In the last few months we have heard a lot about the Geneva plan that supposedly represents a breakthrough in the "Peace process" in the Middle East. In reality this plan reflects the growing contradictions between the interests of European imperialism and American imperialism and its "Road map".
While the imperialist war on Iraq led to the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime, it has not given Bush and Blair the result they had hoped for. They have got themselves into a new kind of Vietnam like war. Bush would like to get out of Iraq now but he knows that such a move would create explosive conditions throughout the Middle East, preparing the overthrow of one pro-Western regime after another. This would be a nightmare scenario for American imperialism.
While the European rulers, especially in France and Germany, enjoy watching Bush and Blair swimming in boiling water, they are very well aware that a social explosion in the Middle East would not be very good business for them either. Thus they have come up with the plan known as the Geneva Accord.
As was to be expected, the "doves " in Israel, who yesterday praised the Oslo agreement, are now praising the Geneva Accord. Ariel Sharon's government, at the other end of the same political spectrum, has lashed out at the Accord, calling it "the greatest mistake since Oslo" (which Sharon was also opposed to). The Likud MK coalition whip, Gideon Saar described the agreement as "insane and ridiculous", and expressed sorrow that prominent Israelis could lend a hand "to such a thing during wartime." Israeli Tourism Minister, Benny Elon, a leader of the extreme-right National Religious Party, has condemned Beilin, calling him a collaborator.
Shimon Peres the head of the Zionist Labor Party, that lost any connection to the Trade Union Federation years ago, has said that the document has elements that make it a good basis for renewed talks between the sides. "If in fact the Palestinians renounced the right of return and will recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, there is nothing wrong with this and it can be the basis for negotiations,'' he said, signalling that further Palestinian concessions may be required.
While many Palestinians may be confused as to the way forward, having learnt from the experience with the Oslo agreement, they were not fooled by the Geneva accord. The Committee for the Defense of Palestinian Refugees Rights, an alliance of groups representing tens of thousands of refugees in the West Bank, has stated that no person or group has the right to make any concessions regarding refugee rights - a sentiment shared almost unanimously among Palestinians.
The Badil Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights warned in a statement that "talks between Palestinians and Israelis that ignore the rights of Palestinian refugees under international law and human rights conventions will not produce a durable solution to the issue. A future peace must be based on international law." Badil asserted that refugees’ rights "have been enshrined in international law" and how individuals exercise this right would be a personal choice.
Tayseer Nasrallah, head of the Palestinian Refugees' Rights Committee, said that, "The right of return is the heart of the Palestinian problem," and he warned that, "this accord is very dangerous. If it was ratified, the Palestinians would not be entitled to seek their usurped rights any more."
The Palestinian Return Center (PRC) condemned Abed Rabbo's role in the accord, and called for his removal from office. The PRC's statement said that, "It is truly a monstrous disgrace that we should dishonour the pure blood that has been shed by our martyrs and wounded with compromises of the most sacred and inalienable rights of the Palestinian people."
Abdallah Hourani, head of the PLO's refugee department said that, "Nobody has the right to give up [refugees] right to return to their homes, from which they were expelled at gunpoint" and warned that "the PLO would no longer be the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people if it chose to sacrifice the right of return."
Khaled Al-Baatch, an Islamic Jihad leader, said that Palestinians from every stripe rejected the Geneva Accord and that the negotiating team "can only speak for themselves."
In the Gaza Strip, Jamil Majdalawi, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said that the accord "does not represent the views of the Palestinian people." He pointed out that the right of return represented the central aspect of the Palestinian cause, and that "sacrificing that right meant killing the entire Palestinian cause."
In Nablus, thousands of Palestinians marched to protest against the accord, with chants including "Death to the traitors and collaborators." A Hamas leader stated that, "The Geneva Accord is a stab in the back of the Palestinian resistance and the ongoing intifada."
In an Executive Council meeting with Arafat, most of the speakers criticized the understandings reached between Beilin and Abed Rabbo. Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council issued a statement condemning the Beilin-Abed Rabbo agreement as an attempt to scrap the refugees’ right to return. The statement called on the Palestinian Authority and Arafat to take a clear position against the accord.
Edward Said, the late academic and eloquent defender of Palestinian rights, wrote in February 2001 that, "it is going to take a great deal of ingenuity, public relations spin-doctoring, and specious logic to convince any Palestinian that the deal to be made (as it will be) by the PLO is not in effect an abrogation of the right of return. The Palestinian leadership has selfishly put its own self-interest before the collective Palestinian good. If the Israelis can ‘persuade’ Arafat's men that Abu Dis is in fact Jerusalem, why can't they also persuade them that the refugees will just have to remain refugees for a bit longer? Of course they can, and will. Arafat survives inside the Palestinian territories today for two main reasons: one, he is needed by the international supporters of the ‘peace process’, Israel, the US and the EU chief among them."
Last week in response to the supporters of the Geneva Accord who signed in a strange gathering in Geneva, and to the surprise of many right wing politicians, Olmert, a close ally of Sharon, came forward with a plan of unilateral retreat on the part of Israel from some of the 1967 occupied territories. Those who were arguing that even Olmert has realized the need for a Palestinian state were surprised to discover this morning that, "The United States has expressed its reservations to Israel's announced intentions to carry out unilateral steps vis-a-vis the Palestinians if the revival of the road map does not succeed. In a meeting with journalists on Friday, Bush warned that, ‘Israel must avoid taking decisions that will hinder the creation of a Palestinian state’." (Haaretz, December 13)
In response, Weisglass, a senior Sharon official, reiterated this morning that Israel would consider unilateral steps if a renewed effort at negotiations with the Palestinian government failed on the basis of the road map. Weisglass also said that any unilateral steps would be taken as an interim stage.
In talks at the State Department between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Powell reiterated that the road map is the only plan and that the U.S. is very interested in reviving the peace process on its basis. Powell also said that he would work for a meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) as soon as possible, without any preliminary conditions.
Thus what we are facing are growing contradictions within the Israeli ruling class reflecting not only the growing contradictions between the U.S and Europe, but also the fact that Sharon has plans that are not the same as those of the Americans and clearly not the same as those of the Europeans.
Those who sow illusions
Unlike many ordinary Palestinians who have learned a lesson or two from the Oslo Agreement the Israeli "peace camp" and the circles close to the Palestinian leadership are repeating the same nonsense as if history does not exist. The difference is simple: while the masses are losing out, these “leaders” are making some good money from the crumbs thrown down from the imperialist banqueting tables.
The so-called "Geneva Accord," was prepared and signed by several former Palestinian Authority (PA) ministers, current legislators, and leaders from the ruling Fatah Party. They include Yasir Abed Rabbo, former Minister of Information, Hisham Abdel Razeq, former Minister for Prisoner Affairs, Nabil Kassis, former Minister of Planning, and officials from the Fatah-affiliated Tanzim organization. The talks were conducted with Yasser Arafat's approval, if not direction. These are the same people who were in exile in Tunisia prior to 1993 and who after they were brought back to repress the previous uprising made a nice fortune.
The Israeli side included Yossi Beilin, former Israeli Labor party leader Amram Mitzna, former Parliament speaker Avraham Burg, former chief-of-staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Brigadier General Giora Inbar, writer Amos Oz, and several current and former Members of Knesset. They are people who are also making fortunes from the money the US is sending Israel to bolster its military role in the region.
The man in Israel who has been the designated working architect of the "peace process" with Yasser Arafat, and who has done more to try to convince the Palestinians and the Israelis of the possibility of an imperialist peace after so many decades of deception and bloodletting, is Yossi Beilin, the Justice Minister in the Barak government, a former Deputy Foreign Minister and long-time protégé of Shimon Peres. There are a few things about the boyish looking soft-spoken Mr. Beilin which people may not remember. The great hero of the "Peace process" is a man who worked closely with the South African regime back in the apartheid days. There he discovered a possible solution in the form of a Middle Eastern apartheid. When the apartheid regime in South Africa was on its way out he very quickly opposed it. He helped Shimon Peres cover up everything from the kidnapping of Mordechai Vanunu in the 1980s to the Qana massacre just a few years ago. This is the man, who helped bring about the "Oslo Peace Process". Yet to this day he insists he never once discussed with Prime Minister Rabin the end result of what they were starting and whether or not it would lead to true Palestinian independence.
Under the Oslo agreement Israel doubled the number of settlers on occupied Palestinian land, while the PLO transformed itself into a corrupt Palestinian Authority whose mandate it was to protect with weapons the Israeli rulers from the victims of the ongoing colonization.
The 50-page document repeats the same policy that Israel and the United States tried to impose at Camp David in July 2000. It envisages a demilitarised Palestinian mini-state with control only over municipality-type responsibilities, such as collecting refuse. Its real job according to the "peace accords " is the disarming and arresting of resistance fighters. Israel would retain control of airspace, laws, water aquifers, imports, exports, and foreign relations, while the borders would be under international control .The Palestinian refugees would be allowed to resettle in the new Palestinian "state", receive compensation (not from Israel) and most of all stay where they are, or re-settle in a third country, but none at all would be allowed to return to the homes that they were driven out of when the Israeli state was formed, although Abdel Razeq offered the empty assurance that, "some could go to Israel, but only if Israel agrees to take them in." As if this were not enough, the PA would be required to recognize Israel as a "Jewish state " - i.e. a state of all the Jews around the world. This reaffirms once again that there would be no right of return whatsoever.
No other than general Amram Mitzna, on October 16, in the Ha'aretz newspaper spilled the beans by stating the truth when he said that, "For the first time in history, the Palestinians explicitly and officially recognized the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people forever. They gave up the right of return to the state of Israel and a solid, stable Jewish majority was guaranteed. The Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter (of Jerusalem) and David's Tower will all remain in our hands. The suffocating ring was lifted from over Jerusalem and the entire ring of settlements around it ‑ Givat Zeev, old and new Givon, Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Neve Yaacov, Pisgat Zeev, French Hill, Ramot, Gilo and Armon Hanatziv will be part of the expanded city, forever. None of the settlers in those areas will have to leave their homes." Mitzna of course shares the illusions from the days of Barak before him that the Israelis will enjoy peace and the spoils of conquest while the Palestinian masses will accept their oppression.
Clearly those who signed the accords were not speaking for the refugees, or for the Palestinians who are unemployed or whose land was confiscated and given to the Jewish settlers. Neither were they speaking for the Israeli workers and poor on whose backs the ruling class is riding. They assume – wrongly - that the workers of Israel will always remain under the influence of their racist ideology rather than develop the understanding that all the workers are of the same class with the same interests. Those who drew up the Geneva Accord – on both sides - represented the interests of the ruling class in opposition to the interests of both the Palestinian and Israeli workers.
Some reformists, in trying to obscure the real meaning of the Accord, argue that some refugees will be allowed back This however has been refuted by no other than Abdel Razeq himself, who in his attempts to justify himself assured the Palestinian people that "No one can imagine that we can reach an agreement with the Israelis on any day that includes the right of return. It's impossible." He claims that, "this accord is the best that the Palestinians have ever signed".
Needless to say, this is a simple sell out of the Palestinian people's aspirations to be free and to live normal lives. Thus the covert sell-out that had already begun in 1973 became open by 1993. This kind of betrayal can only be carried out by a leadership that is more interested in its own survival than in serving the people it falsely claims to represent. The PA has been trying to concede the right of return for quite a long time and has pursued this by trying to slowly soften Palestinian public opinion towards it. The technique was clear. Some individual Palestinian officials would make statements suggesting forgoing the right of return, and if public opposition was too strong, the PA would distance itself from the statements, claiming that they only represented the personal opinions of the individuals expressing them. After repeating this scenario a few times, the idea becomes less shocking, making it easier for the PA to endorse.
Conceding the right of return
Several politicians have played a key role in this scheme, for example Sari Nusseibeh, the PA's former representative in Jerusalem, and now Dean of Al-Quds University. Abed Rabbo has been involved for several years in working with Yossi Beilin to "resolve" the right of return issue, and had already indicated a willingness to forgo the right of return when he was the Minister of Information. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot in November 2002, he said "the Palestinians will not insist on the implementation of the right of return for the refugees."
Former Prime Minister Abu Mazen had also worked with Yossi Beilin, and formulated the Beilin-Abu Mazen Document in 1995, which suggested that refugees be "rehabilitated and resettled" in the Palestinian territories or other countries. The document also specified that this would be a "full and final settlement of the refugee issue in all its dimensions," and that there would be no "additional claims or demands arising from this issue."
Another accomplice in the efforts to relinquish refugee rights is none other than Nabil Shaath, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. As far back as 1991, Shaath participated in an American-sponsored "Framework for a Public Peace Process” that, among other provisions, sought to "resettle Palestinian refugees and to provide them with opportunities to live as citizens in permanent residence in the State of Palestine or in agreement with Arab States where they live at present."
Khalil Shikaki, of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, also gained popularity in the U.S. and Israel for his work. In February 2002, Shikaki participated in an Israeli conference on "Countering Suicide Terrorism," and suggested that the way to reduce suicide bombings was to use harsher collective punishment against the Palestinian people: "Let me give you just one more example of the importance of the cost-benefit calculations. Gaza, which used to be very supportive of violence, is much less so today. Why? Because of the cost-benefit calculations. Gazans depend on work in Israel much more than West Bankers and therefore are more likely to be affected by punitive measures by Israel. Therefore, there is less support for violence and suicide attacks in Gaza."
In July 2003, Shikaki claimed that his polls show that Palestinian refugees don't actually want to go home! Shikaki's poll gave Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories five options to choose from. The option of returning to their 1948 homes was presented as an unattractive scenario, with a limited annual quota being allowed to return, the requirement of Israeli citizenship (something most refugees would find emotionally unbearable), and receiving no compensation for their properties that were lost or destroyed (a stipulation that, aside from being illegal, is unattractive to poor refugees, especially since all other options included compensation). Given such conditions it is natural that most respondents would prefer to settle in the new Palestinian state, and Shikaki ran to the media with his "findings." Infuriated refugees stormed into Shikaki's office and threw eggs at him, indicating how out-of-synch his claims were with reality.
The loyal opposition
While many Palestinians protested against this sell-out, the “loyal opposition” inside Israel has given it its blessing, not only Gush Shalom, a liberal grouping led by Uri Avneri but the Communist Party and Hadash leadership as well. By supporting this plan the leadership of the CPI has dumped its official commitment to the right of return rooted, according to the CPI leadership’s arguments in the past, in International law. We as Marxists have no reason to believe in International law. It is the law of the bandits who try to regulate their struggle for world domination. However it is of interest to us to compare what the law states with what is the reality.
The right of return is protected by several international and human rights laws and resolutions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and United Nations Resolution 194. The UDHR affirms that "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country" (Article 13). The ICCPR, passed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1966, states that, "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country" (Resolution 2200). U.N. Resolution 194 resolves that, "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest possible date, and compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property". The right of return is also protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, adopted by the U.N. in 1969.
How do we explain the sell-out by the Palestinian ruling class and the behaviour of the leadership of the opposition inside Israel?
Solving the national question is one of the democratic tasks that belong to the bourgeois revolution. This was the case in France and in the U.S in the 18th century. However we no longer live in the period of the rise of capitalism. We are now living in its period of decay. In this period the capitalist class cannot lead a revolution not even a bourgeois one, and not even where there are still semi-feudal conditions and where the economy is still highly undeveloped. For this reason, as Trotsky explained in the theory of the Permanent Revolution, the democratic tasks are falling on the shoulders of the working class that will carry them out after the workers, at the head of the poor peasants, will take power. For this reason the PA cannot but sell out. But this is not the case for the PA alone. Those who would like to justify the PA’s limitations with the argument that it is a prisoner of Israel should explain to us why both the rulers of Egypt and Jordan have expressed support for the agreement. They are not under Israeli occupation.
The CPI leadership supports this agreement. This falls within its reformist nature and its seeking of an alliance with the so-called "progressive sections of the bourgeoisie". It is part of its strategy of forging a government of class collaboration and is consistent with its dogma of the two-stage revolution. This support for the Accord will not bring anything good to the CPI. It will only enhance the pressures for a split between the members who are pushing towards Arab nationalism and those who are pushing in the direction of Jewish nationalism. Genuine peace between the Arab and the Jewish masses will be achieved by the masses themselves led by a party committed to the independence of the working class. It cannot be achieved by any bourgeois manoeuvres.
The Marxists have repeatedly stated that only the working class in power can solve the national question everywhere, including in the Middle East. There is no way the oppressed Palestinians can defeat Israel by military means. However, it is not only the Palestinians who are entrapped. So are the Israeli Jewish masses. In the late 1930s Trotsky warned that the establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine would be a death trap for the Jews and indeed that is what it is. Regardless of how the Israeli people became a new nation by expelling the Palestinians, the people of Israel, the workers, the youth, have their right to exist just like anyone else. What they do not have is the right to conquer and oppress other people, as they are doing.
We must demand that the Israeli army withdraws from Gaza and the West Bank. The struggle against occupation must have the unconditional support and solidarity of the world working class movement. But unlike the reformists who connect this demand with support for one wing or another of the reactionary ruling class, what is required is a social revolution that will sweep away both the reactionary Arab regimes and the regime of Israeli imperialism.
Wars in the Middle East will solve nothing, but will merely prepare the basis for new wars. However, the general instability is creating the conditions for a revolutionary movement of the masses at some point. It is inevitable, given the enormous contradictions that are developing. If such a movement were led by a conscious, Marxist ‑ that is, internationalist ‑ tendency, it would lead to the only possible lasting solution: the Socialist Federation of the Middle East.
Only a federation, that gives full autonomy to Jews and Arabs, Druzes and Copts, Armenians and Kurds, can solve the national question once and for all. Each people would have the right to live in peace in its own designated territory, the boundaries of which must be amicably settled between them. The refugees would have the right to return. The economic potential of the region would be realized and developed to the full in a common socialist plan of production. On this basis alone, the old national and religious hatreds would be overcome.
We must warn any honest worker or youth, both among the Palestinians and among the Jews in Israel, that accords such as this recent Geneva Accord cannot solve the problem. So long as it is the bourgeois elite on both sides who draw up the accords, both sides will be defending the interests of a privileged minority. The only accord that can work is one where ordinary working people get together and decide on their destiny. That is why the task is to build genuine workers’ organisations, independent of the bosses, and based on the programme of socialism. The CPI could help in providing such an alternative, but it must break with its present policy and return to the ideas and methods of the founders of the party back in the 1920s.