Sat Feb 24, 2024
February 24, 2024

Political Parties in the Struggle for Free Palestine

Several Palestinian parties have worked for the liberation of Palestine, therefore it is necessary to discuss the history of Palestinian resistance to understand the role of each organization.

By Fabio Bosco

The main Palestinian party is called Al-Fatah. Founded in 1958 by a group of young Palestinians including Yasser Arafat, the party stood for the liberation of Palestine in its entirety through armed struggle, inspired by the Algerian revolution against French imperialism. The battle of Karameh in Jordan against the Israeli army in 1968 popularized Al-Fatah in such a way that thousands of Palestinians, Arabs, and even foreigners joined its ranks to fight for the liberation of Palestine. A year later, Yasser Arafat took command of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which became the representative organization of the entire Palestinian people. From then on, the history of Al-Fatah becomes intertwined with that of the PLO and the Palestinian struggle.

Al-Fatah’s political perspective – the liberation of all of Palestine by armed means – was based on class conciliation, prioritizing the interests of the Palestinian bourgeoisie over those of millions of Palestinian refugees spread throughout the Arab world. In addition to class conciliation, their project included the policy of “non-intervention” in the politics of other countries which, in practice, cemented an alliance with the reactionary Arab bourgeois regimes at the expense of Palestinian and Arab workers in each country.

In 1967, the main left-wing party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was formed. The PFLP understood the liberation of Palestine as an anti-imperialist struggle to be led by the working classes of Palestine and Arab countries together. They rejected the policy of class conciliation as well as conciliation with the Arab regimes. Its slogan was “The road to Jerusalem starts in Cairo, Amman and Damascus.” Inspired by the Cuban Revolution, they also stood for armed actions and became famous for hijacking planes. Two years later, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) was formed, based on a more radical dissent from the PFLP.

Both organizations claimed to be Marxist and made a negative assessment of the political and military support given by Stalin and the Palestinian Communist Party to the formation of the State of Israel, a betrayal that to this day weighs on the CP even under their new denomination as the People’s Party.

In September 1970 in Jordan, King Hussein, backed by the State of Israel and the United States, carried out a massacre of Palestinians – who then constituted 70% of the local population – and expelled the PLO and Palestinian parties to Lebanon. It is worth remembering that the then head of the Syrian Air Force, Hafiz al-Assad carried out a military coup precisely to prevent the arrival of aid to the Palestinians. He then started the Assad dynasty, which is one of the worst dictatorships in the entire region as well as a confessed enemy of Yasser Arafat and the PLO.

This defeat together, with the defeat of the Arab countries by Israel in the October 1973 War, paved the way for the pressure from both the Arab regimes and the Soviet Union for the PLO to abandon the struggle for the liberation of Palestine in exchange for the formation of a Palestinian mini-state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem – about 22% of the entire Palestinian territory. The DFLP was the first Palestinian resistance organization to publicly stand for this policy. Later Yasser Arafat made a historic speech at the UN plenary in 1974, holding a machine gun in one hand and an olive branch in the other, in which he offered a kind of “historic compromise” to the criminal State of Israel. But U.S.  imperialism and Israel did not want a compromise but rather surrender.

In 1975, the Lebanese Christian Maronite bourgeoisie started a civil war to prevent democratic reforms demanded by the Lebanese national movement led by the Druze bourgeois Kamal Jumblat, in alliance with Arab nationalist and left-wing parties. The Lebanese national movement made an alliance with the PLO, then the main military force in the country, an alliance that imposed a series of defeats on the Maronite far-right forces. A year later, Syrian troops invaded the country at the request of American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to prevent the defeat of the far-right forces. This invasion was instrumental for the 1976 massacre of Palestinian refugees at Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp.

In 1982, a joint action by the Israeli army and the far-right Maronite militias expelled Arafat and the PLO forces from Lebanon, and promoted the massacre in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila, where around 3,000 Palestinians were executed in cold blood by Maronite militiamen under logistical support from Israeli forces. The massacre of Palestinians provoked a popular uprising that expelled Israeli troops from Beirut and then throughout Lebanon.

The Origin of Hamas

In 1987, Palestinians began a Intifada (popular uprising) in Gaza and the West Bank. The Muslim Brotherhood organization was put under enormous popular pressure to play an active role in the Palestinian resistance, following the example of al-Fatah, left-wing parties or even the Islamic Jihad – a religious political party formed after the Iranian revolution that stood for a regime of Iranian type in Palestine. This pressure led to the formation of the Islamic political party Hamas.

Hamas stands for several of the Muslim Brotherhood’s values: free market, private property, class conciliation, social assistance for the poor, and education through Islamization. Unlike the Brotherhood, Hamas defends the national liberation of the entire Palestinian territory by any means necessary, including armed resistance. Their first manifesto advocated an Islamic Palestine.

Hamas later modified their political program. On the one hand, as early as 1993, their historical leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin stood for a 10 or 20 year truce with Israel (Hudna in Arabic) which eventually implied recognition of the State of Israel. This same content was expressed in their 2006 electoral platform, in which there is no reference to the fight for the end of the State of Israel. On the other hand, they abandoned their stand for an Islamic Palestine in their 2017 new manifesto, without clarifying which model of State they stood for. In Gaza, besieged by the State of Israel for 17 years, there are restrictions on democratic freedoms. However, Hamas is one of the few Palestinian parties that holds internal elections for their leaders every four years, with a real impact on the organization’s policies.

Another important aspect is their foreign policy. Hamas limits itself to defending the Palestinian right to self-determination. They do not want to interfere in the politics of other countries, allowing political relations to different regimes such as the Saudi, Iranian, Turkish and Qatari.

The Palestinian Intifada pressed U.S. imperialism and Israel to adopt the Oslo Accords in 1993, transforming Al-Fatah into a manager of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Oslo Accords led to greater colonization of Palestinian lands and institutionalized an apartheid regime against the Palestinians, continuing the ethnic cleansing that began 75 years ago with the Nakba.

Palestinian leftwing parties denounced the Oslo Accords but later capitulated to Al-Fatah and adapted to them. Furthermore, they abandoned their independence from the Arab and Iranian regimes. Therefore, they did not play any significant role in the wave of Arab revolutions that broke out in December 2010 in Tunisia. Currently, they have become supporters of the so-called “axis of resistance” led by the Iranian regime, with the participation of the Syrian dictatorship, and the Lebanese political party Hezbollah among others. Dissent from these organizations such as Masar Badil (Alternative Path – better known for the Palestinian prisoner’s solidarity network called Samidoun which they lead) are in the same situation. Led by former PFLP leader Khaled Barakat, Masar Badil opposes the corrupt Palestinian Authority, and is harshly persecuted in imperialist countries such as Germany. However, as well as the PFLP, Masar Badil has been completely silent in the face of the arrest of Palestinian activists in Syria, and also in the face of the massacre of half a million Syrians carried out by the Assad regime with the support of the Iranian regime, Hezbollah, and the Russian army.

Hamas, on the other hand, has maintained its opposition to Oslo and ended up becoming the main organization of the Palestinian resistance, aiming to replace Al-Fatah as the leading force of the Palestinian national movement.

Among Palestinian youth, new organizations regularly emerge to confront the violence of Zionist colonization. In 2022, young Palestinians from different organizations armed themselves to carry out self-defense in Palestinian cities and refugee camps, outside the guidance of their parties. The group that has become most famous is the Lions’ Den in the old city of Nablus while the Jenin refugee camp has become the main center of this new Palestinian resistance.

The Revolutionary Party and the Fourth International

The struggle for a secular and democratic Palestine will be carried out to the end by the working class, the peasants, and the dispossessed youth of Palestine and the Arab countries, clashing against imperialism, the State of Israel, the Arab regimes as well as the Palestinian bourgeoisie itself. The dynamics of this struggle for national liberation are therefore anti-capitalist and internationalist. To carry out this program, it is necessary to build a new Palestinian party that is socialist and revolutionary, as part of an International organization.

The Fourth International, in the year of its foundation in 1938, promoted a small group in Palestine, at this time under the British mandate, called the Revolutionary Communist League (RCL). The RCL was formed under the impact of major events on the world’s stage.

In 1932, the Communist International (Comintern) applied an ultra-leftist policy of “social fascism” in Germany, facilitating the rise of Nazism. Leon Trotsky wrote extensively about this event, argued against the Comintern position,  and attracted two small groups towards revolutionary positions: a small group of young people in Palestine led by Tony Cliff (Yigael Gluckstein) originally from the Poale Zion youth and by his companion Chanie, member of Hashomer Hatzair, who broke with these “left-wing Zionist” organizations. They were joined by German militants who broke with the German Communist Party (Opposition), a split from the KPD led by Heinrich Brandler, and who adhered to Trotskyist positions, including the worker Jacob Taut.

Another great betrayal – the 1939 pact between Hitler and Stalin – influenced the arrival of Arab leading cadres from the Palestinian Communist Party to the RCL: the first was the Palestinian Jabra Nicola, then a member of the Central Committee of the PCP and editor of its trade union newspaper Al- Nur; later he was joined by the general secretary of the National Liberation League (NLL – formed after the division of the PCP in 1943 between a PCP exclusively formed by militants of Jewish origin, and the NLL exclusively formed by Arab militants); furthermore, at the event of the 1944 railway strike, an important railway union leader from the NLL joined them.

The RCL’s political orientation was, in the words of Tony Cliff, “Arab workers should fight Zionism and imperialism and break with the reactionary Arab leadership; Jewish workers should join the Arab masses in the struggle.”

The RCL had no illusions about Zionist colonization. On the contrary, they opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine because this immigration placed European Jewish refugees at the service of the Zionist colonization machine against the Palestinian population. Instead, they stood for the opening of the borders of the United Kingdom and the United States to Jewish immigration, destinations preferred by Jewish refugees, as an alternative to Palestine. From their own experience, they were familiar with the “leftwing” Zionist organizations and the kibbutz (collective farms for Jewish settlers) which they knew did not represent any kind of socialist experiment. On the contrary, they were the spearhead for the colonization of Arab lands and the expulsion of the Palestinian population.[i]

Consistent with this position, the RCL opposed the 1947 UN partition of Palestine and the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, unlike the Communist Party which, following Stalin’s position, supported the partition and the formation of Israel, pillars of the Palestinian Nakba.

In spite of their principled anti-Zionist stand, the RCL held a mistaken assessment of the role of social classes in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine and the entire Arab east. They advocated an alliance between the Palestinian working class and the Jewish working class to confront imperialism, Zionism and reactionary Arab elites. But this alliance was impossible due to the exclusionary colonialist nature of the Zionist enterprise, today called settler colonialism.

Tony Cliff himself acknowledged this issue in his biography:

Of course there was class conflict within the Jewish community in Palestine. Workers and capitalists did fight round wages and conditions. But the Zionist colonial expansion blunted the class struggle and prevented it from taking the political form of opposition to Zionism and imperialism, and solidarity with the Arab exploited and oppressed.”[ii]

Palestinian Marxist revolutionary Ghassan Kanafani also analyzes the relationship between class struggle and colonization:

Thus the class struggle became mixed, with extraordinary thoroughness, with the national interest and religious feelings, and this mixture broke out within the framework of the objective and subjective crisis which Arab society in Palestine was experiencing. Due to the above, Palestinian Arab society remained a prisoner of the feudal-clerical leaderships. In view of the social and economic oppression which was the lot of the poor Palestinian Arabs in the towns and villages, it was inevitable that the nationalist movement should assume advanced forms of struggle, adopt class slogans and follow a course of action based on class concepts. Similarly, faced with the firm and daily expressed alliance between the invading society built by the Jewish settlers in Palestine and British colonialism, it was impossible to forget the primarily nationalist character of that struggle. And in view of the terrible religious fervor on which the Zionist invasion of Palestine was based, and which was inseparable from all of its manifestations, it was impossible that the underdeveloped Palestinian countryside should not practice religious fundamentalism as a manifestation of hostility to the Zionist colonialist incursion.[iii]

By not fully understanding national oppression in all its consequences for the class struggle, and by being implanted mainly among the Jewish working class, the RCL faced many challenges in its development. Despite publishing a magazine in Arabic, another in Hebrew, as well as pamphlets in English for British troops, the RCL had almost 30 militants in 1946, among them only seven were Arabs.

There are still, today, socialist organizations such as the Trotskyist Fraction (led by the Argentine PTS) which, far from understanding the reality of occupied Palestine, downplay the national oppression and stand for the unity of the two working classes against their respective bourgeoisies. These organizations understand that the stand for a secular and democratic Palestine from the river to the sea is Stage-ism (meaning the reformist concept of two-stage revolution). However, any attentive observer who knows the reality of occupied Palestine understands that the Israeli Jewish working class is part of the Zionist colonization which guarantees for them a privileged material and social position in relation to the Palestinians. This is why the current Israeli genocide in Gaza has the overwhelming support of the Israeli Jewish working class. In occupied Palestine, there is a small sector of anti-Zionist Jews who, having broken with Zionism, are true allies of the liberation of Palestine.[iv]

Right to Self-determination for the Oppressor Nationalities?

There is another important debate about the right to self-determination in Palestine. Palestinian Trotskyist Jabra Nicola stood for the unity of the Arab revolution within the perspective of permanent revolution. He understood that in the Arab world, unlike Europe, a bourgeois class distinct from the landowning class did not develop and therefore there was no historical possibility for the bourgeoisie to play any progressive role against the landowners. On the other hand, imperialism artificially divided the Arab east and its reunification became a task of the socialist revolution and the working class. In this sense, Jabra Nicola’s ideas were grounded in the revolutionary heritage prior to Stalinist degeneration.

However, he argued that the right to self-determination for the Israeli Jewish population should be ensured by regional socialist revolution forces after the destruction of the Zionist State. Marxist theory advocates the right to self-determination only for oppressed nationalities, never for oppressor nationalities. That is why the revolutionaries never advocate the right of self-determination for whites in South Africa or for French settlers in Algeria, or even for Protestants in Northern Ireland (with the exception of British groups originating from Grantism). Of course, there is room in Palestinian generosity for all Israelis who accept to live in peace with the Palestinians in a free Palestine. That is different from the right to self-determination which would ultimately guarantee to the Israeli Jewish the right to secession, i.e., to make a new partition of Palestinian lands.

These debates among Trotskyists are a living demonstration of the great challenges that revolutionaries face regarding the national question of Palestine. A meaningful response to these challenges will lay the foundations for building a Palestinian revolutionary party that will lead the Palestinian and Arab working class in their struggle for emancipation.


[i] https://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1947/xx/palestine.htm

[ii] https://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/2000/wtw/ch01.htm

[iii] Kanafani, Ghassan, The 1936-1939 Revolt in Palestine

[iv] https://time.com/6333781/israel-hamas-poll-palestine/  Only 1.8% of the Israeli Jewish consider the bombardment of Gaza excessive.

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