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June 2002 • Vol 2, No. 6 •

Critical remarks on “From Statelet to Protectorate”

By Rod Holt

In the essay “From Statelet to Protectorate,” the author, Yacov Ben Efrat, speaks of the socialist vision, internationalism, and the revolutionary fight against capitalism. At the same time his analysis of Palestinian politics is so pessimistic that he virtually retires from the scene. In truth, I see Efrat as the voice of abstention disguised as reason, the voice of surrender clothed with revolutionary phrases from his bewildered left.

Abstention from the struggles of the masses is a grave fault. It will discredit an entire political current to tell the oppressed to wait quietly until something dramatic happens somewhere else. There are concrete problems facing Palestinians today and any serious revolutionary aspiring to leadership must address these with more than abstractions.

By and large the sentences he writes are correct if taken one at a time. But the whole contradicts itself and concludes by advising the Palestinian people to wait patiently.

I do not take up all of his article’s contradictions, just a central one. I don’t aim to write a program for revolutionaries in Palestine. I merely wish to say that Efrat’s contribution does not reflect the views of those like myself who believe that the world constantly changes and that social consciousness (a subjective factor) changes the objective conditions; that man makes history too.

The central task

Efrat is correct to say, “The most urgent task facing the Palestinian people is to build an alternative leadership which will fight the Occupation on a new and different basis.” We will vote for that statement with both hands. But over and over, he tells us that this is impossible.

Efrat believes that a fresh Palestinian leadership going in the right direction cannot emerge today. He bases himself on three theses. First, the current balance of forces bars the way and the forces are objective ones based on the strength of U.S. and world capitalism. Second, the national question and self-determination are passé unless explicitly revolutionary and anti-capitalist. Third, the Palestinian people are exhausted and, as he believes they have demonstrated, incompetent.

Under the heading “The need to acknowledge reality,” Efrat states: “The decisive factor [preventing the defeat of Israel] is the current balance of forces, both worldwide and regionally. This does not permit oppressed peoples today, including the Palestinians, to make significant moves toward independence.” He could not have said it more strongly. The door is slammed shut.

We know, and Efrat reminds us, that people join together in struggle only when confident and see a reasonable prospect of throwing off their oppressors. Efrat would be the last to dispute that the Palestinians are oppressed as a nation. It is therefore proper for him to address the national question. He does as follows: “… But the ability to achieve national objectives … depends on objective circumstances that derive from military force, economic stability, a viable social order, and a sound political framework. None of these components may be found today among Palestinians.” Efrat is pessimistic to an extreme. How can anyone set about to build an alternative leadership in the face of such a judgment?

Nationalism and the national question

It is clear that Efrat rejects a positive side to nationalism, the national question, or any neighbors to those ideas. His Part Three refers to the “Global Village” in a sarcastic tone; he means the “Global Jail,” of course. He says: “The right to self-determination has ceased to be a separate national question, to be solved by each particular people.” How can he separate the national question from self-determination? In fact, the national question has always revolved around “a particular people.” It is possible that Efrat sees a contradiction between nationalism and internationalism, and, if so, he has a lot of explaining to do. A people’s sense of national identity is a fact of life. Playing on words will not make it go away.

Are Palestinians learning impaired?

In his conclusion, Efrat questions the very intelligence of the Palestinians with the offhand observation that they haven’t learned anything in the last eight years.

He gives us a slice of history: The first intifada ended with the Oslo accords in 1993 and the Palestinian people thought they were getting an end to the Occupation. They hoped for respect, peace, normalized economic relations, jobs in Israel—and a state, eventually. Since then, he sees the Palestinian people plodding ahead like wind-up toys unconscious of the transformation of their first struggle into a wholly new one.

Again under the heading “The need to acknowledge reality,” Efrat takes this history as though it forecast the future. “Today, the same thoughtlessness prevails as it [Palestine] squares off against its occupier, without the means to do so. Eight years of PA corruption, lies and dictatorship have not bred a single serious attempt at alternative leadership. Arafat remains the only leader in sight.”

Efrat has devoted many paragraphs to Hamas, Islamic Jihad a split of Fatah, a split of The Tanzim, the notoriety of Barghouti, etc. I do not see why none of these meet his definition of “a serious attempt at alternative leadership.” He makes much of their mistakes and little of their future. “The leaders of the present intifada,” says Efrat, “have neither an ideology nor a social program. They make do with slogans….”

What could be more discouraging than to assert (as Efrat does) that the Palestinians are thoughtless and end up as everyone’s dupes? They haven’t learned in eight years.

But Efrat does not place the ending (a suspension, really) of the first intifada in context. He should have reminded us that at the time the PLO had been in exile for over 10 years and that not in their wildest imaginations had Palestinians expected 100,000 courtiers and mercenaries to arrive with Arafat in Gaza complete with an $80 million per month budget!

The men and women making up the leadership of the first intifada had gained stature and confidence in their country and they did not expect to be reduced to second-class hirelings by Oslo and the PA. The indigenous leaders had no choice but to create new methods to fight at the same time both the Zionists and the PA, their proxy. Many mistakes have been made and it is too bad that Efrat is so discouraged by the results, but he should know that history has not ended yet.

Raising the struggle to an international level

Efrat insists that connecting the Palestinian struggle with those of the working class around the world is the key to success. I couldn’t agree more. But he leaves us with just an abstraction.

There are 4 million Palestinians abroad out of the reach of Israeli tanks. Most are well-educated and eloquent people devoted to their cause. They can be organized into a formidable weapon. Why does Efrat ignore them? Internationalizing the struggle is an enormous propaganda task for the Palestinians. And Efrat leaves these people—the greatest existing force—out of the equation. He does not mention them.

Arafat definitely leaves them out of his equation. He has his own little kingdom and the last thing he wants to do is let outsiders in. Even though for 48 years the right of return for refugee Palestinians has been a sacred plank in the PLO’s program, the refugees forced to live in the West have never had a say in Arafat’s PLO. Palestinian émigrés have no independent political organizations with meaningful representation. And if Arafat and Israel have their way, things will stay that way. On the essential questions of politicizing the diaspora and involvement with mass organizations, Efrat’s silence bothers me.

Palestinians in the West have been lied to and cheated not only by the PLO but by capitalist propaganda too. Western workers have been in the same boat for a long time and no miracles have been observed—energetic organization is absolutely necessary. Experience has shown that working with progressives to build mass demonstrations raises the level of consciousness of all participants.

A very weak optimism

Someday, somehow, the logjam will break, he thinks, and the workers of the western industrialized countries will wake up. Efrat hopes for Palestinian participation in a truly international revolutionary movement: “Will the Palestinians manage to bring about such a change? The answer is yes—but not alone, rather as part of a global effort.” Then, a bit later, he adds, “Alongside the Palestinians are the Argentines, the Salvadorans, and the South Africans, who yearn for the moment when the working class and the progressive forces in the West will awaken to join them in the struggle against their regimes.” That’s wonderful, but I would try to think of constructive things to do in the meantime, and yearning is not one of them.

This thinking from Efrat is not a program for action nor even a criticism of someone else’s program. It is a step sideways and leaves the task of making a revolution to someone else.






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