The June War of 1967 changed the political map of the region and raised the Palestinian question not as a question of refugees but of a people seeking self-determination. From the Palestinian perspective, the June War meant the occupation of the whole of historic Palestine and the emergence of their own national movement under the banner of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Both of these two events hugely affected Palestinian politics and society.
The de facto re-unification of historic Palestine, albeit under Israeli military colonial rule, reacquainted Palestinians in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip in the area of Palestine on which the Zionist movement declared the state of Israel in 1948.
The temporary slackening of control of the Arab regimes (particularly in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon) on Palestinian camps allowed the Palestinian resistance groups that emerged in the late 1950s and ’60s to gain control of the PLO soon after the June War and to fashion it into a national movement that found roots among all Palestinian communities.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBG) obliged the PLO to locate its headquarters, military bases and its mass organizations (women, students, workers, teachers, journalists and writers, etc.) in the surrounding Arab states. This, given the opposed logic of a resistance movement to that of a state concerned with security and control over its territory, inevitably put the PLO in armed confrontations with these Arab states (i.e., Jordan, Lebanon and Syria). This, together with the rapid changes in the regional and international situation, explains the change Palestinian politics underwent since the late 1960s, from that of a secular democratic state from all its citizens living there and entitled to live there, to a Palestinian state on the WBG (i.e., 22 percent of Palestine).
Thus, the PLO accepted in 1974 to establish a Palestinian sovereignty “over any territory liberated from Israeli occupation.” In 1988, with the first intifada still raging, the PLO clearly stated its acceptance of a two-state solution and its readiness to acknowledge the state of Israel. The acknowledgment of the right of Israel to exist by the PLO was clearly spelled out in Oslo Accords of 1993 under the impact of vast changes in the balance power in the region and internationally following the Gulf War of 1991 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the main international PLO alley. However, there was no corresponding acknowledgement by Israel of the right of Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own on the WBG with East Jerusalem as its capital nor the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes as stipulated by United Nations resolutions.
Neither the Oslo Accords nor the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994 led Israel to change its policies toward the Palestinians. What can be seen since Oslo is the acceleration of the segmentation of the Palestinian territory into “reserves” or “bantustans,” that Palestinian towns and villages encircled by colonial settlements, pass-by roads (for Jewish settlers only) and by Area “C” (62 percent of the West Bank), and the Israelization of East Jerusalem. This went hand in hand with installing a system of military checkpoints, administrative detentions, control of movement through Israel permits, control of natural resources and borders, a fragmented and fragile economy of the WBG, house demolition, and land confiscation. Above all, the PA was tied it security “coordination” with which all the one-sided implications of such a relationship.
The establishment of the PA under a settler-colonial rule and occupation has had a profound impact on Palestinian society. The PLO institutions were frozen as the PA focused its efforts on building quasi-state structures with the hope (illusion) that a sovereign Palestinian statehood was on the way. From its start, the PA was made dependent on external aid and transfers and hence open to external pressures.
The Palestinian class structure has fundamentally changed since the PA was established. The two major political parties (Fatah and Hamas) employed a significant portion of the labor force in middle class jobs: in public administration, schools, hospitals, police and security apparatuses, etc. The large body of NGOs working in the WBG was made up of salaried middle class. This also applied to employment in the modern services owned and run by the private sector that emerged after the PA was established (banks, insurance companies, telecommunications, mass media and the like). The job stability and security of this new middle class (a large percentage is indebted to banks) depended on the PA for its class position and, therefore, is objectively committed to its continuity and stability. In other words, the new middle class is situated as a conservative political force.
Over 90 percent of the Palestinian working class is fragmented into tens of thousands of very small enterprises (employing less than five people) and only a very small percentage is organized in trade unions. As a class, it remains vulnerable to high rates of unemployment, low wages and high rates of poverty.
These socio-economic and political changes explain why Palestinian politics has changed qualitatively since it moved away from liberation to state building under settler-occupation.
Yet, the continued Israeli colonization, repression, siege, discrimination and the continued deprivation of Palestinians of a free dignified future is maintaining an explosive situation that could erupt at any moment into new forms of resistance. This could be by done by the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike or Israeli gradual forced transfer of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, or through the humanly unbearable slow genocide (through the total siege) imposed on the Gaza Strip.
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