Palestinian elections under Israeli bayonets

Thursday, January 6, 2005

On January 9, Palestinians living in the occupied territories will elect the president of the Palestinian Authority. At the end of January the Iraqis living under the Anglo-American imperialist occupation will elect a new puppet government. In the present conditions that actually exist in both countries the idea that these elections will somehow be “free and fair” is somewhat of a joke, and a rather bad one at that.

On January 9, Palestinians living in the occupied territories will elect the president of the Palestinian Authority. This will be the second general election in nearly eight years. At the end of January the Iraqis living under the Anglo-American imperialist occupation will elect a new puppet government.

In the present conditions that actually exist in both countries – military occupation, continuing impoverishment, corruption, massive CIA infiltration, propaganda and manipulation – the idea that these elections will somehow be “free and fair” is somewhat of a joke, and a rather bad one at that. In both countries the imperialists are supporting unpopular candidates who will have a very hard time winning no matter how much help and money come their way.

In Iraq opposition is so widespread that the call to boycott the elections is bound to have a big impact. In occupied Palestine it is a little different, as it seems that most Palestinians are eager to vote after so many years of military occupation. They desperately want to express their views and thus they entertain parliamentary illusions even when the elections will be held under Israeli bayonets.

How many will vote?

For Marxists the question of parliamentary elections is a tactical one. When the majority of the workers and peasants have parliamentary illusions we help them to see through these illusions but at the same time we do not boycott the elections. In situations where we are not strong enough to run our own candidates as representatives of a mass party, we critically support the candidates of the reformist workers’ parties as a way of posing the necessity for the independence of the working class against the capitalist class.

From what we have learned about the will of most Palestinians regarding these forthcoming elections we can conclude that most of the Palestinians do wish to vote.

On December 28, 2004, the PCHR (Palestine Centre for Human Rights) published a report evaluating the pre-election stage, including conclusions of the monitoring conducted by the PCHR on the registration of voters in the last quarter of 2004. In the conclusion of the report, the PCHR has made the following observation:

“By the end of the extended period, the percentage of registered voters mounted to 71%, while it was 61.37% at the end of the original period of registration, 4 September to 13 October 2004, including occupied East Jerusalem. With the exclusion of Jerusalem, the percentage of registered voters would be 67%. Although the number of registered citizens who have the right to vote is not clear after deleting names of those who will not reach the age of 18 on the day of the ballot, the percentage of registered voters is low, especially if we take into consideration the steps taken by the CEC to urge people to register and raise their awareness on the importance of this process and political participation.”

The same observation was made by the EU Election Observation Mission’s Chief Observer, Mr. Michel Rocard, Member of the European Parliament, the former Prime Minister of France.

However, the same PCHR report went on to explain that:

“The main problem is related to the method pursued for voter registration, which depended on self-registration of voters, that is, they had to go to registration centers to register their names. This method is followed in many countries, but its success requires two things, among others: 1) the existence of an appropriate and encouraging political environment; and 2) a clear timetable for the election process, including the date of polling. In countries that witness democratic reform, the state intervenes at this stage and the registration process is not solely centered on self-initiative.”

Thus although there are contradictory messages coming across here, it is clear that a large majority of the Palestinian population have taken the step to assure that they are registered to vote.

The two main candidates in this race are Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, and Mustafa Al-Barghuthi, the cousin of Marwan Al-Barghuthi held in prison by Israel. So far Abbas has clearly been backed by Bush and Sharon and – from their point of view – for a good reason.

Mahmoud Abbas was recently selected as the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). As the sole candidate of Fatah, the faction that dominates the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA), he is almost certain to be elected on January 9 as president of the PA, replacing Yasir Arafat in both key positions.

The man who has replaced Arafat has been considered by the imperialists as the most “reasonable” man. For a long time he has been known as a person who is prepared to give in on final status issues, such as Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and the character of the Palestinian state. He made a secret agreement with Israel’s former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin in October 1995, which has since become the model for the “generous offers” at Camp David, the Clinton proposals and the Geneva Initiative. This agreement accepts 130 Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands remaining where they are and being “removed” from Palestinian land only by virtue of their annexation to Israel!

Mahmoud Abbas

The same agreement also allowed for Israeli military forces to stay in the Jordan Valley. But worse still was the acceptance on the part of Abbas that the village of Abu Dis be cunningly renamed “Al Quds” – the Arabic name for Jerusalem – and this would be made the capital of the Palestinian state, while Jerusalem would simply be surrendered completely to Israel.

Another reason why Western admirers are happy with Abbas is his declared opposition to all forms of Palestinian violence against Israel. Long before he was briefly prime minister, he was campaigning against “the arming of the Intifada,” and lamenting the “great damage” the Intifada had caused the Palestinians.

It was on the basis of this track record that Arafat came under immense Western pressure to appoint Abbas as his prime minister. Arafat himself was declared persona non grata by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the United States.

Abbas told UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that he hoped the PA would soon be able to announce, “an end to all military actions, full calm, a full end to violence... What is needed is a comprehensive and complete calm throughout the occupied territories... cooling down in Gaza, the West Bank and everywhere.” (The Independent, 26 November 2004)

What Abbas is offering de facto is a complete and unconditional end to all armed resistance and self-defence against Israeli aggression in exchange for Israel, American and European backing. In his statements he confuses terror against innocent Israeli civilians with guerrilla warfare. This is the same confusion the biggest terrorist state in the world – the US – seeks to sow in the minds of the people around the world.

On the other hand, Israel’s mass terror against an entire population, in pursuit of land theft, looting and pillage, is not only tolerated but also presented as legitimate “self-defence”. But any kind of opposition by the victims is considered illegitimate.

No wonder, therefore, that Abbas is considered by the imperialists as a good man, a man they can do business with. However, even Abbas is beginning to learn – like Arafat before him – that he faces an impossible task. The Palestinians cannot accept their endless oppression, no matter what language the oppressors use to sweeten this reality. The imperialists on the other hand are demanding absolute obedience.

It is this difficult position for Abbas that explains the confidence of his opponent Mustafa Al-Barghuthi, the independent Palestinian presidential contestant, who has stated that he can beat Abbas in the January 9 election. Speaking during an election rally in the town of Dura, 45kms southwest of Jerusalem, in December, Al-Barghuthi said:

“The results of the municipal elections prove that all the opinion polls we had seen were false. So don’t trust these polls. Instead I urge you to work with me to create a new leadership that will feel and identify with the pain of our people, not the pain of others.”

Those remarks can be understood if we recall Abbas’ Aqaba speech of June 4, 2003 (when he was Palestinian Authority prime minister) in which he said he understood and was saddened by the suffering Jews had endured throughout history. Al-Barghuthi stated that Palestinians on January 9 will choose not only a person but also a system of thinking and a plan of action:

“It is not a matter of choosing between two personalities and two characters... What you have to do on 9 January is to choose between two approaches, an approach based on concession and capitulation, and another approach based on clinging to our national constants and inalienable rights.”

Al-Barghuthi added: “We don’t need a leader who will control us, because we are all languishing under the Israeli occupation. We need a leader who will lead us to freedom and liberation.” He made it clear that he was not running against Fatah as such, stating that the movement had in its ranks “many good and patriotic people”.

He added that Palestinians should never sit down alone with Israel at the negotiating table. “This is like entrusting the lamb to the tiger. We know what would happen in such a situation. Hence, we must insist on an international conference based on UN resolutions and the ruling of the International Court of Justice at The Hague.”

Al-Barghuthi said his first decree would be to dismantle the Palestinian Legislative Council, which was no longer legitimate since it had outlived its usefulness and term of office.

Al-Barghuthi’s support seems to be steadily growing, with nearly 18% of respondents saying they support him. According to some experts Al-Barghouthi could pose a serious challenge to Abbas if the main Palestinian Islamic movements – Hamas and its junior sister movement, the Islamic Jihad, have decided to boycott the presidential elections – decided to support him.

From a class point of view there is no reason to support Abbas or Al-Barghuthi. Both are candidates who support the imperialist order and compete with each other to see who will act as the better servant of the imperialists.

The rulers of Israel so far have thrown their weight behind Abbas, but it is still to be seen how long this will last.

The Israeli intervention

The official Palestinian presidential election campaign had hardly begun in early December, but Israel had already begun to impose restrictions on Palestinian movement. The rulers of Israel were officially promising freedom of movement, but in practice this has not been the case. An example of this is what happened to Mustafa Barghouthi and his campaign delegation when they were detained at the Jaba checkpoint outside of Jenin in early December while they were attempting to travel home to Ramallah. The group was forced to lay down on the ground at gunpoint for over an hour, despite Barghouthi’s VIP status!

In a press conference Barghouthi said that the Israeli soldiers manning the checkpoint began to act aggressively towards the delegation once Barghouthi had identified himself to the soldiers. His colleagues were pushed to the ground at gunpoint, and that after he tried to assist Dr. Allam Jarrar, who suffers from heart disease, Barghouthi was subjected to beating by the soldiers. Some members of the group were beaten with the Israeli soldiers’ rifle butts.

Barghouthi explained back then that this was the third instance in which his campaign was denied freedom of movement. He reminded the audience at the press conference that the presidential candidates (except for Fatah nominee and favourite Mahmoud Abbas) were not allowed to travel freely to Gaza or East Jerusalem. And to travel within the West Bank, Israel was demanding that campaign delegations arranged their movements with the Israelis beforehand!

Describing the restriction of movement imposed on the Palestinian population by the Israeli occupiers as a form of humiliation, Barghouthi said, “If that’s what they're doing to me ... imagine what they're doing to an isolated Palestinian person [without VIP status]. How can we have a democratic process if people are blocked in these prisons [between the checkpoints] and only certain candidates can move?”

It is clear that the presidential candidates have been denied freedom of movement within the occupied territories, but the same limitations, and more, are imposed on Palestinian voters. Those who hold ID cards for governorates other than the ones where they reside (many Palestinian workers live away from their families in the governorates where they work because they don’t possess proper ID to travel from one area to another) will face difficulty casting a ballot in their proper electoral district.

Thus, although formally giving assurances for correct democratic procedures, the Israeli authorities have continued to hamper the process, restricting the rights of Palestinians and thus leaving a big question on the real value of these elections.

For how long will Israel back Abbas?

The popular pressure on Abbas is increasing with every defeat the American occupying forces suffer in Iraq. For this reason Abbas has been forced in the last few days to put up a mask of a militant rather than a collaborator. This has clearly begun to irritate the rulers of Israel. On Friday, December 31, in southern Gaza, two more Palestinians were killed in an Israeli missile strike. Early on Thursday morning, December 30, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) killed 5 Palestinians, including a child and a disabled young man, and injured 11 Palestinian civilians, including 3 children and a woman. IOF have also destroyed a number of houses. These attacks have been launched during an ongoing offensive by IOF on the Khan Yunus refugee camp and the al-Amal neighbourhood in Khan Yunis.

The IOF raided a number of houses in the al-Amal neighbourhood and transformed their roofs into military positions. Soon, a number of members of the Palestinian resistance clashed with IOF in Khan Yunis refugee camp. One member of the resistance, Yahia Joma'a Abu Bakra, 32, was killed by a live bullet in the chest during these clashes. Nearly half an hour later, the Israeli air force fired a missile at a number of members of the Palestinian resistance who were near Haroun al-Rashid School in the al-Amal neighbourhood. One member of the resistance, Sami Mohammed Khudair, 20, was killed by shrapnel throughout the body, and 2 civilians, including a child, were injured.

In his visit to the refugee camp in Khan Yunis, Abbas praised the fighters who had used their weapons to resist the Israeli Occupation. A day earlier, during a visit to the Jenin refugee camp, Abbas rode on the shoulders of Zakaria Zubeidi, the local leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, an armed group with ties to the Fatah party, prompting speculation as to whether he was playing campaign politics or identifying with military groups.

Abbas won Zubeidi’s endorsement. After Abbas left the stage, Zubeidi, with his gunmen firing in the air, warned that he would deal with anyone who tried to challenge the elected Palestinian leadership. In his address, Abbas referred to the 2002 battle, in which 52 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers were killed, recalling that Yasser Arafat called the camp “Jeningrad.” The crowd responded with cheers.

“When we demand security,” Abbas said, “we demand it for all our citizens, including our wanted brothers who also deserve a life of security and safety,” he said in a clear reference to Zubeidi and his group.

Palestinian advisers explained that Abbas needs to win the election with a landslide if he wants to capture even part of the popular backing Yasser Arafat had. This possibly explained his trip to the camp and his public embrace of Zubeidi.

Aide Ahmed Subah explained that Abbas, “has a programme and he’s explaining his programme to his audience,” varying the message according to the audience he is talking to. Subah added that the “real Abu Mazen,” Abbas’ nickname, is intent on “ending the Israeli occupation through peaceful negotiations, attaining security for Palestinian citizens and achieving reform and development.”

The reaction among Israeli officials was one of caution. Sharon’s officials refused to comment, but the chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, Yuval Steinitz, advised caution in seeing Abbas as a ticket to a quick peace agreement. The new attacks of Israel on Gaza were probably a warning message to Abbas. But these can have the opposite effect to that desired. Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned the Israeli attack on Kahn Younis: “I believe that this escalation, one week before the presidential election is seriously undermining this election.” What this expresses is worry on the part of the Abbas camp that Israeli attacks can only serve to further radicalise the situation to the advantage of Al-Barghuthi.

So where do Marxists stand in these elections? While the Marxists oppose both of the two main bourgeois candidates our position is to give critical support to the two left parties who are running in these elections. Bassam Ahmad Omar A Salhi is running for the People’s Party of Palestine (the ex-Stalinist party). “Mohammad Sa’adeh” Ahmad Mahmoud Oudeh and Tayseer Khaled is running for the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The PFLP is not running and it is calling for the support for Al-Barghuthi.

Thus, while the Marxists do not oppose the elections on January 9 in the Israeli occupied lands, we demand that the Israeli occupying army leaves immediately the occupied territories captured in 1967. Elections under bayonets are a farce. A genuine democratic expression of the will of the Palestinian people can only come about when they have real control over their own destiny. And this can only come about through the class struggle, the struggle to overthrow capitalism in the whole region. As long as capitalism survives in the region, imperialism will dominate – and imperialism will never give the Palestinians a genuine homeland.

January 6, 2004

Appendix:

The national question cannot be solved by the bourgeois under the decaying capitalist order. In February 2000 long before the current Intifada began, in Marxism and the national question, Part Five: The nation state today, Alan Woods and Ted Grant wrote these lines that have proven themselves. Just change the names and the dates and you will realize the power of Marxist analysis.

“The Palestinian Question

“The national question is crucial to the Middle East, above all the Palestinian question. After decades of national oppression at the hands of the Israeli imperialists, the Palestinian masses have a burning sense of injustice, expressed in the desire for their own homeland. That is their inalienable right, which Marxists will uphold and fight for. However, the experience of the last thirty years should provide us with some necessary lessons. The petty bourgeois nationalist leaders of the PLO held out the idea that they could obtain self-determination by means of a so-called armed struggle against Israel. In practice this boiled down to simple acts of individual terrorism, bombings, kidnappings, hijacking aircrafts, etc. These actions did not weaken Israel in the slightest degree. On the contrary. To the degree that they persuaded ordinary Israelis that the intention was to “drive the Jews into the sea”, they pushed the population into the arms of reaction. Far from weakening the Israeli state, they strengthened it.

“The tactics of the PLO leaders led the Palestinians to one defeat after another. First, they were crushed by King Hussein of Jordan in 1970, although they could easily have taken power in that country. Subsequently they repeated the same story in the Lebanon, and helped to provoke a bloody civil war and Israeli and Syrian intervention into the bargain. And while they continued to meddle with the disastrous tactics of individual terrorism, they had no strategy for an uprising of the masses on the West Bank itself. When the Intifada finally broke out, Arafat and the PLO leadership played no real role in it. The Palestinian youth had to face the might of the Israeli military machine, unarmed except for sticks and stones. Despite this, the mass movement on the West Bank did more for the Palestinian cause in a few months than Arafat and co. had achieved in thirty years.

“The “concessions” offered by Tel Aviv were not at all the result of the actions of the PLO exiles. They were partly the result of the Intifada, which shook Israeli society and attracted the sympathetic attention of the whole world. But they were also the reflection of the new world situation. Since the collapse of Stalinism, the world balance of forces has been changed. The USA has achieved a crushing dominance on a world scale. This means that Washington is no longer so dependent on Israel as during the Cold War. US imperialism has vital economic and strategic interests in the Middle East, which means that it has an interest in shoring up Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia, and in maintaining stability in the region. Therefore Washington has put pressure on Tel Aviv to reach a compromise with the Palestinians and the neighbouring Arab states. And Arafat jumped with alacrity to accept what was offered. Having failed for decades to advance the Palestine cause one step, the PLO leaders were greedy to enjoy the “fruits of office” which had been conquered by the people. What they accepted amounted to a betrayal of the national struggle of the Palestinians.

“Washington hoped to establish stability in the area by forcing through a compromise. However, the national question is notoriously volatile and complex, and explosive situations created by imperialism in the past cannot always be easily defused by imperialism when it changes its mind. Just as British imperialism created a Frankenstein monster in the North of Ireland, which it cannot now control, so the American imperialists now find that, having built up a client state in Israel, the puppet does not always dance when the strings are pulled. The Israeli ruling class has its own interests, which may, or may not, correspond to those of the USA. Thus, the so-called Peace Deal in the Middle East is in serious difficulties. None of the fundamental problems have been solved.

“As predicted by the Marxists, the deal signed by Arafat with the Israelis was a trap for the Palestinian people. This is not self-determination but only a miserable caricature and a fraud. The new Palestinian entity is a truncated abortion, with Gaza separated from the West Bank and Jerusalem still firmly under Israeli control. There are all sorts of humiliating conditions attached. To make matters worse, large numbers of Jewish settlers remain and act as a continual provocation to the Palestinians. In effect, the so-called Palestinian Authority is just a tool of Israel, which in practice, continues to dominate. The conditions of the Arab masses on the West Bank and Gaza are probably worse than before, with mass unemployment, especially among the youth. Israel can turn the screw at any time by closing the border, thus depriving the Palestinians who work in Israel of employment and bread. To make things worse, Arafat and his gang have formed themselves into a privileged bureaucratic elite who act as policemen for Tel Aviv, while filling their pockets at the expense of ordinary Palestinians.

“The deal that was brokered with a fanfare of trumpets under the pressure of Washington is breaking down. With the fall of Netanyahu and the election of a Labour government, Washington hoped that it would finally succeed in imposing its will. But the pressure of the Jewish settlers, as we predicted, has led to one crisis after another. The government of Tel Aviv, having failed to make any progress with the Palestinians, attempted to negotiate a deal with Syria over the Golan Heights. But no sooner was the question of handing back the Golan heights raised than there were mass demonstrations in Israel against it. The talks with Syria broke down, leading to a new outbreak of hostilities in South Lebanon.

“Most seriously, the growing discontent of the masses on the West Bank and in Gaza threatens to provoke a new Intifada. This is implicit in the situation. A new Intifada would contain a clear revolutionary potential, on one condition: that it possesses a firm revolutionary leadership that stands for an internationalist solution. On the basis of nationalism, no solution is possible. A far-sighted leadership would strive to link the revolutionary movement of the Palestinians with the movement of the Israeli working class. It would explain that the common enemy of both Arab and Israeli working people are the Israeli bankers and capitalists. It would make clear that the Palestinian revolutionary movement is not directed against ordinary Israeli citizens. It would systematically seek points of support in Israeli society: among the students and progressive youth, in the factories and army barracks. The central idea must be the necessity for a fundamental transformation of society, not only in Palestine but also in Israel, as the only way out of the impasse.

“The fate of the Palestinians has been a terrible tragedy. For more than 30 years, the Palestinians have been fighting for self-determination and where has it led on a nationalist basis? To a complete catastrophe and a betrayal. The lesson is clear and must be learnt: the national problem in Palestine cannot be solved on a capitalist basis. The only way to solve that problem would be by revolutionary means, by a socialist revolution in Israel and socialist revolutions in all the surrounding Arab countries, beginning with Jordan where the PLO could have taken power 30 years ago, if the PLO leaders had not betrayed the revolution. The only way to solve that problem is on the basis of the Socialist Federation of the Middle East with full autonomy for the Palestinians and also for the Israelis.

“Petty bourgeois cynics will say that this is not “practical”. But have we not seen enough of the kind of “practical” solutions advocated by these smart-Alecs over the past thirty years—and not just in the Middle East. Everywhere, without exception, these “practical” policies—which boil down to the madness of individual terrorism and nationalist stupidity—have brought nothing but disasters and betrayals. We see this yet again in the capitulation of the Kurdish nationalists leaders of the PKK and the sell-out of Mandela and Mbeki of the aspirations of the black proletariat in South Africa. Lenin was a thousand times correct when he poured scorn on the so-called “practical” policies of the nationalists. The plain fact is that the only way out for the Palestinians is on the basis of a revolutionary, internationalist class policy. Any other solution spells new disasters. The only really practical programme is the programme of socialist revolution.”

See also:


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