May 12, 2024

Will the Palestinian Groups Create a New Palestinian Political Project?

Vijay Prashad

Enable GingerCannot connect to Ginger Check your internet connection
or reload the browser
Disable in this text fieldRephraseRephrase current sentence

IN Cairo, representatives from Hamas held indirect negotiations with Israel for a ceasefire. The sticking point for several of the rounds was the order of events. Israel wanted the hostages to be released before it would stop the bombing, while Hamas said that the bombing must stop first. Israel has called for the disarming and dismantling of Hamas, which is a maximalist demand unlikely to be met. Hamas meanwhile would like not only a ceasefire but an end to the war. Both sides blamed each other, which made the task of the Egyptian and Qatari negotiators all the more difficult.

The best outcome possible from the Cairo talks is an end to the current genocidal war against the Palestinians in Gaza. The negotiations to end the war took on an extra urgency as Israel bombed the edge of Rafah, the only city in Gaza not yet decimated by Israel. With no place to flee, the Palestinian civilians in Rafah cannot be sheltered from any attack, even if it is not as violent as conducted by the Israeli army against Gaza City and Khan Younis. Those attacks have created 37 million tonnes of rubble, which are filled with contaminants and an immense number of unexploded bombs (which will take 14 years to disarm). Israel believes that the last organised remnants of Hamas exist in Rafah, and that it will either bomb the millions who live there to destroy it, or it will have to agree to destroy itself through negotiations. Both are unacceptable to the Palestinians, who neither want more civilian casualties nor the break-up of one of the fiercest defenders of the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

Despite Hamas’ agreement with the ceasefire proposal, Israel launched violent attacks on Rafah and seized control of the Rafah crossing into Egypt (thereby cutting off the main access route for aid into Gaza). The talks continue but it is clear that Israel is simply unwilling to take them seriously.


Israel’s disregard for the negotiations and the level of its violence can be measured based on two political realities. It does not take negotiations with the Palestinians seriously and it feels that it can bomb with impunity. This is so because, firstly, Israel is backed fully by the global north states (mainly the United States and Europe) and secondly, it does not regard Palestinian political views as either vital because it has succeeded in breaking the political unity amongst Palestinians and it has succeeded in politically disorienting the various factions by the arrest of their main leadership (this does not entirely apply to Hamas, whose leadership was able to set up operations in Damascus and then later in Doha, Qatar). While it is impossible to imagine a rapid about-face from the global north countries, it has become entirely clear to the Palestinian factions that absent their unity there will be no way to compel Israel to end its genocidal war, and then of course its occupation of Palestinian lands combined with its apartheid policies inside Israel.

In late April 2023, Hamas met with Fatah, the other major Palestinian political force, in China as part of a long process to create common ground between them. Relations between these two major political parties broke down in 2006-07, when Hamas won the parliamentary elections in Gaza and when Fatah – in charge of the Palestine Authority – contested these results; indeed, the two factions fought each other militarily in Gaza before Fatah retreated to the West Bank. During Israel’s genocidal war, both Fatah and Hamas sought to bridge the gap and not to permit their differences to allow both the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and the defeat of Palestinian political aims in general. High representatives of these two parties met in Moscow earlier this year, and now again in China.

For this meeting, Fatah sent its senior leaders, including Azzam al-Ahmed (who is on the central committee and leads its Palestinian reconciliation team), while Hamas sent equally senior leaders, including Moussa Abu Marzouk (a member of the party’s Political Bureau and its de facto foreign minister). The negotiations did not result in a final agreement, but – as part of a long process – it has deepened the dialogue and the political will between the two parties to work together against the Israeli genocidal war and the occupation. Further meetings at this high level are being planned, with a joint statement to follow later regarding a call – encouraged by China’s President Xi Jinping – for an international peace conference to end the war and a joint Palestinian platform regarding the way forward.


Fatah, the anchor of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), was founded in 1959 by three men, two of whom came from the Muslim Brotherhood (Khalil al-Wazir and Salah Khalaf) and one of whom who came from the General Union of Palestinian students and would eventually become the main leader (Yasser Arafat). The PLO established itself as the core of the Palestinian struggle against the catastrophe of 1948 that lost them their lands, made them second-class citizens inside Israel, and sent hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into decades of exile. The Muslim Brotherhood imprint did not form within the PLO, which took on a national liberation tone that was sharpened by the various left factions such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP, formed in 1967) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP, formed in 1968).

The PLO became hegemonic in the Palestinian struggle, coordinating the political work in the camps of the exiles and the armed struggle of the fedayeen (fighters). The factions of the PLO faced concerted attack from Israel, which invaded Lebanon to exile the leadership and its core to Tunisia. With the fall of the USSR, the PLO began to negotiate earnestly with the Israelis and the United States, both of which imposed a form of surrender on the Palestinians called the 1993 Oslo Accords. Fatah took charge of the Palestinian Authority, which operated partially to maintain the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank.

Angered by what appeared to be a Palestinian surrender at Oslo, eight factions formed the Alliance of Palestinian Factions in 1993. Within this Alliance, the largest groups belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood tradition. They included Palestinian Islamic Jihad (formed in 1981) and Hamas (formed in 1987). The PFLP and DFLP initially joined this alliance but left in 1998 over differences with the Islamic parties. The Islamist parties won the parliamentary elections in Gaza with a slim margin (Hamas’s 44 per cent against Fatah’s 41 per cent), a result that angered Israel and the global north states who then tried to undermine them.

The path to political power through the ballot box having been denied them, and then facing sustained Israeli suffocation and bombardment of Gaza, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad strengthened their armed wings and defended themselves against humiliation and attack. Every attempt at peaceful protest – including the Long March of Return in 2019 – was met with Israeli violence. There has never been a moment when the people of Gaza have experienced a year of peace since 2007. The current bombardment, however, is at a different scale than even the worst of the previous attacks by Israel in 2008 and 2014.

The main political disagreements between the factions include their different interpretation of the Oslo Accords, their respective ambition for political control, and their separate aspirations for Palestinian society. That their political leaders have been imprisoned for decades and that they have been prevented from normal, democratic political activity (such as maintaining their political structures and as canvassing the people) has prevented them from bridging their distances. However, in prison the leadership have had sustained dialogues on these issues. Right after the parliamentary elections in Gaza, the leaders of the five major factions imprisoned in Israel’s Hadarim prison wrote a National Conciliation Document of the Prisoners. Marwan Barghouti of Fatah, Abdel Raheem Malluh of the PFLP, Mustafa Badarna of the DFLP, Abdel Khaleq al-Natsh of Hamas, and Bassam al-Saadi of Islamic Jihad.

The Document of the Prisoners, which was widely circulated and discussed, called for Palestinian unity and an end to ‘all forms of division that could lead to internal strife’. The text did not lay out a new Palestinian political agenda, but it called for the various factions ‘to formulate a Palestinian plan aimed at comprehensive political action’. The development of this plan, now almost twenty years later, is a major objective of the talks between the various Palestinian political organisations.

There is agreement that the first task is to prevent the attack on Rafah and to end the genocidal war against the Palestinians. However, soon thereafter, the sense is that the political malaise that has befallen the Palestinian people must be overcome and a new political project must be used to motivate a new political atmosphere amongst the Palestinians within Israel’s borders, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, in the refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, and in the six million strong Palestinian diaspora.



Enable GingerCannot connect to Ginger Check your internet connection
or reload the browser
Disable in this text fieldRephraseRephrase current sentenceEdit in Ginger×

Enable GingerCannot connect to Ginger Check your internet connection
or reload the browser
Disable in this text fieldRephraseRephrase current sentenceEdit in Ginger×