What prospects for the national conflict?
60 year anniversary of Israel
Since the Israeli state was founded 60 years ago, many Jewish people around the world have moved there on the promise of prosperity and security. Yet despite Israel having one of the strongest military machines in the world, Israeli Jews do not feel secure, and a huge wealth gap means that a large section of the population lives in poverty, including one third of the Holocaust survivors.
For the Palestinian refugees dispersed across the Israeli occupied territories and surrounding countries, the 60 year anniversary is that of their ‘Naqba‘ (catastrophe). They have lived away from their original homes, a majority of them in dire poverty, for 60 years, and face terrible ‘prison camp’ conditions.
In the occupied territories their plight has recently become particularly dire. In the Gaza strip, the present Israeli blockade is preventing all trade and many basic supplies from getting in, including adequate fuel. Emergency food aid and health care are being affected both by lack of supplies and constant power cuts. The entire strip has been reduced to conditions of terrible destitution, with no escape. A majority of its 1.5 million population is unemployed and suffering from malnutrition.
Although the Israeli government removed the Jewish settlements from the strip in 2005, it retained complete control of the borders, sea and air space and the withdrawal was not with the aim of giving the Palestinians a genuine state. Then, when the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, was elected to govern the Palestinian Authority in 2006, Israeli military punishment was stepped up, with regular brutal incursions using tanks, bulldozers and helicopters.
Killing sprees included the summer of 2006, when 400 Palestinians were killed, and February and March this year, when over 170 Palestinians were killed, including many babies and children.
Israeli army assassinations and brutality are not confined to Gaza. Some Israeli soldiers who have done duty in Hebron in the West Bank, recently spoke out about their army’s torture of Palestinian residents there, alongside atrocities against Palestinians carried out by Hebron’s religious Jewish settlers.
The Israeli government tries to justify its onslaught on the grounds that rockets are being fired from Gaza into Israel. This is despite the fact that the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian rockets since 2001 is 14, while last year alone 379 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces. Last year’s ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths in the conflict was 40:1.
However, while armed resistance by the Palestinians is necessary – which should be organised by democratically controlled workers’ militias – the rocket and other attacks directed at Israeli civilians should not be supported by socialists. As well as bringing more repression down on Palestinians, increasing their suffering and making struggle more difficult, they push Israeli workers away from sympathising with the Palestinians’ plight and closer to the agenda of the Israeli capitalist class. The recent escalation in rocket firings has strengthened the Israeli far right and increased the number of Israelis who favour violent retribution.
Outrage and desperation
There is a dawning realisation among capitalist commentators and international ‘mediators’ that the Israeli stranglehold over Gaza is pushing Palestinian militias into new desperate and violent measures. The leading United Nations official in Gaza recently described conditions there as “shocking” and “shameful” and warned that a “point of explosion” is about to be reached.
Following the particularly savage Israeli army assault on Gaza in March, an East Jerusalem Palestinian man shot dead eight religious Jewish students in the first attack on civilians in Jerusalem for four years. A new departure this year is a cluster of Grad rockets being fired at the Israeli city Ashkelon – 20 kilometres north of Gaza – that wounded some residents.
Last month a group of Palestinians broke out of the strip to attack a fuel depot on the Israeli side of the barrier fence. In another attack later in April, Palestinians bombed Israeli soldiers at the Kerem Shalom crossing on the strip border, injuring 13 of the soldiers and killing three of the bombers.
Such is the degree of rage and despair that exists, one poll conducted in March by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research – around the time of the Israeli attack on Gaza referred to above – showed an unprecedented level of support in the territories for the rocket attacks on Israeli towns – 64%; and 84% at that moment supported the killing of the Jerusalem religious students.
The present bloodshed is bad enough, but it could get much worse. For instance the Israeli army could launch a full scale invasion into Gaza, and the danger of a wider war drawing in surrounding states is ever present.
Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert declared in March: “Everything is on the table – ground operations, air [strikes] and special operations”. A few days before that, the deputy defence minister, Matan Vilna had threatened an ’even bigger holocaust’ on the Palestinians.
Olmert’s weak coalition government is vehemently opposed to negotiating directly with Hamas, as is the US Bush regime – which massively finances the Israeli military. This is despite the fact that Hamas has said it would like to negotiate a long term truce and that around two-thirds of the Israeli population favours negotiations with Hamas.
Neither right-wing Islamic Hamas nor the secular Fatah has majority support in the territories. But the Israeli government’s strategy of using brutal military force to try to weaken the Hamas leaders, while they at the same time court Fatah Palestinian Authority president Mahmood Abbas (now based in the West Bank), has only served to bolster support for Hamas and reduce it for the Fatah leaders.
Not long ago, Olmert declared that Israel will have to accept a Palestinian state to avoid the prospect of Palestinians becoming a majority of the population within the area controlled by Israel. But he presides over a coalition government that hangs together by a thread. He is dependent on right wingers in the coalition who will not contemplate further withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the territories, negotiations with Hamas or even any significant concessions to the western imperialist-friendly Fatah regime in the West Bank.
The West Bank remains atomised, with now an incredible 560 Israeli checkpoints and barriers, and its Palestinian towns are subjected to regular Israeli military raids – which have been stepped up recently. Olmert is faced with an increasingly outraged Palestinian population with its institutions divided into two between Hamas control and Fatah control – a division that was a direct by-product of US imperialism’s sponsoring of Fatah, backed up by the Israeli regime.
The international talks in Annapolis last November were not the launch of a remotely viable peace process, given the present stance of the Israeli ruling class. The building of Jewish settlements in the territories continued apace straight after the talks; 1,700 new settler homes have been approved since then.
The Palestinian militias, including those of Hamas, have offered a six-month ceasefire, but this has been rejected so far by the Israeli government. Hamas has also declared its willingness to accept a Palestinian state on the land occupied by Israel in 1967 (while not explicitly recognising the Israeli state alongside it).
There are seemingly endless numbers of meetings of representatives of the world’s capitalist powers to discuss peace initiatives and intervention of various forms in the region. But no imperialist initiative will ever at root be aimed at the interests of ordinary Palestinians, or for ordinary Israelis for that matter. And in any case, all the high level deliberations have been impotent in the face of intransigence on the part of the Israeli regime.
However, the bloodshed always tends to ebb and flow in cycles, and at some point the Israeli capitalist class will feel compelled – for the sake of its own interests and predicament – to make some, at least temporary, conciliatory moves. But these will certainly not solve the aspirations of workers on either side of the national divide.
As Israel marks its 60th year, among ordinary Israelis there is huge disillusionment in their politicians, criticism of the direction of society and concern about the future prospects for the Israeli state. There has been a collapse in the authority of state institutions, including to some extent in the army following the 2006 Lebanon war.
Tel Aviv university professor and poll analyst Camil Fuchs commented: “a large majority would say the country is on the wrong track. The general mood is bad”, and that Israelis are “enormously disillusioned” and have “no confidence in the government and no confidence in the Knesset [parliament]”.
Virtually all leading politicians are highly discredited and viewed as corrupt. Only 10% of the population (according to polls) says that Olmert has succeeded as prime minister and he only remains in power because there is no obvious replacement. He is presently under several different investigations over allegations of corruption.
There is also great pessimism on prospects for a peace deal and growing disquiet about the occupation. The number of youth who are evading military service is increasing, as is the number of reservists and serving soldiers who are reluctant to carry out brutally offensive actions.
But the greatest concern is over the huge inequality in society. The top 1% of wage earners earn the same as the bottom 25%. While the Israeli economy has been growing – it is now in its fifth year of growth – workers’ share of Israel’s national income has continued to fall. A third of children now live in poverty.
There have been waves of attacks by successive governments on the welfare state and on secure jobs, in pursuit of a neo-liberal agenda. Tremendous anger has built up against these attacks and this has been reflected in some important workers’ struggles in recent years. The number of working days lost to strikes totalled 6.8 million in the five years 2003 to 2007.
Israeli workers will inevitably come increasingly into collision with their bosses – possibly more so when their living standards are affected by the coming world recession – and they will at some point feel driven to build their own political representation, in the form of a new workers’ party.
Rather than being an obstacle to a genuine Palestinian state (as some left organisations internationally incorrectly believe), the Israeli working class can develop into a powerful and decisive force against the Israeli ruling class; a process that is necessary for the emancipation of Israeli workers, and also to give vital assistance to the aspirations of the Palestinians.
Workers’ independence needed
A new workers’ party in Israel would take a sympathetic attitude to a mass struggle of the Palestinians against the occupation, provided that Israeli civilians were not being killed as a method of that movement. For the Palestinian struggle to develop on a healthy and successful basis, democratic decision-making and control of all defensive and offensive actions is necessary. Also, their resistance needs to involve the widest possible number of people, rather than being carried out by many small, competing, secretive militias. There are many possible goals for mass action that could be pursued, including actions to prevent land annexations.
In conjunction with battles on economic issues and those of security, both Israeli and Palestinian workers will need to build their organisations on the basis of socialist ideas. A poverty-free Palestinian state will not be achieved on the basis of capitalism, as it would not be seen as a stable, economically viable ‘investment opportunity’, and the benefits of any economic growth would go disproportionately to the rich. The imperialist ruling classes worldwide and the Arab elites have only their own interests at heart: to extract wealth and if possible not to import instability or threats to their position into their own countries (such as from refugees, religious fundamentalists, active trade unionists etc).
Their interests include not wanting to undermine Israeli capitalism, for reasons of political and economic strategy. The Israeli ruling class, on its part, does not want a successful, rival capitalist class on its doorstep – especially one that has a claim on its own territory.
Nor do the aspiring Palestinian capitalists and their representatives have much in common with the interests of ordinary Palestinians. Their aim is exploitation and profit like capitalists the world over. West Bank Palestinian civil servants and other workers have repeatedly taken strike action in recent months on the issue of wages and other attacks made on their living standards by their Palestinian Authority ‘leaders’.
Neither the politics of Hamas or Fatah can show a way forward. Neither party has a strategy or programme that can deliver a Palestinian state against the massively armed opposition of the Israeli ruling class. And both want to see a capitalist Palestinian state, which would not solve the Palestinians’ economic problems.
Many Hamas leaders are seen as self-sacrificing, have rejected the corruption of Fatah and condemn US imperialism. But once in power, whether in councils or government, they have turned to passing the burden of economic crisis onto the shoulders of workers through job cuts and privatisations, as has Fatah.
Just as capitalism will provide no future for the Palestinians, in Israel too, despite its far more developed economy, capitalism is unable to provide security and adequate living standards for ordinary people.
Faced with the existence of the ‘security’ wall being built by Israel, eating significantly into Palestinian land; also with the expansion of Jewish settlements and atomisation of Palestinian areas; some people call for a single, secular, democratic state of Palestinians and Jews rather than two states side by side. But the demand for one state raises enormous fear in the region – especially among Israeli Jews, who recoil at the idea of becoming a discriminated-against minority in such a state, as the Palestinian birth rate is out-stripping that of Jews. So this proposition is not conducive to winning Jewish workers over to seriously challenging the Israeli ruling class, which is essential if the powerful Israeli state machine is to be defeated.
Only by supporting a socialist Israel alongside a socialist Palestine, can the path be set for the development of trust and cooperation between working people on both sides of the divide, a rise in their living standards across the board, and an end to the bloodshed for ever.
For the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli army from the occupied territories!
For an immediate end to the Israeli and international sanctions on the Gaza strip, and for all needed supplies to be sent in without delay. For the removal of the separation wall and all checkpoints and barriers from the West Bank.
For the establishment in the territories of grassroots committees, to provide the basis for genuine and democratic workers’ leadership. For the right of these committees to be armed for the purposes of defence.
For a mass struggle of the Palestinians, under their democratic control, to raise their standard of living and to fight for genuine national liberation.
For an end to the use of Israeli soldiers as cannon fodder by the Israeli government and army generals.
For a struggle by Israeli Palestinians against institutionalised racism and their treatment as second-class citizens.
For an end to unemployment and poverty in Israel. For a struggle of the Israeli working class – both Jewish and Palestinian – to end capitalism.
For a socialist Palestine alongside a socialist Israel as part of a voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East, with the right of return of refugees and guaranteed democratic rights for all national minorities.