Israel/Palestine: Palestinian uprising – Capitalists fail to bring peace

After all the blood that has been needlessly spilled in the last days, we stand today facing the danger of an even more unnecessary regional war, that will multiply the number of victims of the idiotic policy of solving political problems by military means. And the political problems are clear to everyone who looks at the situation with open eyes: Barak and his government did not even try to solve even one of the social and economic problems that brought them to power, that hurt both Jews and Arabs, and Barak’s promises to bring and end to the national dispute sound today like a sad joke. On the other hand, Arafat and his partners who lead the Palestinian Authority used their leadership in order to line their own pockets, and those of their cronies, and to base the Palestinian Authority on a repressive, corrupt regime.

Events of the last days prove beyond doubt that it is impossible to genuinely solve the national question under capitalism, by way of discussion between two leaderships, whose narrow political and social base continues to be reduced on a daily basis, and by means of the "peace accords" that serve only a small minority of capitalists on both sides, and US imperialism. Arafat’s weakness is revealed in the fact that he was forced to include the Hamas in government, and allow them to appear in the Palestinian media, and release Hamas prisoners. Arafat was forced to do all this in order to stay in power. In Israel, Barak’s government has never been weaker, and is based as it is on only a quarter of members of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament). Barak, who disappointed his voters in every possible way, will perhaps succeed in including the Likud under Ariel Sharon’s leadership in a ’national unity govrenment’, under cover of the noise of war drums, but such a step will only prove the government’s weakness, and will not flow from the ’national interest.’ Only the Israeli working class and the Palestinian masses can show the way forward to bring genuine peace, through the struggle to overthrow the capitalist regimes that brought the region to the brink of disaster.

In embarking on a popular struggle, the Palestinian masses rediscovered their potential power, and will not be quick to compromise it in the interests of their politicians, who haven’t delivered the goods up till now. With this return to the mass struggle, attempts to revive Oslo seem impossible. In its present form, the uprising could achieve a Palestinian state or nominal independence in virtually the whole of the West Bank and Gaza, also without the Oslo agreements. But such an independence, without overthrowing Arafat’s rotten capitalist regime, will not release the Palestinians from the political and economic oppression of their own capitalists and from continued economic exploitation by Israeli capitalism, and therefore will not amount to genuine independence. An ’independent’ capitalist state will not fulfill Palestinian hopes to genuine freedom from oppression, and the elimination of poverty, unemployment and exploitation, hopes that are the main component of their struggle for genuine independence.

What caused the uprising?

Sharon’s visit was simply the match that lit the fire. Many Palestinians feel deep anger and frustration at the agonizingly slow pace of the peace process. They have repeatedly suffered humiliation from Arafat’s concessions, the willingness of the Palestinian leadership to play the part of a puppet regime that carries out the dirty work of the Israeli ruling class, and the continued presence of the Israeli army in most of the West Bank – all this after 7 years of peace negotiations. The Israeli army still controls parts of the Gaza strip, Hebron and Bethlehem, and the Israeli army still fires at unarmed civilians. No less important, since the beginning of the Oslo peace process in 1993, the standard of living for the Palestinian working class in the West Bank and Gaza has plummeted. The Palestinian workers (and unemployed) watch the leadership of the Palestinian Authority fill their pockets with ’peace dividends’ – perks, bribes and corruption – while unemployment and poverty among the masses deepens. They see the way the Palestinian Authority has developed into an oppressive, dictatorial regime, with press censorship, a regime where journalists, human rights workers and strike leaders are arrested and thrown in jail without trial, with the agreement and backing of Israel and the US.

Within Israel the uprising has erupted within towns and villages such as Fureidis, which have no prior history of conflict. The provocation at Al Aqsa and the pictures of an innocent child, Mohamed Al Duri, who was killed by Israeli soldiers at Netzarim, sparked mass demonstrations by Palestinians living within Israel, in solidarity with their brothers on the other side of the Green Line. But as in the Territories and Gaza, in Israel too there were deeper reasons for the uprising. The hopes of Palestinians within Israel that the peace process would lead to them being treated as equal citizens, have been dashed. In addition to continuing to suffer discrimination as second class citizens, they have borne the brunt of the 4-year economic recession, and the recovery of the past year has passed them by completely. The 12 towns at the top of the unemployment list in Israel are all Palestinian, with official unemployment figures of 20% in some towns (the real figures are 35-40%). Local authorities, starved of cash, have been unable to pay their employees for months, and in some cases council workers have been sacked wholesale. After 95% of Palestinians within Israel voted for Barak, they discovered that, as far as Barak’s government is concerned, they don’t exist. The brutal police repression of the demonstrations using rubber coated bullets and live ammunition, that killed ten people and wounded many others, only added fuel to the fire. The power of the uprising is unprecedented, with the police and border police being forced to withdraw their forces from areas where they had previously used brutal methods of repression.

The Israeli government called on Arafat and the Arab Members of Knesset to calm the situation, assuming that they were leading and in control of the situation. But the uprising, while perhaps responding to calls from above, was fuelled by the enormous anger of the Palestinian masses, which has been building up below the surface. The Palestinian Authority and Arab Members of Knesset didn’t lead the struggle. They jumped on the bandwagon and tried to use the movement in order to divert the criticism away from themselves and allow the Palestinian masses to let off steam. The extent to which the Palestinian Authority and Arab Members of Knesset are capable of controlling the situation is highly questionable.

The uprising may have been lit by a religious spark, and the slogans and perceived enemy may be nationalistic and religious, but the root cause of the problems and frustration (poverty and national oppression) is the capitalist system. In the absence of a movement to explain the true cause and way to fight, the movement takes on a religious, nationalist colour, because of those forces on the ground.

Capitalism has no answer

The present uprising proves the inability of capitalism to solve any of the fundamental problems of the national question, such as poverty, unemployment and the refugee problem. The capitalist, Oslo peace process was designed to serve the interests of capitalism and imperialism in Israel, Palestine and the USA, who are interested in stability in order to exploit the human and natural resources of the region for the good of the capitalists and big business. The so-called ’peace dividends’ consist of the right of Israeli capitalists to exploit cheap, Arab labour, leading to the closure of plants in Israel, and increased unemployment for Israelis, and the right of Palestinian capitalists to make fat profits out of monopolies in Palestine, such as the cement industry and tourism. The leaders on both sides do not represent the interests of Israeli and Palestinian workers and youth – who want decent jobs, housing, health care, security and freedom of movement – but the interests of these capitalists.

In fact, there is a complete rift between the peace negotiations and deals at the top, and the increased hostility between ordinary Jews and Palestinians, living in mixed towns such as Ramle, where increased poverty and unemployment, and the feeling that the peace process offers no solutions, has exacerbated national tensions.

Because the Oslo peace process is unable to bring freedom, security and genuine gains to the masses of the region, it can only create ’stability’ through brutal repression.

Under capitalism, we are likely to see a series of renewed conflicts, leading eventually to full-scale war.

The way forward

The only people really capable of bringing genuine peace to the region are the Israeli and Palestinian masses. The current uprising in Palestine and in the Palestinian towns within Israel shows an enormous anger and determination to struggle. Tragically, this movement lacks a leadership with a clear programme, strategy and a set of demands, able to link up with Israeli workers based on a class appeal, and channel this energy and sacrifice into positive gains. The lack of such a leadership means that the uprising has led to some actions that serve no purpose, and are even counter-productive – In Israel, Palestinian demonstrators threw stones at buses that carried Jewish workers. These kinds of actions, instead of uniting Jewish and Palestinian workers against their true enemies who are responsible for all the problems – the capitalist class and the capitalist system – only deepen the divisions between the two sides of the working class.

A genuine, grass-roots socialist leadership in the West Bank and Gaza could demand the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian areas, the overthrow of Arafat’s corrupt regime and the establishment of an independent, socialist Palestine. Instead of fanning national and religious hatred, such a leadership could explain who the real enemy is – the capitalist class that rules on both sides, and the corrupt politicians that serve them. At the same time, a class socialist leadership of Israeli Palestinians could make an appeal to Jewish workers to struggle together with them in order to overthrow the hated Barak government, and for the overthrow of the corrupt capitalist system, to be replaced with a socialist workers government, that would serve the real interests of the Jewish and Arab masses.

This could be achieved because in Israel the capitalists and their servants in government continually attack Israeli workers and youth by means of privatization, unemployment and attacks on wages and work conditions, and the dismantling of the welfare state. The violence with which the police repressed the students strike two years ago and the hired thugs that were hired by the management of ’Yedioth Aharonoth’ newspaper in order to break the bones of print workers who were trying to defend their jobs, are signs of what is to come. The capitalists will not think twice before attacking Israeli workers using the same violent methods that are reserved today for the Palestinians, if their profits and regime are threatened. Indeed, the Israeli capitalist class has no qualms about using working class, Israeli soldiers as bargaining chips, placing them in outposts that have no security value, such as Netzarim (and until the last victim there, also Joseph’s tomb), in order to raise the stakes in peace negotiations.

From here also arises the need for a genuine class leadership, with roots in the communities, villages and workplaces, that would channel the resistance to the policies of the capitalist government into a struggle against the capitalist system itself.

The only genuine peace is a socialist peace

In a socialist society, were the region’s vast resources would be under the democratic control of the masses and would be planned and used for the good of all, instead of for the profits of a handful of millionaires – it would be possible to use those resources in order to solve the basic problems that have fuelled the dispute until today. An end to oppression and exploitation and the rising of living standards of the masses by way of massive investment in cheap, quality public housing, in health care, education and the creation of new jobs under good conditions would take away from the national struggle most of its power. This would make it far easier for democratically elected committees of Jewish and Palestinian workers and youth to negotiate issues between them and come to agreement on the ground also on issues that are impossible to solve under capitalism, such as settlements, refugees and water. This is the only way to bring a stable peace for generations in the Middle East; a peace based on the welfare of the masses and not on the profits of the exploiters.

Against degeneration into an unnecessary war that will increase the number of victims and not solve anything. Against any attempt to solve political problems through military means – what didn’t work in the Lebanon war and during the Intifada will not work today. Against attacks on innocent civilians Against attacks on places holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians. For the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza, Hebron and Bethlehem. Against all military and police repression of the right to demonstrate, and against fire on demonstrators. For the dismissal of racist police chiefs and generals, and the dismantling of the border police. For community policing in the Arab and Jewish cities, towns and villages, under democratic control of local communities. For an end to the use of Israeli soldiers as bargaining chips by the Israeli government and army generals. For the democratic control by the masses of their struggle, through the establishment of popular, grass-roots committees, that will provide the basis for a genuine workers leadership. For a struggle of Palestinian workers and youth (In Gaza and the West Bank) against their double political and economic oppression by Israeli and Palestinian capitalism, and for raising their standards of living. For a parallel struggle of Israeli workers and youth to achieve massive investment in infrastructure, job creation, health, housing and education in both the Israeli and Palestinian towns and villages. No trust in the peace process of Barak and Arafat, that represents the bosses and not the workers. For a struggle of workers to overthrow the capitalist regime in Israel and in Palestine and for the achievement of a stable, workers peace, by workers, to meet their joint interests. For a socialist Israel alongside an independent, socialist Palestine, as a step towards a socialist federation of the Middle East, with participation on a free and equal basis.

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January 2000