In November 2011 I spoke with Hannah Ameera, member of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and leader of the Palestinian People's Party, in Ramallah.
Patrick Harrison: Why did you decide to change the name from the Communist Party to the Palestinian People's Party?
Hanna Ameera: Historically speaking the communist movement in Palestine originated in the Palestinian Communist Party. It was established in 1924 as a a Palestinian-Jewish party. This was until 1943 when the Palestinian communists formed the National Liberation League in 1943 as a kind of split from the PCP. In 1947 there was the UN Partition Plan; the PCP & the League both accepted the partition plan but the Arab states and the conventional Palestinian movement at that time rejected it. Then came the war of 1948; the Palestinian communists at that time became refugees as did other Palestinians. In 1948 they formed the Israeli Communist Party, Palestinians & Jews in Israel. And in 1951 the Palestinians in the West Bank formed the Jordanian Communist Party along with Jordanian communists. This was the situation until the war of June 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank & Gaza Strip, and then began the rise up of the national movement at that time. So the Palestinians in the West Bank & Gaza Strip in 1978 formed the so-called Palestinian Communist Organisation which was an independant entity but it was a part of the JCP until 1982 when we formed the Palestinian Communist Party.
In 1991, after the fall of the communist states, we realised that we are still in a liberation movement and for now all the classes should unite in one struggle against the occupation; we realised that we should make certain changes, in the program and in the name, in order to stress the democratic identity of the party on the internal level. Underneath that was the rationale that this party should be more popular and more close to the mentality of the people. In all the Arab world communism has been associated with atheism because of the imperialist propaganda about communism; in a conservative society this is not an ideal basis for a mass party. So we decided to make these changes for internal & external reasons – not only because of the fall of the soviet union but because of our internal needs as well. This was 1991 and since then we have kept this name, the PPP, but according to the political program we are the same, and we consider ourselves the inheritents of the communist movement in Palestine - we still a marxist party and part of the communist movement globally, etc.
Patrick: Do you have relationships with leftist parties in Israel?
Hanna: We are in very close relationship with the Israeli Communist Party – we consider ourselves as sister parties. We are in close co-ordination and relationship with them. We organise a lot of joint work – common demonstrations, meetings, on all levels – on the workers level, on the political level, exchange visits all the time, participating in festival & conferences – we are co-operating in a very friendly and close way.
Patrick: Do you think the UN Statehood bid will have any real impact on the situation in Palestine?
Hanna: Of course, it has a very big impact. First of all, it is the only way now to enhance the Palestinian demand for an independant Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, after the failure of the negotiations which were running for two decades. Second, we don't think that the current Palestinian bid should be measured through the criteria of 'is it going to make a state or not' – we just say that, first of all, it is a political way on the international level to implement the international resolutions, second, it will put the Palestinian people closer to their aim of an independant state, third it would push the rest of the international community to intervene, not only the United States – now the US monopolises the mediating role; it has been a big failure and it's time to look for another political way to reach our goals. For that, we think the bid is a new political path and we should go on this path until the end and go into the UN not only as a one-month stand but a process which should lead the Palestinians to their goals. But it's not alone, not separated from the national popular resistance in the occupied territories, and it's not also separated from the support of the Arab world & international community. It's a whole process of multiple actions.
Patrick: How important do you see the national popular resistance as, such as the demonstrations against the wall or the Freedom Riders actions?
Hanna: We should all the time express our opposition to the occupation. All the time. There should be new initiatives, there should be mobilising of the people all the time, in this direction. Not only demonstrations and actions like that but also the boycotts of the Israeli products – we have a very wide range of goals in popular resistance & the people here feel that they have the power to do it – not to wait as it was before. Before, we were waiting for the Arab states to liberate Palestine; after that, we were waiting for the Palestinian armed resistance to liberate Palestine, and now the people feel that they should liberate Palestine themselves. This is the main theme of the popular resistance. It means that all the people should take part in this struggle.
Patrick: Do you think the boycott movement is having success in isolating the Israeli ruling class?
Hanna: I think so – but not as we had expected. It's moving, slowly, but forward. This boycott campaign should be both Palestinian and international. At the end of the day it is related to the political positions of the government and the Palestinians themselves. The main thing is the European-Israeli relations. The Europeans, although they have certain agreements with Israel that prohibited exporting settlement products to Europe, do not actually implementing their agreements. They just close their eyes for all the Israeli products which are exported to Europe. At least we should demand the European governments keep their agreements with Israel which they have signed. Second, concerning the Palestinian boycott on Israeli products, it is a complicated subject. Here there is a formal position by the PNA to boycott the products of the settlements (not all Israeli products). But even this position is not implemented 100%, because of our hard conditions in the Occupied Territories. If we have to look in the whole picture, the products and goods from Israel we are importing are worth about 4 billion dollars a year. We are exporting 300 million a year. There is a big deficit and in order to be able to boycott completely the Israeli products we should have production, have industry in Palestine – and this cannot be fully developed under occupation. It's an interaction between the political process and the boycott & popular struggle. But as I said, the main idea behind this boycott is that the Israeli occupation should not be a deluxe occupation; right now, the Palestinians are financing the occupation. It should not be this way, this equation needs to be converted so the Israelis understand they have to pay a price for the occupation.
Patrick: On the movement towards a state – do you feel given the failure of the Oslo process that a two-state solution is viable?
Hanna: Yes, I think so. I think that until now the Palestinian people are choosing the segregation choice – in a choice between having self-determination through unity with others or to segregate yourself from them. Until now we have had this dependant state on the West Bank and Gaza strip, this has been the choice until now. I think that the one-state solution is not a practical one. It's more difficult that the other option because of the refugee problem. Now Israel considers the biggest threat to its identity the five million Palestinians who want to come back to their homeland, if it would be a democratic state then it could no longer remain a Jewish state. The balance of power does not permit for us to make such a solution so we think that it's easier for the Palestinian people to struggle for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza strip and afterwards we will see - maybe afterwards there will be this unity, but between two states. For now I think we should stress on the right of self-determination, that this should be expressed through an independant state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Patrick: And what about the refugee question then?
Hanna: It will be the next stage, after establishing the Palestinian state there should be another kind of balance of power for implementing the other part of self-determination, being the right of return for the refugees. By being in a Palestinian state we will be stronger in our struggle to go forward on this issue.
Patrick: Do you feel that an independant Palestinian state in the West Bank & Gaza Strip will be able to truly democratic state if it can't represent Palestinians inside the 1948 borders of Israel, for example?
Hanna: I think that it should be a democratic state. If there is one thing which is positive in the Israeli occupation in one way or another, it is that Israel is a democratic state – but not for all of its citizens, a democratic state for the Jews only. But being democratic makes you stronger, and a democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza strip would be stronger than an autocratic state or dictatorship. I don't think that when the Palestinians are struggling to exercise their democracy under occupation, they will stop trying it when they are independant – mainly after what we've seen going on in the Arab world, this state could only be democratic, it should defend social justice for the workers, journalistic freedom, respecting minorities, etc.
Patrick: In comparasin with the other states – what about political Islam? Islamist movements have won electoral victories through the Arab Spring – is that what brought Hamas to power, and are we likely to see a repeat of it?
Hanna: Political Islam should be experienced by the people for a certain stage. The people should discover through their experience that the so-called "Islam as a solution" is not workable and this will pave the way for a more democratic society, a more progressive society. Some people here think that the heritage of the past will solve the problem of the day – there are certain people who think like that – they should discover by their experience that this is not the solution. Besides that the communist & left parties should strengthen their position & be more popular here because what happened in the Arab World indicates that tyranny will not sustain itself for a long time. Even if it was supported or concealed by certain ideologies like Islam, tyranny still isn't sustainable. We should look into the future more openly, maybe on the direct developments around us in the Arab world will be not so great for the progressive and left movements but in the long run it will be much better.
There has been a growth in democratic consciousness here in Palestine. Nothing that Hamas has done has led us in the right direction. I don't think we're likely to see Hamas elected to another parliamentary majority here. In Tunisia, after the elections, people have already began to think – what have we done? Ok, we were oppressed, we suffered for a long time by the previous regime – but what have we done? I think that people should go through this experience. It's not enough to try to teach them or to preach at them, this is not enough – they must experience it themselves. After that they will discover that this way will not to the goals that they want. Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb. When asked about it, Edison said, "I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb." So people will in this way progress towards real change.