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The Palestinian Communist Movement

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The Palestinian Communist Movement
1948-present

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The Palestinian Communist Movement

The Nakba resulted in the scattering of the Palestinian people to multiple locations and forced Palestinian communists, members of the National Liberation League since 1944, to also disperse into different organizational frameworks. In October 1948, those who remained in what became Israel merged with the Jewish Communists within the framework of the Israeli Communist Party. In May 1951, the Jordanian Communist Party (JCP) was established, which brought together league members in the West Bank with a number of Transjordanian Marxists. In August 1953, league members who were in Gaza formed the Palestinian Communist Party of the Gaza Strip (PCP-G).

Confronting Western Military Alliances and Resettlement Plans

The Jordanian communists rejected the annexation of the West Bank to Jordan and boycotted the parliamentary elections of April 1950. They opposed Western interests that aimed to tie Jordan to their imperial projects. Working with other nationalist forces, they thwarted the plan to make Jordan part of the Baghdad Pact and succeeded in Arabizing the Jordanian army and removing British general Glubb “Pasha” as its commander. In October 1956, two league members were elected to parliament: Faiq Warrad from Ramallah and Dr. Yaqoub Zayadin from Jerusalem. They supported the nationalist government of Suleiman al-Nabulsi that was formed in the aftermath of those elections. Then, after the coup of April 1957, communists in Jordan were subjected to a massive campaign of repression. The period of 1957–65 was a difficult one for the majority of the leaders and cadres of the JCP, who were in jail, mainly in the desert prison of al-Jafr.

In the Gaza Strip, the communists supported the struggle to establish an independent Palestinian state, in accordance with the Partition Plan of UN Resolution 181, so as to guarantee the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and receive compensation in accordance with UN Resolution 194. They also called for resisting any plans of permanently resettling Palestinian refugees, especially the plan to resettle them in Sinai. They were active participants in the uprising of March 1955, organizing mass demonstrations in Gaza during which Egyptian forces killed demonstrators and arrested a number of communists, who remained in custody until early July 1957. As a result of these demonstrations, the Sinai plan was abandoned. The communists also participated in resisting the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip in the fall of 1956, creating the National Front (al-Jabha al-wataniyya) and foiling the plan to internationalize the Gaza Strip following the withdrawal of the Israeli forces on 7 March 1957. However, once again they were subjected to a sweeping campaign of arrests by the Egyptians in 1959, some of whom remained detained until spring 1963.

The Struggle against the Israeli Occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip

The leadership of the JCP and of the PCP-G supported the revival of a Palestinian entity and the formation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in late May 1964, but they were also critical of some of the statements made by its first chairman, Ahmad al-Shuqairi, and what they regarded as his “individualistic” style of leadership.

Two months after the Israeli occupation of June 1967, the JCP issued a phased party program. It maintained that the steadfastness, or sumud, of the masses in the occupied territories would form the basis for the struggle to force the Israeli occupation to withdraw. It adopted the slogans “steadfastness on one’s homeland, death but not displacement.” It defined its primary mission to be the struggle to “purge all traces of the aggression,” which would force Israel to withdraw from the lands it had occupied, “in a manner that [would] preserve the integrity of Jordan as an entity and the unity of the two banks, and guarantee for the Arabs their legitimate rights in Palestine and for the refugees their right of return to their homes on the basis of the resolutions of the UN.”

Starting in 1968, clandestine committees were formed in the occupied West Bank called National Guidance Committees, which included communists, Arab nationalists, and Baathists. They subsequently expanded their base to include representatives from trade unions, women’s organizations, municipal councils, and certain notables. Then, in 1969, along with other nationalist forces and figures, the communists founded the Popular Resistance Front in the West Bank (Jabhat al-muqawama al-shaʿabiyya fi-l-daffa al-gharbiyya).

In the Gaza Strip, the communists, Baathists, a branch of the Palestine Liberation Front, and some prominent Palestinian figures announced the formation of the United National Front (al-Jabha al-wataniyya al-muttahida) in early August 1967. They called on Gazans to live frugally and to practice sumud on both the economic and political levels through slogans such as “Remain in the homeland under all circumstances,” “Emigration is betrayal,” and “We will not be made refugees again.” At the end of 1967, they approved laying the groundwork to engage in armed struggle, while their comrades in Jordan, on the other hand, waited until 3 March 1970 to issue the founding manifesto of the Ansar Forces that would engage in armed struggle and form “one of the sources of support to the resistance” in collaboration with the communist parties of Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.

After the clashes of September 1970 in Jordan, and then the departure from Jordan of the Palestinian armed resistance groups by the summer of 1971, the communists realized the difficulty of restoring the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories to its 4 June 1967 status and reunifying the two Banks of Jordan. Beginning in March 1971, they advocated for  the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination on the lands occupied in 1967 and rejected the United Arab Kingdom proposal put forward by the Jordanian government in March 1972. After the October 1973 war, they adopted the goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and ensuring the return of refugees to their homeland on the basis of UN Resolution 194. They supported the convening of an International Peace Conference as the ideal framework to reach a comprehensive political settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In mid-August 1973, after the main factions of the PLO set up branches in the occupied Palestinian territories, the communists played a role in bringing together Palestinian forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of “the Palestinian National Front in the Occupied Territories,” or al-Jabha al-wataniyya al-Filastiniyya fi-l-aradi al-muhtalla, whose political program called for ensuring the legitimate rights the Palestinian Arab people, foremost among which was “their right to self-determination on their land and to return to their homes.” The communists affirmed the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. They also actively participated in preparing for municipal elections in the West Bank, which were held in April 1976. In these elections, the National Front’s electoral lists that endorsed the PLO, and which included a number of communist candidates, won a major victory.

Reestablishment of the Palestinian Communist Party

In 1973, the steering committee of the JCP’s branch in the West Bank decided to change the names of its mass organizations. For example, the Jordanian Students’ Union in the West Bank now became the Palestinian Students’ Union. In early January 1974, the Organization of Palestinian communists in Lebanon was created by communists who were associated with the Gaza Strip’s Palestinian Communist Party. This also followed the formation of the Palestinian bloc within the Syrian Communist Party in 1972. In 1974, the JCP and the PCP-G formed a coordinating committee. In late July 1975, the JCP’s branch in the West Bank changed its name to the Palestinian Communist Organization in the West Bank. A branch from the same party was created in Lebanon in late February 1980 called the Palestinian Communist Organization in Lebanon. On 10 February 1982, it was announced that the independent Palestinian Communist Party (PCP) would be re-established. It considered its first party congress, convened in 1983, to be its founding meeting.

After forming the Ansar Forces in 1970, the communists demanded representation in the bodies of the PLO. However, the PLO’s leadership continued to reject their request, even though several communists, especially deportees from the occupied territories, had become members of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in the early 1970s. It was only at the eighteenth session of the PNC, which was convened in Algiers in April 1987 to restore unity between the main Palestinian factions, that the PCP was recognized and represented in the PLO executive committee by political bureau member Suleiman al-Najjab.

From the PCP to the PPP

When the intifada broke out in the occupied Palestinian territories in December 1987, the PCP actively participated in it. The uprising was consistent with the PCP view that popular resistance was the most effective form of resistance to the Israeli occupation, and the party was represented in the intifada’s unified leadership. As that uprising unfolded, it quickly turned into a battle fought by every class of the Palestinian people. Influenced by the deeply democratic character of the intifada and the adoption of perestroika in the USSR, the PCP embarked on a process of critical self-reflection, which ultimately resulted in a new political platform and a new party organization, both of which were approved in late October 1991 at the second party conference. The party also decided to change its name from the Palestinian Communist Party to the Palestinian People’s Party, or Hizb al-shaʿb al-Filastini (PPP). A number of party members in the West Bank rejected this change of name and continued to refer to it as the Palestinian Communist Party.

The PPP held its fourth party conference in 2008 simultaneously in Ramallah, Gaza City, Syria, and Lebanon with the theme “the Left is our path to liberation, democracy and social justice.” In the conference’s closing documents, the party noted: “Considering that the PPP is a party of national liberation and independence, at this stage, the party represents a new chapter in the long history of the communist movement in Palestine” and “fights, in the long run, for the creation of a state with a socialist orientation by peaceful and democratic means, on the principle of respect for popular will as its guiding principle.”

The PPP after its Fourth Conference

Since 2009, the Palestinian People's Party has called for the PLO to change “its approach to the political and negotiation process” by making the proclamation of the Palestinian state a priority and ensuring its recognition by the UN and the international community, rather than leaving it hostage to the whims of Israel. The repeated failure of the bilateral negotiations under the aegis of the United States, it argues, requires a new political and negotiation approach, one that is based on ensuring the sponsorship of the UN and the Security Council and the participation of Russia, China, and the European Union.

In October 2009, the PPP launched a political campaign for the formation of a Constituent Assembly for the state of Palestine, consisting of elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and members of the PLO’s central committee. This assembly would assume the same functions as the PLC until popular elections could be held. The party urged re-examining the role of the Palestinian National Authority (PA) and ending its security, economic, and services ties to Israel.

In recent years, with the continuation of the rift between Fatah and Hamas and the exacerbation of economic and social crises in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the party has come to see “a dialectical relationship” between duty to the homeland on the one hand and the struggles for social justice and democracy on the other. More than ever, it has started to focus on the struggle to ensure the rights of sectors of society that have fallen victim to these crises, as well as on the struggle to protect democratic freedoms, and to repeal laws, presidential decrees, and government decisions that curtail the freedom of citizens and institutions of civil society, and to stand up against the transgressions that continue to violate the rights of women.

The party also has pursued its efforts to form a coalition with leftist and democratic Palestinian groups. In late 2018, the party joined with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian National Initiative, the Palestinian Democratic Union  (FIDA), and leftist and democratic figures in creating the Palestinian Democratic Assembly (al-Tajammuʿ al-dimuqrati al-Filastini), to stand as a third force in the Palestinian political arena and put an end to the prevailing bilateral schism. However, the fate of this assembly was no better than that of previous experiments at creating unity that the PPP and other forces on the Palestinian left attempted, and its activities came to a halt only a few months after it was created.

Conclusion

The PPP’s multifaceted activity, its various political initiatives, and even its participation in the bodies of the PLO and in most of the Palestinian Authority governments has not enabled it to regain the influence that Palestinian communists had in the occupied territories in the 1970s and 1980s. The influence of the party and the Palestinian left overall has continued to weaken since the 1990s, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as the structural changes that have occurred in the makeup of Palestinian society with the establishment of the PA, with the steady increase in the PA’s administrative workforce and security apparatuses. These changes have been manifested in the rentier character of the Palestinian economy.

Furthermore, traditional frameworks for mass organizing, such as trade unions, student unions, and women's organizations, have declined, while NGOS and civil society groups, which have received significant material support from foreign donors, have expanded their role and siphoned off a large portion of the left’s rank and file. And while the Islamist movements have witnessed an unprecedented rise in their activity, in the context of the general Islamist resurgence that has swept the entire region, the forces of the Palestinian left have been unable to cope with the challenge of reviving themselves in all arenas, just as they have been unable to concretely embody their doctrine of the interconnectedness between the struggle for national liberation and the struggle for social justice through effective programs and actions.

MC

 

Selected Bibliography

Bröning, Michael. Political Parties in Palestine: Leadership and Thought. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Gresh, Alain. ”Palestinian Communists and the Intifada.” Middle East Report 157 (March/April 1989).

Hiltermann, Joost. Behind the Intifada. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991. 

Najjar, Orayb Aref. “After the Fall: Palestinian Communist Journalism in the Post–Cold War World.” Rethinking Marxism 19, no. 3 (June 2007).