UN Security Council votes for ceasefire in Gaza – will it stop the IDF attacks?

Devastation in Gaza, the aftermath of Israeli army rocket fire. Photo: WAFA/APAIMAGES/CC

After almost six months, after more than 32,000 dead, after more than 74,000 wounded, and after the majority of buildings have been reduced to rubble, the United Nations (UN) Security Council has finally passed a motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Words agreed by the Security Council will not stop the unimaginable horror being inflicted on the population of Gaza. The night after, nothing had changed on the ground as air strikes rained down on Rafah. Starvation is stalking the strip. The Israeli state’s refusal to allow adequate aid has created a man-made famine, which air drops and sea deliveries are wholly inadequate to prevent.

Nonetheless, the passing of the UN resolution – with the US abstaining rather than vetoing it as before – reflects a shift in the position of US President Joe Biden and, behind him, US imperialism. Increasingly frustrated with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies in the Israeli government, US imperialism has started to crank up the pressure for a ceasefire.

US hypocrisy

Up until now, in his public declarations, Netanyahu has appeared to openly defy pressure from the US, including continuing to insist that Israel’s threatened ground attack on Rafah will take place. Some capitalist commentators have drawn the conclusion that this shows the powerlessness of US imperialism today to control events compared to the past.

This analysis, however, makes the fundamental mistake of accepting that US imperialism and its allies – including the government in Britain – have spent the last five months trying to stop the slaughter on Gaza. In reality, they have backed up the Israeli state’s onslaught to the hilt. Israel has always been a base of support for US imperialism in the Middle East and has been funded accordingly. This has not changed one iota in recent months.

The budget agreed by the US Congress last weekend gave $3.8 billion to Israel’s military expenditure, at the same time as cutting off all funding to the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Meanwhile, another $14 billion in military aid for Israel is in the pipeline. Over recent months, the US had delivered 100 ‘foreign military sales’ to Israel with the sinister description of ‘lethal aid’.

It is true in general that we are living in an increasingly multipolar world, with US imperialism increasingly unable to control events. Nonetheless, while the US is in decline it is still more powerful than its rivals, not least militarily. US ‘defence’ spending is larger than the combined spending of the nine next largest national military budgets. Its role in this conflict has been to back up Israel by militarily intimidating other powers in the Middle East, above all Iran, to try and ensure there is no escalation to a regional war as a result of the IDF’s onslaught on Gaza. British imperialism, as a far weaker power, has had an identical approach.

Rotten regimes

However, the reality is that none of the rotten, capitalist regional powers have the slightest interest in coming to the defence of the Palestinian masses. Rather, they are driven by maintaining their own rule and defending the wealth and power of their elites. For the reactionary theocratic regime in Iran, arming Hezbollah, the Houthis, Hamas and others is an important aspect of increasing their influence in the region, but it has no interest in a direct war with Israel.

The Arab regimes pay lip service to the Palestinian cause but the reality is different. The role of the Egyptian regime is correctly seen by the Palestinian masses as aiding and abetting the siege on Gaza. A recent poll of Palestinians in the region showed that 61% assume that the Egyptian army would fire on Gazans if they try to flee over the border in the event of an Israeli assault on Rafah. The new compound – yet another open-air prison camp – built by the Egyptian state on their side of the Rafah crossing, shows clearly the continuation of horror that will be on offer to Palestinians in the event they are forced into the Sinai desert.

Nonetheless, US imperialism is under growing pressure as a result of the huge outrage of the masses in the Arab world, and globally, at events in Gaza. That is reflected in the worldwide anti-war movement, which is pushing Biden to try and find a way out before the famine intensifies. In particular, the hundreds of thousands of ‘uncommitted’ protest votes in the Democratic primaries – reaching 19% in the case of Minnesota – have concentrated Biden’s mind. This in itself is an indication of how the anti-war movement would be enormously strengthened if there was a clear political expression of its aims. Biden, and US capitalism, would be feeling far more heat if there was a ‘third candidate’ opposing the war as part of representing the independent interests of the working class in the Presidential election.

Workers’ parties

The same task – of creating mass democratic workers’ parties – is posed in every country, not least in the Middle East. Just over a decade ago, mass movements of the working class and poor swept the region, overthrowing dictatorships in the ‘Arab Spring’. Ultimately, those movements were defeated because the working class of the different countries lacked their own parties with a programme for the socialist transformation of society. Nonetheless, the working class is potentially the most powerful force in society, capable of overthrowing the existing capitalist order. And that is what is needed in order for genuine right to self-determination for the Palestinian people to be achieved. On the basis of capitalism, nothing better than one or other form of prison camp is on offer.

The question of the working class in the different countries of the region creating its own parties is therefore urgently posed, and would lay the basis for meaningful solidarity with the Palestinian struggle across the region. For the Palestinians too, the only way forward will be through democratically organising mass struggle – a socialist intifada – based on the interests of workers and the poor, independent of the rich elites.

And Israel is not immune from the class struggle. In the aftermath of the 7 October Hamas attacks, the Netanyahu government was able to mobilise the majority of the Israeli Jewish population behind the horrific onslaught on Gaza. Anti-war activists were left extremely isolated. However, Israeli society is not one homogenous block; it too is a class society and is, in reality, deeply divided. Prior to 7 October, a nine-month-long anti-government mass movement swept the country, including a general strike.

Israel divided

Those divisions are now starting to resurface. Netanyahu’s stated war aim of eliminating Hamas is clearly not close to being achieved. Nor will it be. Many Hamas fighters have been killed, but the recent battles in Gaza City, which the IDF claimed to have complete control of, are an indication that the Palestinian resistance still has fighting capacity, even in the northern half of Gaza. At the same time, more than 100 Israeli hostages are still being held in Gaza. As a result, one recent poll found that only a minority of Israelis – 42% – want to continue with the war.

Facing this impasse, open splits in the government are developing over numerous issues, including over Netanyahu’s proposal to continue exempting ultra-orthodox students from the army. There are increasing economic strains, with welfare and public service cuts taking place at the same time as a doubling of the military budget.

There are also clearly different views on how to respond to increased US pressure. Netanyahu called off a visit to the US after the UN vote, but the defence minister, Yoav Gallant, was already there and continued meetings with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, while cabinet member Benny Gantz publicly declared that the delegation should have gone. Netanyahu continues to insist that the ground invasion of Rafah will go ahead, but there appear to be no preparations for it at the moment, with only three and a half IDF brigades in Gaza, compared to a previous peak of 28.

How quickly those splits will lead to the fall of the Israeli government is not clear. Netanyahu will lean on his ultra-right wing allies to cling on as long as he can, justifying his rule by inflicting more horror on the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

At a certain stage, Netanyahu will be replaced, probably by an Israeli government that more accurately reflects the outlook of the majority of the Israeli capitalist class, and which could acquiesce to US demands for some kind of new negotiations about an alleged ‘two-state solution’. However, like the Oslo Accords, on the basis of capitalism any Palestinian entity would prove to only be a new form of prison camp. It would therefore also not be ultimately able to meet the desire of working-class Israelis to live safely, free from violence and war, which can never be achieved via continued repression of the Palestinians.

Workers’ negotiation

However, a workers’ government in Israel which broke with capitalism and began to develop a democratic and socialist planned economy would be an entirely different prospect. It would, via negotiations with elected and accountable Palestinian workers’ organisations, be able to reach agreement on all relevant issues in order to allow an independent, socialist Palestinian state, alongside a socialist Israel, with guaranteed rights for all minorities, as part of a socialist confederation of the Middle East.

The Socialist Party, as part of the Committee for a Workers’ International, is fighting to build the potential ‘superpower’ of the anti-war movement worldwide, in order to force a halt to the current onslaught on Gaza. But we are also fighting for the strengthening of independent working-class organisation in every country, including Britain, as the force that – armed with a socialist programme – can bring a permanent end to the horror of war and national oppression.


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April 2024