Israel eventually pulled out its troops from Gaza on Monday morning - after a five-day-long offensive in which 110 Palestinians and two IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) soldiers were killed. The IDF chief of staff officially claimed that 90% of all casualties were amongst combatants, but this claim was immediately exposed as a blatant lie from a detailed report released by the Israeli civil rights organisation B'Tselem that showed that more than 50 percent of the Palestinian victims were civilians, including several children, such as the four killed while playing football on Thursday, February 28th.
The bloody and indiscriminate show of strength by Israel has been so evident that US representatives had to resort to their power of veto to prevent a resolution of condemnation being passed in the UN Security Council.
Although "limited" in scale, the invasion of Gaza has been brutal and ruthless. The advancing Israeli army has provoked an outburst of outrage amongst the Palestinian masses, and if we have to give credit to the official aims set for the mission, we have to say that Israel has failed in its attempt to undermine support for Hamas or secure its territory from the threat of Qassam rockets. On the contrary, Israel's withdrawal was greeted by massive demonstrations of tens of thousands of Hamas and Fatah supporters in Gaza and in the West Bank on Monday. Hamas is claiming the IDF pullout as a victory and the firing of rockets went on as usual.
From the point of view of ordinary people in Israel nothing has been solved by this military adventure and in spite of the lack of alternatives, surveys showed that more than two thirds of Israeli citizens are in favour of a negotiated deal with Hamas. Confidence in the government's ability to deal with security and in the armed forces have reached an historical low point after the recent defeat in Lebanon and has never recovered since then.
Israel's pullout will not mean that the military pressure on this crowded strip of Palestinian land is over. As we correctly pointed out after the unilateral withdrawal in 2005 and the removal of 8000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza strip, this was by no means to be regarded as the end of Israel's interference in Gaza. The economic stranglehold of Israel over Gaza's weak economy was revealed by the devastating effects of the embargo decided by Israel in retaliation for Hamas' take over of Gaza last year. But although relying on an almighty economic and military superiority, Tel Aviv's strategy of undermining Hamas' support by turning Gaza into a "living hell" has failed miserably.
Gaza is indeed a "living hell", but the plight of the masses, that cannot be demonstrated solely by economic figures anymore, has left no alternative to them than to go on defying Israel's rule. They have nothing left to lose and 1.5 million people living in the Gaza strip cannot disappear just because it would be convenient for Israel.
The high echelons of the ruling class in Tel Aviv are playing with fire and are reacting empirically every time they get burned. Deep divisions have arisen at every turning point and this military adventure seems to be a desperate attempt to achieve unity.
On the one hand they cannot afford social unrest within Israel to come to the surface, so they constantly need an external threat in order to rally the Israeli workers in support of the Zionist state. In this respect Hamas' policies provide the best possible enemy the Zionist leaders could choose.
All tactics of indiscriminate attacks against Israeli people - like the firing of rockets against the civilian population of Sderot and neighbouring cities and suicide bombings - therefore play into the hands of the Israeli ruling class. We have to ask how much harm to Israeli imperialism was achieved by the 6000 to 7000 Qassam rockets fired randomly during the last seven years across the borders of Gaza against Israel. The reply is: absolutely none. On the contrary the Israeli ruling class welcomes these kinds of attacks, as they can be used to divert attention internally against the social problems affecting ordinary Israelis and unite them behind the Zionist bloc.
The Zionists gain strength from the idea of Israel being surrounded by enemies and hostile populations. This "siege mentality" ties the Jewish workers to the Zionist state. Since the birth of Israel 60 years ago this has been the main weapon in the hands of a weak, US-dependent bourgeoisie and has transformed Israel into the mightiest regional imperialist power in the Middle East.
On the other hand, in the recent period we have seen how any attempt to use the powerful military machine of the Zionist state has exposed the weaknesses of Israel and the inability of Israel's ruling class to rule over the Palestinian masses under an iron heel.
While pulling out, the Israeli government announced that Israeli forces would continue to strike hard at Hamas, targeting Hamas' leaders and no military option would be ruled out by the Israeli authorities, including an all-out invasion of the Gaza strip. But more than Hamas, what Olmert aimed to smash under his iron heel is the Palestinian people in Gaza.
The Israeli ruling class has no interest in peace and has everything to gain from a permanent state of war, which gives them a stronger grip over the Israeli population and widespread support for military action, but their inability to win this war and smash the defiance of the Palestinian masses will inevitably lead to a new round of "Peace" talks brokered by US imperialism. No illusion that a solution could emerge from these talks should be harboured by anyone.
The life of hundreds of Palestinians and even the life of the residents of Sderot or any other Israeli citizens which the Israeli governments claims to defend with this military operation - officially aimed at stopping the constant firing of Qassam rockets - are nothing but small change in the cynical game of the Israeli ruling class.
These developments have put into jeopardy the US-led strategy of a settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority based on the collaboration of Fatah leader Abu Mazen with the Israeli government through the Annapolis talks. Abu Mazen has been until now a loyal partner for imperialism, but even he cannot afford to ignore the wave of outrage that the IDF's attack on Gaza has provoked among the Palestinian population and throughout the Arab world. As a consequence he was forced, at least temporarily, to break off talks with Israel. When faced with a choice, the US government cannot afford to step back from supporting its main ally in the region even when it threatens to put them in a difficult position. This gives the Israeli ruling class more room for manoeuvre than it has ever had before.
Ironically this is one of the unforeseen side effects of imperialist intervention in the Middle East. For the last 60 years the Israeli ruling class has been showing the whole world that they pursue their own agenda. In the last years Israel has gained more autonomy as the USA was dragged deeper and deeper into the Iraqi quagmire. Israel is still the main ally of US imperialism in the Middle East, but for this same reason, as the whole region is becoming more and more unstable because of the imperialist occupation of Iraq, the Israeli ruling class has gained more power to pursue its own agenda.
Imperialist "Peace" prepares war
Imperialist strategy has always been one of "Divide and Rule". So called "Peace talks" have no other meaning than to pursue the same aims that cannot be achieved with military means through other means and inevitably prepare new wars. After the Oslo agreements of 1993, the birth of the Palestinian Authority marked a change. Unable to maintain direct rule over the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli ruling class had to concede formal autonomy to the Palestinians. But soon it became evident that this was nothing more than a mortal trap for the Palestinian masses.
The leadership of the PLO was granted limited power in order to secure the policing of the Palestinian masses under the patronage of Israel, the Arab reactionary regimes and US imperialism. The Palestinian masses did not experience any real change and witnessed their leaders gaining huge privileges, engaging in large-scale corruption, while the conditions for the overwhelming majority went from bad to worse.
This widespread disillusionment in the historical leadership of the Palestinians, in the absence of any alternative, was the fuel for Hamas' rise in Gaza and the West Bank and eventually ended up in a disaster for the Palestinian people with last year's civil war between Hamas and Fatah and the partition of the Palestinian authority.
After 15 years of "Peace process" the Palestinian masses have gained nothing but massive suffering from this so called "independence" and the "two states solution" on a capitalist basis. As the Annapolis talks clearly demonstrated, the Israeli ruling class is not prepared to give any serious concession to the Palestinian people. And in the unlikely event that a rotten deal is reached, it will inevitably be a new trap for the Palestinian masses. There is no fundamental difference between the leaders of Fatah and Hama. They both have no alternative to offer other than defending capitalism. Imperialism will try to use one against the other in order to preserve their rule.
When confronting a military aggression like the one waged by Israel against Gaza, as Socialists we have to oppose it with all our strength. The international working class and its organisations cannot be neutral in the case of imperialist intervention and must support the right of the Palestinian people to control their own destinies without imperialist interference.
At the same time we have to say that in spite of all the rhetoric, the so called "armed struggle" against Israel has achieved nothing apart from strengthening the Israeli state and divide the working class along national lines. Both the Palestinian and Israeli workers have seen their lives turned into a nightmare of capitalist exploitation, wars and declining living standards.
The necessity to resort to "Peace talks" has been evoked by US imperialism, and as usual embraced by most of the leaders of the international Left. Our duty as Marxists is to fight against illusions that so called "Peace talks" on a capitalist basis could provide a way out of this nightmare. They are not an alternative. They are nothing but the continuation of war by other means and inevitably prepare new wars.
The only alternative for the Palestinian people will emerge through the mass struggle, not from policies that zigzag between so-called "armed struggle" and capitalist diplomacy, and it doesn't make any difference whether these policies are carried out by Fatah and the PLO leadership or by Hamas.
A balance sheet of the last 20 years, including 15 years of so-called "independence" shows that the biggest threat to capitalist rule was posed by the 1987 first Intifada, when the uprising of the unarmed Palestinian workers and youth in the Occupied Territories shook the Zionist state and provoked a wave of sympathy throughout the Middle East. It managed to achieve what was unthinkable before, the solidarity and sympathy of important sections of the Israeli working class, starting with the Israeli Palestinians and the Sephardi Jews that make up the majority of the Israeli working class, that part of the population that is suffering the major effects of increased capitalist exploitation even during the boom and which will have to face major attacks as the world economic crisis hits Israel.
A new wave of class struggle is developing throughout the Middle East. Everywhere the working masses face the same scenario of capitalist crisis, war, attacks to their living standards, inflation and increased exploitation. The explosion of the class struggle in one of the key countries, especially in Egypt, will bring the task of socialist transformation and the overthrow of capitalism back onto the agenda in one country after another.
Faced with a new and bigger Intifada, imperialist rule and capitalism in the Middle East would suffer a major blow and the whole scenario would change. It is our duty as Marxists to be prepared for this new situation.