After the First World War, the British empire ruled over historic Palestine. Palestinians revolted against British colonial rule, Zionist settlements, dispossession, land acquisition, and laws crafted to demobilize, incarcerate, or kill Palestinians and outlaw their resistance. A minority of elites formed “Peace Bands” of the 1930s that colluded to pacify, subvert, or attack the Palestinian uprisings and resistance; their formation was to tactically contest any authentic leadership from within the Palestinian people. They colluded with the British and the early Zionist formations in exchange for office, financing and a far-fetched promise of “independence”. The Palestinian elite had a class interest that aligned and competed with the British & Zionist formations. Eventually, the elites and the “Peace Bands” were discarded by the British and the Zionists, retaining no material wealth, sovereignty, or any standing with the Palestinian people, who had suffered the biggest of losses.
The existence of a collaborator entity or a comprador class is an obstacle to liberation. But why and how does it hinder national liberation? And what are the alternatives?
What is a comprador? The Palestinian National Authority
The pandemic, with all its gloom, misery, and hardship, has revealed much about Palestinian national liberation. For some, it has shown a revived spirit of struggle for Palestinian national liberation. For others, it has revealed the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) role as a comprador government and the looming inevitability of its end. In metaphorical terms, the comprador government is a masochistic-sellout, a merchant who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Essentially, the comprador is a “self-rule sub-government” made up of the colonized or Indigenous people, which safeguards the interests of the colonial power that conquered it; a prisoner who is also warden of the prison.
The comprador is its own separate class in colonial/settler-colonial cases, acting as administrators of the colonial power’s interest. While seeking its benefit as a ruling class over the colonized or occupied region, whose people they resemble, the comprador does so under a guise of “statehood” or “autonomy”. The comprador exists at the periphery of the colonizer’s political economy or foreign imperialist interests in both political and economic terms. It is placed at the core of a colonized people’s political struggle. As such, no matter how much the comprador may co-opt the language of national liberation, it has a material interest in exploiting the subjugated people – an interest that aligns with that of the colonial power. The PA has a shared interest with the Zionist state of Israel, underscored through its political co-dependence on the state.
Due to the process of colonialism/settler-colonialism, Palestinians in historic Palestine can only be part of specific segments of the class stratification; a minority of them can, however, become a political elite that serves Zionist agendas. We must denote that the Palestinian Authority and their accolades representing the comprador (ruling-class) must not be confused or equated with the ‘Bourgeoise’ who will indefinitely be Zionists, nor should the comprador be correlated equally guilty with the Israeli/Zionist state, as their positionalities differ.
We also do not consider the ‘Palestinian working class’ to be on equal footing as the “Israeli working class”, as the latter are primarily settler colonizers. Their interests will directly conflict with the Palestinian workers, who face multiple forms of exploitation and suppression by the Israeli state, Zionist settlers, and the PA. The settler benefits from the land dispossession of Palestinians; the labour of settlers is done on stolen land. The political parties and trade unions of the “Israeli working class” have supported the Zionist project, displacement and discrimination, from the very inception of the state of Israel.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Palestinian National Authority has been backed into a corner, only this time without much room to manuever. The Palestinian National Authority was born out of the tragedy of the Oslo Accords’, a political marriage between the failed Palestinian leadership’s state-building path and Israel’s imperialist-colonial agenda overseen by the United States.
Madrid, The Oslo Accords and the PA’s inception
Stemming from the Madrid meetings and negotiations of 1991 at the First Intifada’s height, the Oslo Accords were a series of agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Israeli government under the auspices of the United States at the end of the First Intifada in 1993. It was internationally recognized as a roadmap to a lasting resolution that was to eventually result in a two-state solution with a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, WestBank and East Jerusalem.
The Oslo Accords culminated in what is essentially a surrender agreement that allowed Israel to continue its occupation, overlooked the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and Israel’s expansionism across the armistice line through settlements, military presence, and capital mobility. This agreement has also created an ‘interim government,’ the Palestinian National Authority. Among the key issues that the Oslo accords did not adequately address were: the situation of Palestinian Prisoners, the right-of-return of Palestinian refugees, Israel’s complete freedom to control large areas of the Westbank (dividing it into areas marked as “A,” “B,” and “C,” not including East Jerusalem), and the judicial separation of the Gaza strip from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
This was later bolstered by the Paris Protocol on Economic Relations signed in 1994, granting Israel control over the Palestinian market. Essentially allowing Israel to control all imports and exports, collect taxes, and dictate trade relations of the Palestinian market. The Palestinian economy was to be integrated into Israel’s own economy. Since 1993, over 35$ billion has been sent to the PA in the form of aid. In numerous instances, Israel has withheld and even diverted funds and aid as a tool of collective punishment against both the Palestinian leadership and the population.
Since signing parts I and II of the Oslo Accords and all related agreements, Israel has not been held accountable for its incremental genocide, ethnic cleansing, and land annexations against the Palestinians. It can sweep the majority of its crimes against the Palestinian people under the rotten rug of the ‘peace process’ that invariably required the involvement of the Palestinian leadership. Any dissent or act of resistance by Palestinians would be framed as a reluctance on behalf of the Palestinian leadership to engage faithfully in negotiations. In that sense, a PA’s existence hinges on the Oslo accords and the occupation’s continuity.
Today, the Palestinian people are under colonial rule and subservient to a dysfunctional local government riddled with corruption and internal conflict, encapsulated in miniature-ivory towers in Ramallah and slowly losing domestic or regional support. But the issue for the PA is that the possibility of further annexations threatens its lifeline/self-preservation and the hint of legitimacy it has left among the Palestinian people. The minimal and secondary control it has over small counties and towns in the West Bank will become negligible if Israel annexes more land. The mounting anger and frustration from the Palestinian society and diaspora and the loss of legitimacy by the PA will inevitably lead to its overthrow. The PA can only swing a few times between appeasing the US & Israel and trying to commit to the Palestinian people before the pendulum stops. So, how does this tie into the most recent developments?
Deal of the century and the Abraham Accords
The recent normalization deals between the state of Israel and the increasing number of Arab states such as the UAE and Bahrain have a two-fold explanation; the decline of Israel’s support on the international stage and as a measure to regionally isolate the Palestinian leadership.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Israel’s impunity on the international stage is fading, mirroring the drop in public support it usually receives from citizens of Western nation-states. For instance, 84% of Canadians want the ICC to investigate Israel’s crimes. Decades of grass-roots and transnational organizing for Palestinian freedom and right to self-determination have put a spotlight on the Israeli occupation of Palestine, leading to mounting pressure and scrutiny on the international stage. Most recently, there has been international uproar surrounding Israel’s human rights violations from; the passing of the “Jewish Nation-State Law,” codifying an apartheid system into the Israeli constitution, and Israeli snipers killing of over 1000 civilians in Gaza for protesting the ongoing 16-year blockade on the Gaza strip at “The Great March of Return”; to then US President Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his legitimization of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the occupied Golan Heights.
In December of 2017, the UN General Assembly held a vote on a resolution opposing the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Despite the thinly-veiled threats spouted by the US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley to cut aid to any state that votes for this motion, the US and Israel were isolated, with only seven other states voting against the resolution and 128 states voting in favour. While this was not the only time that the US and Israel failed to bully the world into supporting their agendas in the UN, it was indicative of the changing tides that are exposing Israel as a pariah state and the US as its enabler. To reverse Israel’s steadily worsening public perception or at least mitigate its severity, Israel has accelerated its plans to normalize relations with Arab states in the region under the banner of a peace process. Until September 2020, only two Arab states formally normalized their ties with Israel, Egypt in 1979, and Jordan in 1994.
Luckily for Israel, the regimes in control of most reactionary Arab states, particularly in the Gulf region, have an abundance of economic and political incentives to normalize ties with Israel. The Saudi, Bahrain, and UAE governments, in particular, have been increasingly cozying up with the US and its policy of suffocating Iran and empowering Israel. These regimes were gearing up for the next phase in the US imperialist agenda, heralded by US President Donald Trump in an increasingly volatile geopolitical climate. This is where the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ comes into play.
The deal was presented as a collaborative effort between the US, Israel, and the surrounding Arab countries from the very start. The first part of the deal was economic, and the second was political. It essentially promised Palestinian statehood within parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with an “investment” of around 50 billion dollars in a reformed (and IMF approved) economy in the Palestinian territories, provided that certain conditions are met. Most notably, the PA had to agree to Israel annexing 30% of the West Bank, including the Jordan valley and all areas which contain Israeli settlements, and the disarmament of every Palestinian militant group, giving up the right of return of Palestinian refugees who were expelled in 1948 and 1967. Finally, the PA had to agree to give Israel the right to directly intervene in the case of any ‘security threat’ within the new Palestinian borders. On the other hand, there were no conditions that Israel was bound to. Besides the glaringly obvious bias towards Israeli colonial interests, the deal was essentially a neoliberal liquidation of Palestinian land and the national liberation struggle. These are the rational reasons that prompted a rapid rejection from Palestinian civil society.
The PA, however, had its own reasons. For the PA, neoliberal reforms and the liquidation of Palestinian land is the name of the game. That being said, the comprador class derives its power, authority, and even international legitimacy from the colonial relations that brought about its inception. Such a deal would disempower the PA comprador class and negate their necessity for the continuation of Israeli settler-colonial aspirations. To say that the deal was doomed from the start is an understatement. In fact, there is reason to believe that the deal was designed to be rejected from the start.
First, the PA rejected the deal serves to bolster the US-Israeli position, which claims that the insurmountable obstacle to peace in the area has always been the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to come to the negotiating table. Second, by touring Arab states and involving them in the rollout and presentation of the deal, the US and Israel managed to get said Arab states publically invested in the process, only to have their efforts ignored and rejected by the PA. The regimes in control of these Arab states were handed a justification for turning their backs on the Palestinian cause, which the Arab masses have historically perceived as a tragic anti-colonial anti-imperialist struggle that concerned the entire Arab and Muslim world. More importantly for Israel, this set the stage for normalization with Arab states through the Abraham Accords later that same year, which was a big step towards regionally isolating the PA and the Palestinian people.
Palestinian rejection of the “deal of the century” predictably prompted the US to ‘authorize’ Israeli annexation of 30% of the West Bank, which Israel declared would start on July 1, but was suspended shortly after due to a lack of political unity on its specifics. In September 2020, Israel signed a normalization deal with the UAE, establishing diplomatic ties and military cooperation between the two countries. It was announced that Israel would temporarily suspend its plans (which were already suspended) to annex 30% of the West Bank as a bargaining chip for peace with the UAE, despite the fact that the UAE was hardly in conflict with Israel. In fact, it has been an open secret for decades that Israel has been engaging in covert diplomacy with most reactionary Arab states. By portraying normalization deals between Israel and Arab states like the UAE as ‘Peace Deals,’ Israel has remarkably reaped peacebuilding benefits while simultaneously advancing its violent settler-colonial agenda.
Unity and the Intifada
In the summer of 2020, we saw the Palestinian parties come back to the table internally to find common ground as the threat of annexation was closing in. Mahmoud Abbas and others in the PA calling a meeting with all parties or factions was indicative of their desperate need to resolve the disconnect between the Palestinian leadership and the civil society and retain whatever popular legitimacy it had left.
In September of 2020, the US ambassador had openly discussed replacing Mahmoud Abbas with the infamous Mohammed Dahlan. If that were to happen, it would bring no positive change for the future of Palestinian national liberation. Dahlan and his supporters would be more dangerous than Mahmoud Abbas and others in his government. Dahlan proposes more of the same political leadership but with a heavier dose of neoliberalism. It will mean more security coordination with Israel, further annexations of Palestinian land, and significant amounts of regional or international capital funnelled to build neoliberal modern bantustans and enclaves for the Palestinian political elite to govern and live in. Under Dahlan’s vision, the promised city of Al-Rawabi by Munib Al-Masri will be a metropolitan business hub amid colonization — a $1 billion project that only serves to create an illusion of development, prosperity and peace. This project will further the process of creating modernized bantustans that are reliant on the mobility of foreign & Israeli capital into Palestine. Such projects would be used as an economic stranglehold against the Palestinian society and leadership(s).
The PA’s rejection of the Deal of the Century was an act of self-preservation, particularly after the US had punished the PA by threatening and actually cutting funds to them. The US and Israel’s threat of a Dahlan takeover exposed their willingness to go beyond the current colonial relations for a much more subservient comprador class. To quell the possible rise of Dahlan as an alternative president of the PA, an election could re-assert Abbas’s rule.
In January of this year, Mahmoud Abbas had announced that there would be elections for the Legislative Council and later for the presidency of the PA. The elections were called off in April, supposedly because Israel would not allow voting stations in East Jerusalem. The elections provided the optics of ‘democracy’ and served as a PR stunt for Abbas. The reality is, Abbas did not expect such a rapid decline in his base of support or that his Fatah party would have competing slates led by popular Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and another neoliberal slate led by Mohammed Dahlan. This internal divide would be compounded by Hamas’ heavy presence in the elections, and that the parties of the Palestinian left would form their united slate. Abbas saw the defeat of his comprador government as a likely outcome. As far as he was concerned, it no longer mattered who or what the ideological alternative was. The act of gesturing for an election served the purpose of keeping him in power.
In May of 2021, the world watched in horror as Israeli settler organizations, backed by Israeli courts and military personnel, tried to take over the homes of Palestinians living in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Under the justification of a 1970 Israeli law that stipulated that Jewish Israelis who lost their property in East Jerusalem in 1948 could ‘reclaim’ their property, Palestinians were being evicted from their homes and were denied any residence in East Jerusalem. This was a de jure; legalized sanitization of the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem. It continues the Zionist settler-colonial project, which started in the late 1800s and culminated into the Nakba in 1948.
As the popular protests which erupted in East Jerusalem were met with Israeli state violence, Palestinians in other parts of historic Palestine noticed the deafening silence of the PA. Despite the attempts by Facebook and Instagram to censor Palestinian accounts, social media was instrumental in amplifying the voices of activists such as Mohammed and Mona Alkurd, who were relaying the reality on the ground to Palestinians in the area, the diaspora and the international community. When the widespread protests in Jerusalem grew to the extent that Israel could no longer control with regular means, Israeli forces started using methods of indiscriminate brutality, leading to the storming of Al Aqsa mosque and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at worshippers during the holy month of Ramadan. Scenes from Al Aqsa prompted an international outcry, but again the PA was missing in action. Instead of actively protecting the lives of the people it supposedly governs, the PA security forces were deployed in several Palestinian towns to repress and disperse Palestinian popular protests and resistance.
On May 18, 2021, Grassroots formations in different areas of historic Palestine collectively called for a ‘Unity Intifada’ in their “Dignity and Hope Manifesto”, which called for a general strike, mobilization across the ‘green line’, and emancipation from what they called the “Oslo Framework Prison”. These calls were featured on mainstream Palestinian media, televised, and applauded by many Palestinian analysts. The political messaging resonated with many within Palestine and the diaspora who sought a reunited political will for the Palestinian people.
During this time, a brave, independent journalist named Nizar Banat worked on reporting Israeli crimes, with an added critical analysis of the role of the PA in the relationship between Palestinian civil society and the Israeli colonial state. As a candidate for the Palestinian Legislative Council elections (which were indefinitely postponed by Abbas), and an outspoken critic of the PA and the Fatah Party, Nizar Banat played an essential role in shifting the discourse surrounding the PA in Palestinian society. He went further than his contemporaries, who covered the corruption within the ranks of the PA and centred much of his analysis around the PA’s role as a subcontractor for Israeli colonial violence. This is why on June 24, 2021, PA security forces covertly kidnapped and murdered Nizar Banat in cold blood in a clear attempt to stifle public criticism of the PA and protect the PA’s grip over power.
Banat’s murder provoked popular protests against the PA throughout the West Bank. The PA’s response was to brutally repress these protests and the journalists covering them with tear gas and rubber bullets, even staging pro-Fatah/PA demonstrations in the main squares of major West Bank cities.
The current round of uprisings is unlikely to be sustained to form an Intifada, similar to the first or second Intifada. In the past, the national leadership of the Palestinian parties under the PLO and other grassroots impromptu organizations were able to sustain & direct such political uprisings and embolden them. The mobilization capabilities of Palestinian labour, women’s organizations, and students’ unions, in particular, were instrumental in the success of the first and second Intifada. Unfortunately, the state-building project of the PA led to the dissolution of these organizations, replacing them with the comprador government we now know as the Palestinian National Authority. This was made worse by the Salam Fayyad neoliberal agenda in the post-Oslo era. In addition to the loss of leadership that supports uprisings, today, the PA acts on behalf of the Israeli state through their “security coordination”, sharing intelligence and quelling Palestinian protests and popular resistance. Moreover, in the post-Oslo era, material support channelled to Palestinians through neighbouring Arab countries has decreased significantly. This is primarily due to the ensuing regional crises and the succession of normalization deals between Israel and Arab governments.
The PA’s regime has become ever more economically dependent on Israeli capital. Israel, with PA complicity, has engaged in constant land grabbing, dispossessing Palestinians of their livelihoods and independence. Palestinian workers functionally operate as a source of cheap labour (with little to no labour rights) for Israeli capital.
What is the future of the PA?
The PA is an obstacle to national liberation, and the prediction of its fall is not hyperbole. The PA is codependent on the colonial power (Israel), tied to international and foreign aid, and incapable of responding to the political aspirations of the Palestinian people due to the nature of its creation. The PA can only afford to buy the temporary silence of Palestinians whom they employ in their departments and offices and those who are too disenfranchised, dispossessed, and reliant on aid to survive. Due to political incompetence and lack of real control over material conditions or relations, the PA has continuously lost relevance with the Palestinian popular and civil masses. Additionally, Palestinians living in refugee camps and exile have been completely disenfranchised and abandoned by the PA. This is why there has been a groundswell around grassroots formations organizing to circumvent the PA and challenge its claim to legitimacy. The recent uprisings in Palestine and ‘Unity Intifada’ have certainly reinvigorated popular resistance to Israeli settler-colonialism and proven that the spirit of resistance among the working class and revolutionary forces is alive and well. This being said, the short-lived nature of these recent uprisings, in addition to the PA’s repressive response to the uprisings in the West Bank, sent a loud and clear message to Palestinians everywhere: There can not be a successful intifada, let alone national liberation, with the PA as the vehicle for struggle. Rather, in our struggle against colonialism, we must also struggle against the comprador of the PA, an administrator of colonialism.
We are bound to think of alternatives before the inevitable fall of the comprador government. The fall of one comprador government could prompt the rise of another one, perhaps even masked as “anti-imperialist”. One alternative is to prepare for the reconstitution and transition back to the PLO with the original Palestinian National Charter. But this should be done alongside or subsequent to the complete revocation of the Oslo Accords and all agreements that followed or stemmed from it.
Any political resolution that ties political leadership, sovereignty and autonomy to the will and whim of colonial or imperial forces will diminish any real authority over our struggle. The political authority of Palestinians cannot be allowed to be tamed by economic coercion. Palestinians in the homeland and exile must pursue independent economic relations that promote liberation, self-determination and justice for all. Economic development dependent on Israeli authority, Israeli capitalists and international aid is a path of subjection, not liberation. As the late revolutionary Thomas Sankara once said, “he who feeds you, controls you”. Lastly, the fall of a comprador would remove a police force that regularly works to suppress our revolt against the Israeli authorities and military.
The national liberation project is unattainable if Palestinians and the international left fail to overthrow the Palestinian Authority or if we allow another comprador to rise in its place. Propping up a comprador government to serve as the vehicle for a national liberation struggle has been established as a colonial tactic since the “Peace Bands” of the British mandate. It is imperative to our national liberation that we are diligent in rejecting any who claim to lead our people to emancipation through collaboration and statecraft.
”ما أَشْبَهَ اللَّيْلَةَ بِالبارِحَةِ”
“How alike are tonight and last night.” -Ṭarafah ibn al-‘Abd
Join Spring for Viva Palestina! A Roundtable Discussion on Palestinian National Liberation on October 21 at 7pm EDT. The event will feature a multi-generational panel of leading Palestinian and solidarity activists: Issam Yamani, Nadia Shoufani, Chandni Desai, Moe Alqasem, and Tara Alami. Email spring firstname.lastname@example.org to register!
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