On March 29, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon launched a vicious military offensive against the Palestinian people. Helicopter gunships rocketed refugee camps. Armored bulldozers demolished houses. Tanks crushed ambulances. Young Palestinian men were rounded up, handcuffed, and transported to prison with numbers on their arms. Whole areas of Palestinian cities were laid to waste.
More than any other event, the brutal massacre that took place in a Jenin camp covering three-quarters of a square mile and housing 15,000 refugees outraged Palestinians and people around the world, symbolizing the terrible suffering of the Palestinian people.
Sharon used the wave of horrific suicide bombings in the early spring as a justification for attempting to topple Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat and destroy the PA, which he declared part of the ‘infrastructure of terror.’
People around the world remain horrified as Sharon’s offensive continues, plunging the region towards war. Arabs have exploded with 1 million protesting in Egypt and Jordan. Hundreds of thousands protested in Europe and tens of thousands in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. People are asking: Why is this happening? How can the violence be stopped? How can the conflict be resolved?
Roots of the Conflict
The mainstream media dishes out continual fairy tales portraying the situation as an insoluble, never-ending cycle of religious violence. In reality, the root cause of the current conflict is the systematic denial of the Palestinians’ basic democratic rights and their tremendous social and economic oppression.
As Socialist Alternative and the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) explained since the ‘peace process’ began in 1993, Oslo was a fraud that would not bring about a viable, independent Palestinian state.
The second Intifada (uprising) exploded in September of 2000 against the conditions imposed by the Oslo ‘peace process,’ which under the Palestinian Authority, has led to a massive decline in living conditions for the Palestinian masses. Since 1994 average per capita income has fallen by 30%. Over 65% of the population in Gaza and the West Bank live below the poverty line. 400,000 Palestinians out of a working population of 845,000 people have been unemployed for over a year. Nor has it has brought the Palestinians any closer to establishing their own state – one of their central aspirations.
Since Oslo, the number of Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories has doubled from 200,000 to 400,000. An extensive system of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) checkpoints, over 100 of which are permanent now, have been established around these settlements to protect the settlers. The checkpoints have become the means by which economic blockades and collective punishment are implemented. Their existence means daily humiliation, beatings and killings for thousands of Palestinians. One Palestinian analyst referred to them as ‘a factory for suicide bombers.’
The military checkpoints have driven home the point that the Palestinian Authority created by Oslo is not made up of contiguous territory but rather a number of divided, enclosed Bantustans. The IDF calls this arrangement ‘tiger skin.’ The West Bank has been consciously carved up into 63 parcels of land, and Gaza is divided into six different zones.
The Bush administration’s about-turn, after ignoring the conflict, suddenly supporting a UN resolution for Palestinian statehood for the first time in history, is a completely cynical maneuver. It is not intended to address the burning social problems which are the real driving force behind the conflict. Rather than being motivated by a desire for ‘peace,’ the US is really interested in a war on Iraq.
Bush knows that unless the Israeli-Palestinian situation is calmed down, it would be extremely difficult to proceed with his plans to attack Iraq. In order to secure even minimal Arab support, the US must make some public effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US and the reactionary Arab ruling class fear that unless there is progress towards a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian question, then they will face unstoppable popular revolts. Pro-US regimes like in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia could be overthrown and replaced by right-wing Islamic Fundamentalists.
But try as Bush or Colin Powell may to solve the ‘Palestinian riddle,’ they are doomed to complete failure, just like all the previous initiatives by capitalist leaders. Colin Powell’s visit to the Middle East in April was a humiliating failure. In March the Saudi Peace Plan and US envoy Zinni’s efforts totally blew up and collapsed. The Mitchell Plan, Tenet Plan, and Camp David accords in 2000 all ended with the same result. The Oslo peace process – the most serious effort by Israeli capitalism and US imperialism to reach a solution to the conflict – is dead.
The lesson from all this is that US imperialism, the Israeli ruling class, and Arafat are completely incapable of advancing one inch towards a real solution. In fact, they have massively exacerbated social tensions, plunging the region towards an even worse catastrophe.
Class Divisions Within Israel
Despite the myth of Israeli society as one, homogeneous, united mass, there are actually enormous divisions within Israel. In March, Sharon’s popularity plummeted from 70 to 50%, although a new wave of suicide bombings temporarily increased his standing again. And over 70% of Israelis feel that Sharon is not delivering on social and economic issues.
In the 1990’s the Israeli ruling class, through both the so-called Labor Party and Likud, launched a massive neo-liberal assault on Israel’s welfare state and working class. Public services (education, healthcare, housing, and jobs) have been privatized and budgets cut. This led to growing strikes and discontent, including several public sector general strikes. Students occupied their universities to protest education funding cuts and the introduction of tuition fees (College was previously free).
It is Israeli workers who are forced to pay for Israel’s militarized regime. Sharon’s new budget calls for cuts of $1.5 billion in social services while the military budget would be increased, to be paid by a new war tax.
There is also racist discrimination towards the Sephardic Jews (originating from Arab countries) who are treated like second-class citizens compared to the Askenazi Jews (originating from Europe). As of 1997, for example, the income of the average Ashkenazi was 56% higher than that of the average Sephardi. Then there are the 1 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, who could only be described as third-class citizens.
At the time of Israel’s creation in 1948, the Israeli ruling class promised a “land of milk and honey” for its people, but have only delivered decades of crisis and wars, and in recent years, also economic decline. The failure of the Israeli ruling class to deliver security or peace has resulted in increased questioning of their policies.
This year has witnessed the emergence of the ‘refusenik’ movement of over 1000 army officers, soldiers, and reservists, publicly refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. Their public manifesto declares: ‘We, who know that the Territories are not Israel, and that all settlements are bound to be evacuated in the end, we hereby declare that we shall not continue to fight this War of the Settlements. We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people.’
The 1,000 refuseniks are only the tip of the iceberg. Their public declaration reflects a much deeper process in Israeli society. For example, 60-100,000 Israelis rallied for peace in Tel Aviv on May 11, calling for an end to the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Ordinary Israeli Jews, understandably, want an end to suicide bombings and the day-to-day terror this brings to their lives. But how can this be achieved? The Israeli ruling class has proven itself totally incapable of providing security for Israelis. The only way to bring about peace, stability and an end to the conflict is on the basis of accepting the creation of a viable, independent Palestinian state.
But at the same time, the security concerns of the Israeli people must be taken into account. The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews would never accept being part of a larger Palestinian state, or a ‘secular, democratic Palestine’ as many leftists call for. After the experience of five wars, the existence of the state of Israel is seen as essential to their historic survival. On the basis of capitalism, the Israeli population, with the backup of its large armed forces, would fight to the bitter end to prevent the liquidation of what they see as their homeland.
The national consciousness of Israeli Jews simply cannot be ignored. Socialist Alternative and the CWI, therefore, defends the right of the Israeli people to have their own state, Israel, alongside an independent Palestinian state. The CWI section in Israel is also campaigning for a mass struggle to end neo-liberal attacks and living wage jobs for all, trade union rights, free education, healthcare, childcare, housing, and equal rights for Palestinians within Israel.
Socialists support the Palestinian people in their struggle for national and social liberation, and their revolutionary uprising, the Intifada. We are campaign to build solidarity and support for the Palestinian struggle internationally through education and mass protests. This is particularly important here in the US because of the US’s crucial role in the conflict.
Every year the US government backs the Israeli regime to the tune of over $5 billion dollars of our tax dollars. Israel is the largest recipient of US aid in the world. Israel receives rockets, tanks and helicopters to use on the Palestinians that are made in the USA.
The US government has never been motivated by supporting the rights of Jewish people. The US only supports Israel in order to have a reliable point of support for capitalism in the oil-rich and politically strategic region.
Socialists oppose the policy of the US government in the Middle East, a policy of the oil barons, which has nothing in common with the interests of American workers and youth. We call for the US government to pull out of the Middle East.
Why should billions of our tax dollars be wasted every year to arm the brutal Israeli government? The hypocrisy of the Democrats and Republicans is astounding. First they slash funding for social services, telling us they don’t have the money to fund our needs. Then, they give away billions a year to Israel, spend tens of billions bombing Afghanistan, and budget over $400 billion for the Pentagon next year!
Many Palestinians and activists around the world are asking, ‘What are the impoverished Palestinians to do against one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world?’
The Israeli government and the IDF will never be able to militarily crush the Palestinian struggle. The Palestinian masses have shown again and again an iron determination to fight at all costs and a refusal to be cowed.
Nor will the Palestinians be able to militarily defeat the Israeli state, particularly as long as the Israeli working class remains united behind the Israeli ruling class, as it has been since Israel’s creation in 1948. This cohesion in Israeli society has been the basis for Israel’s victories and seeming invincibility in the five Arab-Israeli wars.
A strategic task in the Palestinian struggle must be to appeal to Israeli workers, youth and soldiers in the IDF, in order to split and open up cracks in Israeli society, explaining that ordinary Israelis have no interest in fighting a hopeless war that will never bring security or peace. The Israeli ruling class is not their friend – it is the same class which is attacking their living and working conditions. Unfortunately, this essential strategy is completely ignored by many on the left internationally.
While recognizing the reasons why desperate Palestinian youth resort to suicide bombings, socialists believe this tactic is an incorrect and mistaken policy. Rather than increasing opposition to the occupation, it only drives Israeli workers into the hands of the most reactionary, right-wing elements in Israeli society.
Suicide bombing is a tactic that simply cannot succeed against the overwhelming military force of the Israeli army. Moreover, this tactic only rebounds against Palestinians, giving the Israeli regime a pretext to carry out more brutal state terrorism against the Palestinians.
In fact, there is clear evidence that Sharon has consciously attempted to provoke groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigrade into carrying out suicide bombings by assassinating their leaders to create the pretext and public support necessary for launching a military offensive to smash the Palestinian Authority.
We only have to look at the impact the 9/11 terrorist attacks had on the US to understand the political effects that suicide bombings have on Israeli society. Bush was able to rally tens of million of US workers who never would ordinarily support his policies, for his ‘war on terrorism’ as they felt the need to unite behind the President in a time of crisis.
Which Way Forward for the Intifada?
Unfortunately, many Palestinian groups have traditionally relied on the struggle being carried out by small groups of armed men and women, on the one hand, or diplomatic pressure from Western imperialist countries and the political and financial support of reactionary Arab regimes on the other. Both these strategies reduce the Palestinian masses to the role of mere observers in their struggle for liberation.
Yet, the entire history of the Palestinian struggle, particularly the first Intifada and the beginning of the second, shows that the real driving engine of the struggle has been the masses, not the so-called leaders. The PLO leadership in exile were actually shocked by the explosion of the first Intifada and tried to control the movement from exile and failed to give it full logistical support.
This is even more true in relation to the second Intifada. Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet (Israeli security services), commented, ‘Yasser Arafat neither prepared nor triggered the Intifada. The explosion was spontaneous, against Israel…and against the Palestinian Authority, its corruption, its impotence…The peace process is what allowed Arafat to be seen as the head of the national liberation movement rather than a collaborator of Israel. Without it he can fight neither against the Islamists nor against his own base. The Palestinians would end up hanging him in the public square.’ (Le Monde, 12/22/01)
So what kind of struggle is necessary to win a viable, independent Palestine that will resolve the conflict?
The Palestinian Intifada needs to be based on a mass struggle from below organized along revolutionary lines. Such a struggle would need to be under the democratic control of elected popular committees of struggle, like the ones developed during the first Intifada.
Under conditions that exist today the Palestinian masses have no choice but to defend themselves – arms in hand. This requires the formation of self-defense committees, but their activities should be under the democratic control of the masses through elected popular committees.
Mass protests of tens of thousands in the areas surrounding the checkpoints can demonstrate united opposition to continuing the IDF occupation. Through the use of bullhorns, leaflets and wall murals, activists could explain to the conscripts that Israeli Jewish workers and youth face two options: either a continuing cycle of war and bloodshed (in which the Palestinians would fight to the end) or a struggle to overthrow capitalism in Israel and Palestine, followed by genuine and open negotiations with elected representatives from both sides of the national divide who would base their deliberations on the recognition of the national, religious, cultural and ethnic rights of all participants and discuss how to use the resources of the region to guarantee the security and living standards of all.
But Palestinians would not end their struggle for liberation at the doorstep of an independent state, still impoverished and repressed by a corrupt Palestinian elite. The struggle for statehood is organically linked in the minds of the Palestinians with the desire for a better life. They want decent homes, water, electricity, schools, healthcare and jobs.
However, on the basis of capitalism, an independent Palestine would be economically nonviable. It would be a feeble, impoverished state, dominated by foreign corporations and banks. The grinding poverty of the masses would only continue. Israel would still control the best land, water rights, electricity, and resources, and Israel would determine the borders.
An ‘independent’ capitalist Palestine would not be independent at all. It would still be militarily, economically and politically dominated by Israel and foreign powers. Israeli capitalism would only accept an unarmed Palestinian state where Israel maintained overwhelming military superiority and the right to militarily intervene as it saw fit. The Israeli regime would demand the right to defend Jewish settlements scattered throughout the West Bank and Gaza with its own defense forces, thus undermining the independence and viability of a contiguous Palestinian state.
The experience of the Palestinian Authority has made this crystal clear. The PA has been anything but independent. It has failed to represent the interests of the Palestinian people. The PA rules by undemocratic means, and living standards continue to fall for the Palestinian people.
Throughout the Middle East, the masses live in abject poverty and lack basic social services. Even in Israel, 18% live below the poverty line. Yet the Middle East is one of the richest regions of the world with its enormous oil wealth. But this wealth has been siphoned off by kings, dictators, and foreign capitalists.
Only by taking the enormous wealth of the region under democratic control, could the basic needs of the masses be met. That is why socialists argue that the only basis for genuine independence for Palestine and a viable solution to the conflict is a socialist solution:
an independent, socialist Palestine, alongside a socialist Israel, as part of a wider voluntary federation of the Socialist Middle Eastern States.
Only on this basis would the Palestinian people achieve real liberation – true independence from Israeli domination, the right to democratically control their lives, and an end to social and economic oppression.
Take, for example, one of the knottiest problems in the conflict – the right of return for the Palestinians. Two or three generations of refugees have now endured the camps, longing to return to their towns and villages occupied or destroyed by Israel after 1948, 1967, or more recently. However, not only the Israeli ruling class but a majority of Israeli Jews fear that implementation of such a right would tip the demographic balance decisively against them. Effectively, it would spell the end of a Jewish state, and they will never accept it.
So how can this legitimate right to return be satisfied under capitalism? Only socialist states collaborating in a socialist federation would have the political authority and abundance of material resources to provide housing for both populations.
Many would pour scorn on the idea of a socialist solution being realistic. But what solution has capitalism been able to offer? For decades it has torn the Middle East apart with war, violence, oppression and poverty. Capitalism can only offer an even worse future.
Of the current regimes, all of which base themselves on capitalism, who can resolve the conflict?
The US regime has made its position clear – its oil interests in the region are king – and movements of resistance will be targeted and crushed.
Israeli capitalism will not allow a genuine, viable Palestinian state.
The mass protests that are sweeping the Arab world in support of the Palestinians have been attacked and shot at by the corrupt, dictatorial Arab regimes. These movements challenge their governments’ collaboration with US imperialism and their failure to seriously support the Palestinians. The Arab rulers fear the protests will unleash popular grievances against their rule.
What is utopian is to believe that capitalism or imperialism can resolve the bitter tensions in the Middle East. Far from it, capitalism is hurling the region towards disaster.
The Israeli ruling class is being pushed by the logic of the situation towards implementing a forced ‘settlement’ – unilateral separation of Israel from Palestine, with borders declared far worse than were even offered at Camp David.
But this will not be a settlement. It would inevitably lead to a new, even more ferocious struggle by the Palestinians, both inside Israel and within the occupied territories. The Palestinians would throw themselves en masse against the Jewish settlements, attempting to drive them out. This would open the way for a process of brutal ethnic cleansing, as Israel would see the 1 million Israeli Palestinians as an enemy within, and move to forcibly expel them.
Under these conditions, with massive upheavals throughout the Arab world, the Arab regimes would be drawn into the vortex and forced to take military action against Israel, possibly drawing the US into the war. In the extreme, unstable conditions of war, it could not be ruled out that Israel would attempt to use its nuclear arsenal.
A full-scale war would represent a historic catastrophe and bloodbath for all the peoples of the region. There is no solution on the basis of the current ‘leaders’ – Israeli leaders, US leaders, Palestinian leaders, or Arab leaders. There can be no solution from above. The only solution will come from below, a struggle by the different peoples of the region – Palestinians, Arabs, and Israelis – against their common enemies, Israeli capitalism, US imperialism, and Arab capitalism.
Justice #30, June 2002