Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993

Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993

Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993

Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993

Synopsis

Armed Struggle and The Search for State spans an entire epoch in the history of the contemporary Palestinian national movement, from the establishment of Israel in 1948, to the PLO-Israel accord of 1993. Contrary to the conventional view that national liberation movements proceed with state-building only after attaining independence, the case of the PLO shows that state-building may shape political institutionalisation, even in the absence of an autonomous territorial, economic, and social base. This insightful study traces the political, ideological, and organisational evolution of the PLO and its constituent of guerrilla groups. Taking the much-vaunted 'armed struggle' as its connecting there, it shows how conflict was used to mobilise the mass constituency, assert particular discourses of revolution and nationalism, construct statist institutions, and establish legitimacy of a new political class and bureaucratic elite. The book draws extensively on PLO archives, official publications and internal documents of the various guerrilla groups, and over 400 interviews conducted by the author with he PLO rank-and-file. Its span, primary sources and conceptual framework make this the definitive work on the subject.

Excerpt

An entire era ended when Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasir Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin presided over the signing of the Declaration of Principles on 13 September 1993. Their exchange of letters of recoption ended decades of mutual denial between the national communities they represented, even if the accord did not fundamentally resolve all aspects of the conflict. Many thousands had died, both combatants and civilians, since the war that led to the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine and to the mass exodus of its Arab population in 1947–9. the Palestinian national movement was to raise the twin banners of ‘total liberation and armed struggle’ in following years, but ultimately proved unable to liberate any part of its claimed homeland by force. the civilian uprising that erupted in 1987 initially appeared more effective in shalung Israeli control, but still the plo finally accepted a negotiated compromise, the terms of which ran counter to virtually all the principles and aims it had espoused for so long.

How did the Palestinian national movement arrive at this outcome, and what factors determined its course over the decades? Could it have achieved more, given the severe external constraints and daunting challenges, both military and political, that it faced? How were its principal leaders and organizations able to maintain their internal control for so long, despite the glaring discrepancy between declared goals and actual achievements at each and every stage? Last but not least, what role did the armed struggle play, given the enduring emphasis it received in Palestinian discourse and strategy on the one hand, and on the other its effective abandonment in the course of the intifada and the diplomatic process that led ultimately to the 1993 accord?

This book tells the story of the Palestinian national movement between 1949 and 1993, talung the armed struggle as its main focus. the central thesis is that the armed struggle provided the political impulse and organizational dynamic in the evolution of Palestinian national identity and in the formation of parastatal institutions and a bureaucratic elite, the nucleus of government. It did so by driving mass politics and the establishment of a national ‘political field’, in the process enabling a new political class to form, gain recognition and legitimacy, and assert its leadership. By the same token, the armed struggle played a pivotal role in demarcating the Palestinians as a distinct actor in regional politics with a not insignificant degree of autonomy. a subsidiary thesis is that the key to the survival of the Palestinian national movement and to the attainment of at least a modicum of its objectives, was the ability to effect fundamental shifts in goals and strategy at critical stages in its evolution. These shifts took place in response to external circumstances and challenges, but they . . .

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