The meaning of the Geneva Accords - The Israeli capitalists want to find salvation

The recent Geneva Accords on the Middle East crisis have provoked a hysterical reaction on the part of Ariel Sharon who lashed out at the signatories of the Geneva initiative in a stormy start to the winter session of the Knesset on Monday of last week. Yossi Schwartz and Leon Cohen, in Israel, explain what lies behind this latest development. The recent Geneva Accords on the Middle East crisis have provoked a hysterical reaction within the right wing parties in Israel. Even the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lashed out at the signatories of the Geneva initiative in a stormy start to the winter session of the Knesset on Monday of last week, saying that the deal encourages terrorist organizations.

Sharon said that the recent armed attacks waged by the Palestinian resistance factions within Israel and the Occupied Territories prove that "terror is trying to extinguish any hope for diplomatic progress in the region". According to Sharon, the US-sponsored “Road Map” is the only plan Israel has accepted, and the Geneva initiative only gives the Palestinians the impression that they do not have to keep to their “road map” pledges to fight terror.
"[The road map] is the only hope of achieving a real and genuine breakthrough to peace between the Palestinians and ourselves," he stated. Sharon, who has done his best to kill this plan, said, "It has been accepted by the majority of the world. Any deviation from it will release the Palestinians from the commitments they took upon themselves, and from the international demands made on them to uproot terror. Any such deviation will only encourage terrorist organizations."

In his response to Sharon, the Zionist Labor party's chairman, Shimon Peres MP defended the initiative. Criticizing the prime minister's diplomatic failures, Peres argued that Sharon "missed every opportunity to achieve peace" and has ended up with nothing but road accidents instead of a road map. Peres stressed the Geneva plan's initiators had every right to talk to the Palestinians and that the deal proves that there is a partner on the Palestinian side. He said he even would be willing to go to jail to defend the right of every citizen to try to achieve peace. "The right to seek peace is a basic right, and only the right to sign a formal agreement belongs to the government," Peres said. "They proved that there are people to talk to and what to talk about, even though I myself don't agree with everything they said.”

The Geneva Accords were initiated by Dr Yossi Beilin (former minister of justice and Labor MP in his past) and Yasser Abed Rabbo (former Palestinian minister associated with Yasser Arafat's wing in the Palestinian Fatah party). The plan, dubbed the Geneva Accord because it got the support of the government in Switzerland, claims to be a decisive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the plan drawn up by former US president Bill Clinton after the breakdown in the July 2000 talks between former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) and Yasser Arafat.
The Accords, supported by several left Zionists MPs, former generals in the IDF and several moderate right wing politicians, proposes a Palestinian concession on the right of return to lands within the State of Israel, in exchange for sovereignty over the Temple Mount. The Geneva Accords call for an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip.

The Geneva Accords received the support of European imperialism. The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw praised the "courage" of Israeli and Palestinian "negotiators" who were involved in the Geneva Initiative. Addressing parliament, Straw did not refer to Britain's involvement in initiating the agreements, but said, "I commend the courage of all of those involved, especially Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo… The plan provides a realistic two-state solution, on the basis of land for peace."

"The fact that it may not receive support illustrates one of the profound frustrations of the current situation, in which solid majorities in both communities are desperate for a real solution but no politicians can provide such a solution. We recognize our duty to assist them in every way we can," he said.
The main points of the document, according to the Israeli Haaretz daily, are:

1. The Palestinians will concede the right of return. Some refugees will remain in the countries where they now live, others will be absorbed by the PA, some will be absorbed by other countries and some will receive financial compensation. A limited number will be allowed to settle in Israel, but this will not be defined as realization of the right of return.

2. The Palestinians will recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. 

3. Israel will withdraw to the 1967 borders, except for certain territorial exchanges, as described below.

4. Jerusalem will be divided, with Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem becoming part of the Palestinian state. Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, as well as the West Bank suburbs of Givat Ze'ev, Ma'aleh Adumim and the historic part of Gush Etzion - but not Efrat - will be part of Israel.

5. The Temple Mount will be Palestinian, but an international force will ensure freedom of access for visitors of all faiths. However, Jewish prayer will not be permitted on the mount, nor will archaeological digs. The Western Wall will remain under Jewish sovereignty and the "Holy Basin" will be under international supervision. 

6. The settlements of Ariel, Efrat and Har Homa will be part of the Palestinian state.

7. In addition, Israel will transfer parts of the Negev adjacent to Gaza, but not including Halutza, to the Palestinians in exchange for the parts of the West Bank it will receive.

8. The Palestinians will pledge to prevent terror and incitement and disarm all militias. Their state will be demilitarized, and border crossings will be supervised by an international, but not Israeli, force.

9. The agreement will replace all UN resolutions and previous agreements.

The economic situation

In light of the government's harsh attacks on the accords, it allows the Zionist left to present the agreements as a step forward for real peace. Sharon's hysterical reaction to these accords is the result of his realization that he is caught in a situation where there is a split in the ruling class. Many of them do not trust him any more to protect their interests. On the other hand there is a growing militancy of the working class in Israel. This is what lies behind the new vicious attacks on the Palestinians which are causing the death of many civilians in air strikes. These murderous attacks are a reflection of the weakness of the Sharon government, not of its strength.

This imitative reflects more than anything else the growing frustration on the part of an increasing number of Israeli capitalists with the Sharon government's performance, in particular with its economic policy, which is seen as a total disaster. Lately the Bank of Israel provided its analysis of the economic crisis in Israel.

The recession in real activity in the period reviewed by the Bank of Israel up to June 1993, was expressed by a further decline in the composite state-of-the-economy index, reflecting mainly a fall in the number of employed workers, a fall in the index of manufacturing production and the stabilization of the index of revenue in commerce and services at a low level.

The various indicators of activity in the principal industries show that activity in most industries continued to decline. The slowdown on the demand side continued, with a steep fall in total uses and in domestic uses. The latter reflected a contraction of private consumption, in contrast to a considerable increase in public consumption (excluding defense imports).

In 2003 manufacturing companies reported a flattening of the decline in their output, inventories and orders for the next quarter, and a standstill in exports. However, they continued to report on demand restraints on carrying out their activities, with no real improvement in 2003. Building starts and completions fell markedly compared to previous years. The total of non-Israeli workers fell by about 10 percent. This reduction may have affected construction companies, among others, and throughout the first half of 2003 those companies continued reporting a severe restraint caused by the shortage of skilled workers. Concurrently, the number of Israeli employees in construction rose by about 6 percent (about 7,000), and at least some of them may have been taken on as replacements for foreign workers.

The findings of the survey of employers undertaken by the Manpower Planning Authority of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs support those of the Labor Force Survey regarding the slack in the labor market: it found that in 2003 the number of vacant positions has fallen considerably, the share of businesses looking for workers to fill positions has also fallen. At the same time the number of workers leaving their jobs has increased, mainly those leaving due to cutbacks. The real wage continued to decline in the period reviewed January to April 2003. The overall average real wage in Israel went down by 5.8-5.9% in the business sector and 5.4 percent in the public sector.

The reduction reflected a decline in the nominal wage after years of rises even at times of troughs in activity, and is mainly an indication of the degree of slack in the labor market. In addition, the reduction in the real wage reflected unexpected inflation in 2002. The reduction in the wage does not yet reflect the cut in the public-sector wage approved as part of the economic package (the Economic Arrangements Law).

The Israeli capitalists want to save themselves

The slump in the Israeli capitalist economy has been caused by many factors, first and foremost the deep and overwhelming crisis of the capitalist system on a world scale, but also by the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip, the high spending in maintaining the occupation of those territories and the enormous public funding which is being assigned for the development of the illegal settlements.

The Israeli bourgeoisie understands that without some dramatic step that will change the situation, the development of a revolutionary situation in Israel is only a matter of time. They observe very carefully what has been happening in places like Bolivia and they are scared. Thus, while the right wing of the Israeli bourgeoisie is providing full-time support to Sharon's nationalist adventures in Syrian territory and in Gaza. The so-called "left" wing of the Israeli bourgeoisie understands the significance of a new war in the Middle East and what effect this could have on the fragile pro-imperialist Arab regimes. This wing hopes that some agreement would open for them the Arab markets and thus supports initiatives like the Geneva Accords.

Furthermore, the Geneva Accords are different from any other "peace" initiative reached by Israeli and Palestinian "leftists" in the past. They include not only a clear abandonment of the historic right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland; they provide for full recognition of the Zionist state. In this sense, Beilin and Co., have managed to get something which was never achieved by Israeli governments and negotiators in the past: a complete and full sell-out of the Palestinian national interests. The Israeli concessions are painful in the eyes of the nationalists, but in reality the Zionist movement has won historic gains. According to the agreements, the Palestinian national liberation movement has no right to reclaim lands stolen by the Zionists in 1948. The innocents who were expelled by the Zionists during the 1948 war will remain without any opportunity to fulfill their historic right to return to their homeland.

Nevertheless, the assertion that the betrayal of the Palestinian bourgeoisie and the new course of the Zionist left will be able to soften the class struggle and to stabilize the capitalist system is, in the best case, an illusion. The new "peace" accords are a total sell-out of the Palestinian national interests. According to the reaction of the Arab press the Palestinian masses do not accepts this betrayal.

There is no reason to believe that among the 40 % who show support for the accords there are many workers. Support for Sharon is falling, but the workers do not see the Zionist Labor party as their own party. Unlike the British Labour Party there is no organic link between the Zionist Labor Party and the trade unions, not to speak of the fact that the workers remember that only until recently the Zionist Labor party was a partner in this government and was equally responsible for the attacks on the workers' historical gains. The Israeli workers and youth will also not gain any thing from these “accords”.

In short very few Israeli workers - who are now in combative mood against the bosses - believe, ten years after the Oslo Accords, that another dubious deal will improve their life. Also ordinary Israelis don't trust the PLO, and rightly so. On the other side, no Palestinian Arab has any trust in the Labor party and co., which created the conditions for the eruption of the Intifada: i.e. daily abuse by IDF soldiers, cruel occupation, ongoing siege, unemployment, starvation, misery, diseases… Thus this latest "peace initiative" is no more than a phantom. Some layers of the middle classes may like, but it will lead to the same place that the Oslo accords led the masses – to a dead end.

Unfortunately, the reformist leadership of the Communist Party of Israel instead of fighting for a policy of working class independence from all the parties of the bosses, has decided to support the Geneva Accords. In the Hebrew language weekly bulletin of the party, the Political Bureau (PB) announced that the Geneva Accords show that "we have someone with whom to talk" and it stressed that almost 40% of the Israelis think that the Palestinians are partners for peace.

The PB of the party is of the opinion that the “Geneva accords are a real contribution in the fight against the criminal government of Sharon. The PB sees an improvement in this document as it does not begin with the denunciation of Terror but with a call to end the occupation of 1967 and the establishment of a Palestinian state along side Israel. The PB is calling for a holding of the hand of all who are against this government. " In the entire document there is not one word of criticism of these Accords.

This support for the Geneva Accords has historic significance. First, it rejects the historic claim of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Second, it accept the legitimacy of the existence of Israel as a Zionist state, i.e. as a state for the "Jewish people" (not the Israeli-Jewish people) based on the class collaborationist ideology of the Zionist movement. This is a reformist, anti-Marxist approach of the Communist Party leadership. The CP should not tail after the Palestinian bourgeoisie or the Zionist left but should base itself on the growing militancy of the working class and adopt a clear class agenda based on the heritage of Marxism.

Which way forward?

Amir Peretz 
Chair of the Histradut
The next few weeks will be a test for the Israeli working class. In response to the governmental austerity policies, the Histadrut (the Israel trade union federation) chairperson, Amir Peretz MP promised that any general strike would not be lengthy; rather, it would be "short and painful." The Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, on his part, threatened that the government would take legal action against the unions if the general strike does go forward.
In addition, the National Students Association announced that university students would come out on strike on Sunday, the first day of their new academic year, because of the government's refusal to include a reduction in tuition fees in its 2004 budget. For now, the NSA has only planned for a one-day strike, but it will consider a longer action should there be no positive response from the treasury during the first 10 days of classes. Under a multi-year plan adopted by the cabinet in 2001, university tuition costs was supposed to be gradually cut by half over a five-year period. Due to the economic crisis, however, the government decided not to continue the reductions in 2004, which means that tuition fees will remain at their present level of about NIS 9,000 a year for bachelor students and NIS 11,000 for master's students.

The Histadrut set the strike date Thursday, after weeks of threatening to launch a wide-ranging strike that would virtually shut down the country. A general strike would include workers at the Israel Electric Corporation, Mekorot Water Company, airports authority, seaports, banks, and Egged and Dan bus companies. Meanwhile, civil servants have not been serving the public in person or on the telephone, to protest treasury plans to merge various government agencies in an effort to cut costs. They say that the mergers will result in the dismissal of some 600 employees.

Haaretz daily reported, "Peretz and Netanyahu met for a short time Thursday in an attempt to reach an agreement that could prevent the general strike, but did not reach any breakthrough. After the talks ended, Peretz set the stage for ongoing discord, expressing his suspicion of Netanyahu. 'I am filled with doubt regarding the finance minister's intentions when he conducts negotiations,' Peretz said after the meeting. 'I'm coming to the meetings with the finance minister, but certainly I very, very much don't believe the things that are said.’ After Thursday's meeting Netanyahu said that the government would not permit a 'mega-strike,' and would make every effort to reach an agreement, Israel Radio reported. Netanyahu initiated the meeting in response to a list of demands presented to him by Peretz earlier this week".

The role of the Marxists in Israel will be to advance a clear perspective for the working class. We should raise the demand that the union leaders call a strong 24-hour general strike. For this to happen there is a need to elect workers' action committees in each factory and office, and to create a general movement of the working class with the participation of all the sections of society under attack by the government - pensioners, single parents, people with disabilities, parents of children in schools, the neighborhoods - on a program that combines demands for reforms with demands that will bring the working class to power. None of the immediate problems faced by the workers in Israel today can be solved unless the economy is nationalized under democratic workers’ control and management. What needs to be done is to transform the strike declared by the Histadrut into a powerful tool that will not only remove Sharon and Netanyahu from their posts, but will also bring an end to the exploitative capitalist system itself.

The coming period will put the leadership of the Communist Party of Israel to the test. Will the Israeli communists in the CPI and their allies in Hadash contribute to this effort and carry forward the struggle for the transformation of the party into a mass workers' party with class based, socialist, policies or will remain it remain on the sidelines of history? That can only be answered by the ranks of the CPI and Hadash who must take these organizations and push them in the right direction.

The only way for genuine peace is through proletarian internationalism. Peace between the masses, not between the bourgeois leaderships. Unity of the working classes in power, not separation of steel walls and fences. National autonomy for Jews and Arabs within a socialist federation, not Apartheid and bloody nationalism. This is the essence of the socialist perspective.

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