Mustafa Fahs

The Debate on Armed Struggle, From Outside to the Inside

In his response to my recent article "Gaza and the Wars of Independence", former professor at the Lebanese University Dr. Mohammed Ali Mokalled commented on Palestinian researcher Dr. Yazid Al-Sayegh’s claim that "the Oslo Agreement was a result of the Palestinian national movement’s failure to achieve its goals through armed struggle.” Mokalled argued that, rather, the Oslo Agreement was the fruit of armed struggle and that it was not true that the armed struggle failed to achieve anything. Nonetheless, neither Al-Sayegh nor Maqdul separates the armed struggle from the Palestinian national movement and the PLO that represents it and seeks to achieve the legitimate objectives of the Palestinian people. They disagree about the results.

Dr. Mokalled, who is among the few leftist elites to have re-examined the experience of Lebanese parties and the civil war, posed a legitimate question about Hamas and the armed struggle at a difficult moment in the history of Palestinian history. In his article in the "Nidaa Al-Watan" newspaper titled ("Hamas, Between National Liberation and National Freedom"), he claims that "national freedom refers to resistance to colonialism and liberation to resistance to occupation. There is a vast political difference between freedom and liberation, and this is what distinguishes Hamas from the Palestine Liberation Organization. Liberation and freedom are split along the same political and ideological lines as the roles of Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization and their roles in the armed struggle.

From and to Palestine, the Palestinian struggle has undergone several difficult stages, from the Nakba to the declaration of armed struggle in 1965, to the 1982 defeat in Lebanon. In that phase, a historical Palestinian bloc was formed. It managed to turn the Palestinian displacement, which had been a refugee issue, into a matter of geographical, historical, and rights. This process gave rise to a critical bloc, the fruit of the union between political struggle and armed struggle. It was formed in two stages: firstly, there was the establishment of the Fatah movement, which emerged between the late fifties and the early sixties. Secondly, the Palestine Liberation Organization was formed under Fatah’s leadership after the defeat of 1967; Fatah led the PLO’s political and armed struggle at home and abroad.

From armed struggle to the promised state, both the historical and critical blocs managed to associate their cause, as a national liberation movement, with other global liberation movements. They benefited from the world's division into two poles, which provided them with international cover and room for maneuver, even in their armed activities on foreign soil, which Fatah and other PLO factions undertook to draw the world's attention to the Palestinian issue and force the world to recognize their rights. The pinnacle of its symbolic success was the historic speech given by the late Yasser Arafat at the United Nations in 1974.

Returning to Gaza, we turn to Hamas, its role, and its nature. It is the antithesis of what the Palestinian national struggle had been for decades. The leaders of this struggle and historical figures insisted on presenting it as an international issue (in its universal sense, not the leftist sense of being internationalist). They presented it as a cause that should be supported by everyone defending the rights of people to liberation, freedom, and self-determination by all means, including "armed struggle."

Hamas, as an Islamic resistance movement, undermines global support for the Palestinian cause. Its position in the conflict between rival global axes and its ideology is at odds with the historical and critical blocs, as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization and Fatah. Hamas diverges on critical matters, with how it sees the nature of the conflict and the role of armed struggle, before and after the Oslo Accords.

From the debates about everything from armed struggle to the state, the war on Gaza has brought the Palestinian issue back to the forefront globally. It has also rekindled debates among Palestinian, Arab, and international elites about the role of armed struggle in achieving the legitimate national goals of the Palestinian people. This complex debate about armed struggle has gone through two phases, external and internal. The first is the 1982 Lebanon war and its repercussions, and the second is the two Intifadas. The third phase has begun fully in Gaza, and to a lesser extent, in the West Bank. It is difficult to predict how it will end... and the discussion continues.