The Media Office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine conducted the following interview with Comrade Khaled Barakat, commenting on the latest developments in the Palestinian cause, particularly in regards to the current crisis of the resistance and the danger posed by the alliance of US imperialism, Arab reaction and Zionism in the era of Trump.
Q: What do you think is the role of the United States administration under Donald Trump today, in relation to the Arab and Palestinian levels?
Barakat: I will start in relation to Palestine particularly. The United States under the Trump administration believes that it could impose what they could call the “deal of the century” or what Trump referred to many times as a “great deal” or a “grand bargain.” The reason that the US believes it can do so is because of the total surrender by the Palestinian traditional leadership under the authority of Abu Mazen and the dire socioeconomic situation for Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere. In short, what it really means is Palestinian capitalists accepting the so-called “self-rule government” in order to secure their own petty interests in exchange for any actual real independence. The US believes also that it can carry this out in an Arab world that is shattered and being bled dry with bloody and vicious wars and turmoil. Today, there is a clear camp that has been formed by Arab reactionary regimes alongside Israel in order not only to shift the fight to one against Iran rather than for the liberation of Palestine, but also to deal publicly with Israel as part of one camp.
The Popular Front has always identified the camp of the enemy of the Palestinian people as these powers: US and Western imperialism, Zionism, Arab reactionary regimes and Israel. This remains the case today, with the addition of the Palestinian sector that has joined this camp today. This was the case even when there are not public relationships between the Arab regimes and Israel, with the exception of Jordan and Egypt. Today, normalization has intensified to the extent of labeling Palestinian resistance “terrorist” as we have seen in the official Saudi newspaper, al-Riyadh. This is not a shift in position in fact, but it is a shift in the publicity and obviousness of these positions and how this is made clear to the masses. Today, the relationship between Israel and Egypt, for example, has been moving from partnership and collusion to Egypt being a complete follower of the Israeli position and Israeli imperatives. This is also correct when we look at the relationship between Jordan and Israel and some of the Arab Gulf states, including in the realm of gas deals in the Mediterranean. In addition, we are also witnessing today a crisis of the Palestinian resistance, and we must be honest about this fact.
Q: How do you see that a crisis in the Palestinian resistance is being reflected today?
Barakat: First, the Palestinian resistance, until today, does not have a unified national front. We cannot claim that the PLO, as it is today, represents this unified national front under the leadership of Abu Mazen and with the absence of major forces from the PLO, nor that we can label Hamas the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian resistance. The basic lesson of all of the national liberation movements fighting imperialism, colonialism, settler colonialism, occupation and apartheid is the necessity of a unified national front. This is not the same as the unified national leadership. The latter is a product of the unified national front and not a replacement or stand-in for it.
The second representation of this crisis is that the internal chaos within the Palestinian institutions themselves, and this chaos is a manufactured product of the Oslo era and the Oslo agreements. In order for Palestinian resistance to present an alternative to the line and path of futile negotiations, it must have a clear political program that is, without doubt or without question, allying itself fully with the Palestinian popular classes, the 99 percent of the Palestinian people, particularly the ones who are struggling in poverty and living in refugee camps.
Finally, we must push for a new understanding of the term “resistance,” which includes all forms of Palestinian struggle and many other entities beyond the “factions.” It is, despite everything, existing and strong, and it stretches from Chile to Ain el-Helweh to Gaza because it is the resistance of the Palestinian people themselves. Palestinian resistance must echo the voices of the Palestinians everywhere and not only in one particular area. And Palestinian resistance allows all Palestinian sectors, particularly youth and women, to be in the forefront and the leadership of this resistance. These are, in short, the main challenges that represent the Palestinian crisis today.
Q: What is the situation of the PLO and the crisis of Palestinian representation?
Barakat: The PLO is being and has been hijacked by a group who only represent a program of the Palestinian bourgeoisie. It is abusing the historical achievements of the Palestinian people when they named the PLO their sole legitimate representative in the Arab world and the international arena. It is using and manipulating this history to place it in the service of the Palestinian capitalist project called the so-called “Palestinian state.” They are using the form and killing the content, the essence of the PLO. This project does not represent the Palestinian national struggle for return and liberation. Where does the PLO get its legitimacy from? From the recognition that it enjoyed since 1974…today this is solely under the control of Mahmoud Abbas and his wing of the so-called Palestinian leadership. Further, the decision today is not made by the PLO; it is made by the Palestinian Authority. That is where the real decision-making lies today, in the hands of the PA and not in any real way in the PLO. This is why the Front is seriously discussing today withdrawing from all of these institutions in order to not provide cover for the leadership of the PLO and the PA and their increasing and escalating program of surrender and undermining of the Palestinian cause.
This is the crisis of representation that we refer to. Who represents the Palestinian people? Is it the PLO, the PA, the Palestinian resistance in abstract terms? Yes, we are in need of a national unifying front but it is impossible to do this under the auspices of the current official leadership. This is a conviction today that most of the members and cadres of the Front believe, including those comrades who always give priority to “national unity.”
Q: There has been some discussion lately about the convening of a Palestinian National Council. What is the situation with the PNC?
Barakat: The Front’s position has been very clear from the statement that was issued by its Central Committee last year, regarding this very issue. And that is, the Front will not participate in any Palestinian National Congress convening under the auspices of the occupation. It must be a step towards unifying all of our people. It must be held outside Palestine. It must reinvigorate the shatat and the Palestinian role in the diaspora. It must take place in a free and transparent context under the auspices of the Palestinian people and not Arab regimes or security services.
Yes, today, there are new attempts by the Palestinian right-wing to create a false convening of the PNC in Ramallah. We do not want a congress based on quotas, but rather upon democratic elections and consensus, and we want to reinvigorate the popular Palestinian institutions and unions and return their strength that was hijacked by the NGOization of Palestinian society and the Palestinian national movement. There are reports that there is an attempt to liquidate even the PNC and create what is called the “Palestinian parliament.” This is just reproducing the same crisis again, under different names and different titles. But this is of course especially dangerous because it limits Palestinian participation to some areas in the West Bank, excluding Palestinians from Gaza, Jerusalem, or 1948 Palestine, let alone Palestinians in exile and in diaspora, the majority of the Palestinian people. This is a reflection of the priorities and role of the Palestinian capitalist class. We are also seeing an increased role for Palestinian capitalists in getting the “crumbs” of normalization projects like the Red Sea-Dead Sea water project between Jordan and Israel. In other words, different name, same game – except an even more dangerous game.
Q: How do you evaluate the Front’s relationship with other Palestinian political forces?
Barakat: The Front evaluates its relationship with Palestinian forces according to the closeness of these forces to the path of return and liberation and the unconditional respect of the rights of the Palestinian people, individually and collectively, including their freedom of speech and social and democratic values.
The Front agrees with Ismail Haniyeh, the newly elected leader of Hamas, in his latest speech and it evaluated this speech positively, as he did clearly mention the strong relationship between Hamas and the PFLP. But we know that this is regarding the political vision towards upholding Palestinian national rights and the armed struggle as a major common denominator between the two parties. The Front has expressed its criticism of some of Hamas’ positions regarding the acceptance of the Palestinian state on 1967 borders. We think this has reached a dead end and it looks like, as we say in Palestine, “he is going to Mecca while people are returning from Hajj.”
Also, the Front has reservations on some of Hamas’ policies regarding allying itself with Qatar and Turkey. There is an open discussion with Hamas of reservations, as well as the Front’s rejection of any form of oppression against our people in Gaza, whether that is social oppression or political oppression. And we have seen positive outcomes from these dialogues. We also see that the priority of financial support should go to the poor classes of Gaza and to strengthen the productive sectors that ensure Gaza’s steadfastness until now, and by that I mean the farmers, the fishers and the workers. These three sectors must be the priority for any “good governance.” We want to see the money of zakat going to these people and not to the private sector.
Hamas also has their own reservations on the positions of the Front, particularly on the issue of the PLO and what they view as the “unfair” positions that the Front takes, as well as the issues of Yemen and Syria, where there is disagreement that exists. We believe that we must take a strong position against the US and Saudi aggression on Yemen, while Hamas remains silent.
As for the relationship with the Fateh movement, it is absolutely in its lowest point. Fateh has failed to assume its responsibilities towards the unification of the Palestinian people. They have placed themselves as the incubator and the defenders of the program of Mahmoud Abbas. We understand that Fateh is the party of the Authority in the West Bank and they benefit directly from the Palestinian Authority for narrow interests, but we cannot accept the domination of one group over all the Palestinian institutions, organizations, funds, governance and representation. More importantly, the crisis in Fateh today is inflicting itself on the Palestinian national movement in its totality. There are so many different forces today in Fateh and they all claim to be the “voice of Fateh.” Sometimes we do not even know to talk with and who really represents Fateh. Our relationship in the PLO has been combative. Comrade Khalida Jarrar, who is today in Israeli prison, had clashed with the president of the Authority only short weeks before she was seized by occupation forces. We heard nothing from Fateh but silence on this treatment of Khalida. The same goes for Omar Shehadeh who was similarly accosted by the PA president. As for the Front’s relationship with Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian political forces, it is strong in general and positive.
Q: How does the Front see the role of Palestinians in the diaspora today?
Barakat: Today, the Palestinian movement in the diaspora has a historical responsibility to lead our people again on to the path of return and liberation. Palestinians in the diaspora possess so much strength, power, possibilities, and potential but unfortunately these are not being brought out and liberated to their full extent. This can only happen through participation. There is no magic formula for Palestinians in exile to launch their revolution one more time. This is the only choice, in fact, for Palestinians to remain united and to keep their eye on the main goal, regardless of where they are geographically. Their eyes, their weapons and their attention are all on Palestine. This means that we must rebuild our popular unions and organizations even in some areas from zero, from nothing.
And we must believe in the young generation and the extraordinary potential of the Palestinian women to be able to lead the movement along with all those who still believe and hold fast to their principles, vision and goal of return and liberation. There have been a lot of political, social and economic changes that Palestinians in the diaspora are living. The war in Syria, the attacks and siege on Gaza and the dire social and economic conditions of Palestinians in Lebanon has pushed Palestinians once again into forced migration and displacement. And we are seeing that many Palestinians are going to Europe as their destination, particularly Germany. The task of all Palestinians in Europe today to play a strategic role in confronting the Zionist movement in Europe and support Palestinians who are living in refugee camps and in poverty and marginalization, and this includes confronting racism in European countries.
Also, we must open the doors widely as much as we can for the participation of our people in Jordan. We cannot forget the fact that millions of Palestinians live in Jordan, and they are just one hour away from Palestine. These Palestinians have a right to express their pride in their identity, their participation in their own national cause, and to struggle alongside the Jordanian national movement for democracy and for the liberation of Palestine.
There are tasks related to our people in Lebanon. It is a well-established fact that Palestinians in Lebanon are living in the most extreme and dire conditions in the refugee camps. Their camps are being besieged in some cases, they are excluded, they are marginalized. There is a deep feeling among Palestinians in Lebanon of being isolated, and, most importantly, they face the unjust, racist laws of the Lebanese government which bar Palestinians from working in more than 70 professions.
We understand that each Palestinian contingent lives in different conditions and deals with specific issues. But they are all related in the river and the path of Palestinian struggle for their national rights, human rights and civil rights. We know that our people today in the United States and Canada and the younger generations who are today involved in the struggle, whether in campuses or the anti-apartheid movement or the BDS movement, we know that this is going to be fruitful. These struggles that are happening today – sometimes you may feel as if you are shouting in the wilderness. But these are struggles that will be harvested in the accumulation of experience and gains.
Each of these Palestinian popular contingencies must strengthen their relationships with the movements with which they struggle in their communities. So in North America, we must strengthen our relationship with the Black Liberation Movement, with the Indigenous and Native peoples in struggle, with the movements of poor and working class people, with anti-racist, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggle. In Lebanon, we must strengthen our relationship with the Communist movement the progressive movement and the Resistance. In Europe, we must strengthen our relationship with all Arab communities, including Moroccan, Syrian, Algerian communities, and all oppressed communities in the struggles to confront austerity and racism. In Latin America, we must be part of the struggles to confront US imperialism and stand with the popular classes in struggle against new forms of attacks and exploitation. We must struggle together and, most of all, we must do this based on a perspective of responsibility, humbleness and being a full part of, true participants and partners in, these movements.
One of the characteristics of the Palestinian people in diaspora is that they generally have more freedom of movement, in comparison to our people under occupation. The second advantage is that communicate with the world in as many languages as there are in the world. The third is that many of our people have become an integral part and play a major role in their societies. Chile is such an example, in which our people can play a progressive role not only for Palestine but also for the countries where they are living today.
Q: Why don’t we see a Palestinian escalation in armed struggle today?
Barakat: As an honest answer, this is a representation of the crisis of the resistance. Bluntly, not enough is being done from the Palestinian organizations’ part. We see positive elements, particularly in Gaza and the accumulation of strength there, but armed struggle is a right of the entire Palestinian people, and I have no doubt that we will witness, in the near future and the on longer-term horizon, Palestinians moving from the defensive to the offensive.
But this requires many political decisions and not military decisions. You can possess weapons, but if you don’t have the political will, this weapon is useless. If you don’t have the political clarity, this weapon is dangerous. If you take a different path, this weapon can be used against our people, as you see in the case of the security agencies being built under Oslo. The transformation of the Palestinian armed person from a fedayee to a policeman is dangerous.
But we also must think of armed struggle as a creative means of struggle and not something that is simply done to make a point, even though sometimes it is important to make a point in fighting a bigger, well-armed colonial power. But it must be a struggle with a political aim and it must be carried out by well-cultured and fighters educated in the movement. And it must be connected to the conditions of Palestinians in every stage of their movement. It also must be a struggle along all borders with Palestine, the Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese borders as well as within Palestine itself. These are serious questions, but until now there is no real Palestinian arena and forum to discuss and determine such questions. This is another symptom of the crisis of Palestinian resistance.