Panel 5g. Liberation and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Chair: Rachel Busbridge, Institute for Islamic Studies, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany

“Liberating” the PLO: PFLP fight against “deviation” in the mid-Eighties
Francesco Saverio Leopardi, The University of Edinburgh

Since the eviction from Beirut in 1982 until 1987, the PLO faces a phase of internal split. PLO’s Chairman Arafat and its movement Fatah bet on a diplomatic strategy seeking political coordination with Jordan and Egypt. These moves aim at fitting into American plans for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), second force within the PLO, opposes this strategy. Indeed, PLO’s shift towards the American sphere of influence would entail the relinquishment of PLO historical goals, such as the creation of an independent state all over historic Palestine, as well as the marginalization of the PFLP itself, a formation committed to armed struggle and the fight against US imperialism since its inception. From this stems PFLP’s priority to “liberate” the PLO from the so-called “deviationist” forces that occupy a leading position within the Palestinian political arena. Drawing on PFLP’s official publications, this paper illustrates PFLP’s reaction to this negative context, embodied by its several attempts to build an opposition coalition within the PLO and present Syria as the best ally for the Palestinian national movement. The analysis of PFLP’s agency in this period highlights the factors that caused the failure of its agenda and, in a historical perspective, contributed to its decline. Clarifying the roots of such decline is essential also to understand the current impasse, especially in terms of popular representation, lived by Palestinian politics, to which the gradual fading of the PFLP contributed predominantly.

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Israel-Palestine and decolonisation as liberation
Rachel Busbridge, Institute for Islamic Studies, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany

The colonial dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are now widely (albeit partially) acknowledged in scholarly and political discourses, with decolonization in turn imagined as a pertinent means for liberation. While conventionally invoked in relation to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (with decolonization seen in terms of withdrawal and partition), recent years have seen a resurgence of settler colonialism as an analytical paradigm through which to understand the conflict. This resurgence has often seen Israel-Palestine examined in new light alongside ‘new world’ settler colonial societies with Indigenous population like Australia, Canada and the United States. This paper argues that as much this development has had several significant conceptual and political implications, it nevertheless invites a vision of decolonization in Israel-Palestine not commensurate with its particularities, which bear some similarities to ‘new world’ settler societies – but only in a partial sense. The suspicion towards common political community (rightfully) entertained by more structuralist ‘new world’ accounts of settler colonialism, in particular, is argued to be potentially counter-productive in Israel-Palestine, where decolonization as liberation demands a more holistic normative vision in which the lines between settler and native become blurred.

Gentrification in Ramallah: the Complicated “Liberation” Built in Alternative Leisure and Art Spaces in Occupied Palestine
Rayya El Zein, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

A slate of left-leaning, “alternative” cafes, pubs, clubs, and performance venues have opened in Ramallah over the past few years. Priding themselves on recovering Ramallah’s historic open and tolerant spirit, the entrepreneurs who have invested in these ventures share progressive ideas about the kind of social experience they hope to provide their clientele. For example, men and women mix freely, imbibe alcohol, and consume “underground” music and art. The challenges facing these entrepreneurs in building such spaces are considerable: from a generally conservative society, to the bureaucracy of the Palestinian Authority, to the illegal Israeli occupation – it is never evident if these businesses will succeed in opening, or in staying in business. This paper explores the political possibilities engendered by such venues in the context of the Occupied West Bank. Based on interviews with the venue owners, artists who have performed in them, and recollections from their clientele and neighbors, I ask to what extent capitalist development, via small business investment, as an alternative to development politics and aid as structured by the Oslo Accords, can be seen as progressive or “liberating” in the Palestinian context. Focusing on the trajectories of one pub, one bar, and one club, I explore the narrative of “liberation” often used to describe these processes of gentrification in Ramallah.

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