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Fanon in Palestine part 3: The institutions of capitulation

In part two, the historical development of the Palestinian National Movement (PNM) was traced, from its break with the paternalist hold of the Arab world, through the years of Sumud, to the historic compromise of the Oslo Accords. Through recognising Israel at the Madrid Conference, the PNM had achieved recognition, but on behalf of its colonial oppressor and the broader hegemonic ideals of the contemporary international system. Through recognising Israel, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) had also granted tacit approval to the former’s founding principles of ethnic cleansing and land maximisation. Oslo and its accompanying Paris Protocols entrenched the socioeconomic dynamics of a settler-colonial project, enshrining the Palestinian Authority (PA) as its outsourced management. In order to conceptualise how Oslo birthed the institutions of capitulation which play a large role in upholding the infrastructure of occupation, land expropriation and displacement, it is important to turn again to how Frantz Fanon forewarned about the development of neo-colonialism after independence.

Fanon’s prophesy

By 1958 Charles De Gaulle had increased France’s military presence in Algeria whilst coaxing former colonies away from the unfolding drama in Algeria through membership of the Francophone community; this tactic placed diplomatic and military pressures on the National Liberation Front (FLN). During this time, Fanon’s critique of the national bourgeoisie as an impediment to the development of a truly de-colonial revolutionary praxis began to crystallise into a coherent polemic. Some of his thoughts were laid down in “A Dying Colonialism”, but it was “The Wretched of the Earth”, published posthumously, that became Fanon’s political testament. This incendiary text is a field manual for indigenous guerrilla movements as well as an exposé of the particular spirit which drove the de-colonial movements of the sixties. Fanon’s examination of the emergent bourgeois leadership in Africa, and his relentless broadsides against their betrayals, echo loudly when paralleled with the post-Oslo Palestinian leadership.

Fanon notes that a revolution differed by a myopic conception of nationhood can lead to “the confusion of neo-liberal universalism to emerge, sometimes laboriously, as a claim to nationhood.” The development towards recognition folds revolutionary components of nationalism in on its particularities, stymying the development of a truly revolutionary dialect. In the bid to gain recognition, the national leadership will take up the positions vacated by the departing coloniser, and becoming “not even the replica of Europe, but its caricature”. This caricature, for Fanon, is defined by a rapacious desire to line pockets, and attract economic power from the former colonial overlords and the world powers. With razor sharp clarity, Fanon notes how the economic programme of the post-independence leadership attracts foreign investment for industrial projects, which are built from the “tête-a-tête” negotiations leading up to the withdrawal of the coloniser. Hedonistic projects are developed to mask the leaks in their economic plans, which do little to develop the nation, and before long, the national bourgeoisie become mere managers and intermediaries of foreign investment.

Fanon’s polemic draws up three institutions which seem applicable to the Palestinian context:

  1. The party: A political machine emptied of its revolutionary potential, merely a symbolic and bureaucratic mechanism of the neo-colonial system.
  2. A national bourgeoisie of capital managers and bureaucrats.
  3. A foreign-advised army, called on increasingly to step in when the contradictions of post-independence solicit widespread protest.

Fatah and the PA

Founded by Yasser Arafat in 1959, Fatah was once uncompromising on the merits of armed resistance popularising the re-conquest of Palestine through the deployment of sophisticated and popular imagery and execution of armed actions. It’s dominance within the PLO and popularity within the refugee camps endowed it with authority over all other factions after 1967. However, by the time of the first intifada (uprising) in 1987, the once revolutionary zeal of Fatah was subsumed by the Palestinian committees and grassroots organisations. Finding itself surplus to requirements, the Fatah-dominated PLO accepted the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, sidelining the popular appeal of mass movements of the intifada.

Fanon notes that the party’s mission after independence changes to give the people instructions “from the summit”, with party branches “completely demobilised”. Instead of a dialogue between the people and the party, from the bottom up, the party becomes a block between the masses and the leader. Fatah’s rallies and political meetings, emptied of any praxis or tactic, vindicate Fanon’s warnings of the lethargy which demobilises the party. Mahmoud Abbas’s amassing of political power, and embedding of Fatah into the institutional framework of the Palestinian state institutions, is also telling. Once the vehicle of the revolution, Fatah is now caught between its revolutionary phantoms of yesteryear, and maintenance of a status quo which benefits its apparatchiks and party bureaucrats. The result has been a divided party, reactionary towards rivals, sporadically condemning the occupation but on the terms of the international system.

The Palestinian bourgeoisie and the international community

The Palestinian national bourgeoisie has become an intermediary for global capitalism, but in a way that supports the infiltration of western “humanitarian capital” facilitating a humanitarian structure which buttresses the human rights and development regime of the west. The Oslo Accords created a system in which its “logic” informed the development of institutions engineered for “statehood”. The conflict was dramatically reframed after Oslo, from an ongoing anti-colonial struggle to a depoliticised development-orientated industry of “capacity building”. Capacity building would usher in the development of an NGO sector which would forge institutions for “statehood” whilst managing the material impacts of the occupation.

Since Oslo, the Palestinian economy has been dependent overwhelmingly on foreign aid, which is transferred through a complex web of NGOs. Staffing these organisations are the Palestinian leadership, intimately wedded to the Palestinian Authority, often with ties to Fatah as well. The “NGO-isation” of Palestinian politics has spawned a complex bureaucracy which works hand-in-hand with the PA to develop institutions which do little to enhance an economy stricken by the detrimental effects of Israel’s military occupation. A Gulf-based transnational capitalist class joins these intermediaries of neoliberal state funding logic. This class controls major banks, industrial and manufacturing companies and telecommunications firms, and facilitates the regional dominance of Gulf conglomerates. The Palestinian economy has developed through NGO funding and direct investment into the economy from the Gulf, but this has had little trickle-down impact on ordinary Palestinians. Instead, it has given birth to an out of touch NGO/transnational capitalist class whose members reap huge benefits from investment into an economy which only seems to service a select few.

Collaborative security

Fanon parallels the poverty and stagnation of the post-independence nation with the growing dependence of its leadership on a foreign advised and funded military. However, in Palestine it is not an army which has grown to become one of the largest post-Oslo institutions, but the cooperative paramilitary security establishment, the actions of which the PA coordinates with Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency.

As the Palestinian economy has faltered and the Israeli occupation increases its disregard for the rights of the Palestinians, the Palestinian security sector has stepped in, clamping down on popular protest and pre-empting resistance activity through coordinated preventative measures with the Israelis. This cooperative security nexus enjoys international support with a budget of more than $8 million each year from the EU Police Mission for the Palestinian Territories. Meanwhile, Britain has allocated £76 million to the PA for security reform, much of which has been channelled towards the Presidential Guard intelligence service and the Preventive Security Force, both of which are headed by Fatah strongmen. Many of these institutions, trained indirectly by the US, follow what is known as the Dayton doctrine, in which an obedient “esprit de corps” is installed throughout the chain of command. They have been found complicit in the torture of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members, as well as the arbitrary detention of protestors. Former PM Salam Fayyad championed the collaborative security system as a key institution to assist with the development of a “Palestinian state”.

This posture echo’s Fanon’s understanding of the pitfalls of national consciousness when it is pegged to recognition on the terms of the coloniser. The security sector is not protecting the nation, but a specific bourgeois model of it, which benefits the class and bureaucratic privileges of the bourgeois elites. Perhaps the most candid representation of this was in 2007 when a faction within Fatah, with Israeli and western backing, attempted to launch a coup d’état in the Gaza Strip to dislodge the Hamas-led Palestinian government after it won the 2006 legislative election.

The institutions of capitulation in Palestine are laid deep, and many are rooted in a number of international structural factors external to the control of the current leadership. Furthermore, the political stagnation, economic strangulation and general immobility with regards to the “Question of Palestine” begins and ends with an intransigent, unaccountable Israeli occupation. However, the Palestinian leadership, once intertwined cognitively with the broader Palestinian people, especially those in forced exile, have narrowed the horizons of the PNM dramatically. Part of this is due to their pursuit of recognition, but they are also emulating the rapacious attitudes of their coloniser. This has led to institutions which obfuscate the asymmetric power of the current occupation, placing legitimacy in a political project which has failed, and serves no one but a tiny clique.

Read: Fanon in Palestine Part 2: From Sumud to Surrender

Fanon in Palestine Part 1: Palestine through the lens of Frantz Fanon

Nick Rodrigo is a research associate at the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg; his writing has appeared in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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