Palestine: Occupation and resistance

Hanan Aruri, a Palestinian woman from Ramallah, became involved in the fight against the Israeli occupation as a teenager in the 1987 intifada. Today she is an activist in the international campaign to boycott Israel, and is also involved in campaigns for women's rights. She is a guest at the Marxism Today conference, organised by Socialist Alternative, being held in Melbourne from March 30-April 1. Aruri spoke to Green Left Weekly's Emma Clancy about the current dynamics in Palestinian politics and the struggle against the Israeli occupation. [This interview will be published in GLW #705.]

Because of the limitations placed on Palestinians' means of struggle by the occupation, do you think coordinating the international boycott Israel campaign is the most effective way for Palestinians to resist the occupation?

This is one of the means. With such a difficult occupation, you have to use different means to influence the situation, and the boycott is one of the strategies. But it doesn't mean it's the only strategy — same for the military action. I'm not completely against military resistance, but it has to be done within a broader strategy and it has to be complemented by other means of struggle. So there's a strategy of resistance, and within this strategy, you have to employ different tactics, and one shouldn't necessarily be given priority over the other — as a nation, we have to use all of them.

Can you explain why you're also involved in the struggle for women's rights in Palestine?

In terms of the women's struggle, of course, Palestinian women share the gender oppression with the women of the world. There is a lot of discrimination; there are a lot of violations of women's rights all over the world, and we are part of the international women's movement for women's rights. There is an inferior situation for Palestinian women, just as there is for other women in the region, and the fact that we face the Israeli occupation should not prevent us from also struggling to advance our society, and to improve the living conditions for all sectors of society. So I am also a gender activist in Palestinian society, I believe this is a very important issue — if women do not have an equal status within society, that society cannot fully develop and progress.

You've been living in the West Bank for the past year since Hamas has been in power: have there been any restrictions or changes placed on social freedoms under a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA)?

No, no, no. First of all, Hamas hasn't even had the opportunity to rule. The first day Hamas was elected, all the pressure and all the limitations started to be employed against this government. They haven't had a chance to politically rule the situation, so their social agenda has not been implemented. But I don't think Hamas at this stage in the Palestinian struggle would even try to implement their social agenda, because it's not their priority and they know it's not the basis of their public support. So socially, no, there has been no change since the election of Hamas.

What do you think is the future of the unity government? In terms of both its reception by the international community, but also its ability to function? And going beyond the unity government, do you view the PA as a viable body for Palestinians, and for furthering the struggle for national self-determination?

I don't think the PA is an effective tool to represent the Palestinian people and to overcome the occupation. It's only an administrative body that has to provide services to the Palestinian people and it shouldn't have the major political role to play, because this is for the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation]. The PA is just to administrate local, daily life under the occupation. We have to be very clear about this role. It shouldn't — but it does — it shouldn't negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people, and it shouldn't go into unilateral negotiations, whether with the Israelis or with the international community. It's the PLO that should be doing this. The best that we can expect from the unity PA government is if they can stop the internal Palestinian fight. When it comes to improving the living conditions of the Palestinians, or lifting the international boycott, I don't expect to see much being done on that level.

Could you describe the move within Palestinians society and within political groups to reform and revitalise the PLO, and draw Hamas and Islamic Jihad and other groups into it?

That was what Hamas was stressing at the Mecca negotiations — that there should be genuine representation in the PLO, and that's a major public demand in Palestine. They want to take the lead away from the small group of PA people and put it back in the hands of the legitimate body that represents the whole Palestinian people and not Fatah or Hamas alone, and that's why there's a huge demand locally for reform of the PLO. The PLO in its current shape cannot represent the Palestinian people. It doesn't have the capacity; it doesn't have the legitimacy, or the ability to represent the Palestinian people. So genuine reform of the PLO and to re-establish the PLO's status as genuinely representing the Palestinians — this is a very important demand, and if this unity government can play a role in helping to bring this about, that will be very good.

Do you think there are significant divisions developing within Fatah about, firstly, cooperating with Hamas, but more broadly, about the approach the party has taken to collaboration with Israel and the US?

Fatah is a very wide movement. There are many wings and groups within Fatah itself. There is no homogeneous Fatah body, especially since the death of Yasser Arafat. There are many groups, and it has been fragmented to different power centres, and each group has its own way of looking at politics. So there is not one united Fatah approach or vision: there are many. There are also the military groups within Fatah who have a different vision. There are also differences among those who are in the [PA], and those who are outside of it. There are differences between Fatah leaders and the local members.

What have you observed in the West Bank about the levels of public support for the two factions, Hamas and Fatah, and other political groups in Palestine in the past period?

It changes all the time. Each public opinion poll tells a different figure. It is difficult to tell at any one point who is more popular, but for sure, Fatah is not the one. I don't know about Hamas's popularity, because the polls all tell such different results. But when it comes to Fatah, I am sure that Fatah has lost a lot of support since Arafat's death — and it continues to lose support.

There hasn't really been the establishment of an alternative group and Palestinian politics is largely in the framework of the two major parties, Hamas and Fatah, and so far there is no time, no space, for a new group or a new ideology to emerge, or a new vision. But there is a lot of internal discussion and an increasing number of Palestinians who want an alternative, they seek an alternative. But this public discussion has not manifested yet in new groups or a new political movement.

We were talking earlier about the limitations and constraints on the unity government and the PA. If this siege continues, do you think there'll be another outbreak of popular struggle, a third intifada?

Possibly, yes, possibly there will be another intifada. There will definitely be another wave of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation. There will be no third elections, or if there are, Palestinians will not vote, because they have completely lost hope in the PA and everything it represents. It's only a power issue, it has nothing to do with the Palestinian cause or future or struggle. So yes, most probably there will be another reaction because Israel cannot go on with this without generating resistance.

Could you talk about the viability of an independent Palestinian state and why you support a democratic single-state solution to the Palestine national question?

I don't think there can be a solution based on two states. If there is a Palestinian state that is established, it will not be a viable state. Economically speaking, socially speaking, politically speaking, there's no opportunity for a Palestinian state to exist alongside a very aggressive state of Israel that will never leave a Palestinian state to exist in peace and will perceive its very existence as a threat to Israel. There will be a continuing tense relationship between Israel and the neighbouring countries.

A Palestinian state in the West Bank will have no resources; it will not develop economically, while all the neighbouring countries have developed their economies, and to start from zero, a state based in the West Bank will not be economically viable. There is not enough space in the 1967 borders for the Palestinian people: Gaza is overpopulated already, and the West Bank is not a place where the Palestinian diaspora can come back to. It will be overpopulated, it will be economically weak, more poverty, and Israel will not accept such a state to be next to it.

It will generate more conflict and it will be a place for more instability, so I don't think a Palestinian state is a solution. But importantly, it will also not be a just solution for the Palestinian cause. Not only because it's not viable, but because the refuges have the right to return to their own home, and Israel should first of all allow these people to come back to their homeland, which would automatically change the nature of the Jewish state — it has to become a democratic state.

So if it has to become a democratic state, it has to be one state for everybody to live together, whether they're Jews or non-Jews, Muslims, Christians, whatever they are, and then what they can share in this place — we'll share the resources, we'll share the decisions, we'll share the citizenship. I don't think a Jewish state will survive, and I don't think a Palestinian state will survive. You cannot create a national state in this place. The only long-term solution for this place, for the coming generations, is to have a democratic state for everybody.