After the resignation of Abu Mazen - From Nationalism and Bloodshed to a Class Position

The resignation of Abu Mazen delivered a blow to the U.S. and Israel. The Israeli government has reacted furiously, deciding "in principle" to expel Arafat from Palestine. This threat last night brought thousands of Palestinians onto the streets to rally to his defence. The decision of the Israeli government could achieve the opposite effect to that desired, provoking an escalating spiral of bitter confrontation. Yossi Schwartz in Israel analyses the situation.

As we write this article, a Palestinian suicide bomber has just killed at least seven people and wounded 15 outside an Israeli army base near Tel Aviv (on Tuesday) in another shattering blow to the already crumbling U.S. plan to control the region, known as the "Road Map". It was the first suicide bombing since August 19, when a Hamas militant killed 22 people in Jerusalem after Israel's premier, Ariel Sharon, began to conduct his bloody assassination campaign to crush Hamas - a campaign which was highlighted by its attempt to kill the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

The late August bloodshed smashed a seven-week-old cease-fire declared by Islamic militant groups and hastened the resignation on Saturday of Mahmud Abbas (Abu-Mazen), who was nominated by U.S. President, George W. Bush, as the first Palestinian Prime Minister, leaving the U.S.-engineered "Road Map'' peace plan in shambles.

The resignation of Abu Mazen delivered a blow to the U.S. and Israel. Sharon and Bush had to watch while Arafat announced a caretaker cabinet, triggering off speculation as to who his candidate for prime minister would be. Following the resignation, the American administration quickly understood that the White House may need Arafat after all. Sharon, before he left for a visit to India, proclaimed that he did not expect Yasser Arafat to be expelled at this time. Sharon of course would love to discuss the proposals of his ministers to expel Arafat, as he did in the past, but now he has to take into account the Americans' objection to an Israeli move against the PA chairman for fear of the regional consequences.

The instability of the Middle East is growing on a daily basis, and Bush is beginning to understand that mass uprisings and upheavals are a real possibility in the not too distant future. The American officials, who only days ago announced that the Road Map is dead, quickly announced that the U.S. still adhered to the plan as the only genuine way of settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This, without raising any objection to the Israeli Defense Forces' war crimes in the Occupied Territories.

For many people who follow closely the political events in the Middle East, Ahmed Qureia's (known as Abu Alaa) nomination to the post of Prime Minister came as a surprise. To understand the political significance of this event we have to trace the development of the political events, in particular of the last few months.

History of Betrayal

Since the 1993 Oslo accords, the question was how long would it take before a new Intifada (uprising) would break out. The growing dissatisfaction of the masses in the West Bank and Gaza strip could easily be observed. This was implicit in the situation. Having failed for decades to advance the Palestine cause one step forward, the Palestinian Liberation Organization's leaders were more than happy to leave their exile in Tunisia and return to the occupied lands to enjoy the "fruits of office" which had been conquered by the people in the previous Intifada. What they accepted amounted to a betrayal of the national struggle of the Palestinians.

The deal signed by Arafat with the Israelis under the pressure of Washington's Clinton administration was a trap for the Palestinian people. This was not self-determination but only a miserable caricature of the Palestinian national aspirations and a genuine fraud. Gaza was separated forcibly from the West Bank, and East Jerusalem remained firmly subjected to Israeli occupation. Large numbers of ultra-right wing settlers remained and were not evacuated, and their existence was considered as continual provocation against the Palestinians. In effect, the so-called Palestinian Authority was simply a tool of Israel, which in practice it continues to dominate. The conditions of the Arab masses in the West Bank and Gaza after the so-called "peace agreement" became worse than before. The masses were starved and impoverished more than ever, and after the Islamic militants reacted by carrying out suicide bombing, mass unemployment began to grow - especially among the youth. Thus, more than 23.2% of the Palestinian population lived under the poverty line, and the average income is now US$2.1 per person - per day. 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.

On September 28, 2000, the Zionist Labour government led by former premier Ehud Barak could no longer prevent the outbreak of the new Intifada by diplomatic means. On February 6, 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister of Israel, with the full support of the ruling class and the Supreme Court of Israel, to use one of the strongest war machines in the history of mankind to break the struggle of an impoverished people lacking any kind of serious leadership, armed with small weapons, standing with courage against the Israeli American-made tanks and helicopters. To make things worse, due to the betrayal of the national struggle of the Palestinians by the secular PLO, the leadership of the resistance to the national oppression was left to the Islamic opposition of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. They were Reactionaries who want to erect a religious capitalist state similar to Iran while they use the weapon of indiscriminate terrorism against the Israeli working class innocents who are pushed to the hands of the Zionist nationalist reaction.

Since October 2000, the Palestinian people and the Israeli workers and poor have suffered a terrible blood letting as a result of the Israeli state terror and the Palestinian acts of individual terrorism. 2,603 Palestinians deaths, including 267 in assassination attacks or extrajudicial killings, were reported. 130 of these were bystanders or "unintended" victims, killed as they were with the victim. 31 of the victims were children and 24 were women. At least 85% were unarmed civilians. 550 of them were killed by heavy weapons. 1,577 were killed by live ammunition. At the same time around 850 Israelis were murdered - mostly civilians - in individual terrorist operations carried out by members of the Palestinian Islamic factions.

From Cease Fire to New Bloodshed

This endless killing and the destruction of the economy in the West bank-Gaza strip and in Israel, led to the cease-fire (known as the Hunda). Sensing the deepening tiredness of the Israeli population, Sharon was forced to accept an interruption in his plans to destroy the PA and expel Arafat, but he continued to act relentlessly with the aim of violating the Hunda by carrying out the policies of assassination of political and military leaders of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Like many rulers before him, who had become intoxicated by their own power, he convinced himself that he would be able to use the power of the Israeli war machine to destroy once and for all the Palestinian resistance to "Great Israel".

To carry out his plan, Sharon was ready to murder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin even if this meant a bloody religious war against the entire Muslim population across the Middle East. A few weeks ago, he indicated that he is contemplating an attack on Syria in order to eliminate Hamas leaders there.

From his part, George Bush has realized that the U.S. is getting involved in a new Vietnam-style war in Iraq. The financial and human costs of occupying Iraq and maintaining the newly American-nominated leadership are mounting inexorably. Soldiers of American and other coalition troops are being killed every day by Islamic-Iraqi militants. The American working class pays the price not only by sacrificing the blood of its sons, but also by sacrificing its standards of living, its gains and rights. This is exactly the same kind of price which the Israelis were told to pay by the Israeli austerity minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Although a defeat for Sharon and the collapse of his government are the most positive possibility for the Israeli workers and youth, we won't provide any support for the Palestinian bourgeoisie - including the "anti-imperialist" or the "anti-Zionist" factions of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades or the Islamic fundamentalists. As Marxists, we propose a different way for solving the crisis and stopping the bloodshed - a way which is based upon a class position in which the political independence of the working class is being upheld.

The Marxist Approach

Leon Trotsky as far back as the 1930s warned that the creation of a separate Jewish state in Palestine would end up being a cruel trap for the Jews. All the events of the past 50 years or more have amply demonstrated how true that was. When the state of Israel was originally set up the genuine Marxists opposed it and called for a unitary state with autonomy for the two peoples. However, things have moved on since. What has been done by history cannot be reversed. Israel now exists and several generations of Jews have been living there for some time and they have the right to a home just like anyone else. What they do not have the right to do conquer and oppress another people. Unfortunately this is what they are now doing to the Palestinians. The terrible oppression of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli state can only lead ever more bloodshed. In the long run this can lead to a terrible calamity for both peoples. Yes, Israel is a mighty military power, but for how long can they hold down the Palestinian people? Not forever. By crushing the Palestinians today the state of Israel is merely stoking up the fires of even greater and bloodier conflicts in the future.

In spite of the powerful military apparatus at the disposal of the Israeli state, they are incapable of guaranteeing ordinary Israeli people peace and tranquility. Each attack on the Palestinians provokes even more suicide attacks. These attacks may involve small numbers of suicide bombers but they are capable of disseminating terrible destruction and mayhem. They have de facto destroyed any kind of normal existence for ordinary people living in Israel. People in Israel are questioning the methods of their own state. Where is the security that their government promised them? Israel, instead of offering a safe haven for the Jews has indeed turned out to be the cruel trap which Trotsky had predicted it would be. There is no peace. People go about their daily lives worried about when the next attack will come. This is a parallel to the conditions faced by the Palestinians, who live in terror under the jackboot of the Israeli army. Of course the conditions facing the Palestinians are a hundred times worse than those in Israel.

Sharon is tempted to play the card of war against his Arab neighbours, in particular the Lebanon and Syria. If such a war were to take place it would end in defeat for the Arabs yet again. That is why all the Arab bourgeois regimes desperately want to avoid war. But they may not be able to avoid such a scenario. At least one section of the Israeli ruling class seems intent on provoking war. This is reflected also in a wing of the US ruling class, the most reactionary and obtuse wing. The US imperialists would prefer to hold the situation back, as they have enough on their hands with the situation in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But Sharon may have other ideas, for his own reasons.

The corrupt, reactionary leaders of the Arab regimes that might be involved in such a war fear the consequences for themselves should they be defeated once more. A defeat would provoke an explosive reaction among the masses of the whole of the Middle East, which could lead to the overthrow of one regime after another. This is precisely the nightmare that American imperialism would like to avoid.

The first task facing the Palestinian masses is to push the Israeli army out of Gaza and the West Bank. The struggle of the Palestinian people against Israeli occupation must be unconditionally supported by the workers of all countries. We demand the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people! But that is not enough. We have to pose how this is to be achieved.

On the basis of capitalism there is no solution, but continued wars, conflicts and national hatred. Therefore it is necessary to overthrow all the reactionary Arab regimes and Israeli imperialism. This can only be achieved through a social revolution. Some may say this is utopian and that Israeli imperialism is too strong or that the class struggle is off the agenda in the Middle East. On the surface this may seem to be the case. But we have to look below the surface at the underlying contradictions that are developing. Both in Israel and in the Arab countries unemployment is rising and the working masses are being asked to bear the brunt of the economic crisis. Therefore from a situation that may seem hopeless for anyone defending the ideas of genuine socialism, we will see at some point the inevitable eruption of the class struggle and revolutionary developments. Already in Israel we have signs of this with the recent general strike in the public sector.

At the beginning of the First World War the Bolsheviks were apparently completely isolated. The whole of Europe was being thrown into the barbarism of fratricidal war. In those dark days national chauvinism dominated. The Marxists were struggling to get their voice heard. But within a few years the whole situation was turned on its head. In Russia the workers were in power and a revolutionary wave swept across the whole of Europe, where the workers could have taken power if they had had a revolutionary leadership.

The war in Iraq has solved nothing. It has merely sowed the seed for even greater instability. Sharon may wish to divert the attention of the Israeli workers away from the social problems and channel them into national hatred and war. Other wars in the Middle East will solve nothing. The general instability that has afflicted the Middle East for decades has been the cause of many wars, but wars in their turn create even greater instability. They cannot remove the underlying causes of the conflict which derive from the capitalist system itself. The revolutionary movement of the masses is inevitable at some stage. The whole situation is preparing this. As Marxists we are absolutely confident that sooner or later the workers will move. The whole of history shows that the workers cannot be held down forever. What is lacking is a conscious Marxist leadership. It is necessary to build an internationalist tendency based on the fundamental ideas of Marxism. If such a force were built, both among the Israeli workers and the Arabs, then it would be possible to remove the fog of nationalism and chauvinism. It would stress the class issues and raise the call for a Socialist Federation of the Middle East as the only solution to the problems of the workers of all countries in the region.

We must not let ourselves be dragged down by the seemingly impossible situation. We must see the overall historical process as it is unfolding. The conditions for revolutionary developments are slowly but surely maturing. The very impasse facing the whole of the Middle East, with wars and bloody convulsions indicate quite clearly that that capitalism is incapable of eliminating the contradictions that are dragging society towards barbarism. That explains the present turmoil. But the eventually ordinary working people on both sides will tire of this tit-for-tat killing. They will see that it is a blind alley. The workers and youth on both sides will begin to look for an alternative to the impasse that capitalism presents them with. They will be asking many questions and we have to be ready to provide the answers.

The national question cannot be solved where there is class exploitation, where one nation dominates another. In the Middle East we have many peoples, the Jews and the Palestinians, the Druzes and the Copts, the Armenians and the Kurds. Each of these has a right to a homeland where they can live in peace. So long as the profit motive dominates, these rights cannot be granted. That is why the only solution lies in the setting up of a Socialist Federation of the Middle East. Within such a federation all the peoples would have their own designated territory, the boundaries of which would be amicably settled between them, once the workers are in power. The refugees would be able to return. The whole region would be able develop all its rich potential within a common socialist plan of production. Everyone would be able to work and poverty would be eradicated. The wealth, which is now in the hands of the few, would be used to solve all the social problems which are now at the root of the national conflict. Over a period of time the old national and religious hatreds would become a thing of the past.

Is this really a utopian dream? What is utopian is to believe that the present situation can go on forever. It is not the Marxists who are utopian. The utopians are on the other side of the barricade. If Sharon believes he can hold down a whole people by closing them in behind a wall, by bombing them and denying them all their basic rights then he is living in a dream world. If the Islamic fundamentalists believe they can remove Israel through suicide bombings then they are equally living in a dream world.

For decades Jews and Arabs have been killing each other and now this is getting worse with women, young children and old men being targeted on both sides. None of the so-called "peace agreements" have achieved anything. They cannot, for they cannot remove the underlying social contradictions created by an economic system based on exploitation and oppression. On the basis of capitalism, the situation can only get worse. It threatens all the peoples of the Middle East with a catastrophe.

All those thinking workers and youth, both in Israel and among the Arabs, who regard themselves as belonging to the left wing, have a big responsibility. In spite of the difficulties, we must fight against the stream. We must oppose national chauvinism and call for the unity of Jewish and Arab workers. We Marxists in Israel will fight with all our strength against the terrible oppression of the Palestinian people. While doing this we will explain to our Palestinian brothers and sisters that the only lasting solution to this bloody mess is to be found in the coming together of the working people of Israel and Palestine in a common struggle against capitalism and imperialism.