support from British authorities to edge out their rivals. On the other hand, economic ties between the Palestinian elite as a whole and the other pro-British Arab ruling classes, such as those in Egypt and Jordan, prompted the Palestinian elite to avoid confrontation with Britain. This explains, for example, why some members of the elite called for an end to attacks on Zionist interests during the Buraq Rebellion in 1929, or argued for a disastrous policy of strengthening relations with Britain to win the latter away from supporting Zionism. Some Palestinian notables even went so far as to argue that Britain should maintain its mandate over Palestine as a last line of defence against Zionism![10]

Indeed, some wealthy families, such as the al-Nashashibis and al-Husseinis, organised different nationalist parties. However, these families aimed to use the nationalist struggle as a way to advance their own narrow commercial and political interests. Their animosity toward each other and their fear of the masses of Palestinian peasants and workers always outweighed their opposition to British colonialism and Zionism.[11] In other words, the Palestinian elite was more interested in maintaining its wealth and its ties with Arab regimes than it was in leading a fight against British colonialism and Zionism.

In contrast, throughout the same period, Palestinian workers and peasants made enormous sacrifices in the nationalist struggle. In the cities, workers organised numerous strikes and street protests. In the countryside, peasants fought bravely despite years of British terror.

The heroism of these workers and peasants was insufficient to overcome the conservative influence of the Palestinian elite in the nationalist struggle. In pre-1948 Palestine, the working class was still a tiny minority of the population, without much union or political organisation. The peasants, on the other hand, lacked the social cohesion necessary to play an effective political role. These weaknesses meant that the Palestinian masses were ill-prepared to take on the giant task of successfully challenging the British army and a well-funded and well-armed Zionist settler movement.

The Palestine Communist Party: A false start

Divided between rival factions in the Palestinian elite, the nationalist movement remained fragmented and weak. Under these circumstances, there was a clear need for a progressive left alternative. Unfortunately, the Palestine Communist Party (PCP), the only socialist organisation in Palestine prior to 1948, suffered from serious political weaknesses that prevented it from challenging the leadership and control of the conservative Palestinian elite.

Founded in 1924 with help from the Communist International (Comintern), the PCP aimed to unite Arab and Jewish workers in a struggle to build a socialist Palestine.[12] However, the PCP, like other communist parties around the world, ceased to be a revolutionary organisation by the early 1930s, following Stalin’s ascendancy to power in Russia. Thus, the PCP formulated its policies based on the needs of Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, not on those of workers’ struggles against colonialism. This meant that the PCP followed orders from Moscow – even those that led to its isolation from the Arab masses.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, party membership remained almost wholly Jewish, owing to its origin in a split from the left-Zionist Socialist Workers Party. The PCP did not produce its first Arabic publication until 1929. The Buraq Rebellion that year caught the party unprepared. Party publications and spokespeople simultaneously initially characterised the rebellion as an anti-imperialist uprising and an anti-Jewish pogrom. In 1935, it adopted a policy of “revolution in stages”, calling for its members in oppressed countries to unite with the “progressive bourgeoisie” in an anti-imperialist “people’s front”. In Palestine, this policy translated into an uncritical tailing of the traditional Arab leadership.

In 1943, the PCP split on national lines. Jewish members, accusing the party leadership of “ultra-nationalist” politics, reorganised the PCP as a party accepting the Zionist idea that the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine, constituted a national group entitled to self-determination. The PCP’s decision to abandon the goal of fighting for a united, socialist Palestine drove most of the Arab cadre to quit the party. Later that year, some of these cadres, such as Bulus Farah, regrouped in the National Liberation League (NLL).

A final blow to genuine socialist politics in Palestine came when the USSR decided to back the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947. Until then, the PCP had opposed partition, despite its softness on Zionism. When the Soviet Union announced its support for the formation of Israel, a state it hoped to turn into a Soviet ally in the region against the US and Britain, the PCP followed suit. Jewish PCP members joined the Haganah to fight Arab resistance to the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union’s support for partition threw the NLL into disarray, with some leaders supporting partition and others opposing it.

In the end, the NLL was too small and politically confused to play any significant role in preventing the catastrophic destruction of Palestinian Arab society that ensued.[13]

Rebirth of a national liberation movement

The 1948 Nakba set back the Palestinian nationalist movement for years. In the immediate aftermath of the war, the destruction of Palestinian Arab society and the transformation of 70 percent of the population into refugees living under authoritarian Arab regimes made it very difficult to organise resistance.

But by the mid-1950s, as Palestinians became embittered with the unwillingness of the Arab regimes to solve the refugee problem or to challenge Israel, the Palestinian nationalist movement started to revive. A group of Palestinian intellectuals and professionals who lived and studied in Arab countries – among them Yasser Arafat – formed the Palestinian liberation movement Fateh in 1958. Drawing on the experience of the Algerian war of independence against France, Fateh advocated “armed struggle” (guerrilla warfare) to liberate Palestine. Fateh grew in size and popularity.

In the aftermath of Israel’s victory over Egypt, under president Gamal Abdel Nasser, and other Arab regimes in the June 1967 war, Fateh’s armed struggle gave millions of people across the Arab world hope in the possibility of fighting back. Fateh’s 1968 Battle of Karameh, where underequipped Palestinian guerrillas held off the Israel Defence Forces near the Jordanian town of Karameh, inspired thousands of Palestinians and others from all over the world to join its ranks.

In 1969, Fateh succeeded in taking over the PLO, an organisation that Arab governments had founded in 1964. As originally conceived, the PLO allowed the Arab governments – most notably, Nasser’s Egypt – to pay lip service to the Palestinian struggle, while keeping control over its activities. Under its chair, Ahmed Shukeiri, a Palestinian lawyer, the PLO was a weak and undynamic organisation. By 1969, Fateh’s prestige put it in a position to take the PLO’s reins as Nasser pushed Shukeiri aside. Fateh turned the PLO into a mass organisation that included all the newly formed left-wing and revolutionary organisations.[14]

The Palestine National Charter, revised in 1968, showed the influence of the guerrillas on the Palestinian movement. The PLO continued to identify Palestine as the “indivisible territorial unit” within the borders of the pre-Israel British Mandate. Moreover, it asserted, “armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. Thus it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase… Commando action constitutes the nucleus of the Palestinian popular liberation war”. In addition, the charter stated that Palestinians “reject all solutions which are substitutes for the total liberation of Palestine”.[15] The radical language reflected the heady days of early guerrilla success.

Fateh’s ideology appealed to Palestinians who wanted action, not diplomatic wrangling with Arab regime sponsors. But Fateh didn’t want to answer the question: “Whose Palestine?” Fateh regarded itself as a representative of all social classes in Palestinian society. It argued that any class differences among Palestinians must be put aside in order to wage a successful struggle. Fateh’s nationalist ideology ignored the irreconcilability of class antagonisms among Palestinians.

The 1948 catastrophe affected wealthy and poor Palestinians in different ways. While a large number of wealthy Palestinians were able to transfer their assets to neighbouring Arab countries in the months leading up to the catastrophe, the vast majority of Palestinian peasants and workers ended up in UN refugee camps. So, while wealthy Palestinians were able to regroup and eventually play a central economic role in Arab countries, the majority of refugees lacked any social, economic, or political rights.

Fateh’s nationalist ideology suited the interests of the Palestinian bourgeoisie. This group, on one hand, needed a movement such as Fateh to achieve the goal of building its own state. But, on the other hand, the Palestinian bourgeoisie needed to ensure that poor refugees would not rebel against its oppressive Arab allies. Fateh promised to fulfill both of those needs: mobilising the Palestinian refugees to fight Israel while avoiding confrontation with Arab governments.

Fateh adopted a “principle of non-intervention” in the internal affairs of Arab countries. The PLO under Fateh received billions in aid from Arab regimes, including the Gulf monarchies. In exchange, the PLO refused to take stands on political and social questions affecting the Palestinians and other populations of its Arab sponsors. In the oil-rich Gulf monarchies, Palestinian workers toiled for fifty years to build the economies of these states while they were denied basic economic and human rights. Still, Fateh failed to support the struggles of Palestinian oil workers in the 1950s against the giant American oil company ARAMCO.[16] It also failed to challenge the policies of the Arab regimes, such as Egypt and Jordan, that jailed and tortured Palestinian activists, not to mention thousands of other Arab trade unionists and radicals. The non-intervention principle meant that Fateh compromised, time and again, with regimes that oppressed Palestinian refugees and lacked any interest in challenging either Israel or Western influence in the area.

Despite its initial successes, the PLO paid for the “principle of non-intervention” with a number of serious political and military setbacks. The organisation’s crushing defeat in Jordan during the events of September 1970 was the most prominent of these. In the late 1960s, the PLO had established itself as the main political and military force in Jordan, virtually eclipsing the hated regime of King Hussein. It had the political support of Palestinian refugees, who made up 70 percent of Jordan’s population. Time and again, however, Arafat turned down appeals from Palestinian activists, and even some Jordanian army officers, to depose the king and replace his regime with a democratic one. A democratic Jordan, many radicals believed, would provide a model for other Arab people to emulate. It could also unleash the potential of mass struggle that would be needed to fight a strong military regime such as Israel.

But the PLO’s hesitations proved costly. In September 1970, King Hussein used the crisis precipitated by Palestinian leftists’ airline hijackings as a pretext to launch an all-out military attack on the PLO. Arafat once again refused to enter into an all-out confrontation with the king’s regime. A confrontation with the king, from Arafat’s point of view, would have caused massive political instability in the region. It could have also endangered the PLO’s support among other Arab dictators. The PLO’s passive resistance allowed the king’s army to massacre hundreds of Palestinian activists while subjecting the refugee population to a reign of terror. Finally, Arafat agreed to transfer PLO institutions and militias from Jordan to Lebanon.[17]

The PLO was never able to recover from its defeat in Jordan. If the Arab defeat in the 1967 War showed the impotence of the Arab regimes against Israel, “Black September” convinced the PLO leader Salah Khalaf that

it was only too evident that the Palestinian revolution could not count on any Arab state to provide a secure sanctuary or an operational base against Israel. In order to forge ahead toward the democratic, inter-sectarian society that was our ideal, we had to have our own state, even on a square inch of Palestine.[18]

Khalaf’s statement put a radical-sounding gloss on an emerging shift in the PLO’s goals. In the immediate aftermath of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the US launched the “peace process” of negotiations between Arab states and Israel. The US aimed to win Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s return of Arab land it occupied in 1967 and 1973. Arab regimes, yearning to establish closer relations with the US, pressured the PLO to abandon its radical goals. And PLO leaders increasingly looked to international diplomacy to win the “mini-state” they desired. Phil Marshall spells out the political impact of Fateh’s decision:

Fateh accepted, dropping its principal aim – the liberation of the whole of Palestine – in favour of the prospect of the mini-state, which was to be pressed on Israel by the US. Although the Fateh leadership had long debated the character of the Palestinian “entity” for which it struggled – the extent of its territory, whether it should co-exist with Israel, and whether it should give citizenship to Israeli Jews – it had never publicly conceded the Zionist movement’s right to control any area of Palestine.[19]

Indeed, in 1974, Arafat officially called for a two-state solution and accepted UN resolutions that partitioned Palestine. In a famous speech to the UN General Assembly, Arafat offered Israel a “historic compromise”, while waving a gun with one hand and an olive branch with the other. This compromise effectively amounted to recognition of the state of Israel and, in some ways, became a prelude to Oslo.

The PLO’s charter, revised in 1974, reflected the shift away from armed struggle to the mini-state solution:

The PLO will struggle by every means, the foremost of which is armed struggle, to liberate Palestinian land and to establish the people’s national, independent and fighting sovereignty on every part of Palestinian land to be liberated. This requires the creation of further changes in the balance of power in favour of our people and their struggle.

The PLO completed its evolution to “peaceful coexistence” with Israel at its nineteenth Palestinian National Council (PNC) meeting, in 1988, where Arafat issued a Palestinian “Declaration of Independence”. Meeting as the grassroots-led Intifada was tying down thousands of Israeli troops in the Occupied Territories, the PNC took the initiative to advance its diplomatic agenda for the mini-state. In unambiguous language, Arafat and the PNC laid out a number of historic concessions to Israel.

The PNC recognised Israel. It endorsed the 1947 UN resolution that partitioned Palestine. It proposed that the independent Palestinian state be located in the West Bank and Gaza – only 23 percent of pre-1947 Palestine. It renounced “terrorism” (i.e., the armed struggle) and endorsed diplomacy as the means to achieve the mini-state. These 1988 Palestinian concessions paved the road to Oslo.[20]

The Palestinian left: An alternative to Fateh?

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new Palestinian left could have challenged Fateh’s leadership of the PLO. Two main organisations, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), criticised Fateh’s “principle of non-intervention” and attempted, briefly, to build a left-wing current in the national liberation movement.

Radical Arab nationalist intellectuals, led by George Habash, founded the PFLP immediately after the June 1967 war. The inability of self-proclaimed “socialist” Arab regimes, such as Nasser’s Egypt, to live up to their promises of fighting Israel and US imperialism, pushed these activists to search for more radical means to liberate Palestine. Inspired by the successes of the Cuban Revolution and other anti-imperialist struggles in Algeria and Vietnam, and influenced by a combination of Maoist and Stalinist ideas, the PFLP declared itself to be a “Marxist-Leninist” organisation. It viewed the Palestinian cause as one part of a worldwide struggle against imperialism. It believed that the plight of the Palestinians was closely connected to the oppression of the Arab masses by Arab dictatorships and imperialism. Therefore, it argued that the liberation of the Palestinian people was tied into the struggle for a socialist society in the entire Middle East.[21]

The PFLP rejected the notion that any of the nationalist Arab regimes was actually “socialist”. These “petty bourgeois”[22] regimes, the PFLP argued, were unable and unwilling to challenge Israel or US imperialism because of their dependence on the international capitalist economy. A deep class antagonism between workers and peasants, on one hand, and the Arab bourgeoisie, on the other, characterised the Arab regimes. Thus, the PFLP argued, the Arab regimes could survive only through support from imperialist powers and suppression of the Arab masses.

Furthermore, the PFLP rejected Fateh’s “principle of non-intervention” in the affairs of Arab regimes. In contrast to Fateh’s dependence on the Arab regimes, the PFLP believed that the victory of the Palestinian struggle was contingent on the success of the Arab masses in defeating those regimes. That’s why it coined the famous slogan: “The road to Jerusalem begins in Cairo, Damascus, and Amman”. This slogan reflected its own commitment to a broader vision of the needs of the struggle.

Hence, the PFLP made some attempt to orient itself on the struggles of Palestinian and other Arab workers and peasants. In Jordan, at the height of PLO influence in the late 1960s, the PFLP attempted to organise both Palestinian and Jordanian agricultural workers and intervened in various industrial struggles. It also organised its own popular militias, attracting many Palestinian, Jordanian, and other Arab activists. During the events of Black September in 1970, these militias fought bravely, yet unsuccessfully, to stop King Hussein’s assault on the PLO.

In 1970, the PFLP was forced, along with the other PLO factions, to leave Jordan for Lebanon. During the 1970s and 1980s, it tried to maintain its commitment to the liberation of Palestine. During the Lebanese civil war, for example, the PFLP fought on the side of other Lebanese leftist and Islamic militias against the Israel-backed, pro-fascist Maronite militias. Its members helped to defend Palestinians and the PLO against the Israeli onslaught in the 1982 Lebanon war. And its cadres, along with other forces, played on-the-ground leadership roles in the early stages of the 1987–93 Intifada in the Occupied Territories.[23]

The PFLP led a “Rejectionist Front” of Palestinian organisations against the PLO’s adoption of the “mini-state” formula in 1974. Despite its radical critique of PLO strategy, the PFLP suffered from a series of major contradictions and weaknesses. These problems prevented it from building a revolutionary alternative to Fateh.

First, while it rejected, correctly, the notion that some Arab regimes were socialist, the PFLP made a false distinction between reactionary regimes that accommodated to imperialism and progressive nationalist ones that were forced to fight against it. Thus, based on this distinction, the PFLP allied itself with a number of repressive Arab governments, such as the Ba’athist regime in Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria. Ultimately, these alliances cost the PFLP its political independence and reduced it to a tool in the hands of some Arab rulers.

Second, the PFLP, similar to the rest of the Stalinist left in the Arab world, allied itself with what it considered to be “real” socialist societies, the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. This meant that, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the PFLP was regularly manipulated by the Soviet Union and forced to adapt to the Cold War needs of Soviet foreign policy in the area. Its vision of Marxism-Leninism was expressed in the Cuban Revolution, where a small group of guerrillas defeated a US-backed dictator and, a few years later, declared Cuba a socialist society. Cuban workers and peasants did not take part in making the revolution.

Finally, the PFLP’s chief tactical contribution to the growing Palestinian movement in 1968–72 was its use of airline hijackings to publicise the Palestinian cause.[24] As a result, it substituted the actions of its small, committed membership for the mass struggle of the Arab workers and peasants it aimed to relate to. As the Palestinians faced one of the world’s chief military powers, it became apparent that guerrilla tactics alone could not win. And although millions of people across the Arab world supported the Palestinians’ armed struggle, the nature of that struggle prevented them from taking part. Therefore, the reliance on this tactic left the PFLP (and PLO) militias relatively small in size and unable to pose a serious military threat to Israel. Also, more critically, it isolated the PFLP from the mass struggles that took place against the Arab regimes and US imperialism in the late 1960s and early 1970s – especially the workers’ and students’ movement in Egypt (1968–72).[25]

Unfortunately, the PFLP’s political weaknesses left it ill-equipped to respond to changing circumstances in the Middle East and returned to its role as internal critic of Fateh in the PLO. By the mid-1980s, as the PFLP failed to have much impact on Fateh’s search for the mini-state solution, it joined Fateh and other PLO factions in support of the 1983 Arab summit proposal for a mini-state in Gaza and the West Bank. Effectively, the PFLP adopted Fateh’s two-state solution.[26]

The DFLP began in 1969 as a left-wing split from the PFLP. While it shared the PFLP’s politics overall, the DFLP rejected the distinction between reactionary and nationalist Arab regimes. This distinction, the DFLP argued, simply allowed the PFLP to rely on petty-bourgeois regimes that were inconsistent in their fight against imperialism. Instead, the DFLP argued correctly that the Arab working classes are the only social force capable of defeating Israel and US imperialism. The DFLP was the first of the Palestinian resistance groups to work with allies in the Israeli left. It pioneered the idea that Palestinians should fight for a “secular, democratic state” in Palestine, where Arabs and Jews would have equal rights.

However, following the defeat of the PLO in Black September, the DFLP shifted sharply to the right. Using the mechanical, Stalinist theory of stages, in which “democratic” demands (for example, national liberation) were to be prioritised and achieved before the struggle for socialism could begin, the DFLP abandoned its previous radical positions. The DFLP now argued that the revolutionary left should put the goal of socialism or the total liberation of Palestine on hold. Instead, the left must strive, in the short term, to build a Palestinian state “in any liberated piece of land Israel could be forced to give up”. In 1974, DFLP leader Nayef Hawatmeh called for the formation of a Palestinian “national authority” in Gaza and the West Bank, believing that the Palestinian mini-state could be achieved through the peace process. This meant that, four long years before Arafat himself dared to utter it, the Palestinian left was actually ready to recognise the state of Israel and accept the two-state solution. Since the early 1970s, the DFLP has, even more than the PFLP, simply tailed Fateh’s compromises and zigzags.[27]

The Islamic opposition

The failure of the PLO and its left wing over the past 30 years to provide a clear, effective leadership in the national struggle or to win any of the rights that millions of Palestinians desperately await has hurt the credibility of secular organisations. Moreover, the anti-democratic and corrupt practices of the Palestinian Authority (PA) have turned many more ordinary Palestinians against it. These conditions explain why, in recent years, a large section of Palestinian society has looked to the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and, to a lesser degree, the Islamic Jihad, to resist Israel.

Hamas’s formal opposition to the Oslo Accords and Palestinian negotiators’ endless concessions resonated with people who recognised the futility of negotiations. Its insistence on the liberation of the whole of Palestine connects with the aspirations of Palestinian refugees to return to their country.

From 1967 until the outbreak of the First Intifada in 1987, the Muslim Brotherhood dominated the Islamic movement in Palestine. The Brotherhood attracted a considerable number of people who were alienated by the miserable conditions under Israeli occupation. However, the Brotherhood refused to play any active role in resisting Israel. Instead, it focused on missionary work, such as the construction of mosques, and providing various social and health services to needy Palestinians. The organisation’s non-political position increasingly frustrated many of its younger cadres. As a result, in the late 1970s, some of these cadres began to look to the more radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad.[28] This younger generation admired the political activism of the Egyptian organisation, known predominantly for its role in the assassination of (the pro-Israel) President Sadat in 1981. Eventually, these disgruntled elements broke with the Muslim Brotherhood to form the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad rejected the non-political stance of the Brotherhood, as well as the PLO’s two-state solution compromise. It maintained, as the PLO and its left did at one point, that an armed struggle (this time by an “Islamic vanguard”) was still necessary to liberate the whole of Palestine. Therefore, throughout the 1980s, Jihad carried out military attacks on Israeli targets, though Israel’s overwhelming military superiority kept Islamic Jihad’s influence relatively limited.[29]

The outbreak of the first Palestinian Intifada in 1987 fundamentally changed the fortunes of the Islamic opposition. Under the pressure of the first Intifada, the Muslim Brotherhood realised that it either had to drop its non-political approach or risk losing all credibility among Palestinians. Therefore, in 1988, the Brotherhood formed a political wing, Hamas, to organise resistance to Israel.

Hamas’s own original charter reflected the Palestinians’ disappointment with the failure of the PLO’s diplomatic efforts and manoeuvres to secure any of their lost rights. Sections of Hamas’s charter express this sentiment:

There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad (Holy Struggle). The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility. The Palestinian people are too noble to have their future, their right and their destiny submitted to a vain game.[30]

It rejected Arafat’s decision to recognise the state of Israel at the 1988 session of the PNC in Algeria. And, while the PLO was busy preparing to use the Intifada as a bargaining chip to force Israel to the negotiating table, Hamas began to gain more popular support by playing a leading role in street protests and confrontations with the Israeli army.

As millions of Palestinians grew impatient with the continued arrogance of Israel and Arafat’s endless compromises, Hamas gained more popular support. Its refusal to recognise the Oslo Accords and willingness of its members to sacrifice themselves in military attacks on Israeli targets earned them the respect of people who face Israeli bombardment on a daily basis.[31] By early 2002, Palestinian opinion polls showed support for Islamist groups drawing even with, or even exceeding, support for Arafat’s secular Fateh movement.

The increased support for Hamas currents does not mean that they offer any solution for Palestinians. Hamas believes in the sanctity of private property and supports a market-based economy. This belief leads it to have a contradictory position toward US imperialism. On one hand, it finds itself pitted against the US due to US support for Israel. On the other, Hamas tends to adopt the market ideas pushed by the US – and its financial arms in the area, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank – that are responsible for the misery of millions of Arab workers and peasants. Furthermore, due to its conservative ideology, Hamas is unable to challenge the Arab regimes that ally themselves with the US, especially the right-wing monarchies in the Gulf, such as Saudi Arabia. In this way, Hamas agrees with Fateh’s costly principle of non-interference in the affairs of Arab countries.

Hamas’s leadership is drawn primarily from middle-class elements. Therefore, it tends to sympathise with the goals of the Palestinian bourgeoisie. Like Fateh, Hamas also believes in the necessity of an alliance between all classes in Palestinian society. In practice, this means that the interests of Palestinian refugees and workers must be subordinated to those of Arafat and the bourgeoisie. On more than one occasion, Hamas leadership has indicated its readiness to accept Oslo and live with the state of Israel. As early as 1993, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the political leader of Hamas, indicated that the movement could accept a two-state solution: “It is perceivable to declare a cease-fire with Israel for 10, perhaps 20 years if a Palestinian state is established”.[32]

Despite Hamas’s critique of the PLO’s insistence on a strategy of compromise, it continues to defer to the PLO (and Arafat) as the legitimate leader of the Palestinian nationalist movement. Hamas regards itself simply as one component of that movement:

The PLO is among the closest to the Hamas, for it constitutes a father, a brother, a relative, a friend. Can a Muslim turn away from his father, his brother, his relative or his friend? Our homeland is one, our calamity is one, our destiny is one and our enemy is common to both of us.[33]

While the PA imprisoned and tortured its members, Hamas insisted on the need “to maintain open dialogue with Arafat and cooperation with the PA in all areas of self-autonomy”. This conciliatory approach toward the PA has angered many rank-and-file cadres of the organisation.[34]34

Oslo and the crisis of perspectives

Three decades ago, millions around the world regarded the PLO as one of the main national liberation movements in the world, on par with the Vietnamese National Liberation Front and the African National Congress of South Africa. Tragically, today the PLO is a shadow of its former self. It has all but given up on its initial goals of liberating Palestine and replacing Israel with a secular, democratic state.

The Oslo “peace process” trapped the main forces of the Palestinian national liberation movement in a cul-de-sac. The PLO, reconstituted as the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza after the 1993 Oslo Accords, unashamedly cooperates with both Israel’s internal security service (Shinbet) and the CIA to curb Palestinian militants. It claims that such cooperation is needed to persuade Washington to support a Palestinian state. It uses its massive security forces (more than fifty thousand strong) to jail, torture, and even murder those Palestinians who oppose Oslo.[35] The PLO has ceased to be a force in the struggle against imperialism.

Incredibly, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001, the PLO declared itself a “partner of the US in its war against terrorism”. Not only did the PLO support the bombing of Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries on earth, but its security forces shot and killed Palestinians who protested against the war.

Large numbers of Palestinians view Arafat as safeguarding Israel’s security – not conducting a struggle for liberation. Many are angry, since years of negotiations have failed to end the occupation, stop the expansion of Israeli settlements, or secure the refugees’ right of return. They are also angry because poverty and unemployment levels for ordinary people have worsened, while Arafat and his cronies have made fortunes through corruption and monopolies.

Many people view the PLO’s surrender to Israel and the US, as well as its internal brutality, as a case of “selling out”. This view, however, overlooks the real reason behind the PLO’s capitulation to the US and Israel: the class interests that have always informed the organisation’s policies. The PLO claimed that it represented the interests of all Palestinians. In reality, it has always served the interests of the Palestinian bourgeoisie – especially this class’s desire to form its own mini-state through negotiations and compromise with the US and Israel. It has never wanted to rely on popular struggles of Palestinian or Arab masses, which could endanger the stability of both it and its Arab allies.

This fear of mass rebellion from below, which is characteristic of all ruling classes, explains why the PLO has always had a contradictory attitude toward mass struggles. The PLO needs some form of struggle to pressure Israel into making concessions, but it constantly has to try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to keep any such struggles, especially the Intifadas, under its own control. It also explains why the PLO always supports its Arab allies when they are faced with a threat from their own working classes. In 1970, for example, the PLO chose to leave Jordan rather than challenge and destabilise the authoritarian regime of King Hussein. In 1988 and 1989, it chose to support the Algerian and Jordanian governments against two popular uprisings that the first Intifada inspired.[36]

In response to the Oslo Accords in 1993, the established Palestinian left harshly criticised Arafat for signing a treaty that only benefited Israel and failed to guarantee any of the Palestinians’ fundamental rights. The two organisations joined with eight other radical Palestinian organisations to boycott the PA. In 1996, the PFLP formally withdrew from the PLO. But after 1994, the PA increasingly shaped Palestinian politics. PFLP and DFLP leaders opposed participation in the 1996 legislative council elections. This provoked an organisational split in the DFLP, spawning another party (FIDA) that ran candidates and took a position in the PA. Supporters of the PFLP in the electorate largely ignored the leadership’s calls for boycotts, and many party members ran as independents without official PFLP backing.[37]

As Arafat prepared to enter into “final status” negotiations with Israel when the Oslo Accords’ transition period ran out in 1999, the DFLP and PFLP entered into negotiations with Arafat to prepare a united national stance. Most Palestinian political observers interpreted these moves as these groups’ admission that they had failed to develop a coherent opposition to the Oslo process. At the time, the late PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa admitted that the opposition “has failed to transform its political discourse into practical, material action”.[38] In 1999, both groups endorsed Arafat’s plan to reach a “final status” agreement with Israel.

The failure of the secular left to build a left opposition to Fateh and the Palestinian Authority stems from their failure to apply their initial insights on the reactionary nature of the Arab ruling classes to the Palestinian bourgeoisie itself. As the Jerusalem-based socialist magazine Challenge explained:

At first, when the Oslo Accords were signed, the leftist parties began a campaign against them, calling on the Palestinians to boycott the Palestine Authority (PA) which had joined the colonialist system. The aim was to bring the bourgeoisie back into the national camp. When this failed, the organised Left decided to acknowledge Oslo as a fait accompli; it began calling for national unity, this time on the basis of simply “overlooking” Oslo. Instead of doing its utmost to isolate the bourgeoisie from the masses, the Palestinian Left put all its efforts into finding a national common denominator with the bourgeoisie. The latter, of course, never committed itself to this common denominator. The bourgeois simply used the concept to cover up their surrender so as to keep their grip on the masses. The illusion of national unity among all classes served bourgeois interests and prevented the Left from fulfilling its strategic task: to create a political alternative.[39]

Both the PFLP and DFLP have simply become a left, loyal opposition to Arafat.[40] In fact, their influence has fallen so far that journalist Graham Usher, a longtime observer of Palestinian politics, declared them politically impotent:

The future alliance of the national movement is between mainstream nationalists, Fateh, and the Islamicists. The leftists, the Communists, the Democratic Front (DF), and the Popular Front (PF) are nowhere. They are history. They have no road. They follow Fateh and Hamas. The Popular Front resumed armed actions in the last two months [in summer 2001 – Ed.] purely and simply because they are copying Fateh, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. Same with the Democratic Front. So the secular left…no longer makes the decisions. It’s Hamas and Fateh. Arafat has had to share power with [Hamas].[41]

Since Oslo, the PLO has felt itself under pressure from above and below. From above, it is under pressure from the US and Israel to continue with concessions and crackdowns on militants. From below, mass anger at endless and fruitless concessions, which exploded in the form of the al-Aqsa Intifada, limits Arafat’s ability to make certain concessions. Arafat was not totally off the mark when he reportedly told President Bill Clinton that he feared he would be assassinated if he were to make any more concessions to Israel during the 2000 Camp David negotiations.

The socialist alternative

Both the First Intifada and the al-Aqsa Intifada have shown that, despite its massive military might and US support, Israel cannot silence the Palestinian question. However, they have also shown that the struggle of the Palestinians alone cannot defeat Israel.

In its initial stages, the al-Aqsa Intifada combined mobilisation of the Palestinian population with military attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers. Because the Arafat regime saw the Intifada as a bargaining chip to restart negotiations with Israel, it wound up the popular aspects of the uprising and increasingly turned the conflict into sporadic military confrontations. Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, the Sharon government stepped up its military assault on the Palestinians. Sharon declared his intention to use the “war on terrorism” to crush all resistance and to impose an apartheid system on Palestinians. This raised the stakes in the liberation struggle. Only a strategy that involves the mass of Palestinians – not one that vacillates between isolated guerrilla actions and negotiations that simply reinforce Israeli domination over Palestine – can defend the liberation movement.

In the near term, a strategy of a mass Intifada – combining military tactics with mass actions of Palestinian “civil society” (such as trade unions and popular committees) – can move the struggle in a direction more favourable to the Palestinians. This kind of strategy has the potential to raise the costs of the occupation and to break Israeli morale. It can give confidence to those on the other side of the Green Line – military resisters, Israeli supporters of Palestinian rights, and Palestinians living in Israel – to demonstrate their solidarity. This kind of strategy would also shift the balance in Palestinian society toward ordinary Palestinians and democracy and away from the Arafat cronies and corrupt PA officials who sought to rule an Oslo-imposed Bantustan in collaboration with Israel.

Even if the Palestinians drove Israel out of the territories occupied in 1967, this achievement would not amount to the liberation of Palestine. The Zionist state would still exist, and Palestinians would not have won their right to return to their historic homeland. Palestinian oppression is firmly built into the US-supported state system in the Middle East. Therefore, Palestinian liberation depends on ending that state system and forming a democratic, secular state in all of historic Palestine where Jews and Arabs can live as equals. The only force capable of achieving that task is the working class of the region. This point in no way diminishes the centrality of Palestinian struggle and sacrifice. It only stresses that for Palestinians to finally liberate themselves, Arab workers have to shake off their chains, too.

Millions of ordinary Arab people live in poverty under oppressive governments that the US supports. In addition, they see how US power enforces genocidal sanctions on Iraq that have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and left its economy in a shambles. And they see how US power backs up Israel’s denial of basic human rights to millions of Palestinians. This combination of growing class inequality in the region and the miserable conditions of both the Iraqi and Palestinian peoples is pushing many over the edge.

Deepening class anger and growing support for Iraqis and Palestinians underpinned the outbreak of mass demonstrations across Egypt immediately after the al-Aqsa Intifada began and during Israel’s spring 2002 onslaught on the Occupied Territories. Tens of thousands of workers, lawyers, and students (from the college to the elementary level) took to the streets of major cities (and even villages) to show their solidarity with the Intifada. The demonstrations demanded that the Mubarak government cut diplomatic relations with Israel. These solidarity demonstrations quickly turned into protests against the Mubarak government itself. The demonstrators very quickly raised slogans and chants denouncing widespread corruption, lack of political freedoms, and austerity measures imposed by the government and the IMF. The neoliberal reforms are fuelling a rising militancy among workers that has made the Egyptian government very nervous.[42]

In Jordan, for many years, Palestinian refugees and the majority of ordinary Jordanians have suffered due to harsh economic conditions caused by the sanctions against Jordan’s main trade partner, Iraq, as well as vicious austerity programs imposed by a corrupt monarchy. As in Egypt, during the 2002 Israeli invasion, thousands of people took to the streets to support it. Since then, the Jordanian government, on more than one occasion, had to call the army to control pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

Demonstrations have also taken place in Morocco, Syria and even in the Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where protests of this type were far less common. The evolution of solidarity protests with the Intifada into anti-government protests highlighted, once again, the close connection between the plight of the Palestinians and struggle of the Arab working classes for democracy. It showed the radicalising impact that the Palestinian struggle has always had on Arab workers. Time and again, the Palestinian national liberation struggle has inspired both Arab workers and students to resist their own repressive governments, as well as US domination in the Middle East.

Millions of Arabs who were demoralised by Israel’s 1967 victory over the Arab regimes drew hope from the armed resistance of the PLO. The PLO’s resistance proved that it was still possible to fight both Israel and US imperialism. The PLO’s initial military successes against Israel (1968–70), in turn, gave confidence to ordinary Arabs to resist their own bankrupt and humiliated regimes. Mass movements of workers and students in Egypt (1968–72) and Jordan (1970) challenged these regimes. Reciprocally, thousands of youths and revolutionaries from around the Middle East flocked to join the PLO’s militias.

Spontaneous struggles of Arab workers or students will not be enough to defeat Israel and US imperialism. A socialist alternative rooted in the day-to-day struggles of Arab workers against the oppression and the corruption of their own regimes must be built. It must reject the PLO’s (and the Arab regimes’) collaboration with Israel and the United States. And it must fight for an Arab world run democratically by the workers who create all its oil wealth. The nationalist tradition, embodied most in the mainstream PLO, ran into the cul-de-sac of Oslo. This offered an opening to the Islamists, whose militancy covers for a reactionary social agenda.

Real hope for the future in Palestine lies in the building of a genuine socialist alternative to these politics. Building such an alternative will not be an easy task in Palestine or in the rest of the Arab world, given the level of repression by the PA and other Arab governments. Moreover, a new generation of socialists has to overcome the legacy of Stalinism and its harmful impact on the left. This will require the rediscovery of the real Marxist tradition, which has always looked to struggles of the working class – and not to Stalinist Russia or some authoritarian Arab regime that calls itself “socialist” or “progressive” – as the way to change society. It will be critical for us to learn from the mistakes of the old Stalinist organisations and connect these lessons to the struggles of today.

[1] A previous version of this essay appeared in The Struggle for Palestine, edited by Lance Selfa (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2002), and the text from this version comes from Palestine: A socialist introduction, edited by Sumaya Awad and brian bean (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2020). All editors notes were made by Awad and bean.

[2] Editors’ Note: Arafat was the leader of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO at the time this essay was written.

[3] Edward Said, The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After (New York: Pantheon Books, 2000), 188.

[4] The First Intifada lasted from 1987 to 1993. See Phil Marshall [Phil Marfleet], Intifada: Zionism, Imperialism, and Palestinian Resistance (London: Bookmarks, 1989), 149–76.

[5] Marshall, Intifada, 191–208.

[6] Center for Socialist Studies (hereafter CSS), The Palestinian Question: A Revolutionary Perspective (Cairo, Egypt: The Center for Socialist Studies, 2001), 28–29.

[7] Editors’ Note: Sheikh al-Qassam’s membership in the Brotherhood is unsubstantiated and seems historically unlikely. His membership in the Brotherhood is claimed in Hamas’s first covenant.

[8] Marshall, Intifada, 40–41.

[9] Marshall, Intifada, 40–43.

[10] CSS, 32–36; Zachary Lockman, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 241.

[11] Marshall, Intifada, 59–61.

[12] The Russian Bolshevik Party formed the Comintern in 1919 to organise mass communist parties around the world. A number of Arab socialists, especially from Egypt and Palestine, were fascinated by the example of the Russian Revolution and its recognition of the right of self-determination for oppressed nationalities in the tsarist Russian empire. This led to the formation of small communist parties in a number of Arab countries, including Palestine.

[13] Joel Beinin, Was the Red Flag Flying There? Marxist Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict in Egypt and Israel, 1948–1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990). [Editors’ Note: NLL members did go on to be the backbone of the Communist Party of Jordan that then, through a series of splits and mergers, would emerge again in the early 1980s as the Palestinian Communist Party and play an important role in the organising that led to the First Intifada.]

[14] Marshall, Intifada, 115–20; CSS, 43–47.

[15] See “The Palestine National Charter as Revised by the Fourth PNC Meeting, July 1968” (extracts), in Helena Cobban, The Palestinian Liberation Organisation: People, Power, and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 267–68.

[16] Marshall, Intifada, 99–101. In the mid-1950s, Palestinian oil workers led a series of militant strikes against oil companies in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. In 1956, Palestinian workers organised protests against the invasion of Suez. This prompted the Gulf countries to ban strikes in the oil fields.

[17] Marshall, Intifada, 123–27; CSS, 47–51.

[18] Quoted in Cobban, Palestinian Liberation Organisation, 60–61. Israel assassinated Khalaf in 1990.

[19] Marshall, Intifada, 132.

[20] For a summary of the PLO’s shift to the “mini-state” strategy and an analysis of the 1988 decisions, see Muhammad Muslih, “Towards Coexistence: An Analysis of the Resolutions of the Palestine National Council”, Journal of Palestine Studies 19, no. 4 (Summer/Spring 1990): 3–29.

[21] CSS, 95–96.

[22] Editors’ Note: The petty bourgeoisie are small capitalists like shopkeepers and owners of small businesses. The term can also refer to what’s often called the new middle class.

[23] CSS, 95–104; Marshall, Intifada, 115–27.

[24] The PFLP abandoned – and then repudiated – hijackings in the early 1970s.

[25] Marshall, Intifada, 177–96.

[26] Samih K Farsoun with Christina E Zacharia, Palestine and the Palestinians (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997), 193.

[27] CSS, 95–104; Marshall, Intifada, 97–100.

[28] Editors’ Note: The Egyptian Islamic Jihad started in the late 1970s as a splinter group from the Muslim Brotherhood, influenced by Sayyid Qutb.

[29] CSS, 104–5.

[30] The full text of the Hamas Charter is available at

[31] CSS, 105–09.

[32] CSS, 112–13.

[33] Hamas Charter.

[34] Editors’ Note: Some of this would change based upon Hamas’s decision in 2005 to contend for elections within the PLC.

[35] Said, End of the Peace Process, 35–36, 84–85, 106.

[36] Marshall, Intifada, 188–89.

[37] On the Palestinian elections, see Ali Jarbawi, “Palestinian Politics at a Crossroads”, Journal of Palestine Studies (Summer 1996), 37–38, and Khalil Shikaki, “The Palestinian Elections: An Assessment”, Journal of Palestine Studies 25, no. 4 (Spring 1996), 18.

[38] Abu Ali Mustafa, “The Palestinian Secular Opposition at a Crossroads”, interview, Journal of Palestine Studies 29, no. 2 (Winter 2000), 84. In August 2001, Israel assassinated Mustafa.

[39] “Debate with the Palestinian Left”,, undated.

[40] An October 1, 2000, PFLP statement, issued days after the al-Aqsa Intifada began, called for a “return to the decisions of the international legitimacy as postulated in the related United Nations and security council resolutions, as the terms of reference for further peace talks and as an alternative to the Israeli force and the American-biased position” (“Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine”, press release, available on the Netherlands-based Anti-Imperialist League website at

[41] Graham Usher, unpublished interview with Anthony Arnove, Ahmed Shawki and Nigel Harris, Jerusalem, July 2001. A theoretical slide has accompanied the DFLP and PFLP loss of political initiative. Once considering themselves a vanguard in the region against US imperialism, the DFLP’s former general secretary, Nayef Hawatmeh, recently wrote: “The Palestinian national liberation movement must set itself the goal of communication and reaching a common understanding with the US. This could help convince the US to pressure Israel to respect all previous UN resolutions and international law”. And PFLP founder George Habash recently declared: “It is no longer necessary to fight against US imperialism or defeat it in order to defeat Israel” (CSS, 101–4).

[42] Emad Mekay, “Egyptian Labor Reforms Fuel Militancy”, Asia Times, 13 February, 2002.