Israel/Palestine: Political earthquake strikes as Hamas wins landslide

Hamas victory a blow to imperialism and capitalism in the Middle East

Yet another political earthquake has struck the Middle East. Hamas, standing for the first time in national elections, won a massive landslide victory in Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas won 76 seats out of 132 in Parliament, and Fatah has only 43. It is the first time in over 40 years that Fatah has lost its position as the predominant organisation amongst Palestinians. Hamas won seats in all the major towns and cities in the West Bank and Gaza, even in places like Bethlehem where there is a large Christian population and Nablus which was historically a stronghold for Fatah.

This was a crushing defeat for Fatah and particularly for the weak PA President Mohammed Abbas. But it is also a severe blow and a huge surprise for both the Israeli ruling class and western imperialist powers and their plans for an imposed "peace settlement". The win is a major embarrassment for the Bush administration’s campaign to "democratise" the Middle East which in reality was an attempt to secure more malleable leaders in the region. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, known for his simplistic homespun analysis, commented that this was a "very, very, very bad result." Many of the corrupt Arab elite are also undoubtedly scurrying around their marble-lined, air-conditioned palaces wringing their hands at what this victory means for their already shaky grip on power.

The landslide has been accompanied by a torrent of propaganda in the western press about "terrorists" winning at the ballot box. More crude articles paint the Palestinians as a bloodthirsty, uncivilised mob. But the hypocrisy of the imperialist powers knows no limits. They have supported the Israeli capitalist state for decades. This regime has presided over one of the most brutal military occupations in the world using methods which can only be described as state terrorism. Benjamin Netanyahu, newly elected leader of the right-wing reactionary Likud Party, raged about "Hamastan" and the necessity to have nothing to do with "terrorists", the day after the election. And yet one of the founders of his party, Menachem Begin, was responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946 when it was partly used as headquarters of the British Army and administration in Palestine. Ninety-one people died, one of the highest death tolls in any terrorist attack in the Middle East.

Protest vote

Hamas’s victory was in the main a huge protest vote against the corrupt Fatah leadership who, incapable of meeting Palestinian aspirations, wallowed in corruption at the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) while the Palestinian majority slowly starved or were crushed under Israeli military occupation.

But the election’s significance is not just confined to the Gaza and West Bank. It could have profound consequences for the region. Given the huge tensions in the Middle East and its vital geo-political importance to US and other imperialist powers, this election victory could contribute – along with other events – to abrupt changes in international relations. It might also even be one in a cascade of events which contributes to a sharp deterioration in the world economy given the Middle East’s importance for oil production.

However, this has only been one in a series of major changes in the Middle East in the last few months. Of course accidental factors can contribute to instability in the region – such as the massive stroke suffered by Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel, at the beginning of the year. However, even accidental events only lead to big changes if endemic instability is part of the political scenery.

And this is clearly the case in the Middle East. The region is characterised by various degrees of grinding poverty and social collapse made worse by the implementation of at least fifteen years of neo-liberal policies. The Arab elites have generally acted as the willing servants of the imperialist powers in this siphoning of wealth into the coffers of the multinationals, benefiting through kick-backs and contracts as a result. Israel’s ruling class has also conducted a massive attack on Israeli and Palestinian working class living standards. The collapse in living standards in the Middle East has in part exacerbated already burgeoning problems around the national question and the struggle of national minorities for their rights, particularly the Palestinians. The failure of imperialism’s "peace process" has actually complicated the situation further and led to more tension on this issue.

Some of the most extreme conditions in the region are to be found in Gaza and the West Bank. There, even according to the CIA, unemployment is 31% (although in reality it is much higher) and an incredible 81% of the population live below the poverty line. A recent UN report stated that 30% of the population suffer from food scarcity (i.e. cannot afford to buy enough food to survive) while another 40% live on the edge of this category.

This chronic social, economic and political crisis reflects the absolute failure, for generations, of capitalism as a system to take society forward. Not only this, it also shows that the present ideology of its representatives on a world scale, namely neo-liberalism, has actually made the situation far worse.

All these processes have led to a build up of huge tensions and pressures. Capitalism and imperialism have huge resources and tools of repression to encourage and force acceptance of their wishes. Despite this, the huge pressure for change from the working class and the poor peasantry has been reflected, even if in a distorted way, in many of the political developments that have shaken the region over the last few months. The election of Hamas belongs to this category.

It is true that political support for Hamas’ ideas has risen amongst some layers of the poorest and most downtrodden in the vacuum that exists in the West Bank and Gaza. However, rather than signifying overwhelming support for Hamas’ Islamist policies, the extent of the election victory mainly reflects the anger against Fatah. The relatively high turnout of 78 per cent showed that people perhaps felt that at last there was an opponent that could drive Fatah from power. One Palestinian woman, summed up the mood of many Palestinians, saying "For 10 years Fatah haven’t done anything for us. We have to try Hamas. We can’t say if they will be better but we have to try." (Guardian, London, 24 January 2006)

"Change and Reform"

Hamas orientated its entire campaign around this mood. Running under the name "Change and Reform", Hamas highlighted the rampant corruption of the PA and promised a clean-up. Its propaganda also emphasised the poorer background, simple lifestyle and sacrifice of many of its candidates, some of whom stood in the election from their prison cells.

Despite being mainly a protest vote, the political situation will be more complicated as a result and could initially act as a hurdle to the development of a class conscious and socialist, workers movement to overthrow capitalism and feudalism in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel and the Middle East.

Notwithstanding the granting of limited autonomy, for the last twelve years the working class and the poor of the West Bank and Gaza have suffered under the burden of increasing poverty and the collapse of what little remained of social services.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent (Red Cross), nearly 3,800 Palestinians have been killed and over 27,000 injured during the second Intifada which began in 2000. But literally millions more are affected on a daily basis by checkpoints and punitive collective punishments which humiliate and enrage beyond belief.

The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) controls all exit and entry points (apart from one which has been closed) for Gaza and the West Bank while it runs hundreds of checkpoints between towns and villages inside Palestinian territory. Since 1993 it has barred Palestinians from working inside Israel, even though Israeli bosses exploited them as cheap labour. This has worsened the situation immeasurably inside Gaza and the West Bank. Gaza is enclosed by a security fence and at present a separation wall is being built around the West Bank.

The Israeli capitalist state collects VAT and customs duty on Palestinian goods and controls the water, power and petrol supply. Last November it threatened to cut off electricity to the 1.3 m strong population of Gaza (where hospitals have no emergency generators) as a collective punishment for rocket attacks on Israeli territory by armed Palestinian militias. And this for a territory that it has ostensibly withdrawn from!

The terrible living conditions in Gaza and the West Bank are undoubtedly caused by the military occupation and the economic stranglehold imposed by the Israeli state. But the PA, led by Fatah, proved incapable of providing any strategy to face this menace and in effect acted as the conduit for the policies of US imperialism and those of the Israeli ruling class, holding back any attempt by the masses to fight back. Moreover, Fatah leaders, many of them exiled returnees, grew fat on corruption, building themselves gleaming villas next to overcrowded refugee camps. This is where the majority of the population live in overcrowded hovels on sewage filled streets. It was under conditions like this that Hamas began to build its base, particularly in the more poverty stricken Gaza strip.

Mistakes of the "left"

One of the additional political factors which aided the growth of Hamas were the mistakes made by the leadership of the left organisations in the West Bank and Gaza such as the Peoples Party (Communist Party) the DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). The latter two organisations described themselves as "marxist" at different times in their history and did have quite significant support in some areas of the Occupied Territories (Gaza strip and the West Bank) during the first Intifada. It is true that all of them did have differences with Fatah on strategy and tactics.

However, despite the individual bravery of many of their activists, unfortunately all of these organisations were light years away from genuine Marxism. Instead their leaderships basically tail-ended the nationalist approach of Fatah. They did this by supporting the idea that before any struggle for socialism could even be theoretically embarked upon, a democratic secular Palestinian state had to be achieved under capitalism. However, that is precisely what US imperialism cannot afford in the region because of the threat this would entail to its interest in maintaining a capitalist Israeli state as a key strategic ally.

Neither did these organisations put forward a programme and analysis which emphasised the unique role of the working class drawing behind it the poor peasantry as the only force on which a struggle to win genuine national liberation and transform the lives of the majority, could be built.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, many of the activists in these organisations became demoralised and dropped out of activity. These organisations have never really recovered. As a result despite the fact that both the DFLP (standing with the Peoples Party), and PFLP standing alone, put forward lists in the elections they only managed to get five seats between both of them.

As these organisations began to go into crisis, Hamas, otherwise known as the Islamic Resistance Movement (Harakat al-Muqawwama al-Islammiya) continued growing. Hamas developed out of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist religious organisation formed in Gaza in 1946. Many Hamas leaders were originally involved in Mujama‘, a charity set up in 1978 which developed a network of clinics, kindergartens and educational institutions. It had its main support base in the Islamic University in Gaza. Mujama‘ quickly came into conflict with the more secular Fatah. In the 1980s Mujama‘ also carried out attacks on cinemas, bars and casinos. The former Israeli military governor of Gaza, Brig-Gen Yitzhak Sager, admitted that the Israeli state had indirectly funded Mujama‘. These tactics were used by the Israelis to undermine Fatah, which then had majority support in the Occupied Territories, and prevent opposition to it taking a "left" character.

The Israeli state had a similar approach to Hamas when it was formed in early 1988, allowing its charitable institutions to be registered and granting travel permits for its leadership into and out of the Territories to other Arab countries.

Hamas’ aims, expressed in its founding charter in 1988, are to create an Islamist state on the territory encompassed by Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. Such a state would be ruled under Shariah law. This would be an oppressive reactionary society which would be hostile to an independent movement of the working class in defence of its rights and socialist ideas. It would also mean the widespread oppression of women. It would represent a move backwards socially and politically.

The preamble to the Hamas Charter of 1988 states "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." It also states that "The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered or … given up."

Oslo boycotted

This is why Hamas opposed the Oslo "peace agreement" and also boycotted the first elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (Parliament). Despite this, throughout the 1990s Hamas built its base, partially through funding social services which were not provided by the Fatah-led PA and also by having the most radical anti-imperialist and anti-Israeli rhetoric. However, the collapse of the Oslo "peace agreement", the development of the second Intifada, and the complete abasement of the Fatah leadership before the imperialist powers opened the way for a much bigger growth in Hamas’ support.

While Hamas has organised elements of mass protests during the second Intifada, these have always been strictly controlled from above and only used intermittently. Its military arm, the ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades, have carried out armed attacks against the IDF and launched rocket attacks against Israel. One of its main tactics in the struggle against the Israeli occupation has been the use of suicide bombers against Israeli targets – many of them civilian. Hamas first used this tactic following the massacre of 29 Muslims in a mosque in Hebron in February 1994. Since then they have carried out 60 attacks which have killed 300 Israelis. Given the absence of an alternative organisation or method of struggle, as well as the desperation to end the horrific occupation, this tactic has achieved some support amongst the Palestinians.

The CWI understands the reasons which drive Palestinians to use these desperate measures. However we completely oppose this method of struggle because its results are counter-productive. Israeli Jewish workers and sections of the middle class are angry at the collapse in their living standards and the corruption of their politicians. They realise the so-called "peace process" is a diplomatic manoeuvre between the elites which has nothing to do with guaranteeing peace and security for the majority. However, these moods are pushed into the background when suicide bombings occur, and the majority of Israelis feel they have no option but to support the government’s oppressive measures as the only available measure to try to protect their security.

This gives the ruling class the social support it needs to step up oppressive measures against the Palestinians and divert attention away from the pressing social and economic problems inside Israel.

This does not mean the CWI has a pacifist approach. We believe in a mass, democratic struggle of the Palestinian working class and poor peasantry to end the occupation. Such a movement will have to be armed to defend itself against the attacks by the IDF and others but those bearing arms should be accountable to the working class as a whole.

Al Qa’eda?

The more reactionary sections of the media internationally have implied that Hamas and Al Qa’eda are largely the same because both are "terrorist" groups. It is undoubtedly the case that Hamas’s political ideology is reactionary, but direct comparisons with Al Qa’eda are incorrect. Al Qa’eda is a loose international network, made up of small groups of fighters, dedicated to terror attacks against "non-believers" the world over, and pledged to the recreation of the seventh century Islamic caliphate, an area covering much of Asia, North Africa and Southern Europe.

Hamas is an organisation which is nationally based (in Israel and Palestine). This makes it possible for it to provide a range of social services such as clinics and schools, whereas this is not the perception of Al Qa’eda’s role. Unlike Al Qa’eda, Hamas has organised elements of mass struggle. While internationally many people may not agree with Hamas suicide bombings and rocket attacks on Israel, many would point to the brutal measures carried out by the IDF which have preceded these attacks. The attacks on the World Trade Centre or the beheading of hostages in Iraq, are viewed differently by many activists who strongly oppose such tactics.

However, it was Hamas’ promise of an alternative corruption-free life that struck a chord amongst the Palestinians and saw its support rise massively on the ground over the last year. The extent of this support was not fully recognised by Israeli military intelligence, US imperialism and, crucially, the Fatah-led PA. Even before the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, the PA leadership was in reality paralysed and unable to control events on the ground. In partial recognition of this, Arafat was forced to announce the holding of local elections. Hamas had long campaigned for this, eager to consolidate its growing base at local level.

Participation in local elections raised other questions for the Hamas leaders. Whatever they said publicly, Hamas’ military and political leaders knew that a campaign of suicide bombings or military attacks on its own would not defeat the Israeli ruling class. Moreover, the IDF’s assassination campaign had eliminated much of their leadership and a certain war-weariness amongst the Palestinian masses forced them to look at other alternatives. Undoubtedly the entrance of Hezbollah in Lebanon into Parliament had an effect.

The more moderate section of Hamas, led by Khalid Mashal (who is exiled in Syria) as well as the majority of Hamas prisoners, won the organisation over to the idea of participating in the political process including standing for national elections. This was not an easy decision to make. It meant agreeing to a ceasefire (tahdi’a) agreement which was signed in March 2005.

Partly because of the pressure that has been brought to bear on them, Hamas has begun to give mixed messages as far as its approach to Israel is concerned. The Hamas manifesto in these elections did not make any mention of the destruction of the state of Israel. One of its leaders, Muhammad Ghazal, commented in a Reuters interview in September 2005 that "The [Hamas] charter is not the Koran". By this he clearly meant that under certain conditions, sections of the Charter could be changed. He also said "When we talk about politics it means we have accepted the 1967 borders. We are ready to have those borders. We accepted to have our own state. Limited land swaps are a minor thing. The Palestinian people agreed to forget 78 per cent of our land". Implicit in this is a abandonment of the call for the destruction of the Israeli state. But on the other hand, Mashal, known in Hamas for his moderation, praised the recent comments of Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.

Abbas, the PA president took a big gamble in encouraging Hamas’s participation in politics. He hoped by doing this he would be able to force the organisation to disarm. This was the only option open to him – the repeated demands of US imperialism and the Israeli ruling class that he should forcibly disarm Hamas and the other militias were ludicrous. Such a course of action was untenable military, politically and socially. If Abbas had attempted to implement their wishes, he would have been removed from power and an open civil war would in all likelihood have followed.

In visits last year to the US, Abbas convinced the Bush administration that Hamas should be allowed to participate in elections and by the time the national elections were scheduled, Fatah would be able to secure a majority. As a senior adviser to Abbas said at the time, "This message will reverberate throughout the Middle East: in the first clear and clean electoral contest between pragmatic nationalism [Fatah] and extreme Islamism [Hamas], the nationalists will have won." ("Enter Hamas: The Challenges of political integration", International Crisis Group, 18 January 2006).

This perspective was incorrect to say the least. The local elections, held in four rounds, brought sweeping victories for Hamas last year. The historic bastion of Fatah support in Nablus on the West Bank, fell to Hamas as did many other urban areas. Hamas developed a disciplined campaigning technique for these elections – it produced green baseball caps and distributed stickers, and used teams of canvassers and polling station agents. In Nablus on polling day voters twice received mobile phone text messages asking if they had voted in accordance with God’s will.

Dry run

These methods were a dry run for the national elections held a few days ago. Fatah entered the campaign in disarray and ended it in chaos. The crisis in Fatah was reflected in the process of drawing up lists of candidates. The old guard in the leadership wanted to keep all the top slots for itself leading to a rebellion from below, lead in part by Mustafa Barghouti. He is imprisoned in an Israeli jail and was one of the activists who rose to prominence in the first Intifada. Barghouti is one of the most popular Fatah leaders. From his prison cell Barghouti organised a split from Fatah and put forward a separate list called "Al Mustaqabal" (The Future) until Abbas relented and made concessions. The extent of the weakness of the old leadership was demonstrated by the fact that Barghouti was then given the number one slot on the Fatah lists.

Nonetheless this did not solve the problem. There were numerous "unofficial" Fatah candidates, some of whom were given unofficial political and financial support by old guard Fatah leaders. This made the scale of the defeat for Fatah worse. Half the seats for the Legislative Council are elected on the basis of proportional representation for a party list and half in 16 multi-seat constituencies. In the constituency section, for example, in Jerusalem there were 6 seats to be won. However there were 19 "independent" Fatah candidates and five "official" ones – all competing against each other!

There was a partial recognition of the impending catastrophe that was about to befall US imperialism and Israeli capitalism as a result of this election. But the response acted to build support for Hamas rather than undermine it. Since the local elections, the IDF has arrested hundreds of Hamas activists, candidates and organisers. This made the Israeli military look like a wing of the election campaign of Fatah and in fact led to those arrested being viewed as martyrs.

US imperialism took a slightly more subtle, but in the end, just as fruitless approach. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) organised a $2 million programme of spending in the West Bank and Gaza to try to boost the image of the PA and therefore help Fatah in its election campaign. Thirty projects some of them involving the free distribution of food and water at Israeli checkpoints, and the funding of advertisements announcing events funded by the programme in the name of the PA, were organised. The consulting firm hired to devise the strategy for this campaign said the goal was to "help lay the foundation for successful moderate leadership in Gaza as well as the West Bank"! (Washington Post, US, 22 January 2006)

This, and the Fatah campaign, failed disastrously. However, even the Hamas leadership were surprised by the extent of their victory. While it may seem strange, the size of this landslide is not the result they hoped for. Before the elections, "Khalil Shahin, Al-Ayam newspaper correspondent, says that Hamas seems gripped by a mixture of euphoria about the possible outcome and fear that it [a victory] might be realised. It is afraid of its electoral strength and doesn’t want more than 40 per cent of the vote…[with this] it would be able to block the political process without the responsibility of government." ("Enter Hamas: The Challenges of political integration", International Crisis Group, 18 January 2006).

Fears confirmed

These fears were confirmed immediately after the elections. Hamas leaders spent all day calling on Fatah to join them in a unity government, when rumours of their victory began to circulate. The Fatah PA government and Prime Minister responded by resigning. Since then rumours have spread around the Palestinian areas that Hamas is negotiating with Salam Fayyad, (ex Fatah member and former Finance Minister of the PA who was previously an employee of the World Bank), to be the new Prime Minister.

A new and very unstable situation has opened up in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli government has said that there will be no negotiations with the PA because Hamas will be part of the government and the party has refused to renounce its call for the destruction of the Israeli state. Of course, the Israeli regime has not mentioned that it was prepared to have contacts with local councils run by Hamas and facilitate through prison officials, negotiations between Hamas prisoners with other Arab countries as well as their leadership. It has announced that it will not pass over VAT receipts or customs duties to the PA as has been the case previously.

The Bush administration has said that it will review all aid to the Palestinian Authority since Hamas is on its list of banned terrorist organisations. At the moment it donates $234 million a year. But its first act was to plead with Abbas to stay on as President. Undoubtedly, one calculation behind this request was to have a non-Hamas member who could act as an intermediary without it appearing as if they are negotiating with "terrorists".

The EU (as opposed to its member states) also donates $280 million a year to the PA. It is less likely they will cut back or halt funding. But the imperialist powers face a very difficult decision.

On 31 January, the PA will need $100 million, at least, to pay the wages of its 135 000 employees. Without these wages an explosion of mass protest could occur. At the moment there is no money and the PA is bankrupt. There will be huge pressure on imperialism to find some solution to this potential disaster – Either through channelling the money via Abbas, the president, or perhaps with some of the Arab regimes stepping in with emergency funding.

In Nablus demonstrations have taken place by Fatah members calling for the resignation of the entire leadership of the organisation. Senior members of Fatah militias have announced an "internal intifada" to drive out the old corrupt leadership.

As far as Hamas is concerned, it is very unlikely that it will renounce its call for the destruction of Israel over the next few weeks and months. This would cause huge divisions at the moment, especially within Hamas’s military wing. As far as disarming its militias, Khalid Mashal held a press conference in Damascus on Saturday 28 January explaining that Hamas was prepared to merge its militias and form a Palestinian army from all the security forces. This is an opening negotiating tactic and one that is likely to be bitterly opposed by US imperialism and the Israeli state. However, what Hamas may do is formally set up a separate political party from its armed militias in an attempt to overcome this problem. Hamas may be looking at the example of Sinn Fein and the IRA as an example to emulate. Hamas leaders in the run-up to the elections did make the point that in return for a withdrawal by Israel to the 1967 borders, they would be prepared to announce a 10 to 15 year ceasefire.

It is undoubtedly the case that whatever their public pronouncements before the elections, elements within the Bush administration were hoping that a more moderate wing within Hamas could be strengthened and absorbed into the political process. Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State, commented in September 2005, "There are periods of time of transition in which one has to give some space to the participants, in this case the Palestinians, to begin to come to a new national compact…For instance, in the Good Friday Agreement it was understood when Sinn Fein came into politics… eventually the IRA would disarm, and perhaps, hopefully, that process is underway." ("Enter Hamas: The Challenges of political integration", International Crisis Group, 18 January 2006)

Rice is correct to be so conditional! In Northern Ireland the "peace process" has foundered. It is three years since the local power-sharing government collapsed. The level of violence which characterised the Troubles may have died down in terms of its intensity but the sectarian polarisation between Protestant and Catholic communities is as great if not greater, than before. None of the fundamental problems have been solved.

But in the Middle East the tension, huge social and economic problems, and the geo-strategic importance of the region mean that rather than a reduction in violence, a new period of instability and clashes could develop. Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa brigades (formerly Fatah’s armed wing) have already said they will continue armed attacks against Israeli targets.

It still remains to be seen whether Hamas can successfully take control of the PA security forces. Many of them are Fatah members. Partly this depends on Hamas’ ability to keep on paying their wages. But there is no doubt that the possibility of episodes of violence, verging on open civil war is more likely. There have already been armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah supporters.

The Hamas victory will destabilise the capitalist and feudal elite across the region. Egypt already has seen an increased vote for the Muslim Brotherhood in the most recent elections. In Saudi Arabia more hardline Islamist candidates won ground in the limited elections that took place last year. There is already a growth in support for reactionary Islamist organisations, including Al Qa’eda amongst the population. Jordan already has a majority of Palestinians living there and the Muslim Brotherhood is active as an opposition group. In all of these countries, these forces will be strengthened and the ruling elite weakened by Hamas’s victory. The election results in Gaza and the West Bank will also increase fears that Iran, which has refused to bend to imperialism’s pressure to close down its civilian nuclear programme, is strengthening its influence in the region, because of its historic links with Hamas.

US campaign in tatters

US imperialism’s propaganda campaign for "democratisation" in the region is in tatters. Even during the Egyptian elections there were signs that the Bush administration was having second thoughts about how wise it was to push for democratic elections – especially since the results were not the ones wanted by US imperialism. It could be the case that US imperialism will attempt to come to agreements with leaders that are already in power, rather than pushing for "regime change" through the ballot box. For example, representatives of the Syrian regime have claimed that they are negotiating a deal with the US and France which might allow President Assad to stay in power as long as he incriminates some of his own senior officials in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri.

Meetings have already been planned between US representatives and the Jordanian regime and Mubarak in Egypt for next week. The Quartet group (involving Russia, the EU, the UN and US) has sprung into life and called an emergency meeting which will take place in the next few days.

The political situation in Israel will also become more complicated for a time. Fears amongst Israeli Jews have been whipped up as a result of the Hamas victory. Soon after the election of Hamas, Israel’s Defence Minister, Mofaz, implied in a media interview, that Hamas leaders should not think they were exempt from assassination attempts by the IDF following their election victory.

It is more likely that the Israeli general election in March will be fought on security issues. Prior to the Palestinian election, there was a bigger chance that social, economic and working class issues could form part of the election debate as a result of the election of Amir Peretz (former head of the Histadruth and a working class Sephardic Jew) as leader of the Labour Party. Instead, it is possible that even Benjamin Netanyahu’s reactionary Likud party could regain some of the ground it has lost.

Hamas will now have to deliver the goods – and quickly – to the Palestinian people. While in power in local councils, although it cleaned up the worst examples of corruption, it also carried out cuts in spending and sold off local council land and property, ostensibly to clear debts which involved paying "non-Islamic" interest payments.

Experience will show the Palestinian masses that only a break with capitalism and feudalism can begin to offer a way out of the disaster they face. But disappointment with Hamas rule will not be, in and of itself, enough to ensure this conclusion is drawn. A clear socialist alternative as part of an independent working class movement will have to be constructed for that to happen. The CWI will, along with the most conscious activists, struggle to make that objective a reality.

This would require a struggle to end mass unemployment and poverty. But this would only be the beginning – a movement to end the political and economic oppression by Israeli, Palestinian and Arab capitalism needs to be built which can put in its place a democratically planned socialist economy to transform the living standards of the region. Such a struggle would also include the right of Palestinians to self-determination, including an independent state with full rights for all minorities. This would mean the fight for a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel, as part of a voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East.

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January 2006