Middle East: Gaza war paves way for further conflict

Building of mass independent workers organisations urgently needed.

`One thousand two hundred and fifty confirmed dead, with the numbers still rising as bodies are dug out of the rubble. Around one third of the dead are children. More than 4,000 homes destroyed and over 17,000 damaged, as well as 25 schools and hospitals lying in ruins. Half a million people without water. More than 5,000 injured, many having lost limbs or suffering from severe burns as a result of phosphorus bombs. This is what the Israeli government calls ‘achieving its aims’.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert couldn’t believe his luck when at the end of this onslaught, on 18 January, the prime ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Spain and the Czech Republic met with him in Jerusalem and expressed their friendship and support for the Israeli leaders. Also outrageous following the extent of the Israeli state agression, was ardent promises by Gordon Brown and other EU leaders to help to stop the supply routes of arms to the Gaza strip.

General election

The Israeli government’s most immediate reason for planning and carrying out the carnage in Gaza – re-election in the Israeli general electon next month – may not even be achieved, as the right-wing Likud party led by Binyamin Netenyahu has an opinion poll lead over the parties at the head of the present coalition government.

The slaughter has reasserted the Israeli army’s military dominance, following its defeat in the 2006 war on Hezbollah in Lebanon. However, whatever short term gains the Israeli regime can chalk up, the cost to Israel in the longer term will be enormous. This slaughter of Gazan men, women and children will not bring peace or security to the people of Israel. On the contrary, it will lead to another cycle of conflict in which the working class and poor, Palestinian but also Israeli Jewish, will suffer most.

The idea that the decimation of Gaza would lead its population to switch their allegiance from Hamas to more ‘compliant’ forces is utterly false. It is true that Hamas has been militarily weakened. Key Hamas personnel have been killed in the onslaught, including Said Siam, Hamas’s interior minister. However, politically Hamas is likely to emerge strengthened.

Hamas originally gained in support because it was seen as both less corrupt and less compliant to imperialism than the Fatah leadership. This twenty two day war is likely to have weakened Fatah further, and strengthened more radical forces.

Following the Israeli government’s ‘unilateral ceasefire’, Hamas called a week long ceasefire which it says will only continue if Israeli troops withdraw and the border checkpoints are opened. It seems that the troops are withdrawing, although leaving large numbers on the border. Israel may also allow some limited movement through the checkpoints, particularly given the fact that as a result of the IDF’s destruction of tunnels under the Rafah border – which were in reality used for basic supplies more than they were for weapons – Gaza will literally face starvation if the checkpoints remain closed. Even if the checkpoints are partially opened, however, Gaza will remain a prison camp.

And even if Hamas maintains its ceasefire for a period, which is not certain, there can be no doubt that rockets will once again be fired into Israel. A new generation, enraged by the horror they have suffered in this twenty two day war, will become involved in the struggle. If there is no alternative strategy on offer, this will mean a return to rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas and other forces. Worse, at a certain stage, there is likely to be a redevelopment of the suicide bombings killing civilians in Israel.

The Palestinians clearly have a right to armed defence. However, indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians are counterproductive in the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation. Inevitably, such attacks drive the Israeli Jewish population away from the Palestinians’ cause and into the arms of Israel’s ruling class.

Instead, democratically organised Palestinian defence committees and actions are urgently needed. Mass action, for example against the blockade, would help to push the Palestinian struggle forward and win the support of Israeli Jewish workers in the process.

This attack on Gaza will also harden the attitude of many Palestinians against the idea of a ‘two state solution’: a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state. This idea has had support amongst a majority of Palestinians, with even Hamas being prepared to make a deal on the basis of the prolonged existence of two states. Today, however, fifteen years after the Oslo Accord raised hopes of a two state solution, Israel’s actions – not least this latest incredibly brutal war – will have dramatically undermined hope of it ever being achieved.

Two states

Under capitalism, a genuine ‘two state’ solution is indeed utopian. A capitalist Palestinian state – restricted by the interests of the Israeli ruling class and lacking sufficient international investment – will not satisfy the Palestinians’ national aspirations. Nor will a capitalist Israel provide security and decent living standards for most Israelis.

The imperialist powers, and the corrupt ruling elites that they lean on in the Middle East, offer no way forward for the Palestinian people. Defending their own economic interests – particularly oil – has always motivated the imperialist powers in their approach to the region. The rights of the peoples of the Middle East – not least the Palestinians – have been relentlessly trampled underfoot.

Hopes that the election of Obama as US president will lead to a fundamental change have already been undermined by his silence during the Gaza war. It is true that US imperialism, having backed the Israeli slaughter in Gaza to the hilt, undoubtedly exerted pressure to make sure it finished before Obama’s inauguration. However, this is primarily because the US did not want the war to ‘complicate’ the start of Obama’s presidency. Obama is likely to have a more diplomatic approach than Bush and the neo-cons, but he has made clear his support for the Israeli regime.

Every important gain made in the history of Palestinian struggle has been the result of active mobilisation of the mass of Palestinian people. This was demonstrated particularly during the first Intifada, but also, much more recently and on a smaller scale, in the mass action which temporarily broke through the Rafah border.

Part of a strategy for effective mass action would involve an appeal to the working class and poor in Israel to oppose the warmongering being carried out in their name, and a call for them to remove the Israeli capitalist class as their part of a struggle to overthrow all the corrupt ruling elites of the Middle East and to build democratic socialist states across the region – including a socialist Israel and a socialist Palestine. Support amongst Israeli Jews for the creation of a genuine Palestinian state fluctuates at around two-thirds. This figure would grow if the prospect was raised of a democratic workers’ state of Palestine, which desired peaceful co-existence alongside Israel. The building of mass independent workers organisations – in the territories, in Israel, but also across the Middle East – is urgently needed as a first step towards a socialist solution to the nightmare facing the Palestinian masses.

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