Middle East - On the brink of the abyss

The scenes of massacre and mayhem in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank have aroused general indignation and condemnation throughout the world. Almost one hundred people - almost all of them Palestinians - have so far been killed by the Israeli army of occupation.

The scenes of massacre and mayhem in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank have aroused general indignation and condemnation throughout the world. Almost one hundred people - almost all of them Palestinians - have so far been killed by the Israeli army of occupation.

While Barak assures the world of his desire for peace, his soldiers continue to kill and wound Palestinians. Their callous cruelty was exposed before the eyes of the world with the cold-blooded murder of Mohammed al-Dorra, who died in his father's arms after being subjected to a merciless barrage of gunfire for 45 minutes. The brutal killing of young Mohammed stands out as a symbol of Palestinian resistance. The deliberate brutality of the Israeli army was exposed by The Guardian, (2.10.00): "Hit by four bullets, he [Mohammed Al-Dorra] collapsed in his father's arms...after cowering behind a concrete water butt during a gun battle between Israelis in armoured watch-towers and Palestinian youths. His father, who was hit by eight bullets, had waved desperately at the Israelis on the other side of the junction to let his son live. But the 15 craters in the patch of wall where they were trapped make it plain that the Israelis directed their machine guns on the pair. Rami became their target." (our emphasis).

This is no isolated incident. The uprising against Israeli rule has aroused the whole population to struggle. Children as young as six and eight have taken part in setting up roadblocks. When the death count still stood at 49 among the Palestinians, it was reported that thirteen were children, the youngest of which was a little girl less than two years old! Doctors at Gaza's Shifa hospital (where 11 dead and 284 wounded had been taken) pointed out that the majority of the injured had been hit in the upper body. 20per cent of patients had been hit in the head. Overall (according to Physicians for Human Rights) 30per cent of injuries were from the stomach up. One Palestinian doctor pointed out that, "the Israelis are trying very much to kill very many people."

This explains the burning anger of the Palestinian youth and the tremendous courage they are displaying in facing the Israeli army, armed only with sticks and stones. And their desire for revenge. The killing of two Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian mob in Ramallah was cynically used by the Israelis and their American backers to justify a vicious aerial bombardment by Israeli helicopters. Clinton - the man who has bombed Yugoslavia to rubble and is responsible for the deaths of over a million Iraqi children through a brutal and inhuman blockade, publicly weeps crocodile tears about the deaths of two individuals. No doubt the proximity of the US Presidential elections and the specific weight of the Jewish vote in America, had rather more to do with this righteous indignation than any real interest in the two soldiers. Gore and Bush are competing with each other in their threats of bloody retribution for the bombing of an American warship. This outpouring of reactionary propaganda, with its mixture of hysteria and hypocrisy, enables us to understand the real concerns of Washington and its real role in the Middle East.

Israeli prime minister Barak states that he is not interested in peace talks "so long as the violence continues". "We will continue to fire as long as they continue to fight". These words imply the existence of a war between two equally powerful and "violent" opponents. This is a self-evident lie. Barak persists in acting as if the Palestinians were somehow responsible! It is as if a burglar breaks into your house and tries to murder you and your family and you defend yourself, and the burglar starts to shout that he is being subjected to violence. The issue here is who is using violence against whom and for what purpose. Marxists distinguish between the reactionary violence of the ruling class and imperialist oppressors and the violence of the oppressed people fighting in self-defence. To place these things on the same level is reactionary hypocrisy - to equate the violence of the slave-master and the slave is to take the side of the former against the latter. If at times the violence of the oppressed takes on a savage form, that is only a reflection of the weakness of the oppressed in the face of their tormentors. Faced with a massive disproportion of forces, the oppressed resort to whatever means they possess to hit back at the enemy.

In military terms it is an entirely unequal contest. Even if we leave aside Israel's crushing superiority in firepower and armour, any attempt by the Palestinian authority to fight a war of independence could be met by a siege which would paralyse them without the Israeli army having to deploy heavy weapons on the ground, according to defence analysts. Israel's armed forces total more than 173,000 with an additional 425,000 reservists. The Palestinian Authority has a military force of just 35,000. This is the "war" which Barak says the Palestinians have launched against Israel!

What are the two sides that are locked in combat? On the one side a professional, well-armed army backed by a wealthy and powerful state. On the other: ordinary people, mostly youths, armed with sticks and stones and a few firearms that are hopelessly inadequate against the modern weapons of destruction wielded by the Israeli armed forces. "Brigadier-General Osama al-Ali, commenting on the security "co-operation" between Palestinian and Israeli forces, said: "How can you have a cease-fire between stones and guns. It's a joke." (quoted in The Guardian, 2.10.00). In this context, the tone of moral indignity adopted by Clinton and Barak stinks of hypocrisy. The Israeli army enjoys an overwhelming military superiority. This is plainly shown in the colossal disproportion of Arab and Israeli casualties already referred to. It is admitted by the Israelis themselves.

Given the extreme disproportion of forces, and the unlimited brutality of the Israeli army, is it any wonder that desperate people sometimes resort to desperate measures? Is it permissible to equate a violent act committed in the heat of the moment by desperate people provoked beyond the limits of endurance with a cold and calculated use of overwhelming military force exercised by a powerful state? And what a use of force! The Israeli ruling class likes to think that all its actions are founded in the Bible, where we read "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." But the Israeli imperialists never follow this rule. The lives of two Israeli soldiers must be paid for by the lives of many Palestinians. After all, they are only Arabs! More correctly, such incidents as the one in Ramallah are cynically manipulated by Tel Aviv's propaganda machine to justify the policy of blood and iron which they have always used to maintain their grip on the occupied territories.

We use the expression "occupied territories" deliberately, despite the fact that the so-called Palestine National Authority is supposed to control its own territory now stands exposed for the lie and the farce which it always was. The Israeli army intervenes at will, ignoring the supposed rights of the PNA.

Provocation

The present conflict was deliberately provoked by the Israeli right wing leader of the Likud party, Ariel Sharon. On Thursday 28th September, guarded by 1000 police, he visited the Al-Aqsa hilltop in Jerusalem's walled city. This site is considered the third most holy place in Islam (it is also a holy place for Jews). The aim of Sharon was to underline Israeli domination over the whole site and over the whole of Jerusalem. Sharon has a brutal record. Thus this act was seen by Muslims as a violation of the sanctity of the shrine. That is what sparked off the present conflict, but of course, the real reasons for the uprising lie elsewhere. Necessity expresses itself through accident.

The Palestinian people aspire to their own homeland. Who can deny them this right? As much as the Jews or the Americans, they have the right to decide their own destiny. But the achievement of self-determination for the masses is only a means to an end. They see this as a step towards bettering their living conditions. But the present truncated, artificial "statelet" was always completely unviable. Living conditions have not improved since the Madrid and Oslo accords but have sharply worsened. The root cause of the crisis is the deteriorating economic and social conditions of the Palestinian masses. Poverty is widespread. The Gaza Strip is becoming pauperised, with little sanitation, health care or education. Around 80per cent of the economy of the West Bank and Gaza depends on Israel. The repeated closure of the border creates colossal difficulties. In 1987, 80,000 Palestinians were allowed to cross into Israel; now only 8,000 are permitted access. This vicious and arbitrary measure was designed to show the Palestinians who is the boss, to humiliate them and to underline their utter dependence on Israel.

The British weekly, The Observer (8.10.00) pointed out, "...the roots of the Palestinian anger lie deeper - in resentment over the glacial pace of the peace process and their appalling economic conditions."

According to the 1998 CIA Factbook the estimated unemployment rate for both the West Bank and the Gaza strip in 1997 was 28per cent, although some sources give a figure as high as 33per cent. The same Factbook goes on to describe the economic situation in what is now known as the Palestinian National Authority:

"In 1991 roughly 40per cent of Gaza Strip workers were employed across the border by Israeli industrial, construction, and agricultural enterprises, with worker remittances supplementing GDP by roughly 50per cent. Gaza has depended upon Israel for nearly 90per cent of its external trade. The Persian Gulf crisis and its aftershocks have dealt blows to Gaza since August 1990. Worker remittances from the Gulf states have dropped, unemployment and popular unrest have increased, and living standards have fallen. The redeployment of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip in May 1994 has added to the set of adjustment problems. This series of disruptions has meant a sharp decline in employment in Israel since 1991 and a drop in GDP as a whole. An estimated 378,000 persons were in refugee camps in 1996."

The situation on the West Bank is the following: "Industries using advanced technology or requiring sizeable investment have been discouraged by a lack of local capital and Israeli policies that block the movement of goods and people. Capital investment consists largely of residential housing, not productive assets that would enable local Palestinian firms to compete with Israeli industry. GDP has been substantially supplemented by workers who commute to jobs in Israel. Worker remittances from the Persian Gulf states dropped after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. In the wake of the Persian Gulf crisis, many Palestinians have returned to the West Bank, increasing unemployment, and export revenues have dropped because of the decline of markets in Jordan and the Gulf states. An estimated 147,000 people were in refugee camps in 1996."

Twenty per cent of the population of the West Bank, and 36per cent of that of Gaza live below the poverty line. The economy of Israel is in crisis. GNP fell by 4.5per cent in 1996 and 1.9per cent in 1998. Unemployment, which was virtually unknown in the past, has been rising substantially. In 1997 the unemployment rate was 7.7per cent but it has been growing steadily since. Riots have taken place in Ofkim in the Negev, where unemployment stands at 14.3per cent.

Sections of the Israeli ruling class would like to reach an accommodation and expand its trade with the Arab states. The Arab regimes are also keen to trade with Israel, and are eager for a deal over Palestine. Lastly, US imperialism would like to get stability in the Middle East so that its strategic and economic interests should not be placed in danger. That is what lay behind the Madrid and Oslo agreements. But all these plans do not take into account the real conditions facing the Palestinian masses. These are the underlying social and economic conditions that explain the reaction of the Palestinian people to Sharon's blatant provocation. This event was only the spark that set off an already existing extremely combustible situation and thus the so-called "peace process" has hit a brick wall.

The role of Arafat

For a period there were illusions that the PLO leadership around Arafat would finally achieve the long wished-for homeland for the Palestinians. But the truth is always concrete. The peace talks were themselves partly the result of the Intifada in the 1980s. As we explained in our document on the National Question, published in February of this year.

"...the mass movement on the West Bank [that is, the Intifada] 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 we also pointed out that, "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." (Alan Woods and Ted Grant, Marxism and the National Question, Feb. 25th, 2000)

These predictions are now unfolding before our eyes. Any illusions that the Palestinian masses may have had previously in the "Peace Accord" have now been shattered. Their patience is exhausted. The masses have begun to understand that they can have no confidence in the PLO leaders and the PNA. The setting up of the so-called Palestine National Authority was in fact an abortion of "self-rule" in Gaza and the West Bank. This "entity" was never viable and in no way fulfils the legitimate aspiration of the Palestinians for a homeland of their own free of foreign occupations. The people of Palestine, and in the first place the workers and the youth, have understood that their emancipation can only be won through their own efforts and sacrifices. They have shown that they are prepared to fight and, if necessary, to die fighting for their rights. That is the only option open to them.

The whole peace process was partly due to the uprising, the Intifada, that took place in the occupied territories in the 1980s. The Intifada had a profound effect on Israeli society itself. This was no campaign of senseless bombings, but it was a whole people rising up, showing the most amazing courage and tenacity in the face of the armed might of Israel. However, Arafat and the PLO leadership were incapable of leading this struggle. These petit bourgeois nationalists are organically incapable of understanding that the only way to solve the Palestinian problem is by revolutionary means - through the socialist transformation of Israel/Palestine as part of the general struggle of the workers throughout the Middle East to overthrow their oppressors (not Israelis, but Arabs) and take the power into their own hands. That is the only way to break the stranglehold of imperialism over the Middle East and open the way for the socialist transformation of society.

Once the revolutionary socialist perspective is rejected, the only possible result is betrayal and capitulation. Throughout the "peace process", the role of Yasser Arafat and the leaders of the PLO has been to capitulate to Israeli imperialism at every stage. The aim of Tel Aviv was to set up a puppet "statelet", completely dependent on Israel and controlled by a toothless "government" that would effectively police Gaza and the West Bank on their behalf. Arafat and the PLO leaders thus betrayed the cause of the Palestinians and led them into the present blind alley.

The "Peace Deal"

The deal agreed by these so-called "realists" was full of holes from the outset. Apart from the fact that Gaza and the West Bank was split up and the "liberated" territory was obviously not viable, the thorny question of the Jewish settlers and above all Jerusalem remained unresolved. This was not a Palestinian homeland at all, but only a string of separate "cantons" utterly dependent on Israel. None of the five entities controlled by the Palestinian Authority is linked territorially. They depend on Israel for electricity, water, communications and other commodities. In addition, the Israeli army was stationed on the doorstep, ready to intervene at any moment, as we now see. Thus, the "independence" brokered by Arafat was only a vulgar farce and a deceit.

As The Guardian, (12.10.00) pointed out: "Labour and Likud leaders alike[since 1993] made no secret of the fact that Oslo was designed to segregate the Palestinians in non-contiguous enclaves, surrounded by Israeli-controlled borders, with settlements and settlement roads punctuating and essentially violating the territories' integrity, expropriations and house demolition proceeding inexorably through the Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and Barak administrations along with the expansion and multiplication of settlements (200,000 Israeli Jews added to Jerusalem, 200,000 more in Gaza and the West Bank), military occupation continuing and every tiny step taken toward Palestinian sovereignty... stymied, delayed, cancelled at Israel's will."

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA), precisely because its role was that of policing the Palestinian people had elements of a police state from the very beginning. As The Guardian (12.10.00) pointed out, "With his own corrupt and stupidly repressive regime, supported both by Israel's Mossad and the CIA, Yasser Arafat continued to rely on US mediators, even though the US peace team was dominated by former Israeli lobby officials..." Its role was that of consolidating the power of Arafat and his hangers on. The PNA was used to silence dissidents and to allow the development of a Palestinian bourgeoisie. Thus a minority elite has been developing on the backs of the Palestinian people. The PNA has already decided to privatise practically everything. The interests of the administrators of the PNA and of the people who live within its borders are diametrically opposed.

Now Arafat has been making fiery speeches reminiscent of the 1970s when his position was that of driving the Jews into the sea! He is doing this because he has lost enormous authority among the Palestinian masses. They have seen him and his entourage enrich themselves when the conditions of the masses were worsening. In reality Arafat does not control the Palestinian people. After decades, first of individual terrorism, then of compromise with the Israelis, the Palestinians are no closer to achieving a genuine homeland and self-determination. The situation inside Israel is also one of growing social tension. The economic crisis is affecting ordinary workers and the middle classes in Israel itself. On the basis of capitalism there is no way out of this crisis. It is precisely to divert attention from the growing social tensions inside Israel that the right wing Likud provoked the Palestinians in Jerusalem. Their aim is to unite the Jews in Israel by whipping up anti-Arab chauvinism. But this can only lead to a disaster for Arab and Jew alike.

Reaction in Israel

Trotsky once warned that the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine would be a cruel trap for the Jewish people. How true that prediction was! The early founders of Israel maintained a "socialist" demagogy. The Labour Party was supposed to stand for "kibbutz socialism". But now even the pretence of socialism has been abandoned. The differences between the Labour Party and the Likud have become smaller and smaller. The same privatisation, the same attacks on living standards have been carried out as in every other capitalist country. In addition, there is the crushing burden of militarism which is made necessary by the constant state of war or semi-war with all of Israel's neighbours.

The antagonism between Jews and Arabs is embedded in the whole philosophy and outlook of the reactionary Israeli ruling class. From the moment of its foundation, Israel has been conceived as a racist state with theocratic characteristics. Israeli civil law is based on the "Halacha" or Jewish medieval religious law which now threatens to turn in the direction of fundamentalist reaction. What is called in Israel the "War of Independence" was in fact an ethnic cleansing of one million Palestinians, which in the meantime have turned into four millions of refugees to whom the state denies the right of return. In the half century or so since its establishment, Israel has become the most powerful and prosperous state in the Middle East. But it is a giant with feet of clay. It depends on the goodwill of US imperialism, whose agent it has become. Barak wants Arafat to accept the status quo in exchange for a few crumbs. The argument advanced by Tel Aviv that Barak has made big concessions which Arafat refused to accept, thus causing the present crisis, is entirely false. Bark's "concessions" were really no concessions at all. Arafat could not have accepted them, even if he wanted to. He would have been immediately overthrown, or worse. Above all, there is no possibility of solving the issue of Jerusalem.

An Israeli Marxist points out the strong parallels between the situation in Israel and that of south African apartheid: "The Jewish and non-Jewish (especially the Arabic) population are separated by a regime of segregation very similar to the South-African apartheid: it is impossible for a Jew to marry a non-Jew, the police and the army are lily-white, etc. In fact, the state is in a situation of constant undeclared war with the Arabic population: for instance, many hundreds of Palestinian houses are systematically destroyed every year in order to force them to leave the country. 'Arabic" parties' (those whose voters are mostly Arabs, including the Communist Party) have never been allowed to take part in any government coalition. The motto of the Jewish 'peace supporters' is 'peaceful coexistence' - integration (intermarriage, living in the same building, etc. being absolutely taboo)."

The present situation has tilted the whole balance of forces in Israel to the right. The formation of a "government of national unity" including the arch-reactionary Sharon, also signifies the victory of the War Party in Tel Aviv - that section of the Israeli ruling circle that believes (not without reason) that the present peace deal has solved nothing, that war is inevitable, and that the sooner it comes the better. An atmosphere of anti-Arab pre-war hysteria is being whipped up over the issue of the two murdered Israeli soldiers. With calculated impudence, Tel Aviv describes its latest air attacks on Palestinian towns as "a symbolic response". This is intended to make one wonder what a real response would look like! The Israeli ruling clique is deliberately whipping up public opinion. To what purpose?

The danger of war

There is a logic in the situation which could lead to an outright war. This would involve a terrible massacre and destruction. It would not be to the benefit either of the Palestinian masses or of the Israeli workers. Of course, the last thing imperialism wants is a war in the Middle East. A war would also have disastrous consequences for the West. It would have an impact on the price of oil. It is already high and a further increase could be the final element that would put an end to the present economic upturn and lead to a recession on a world level. Thus what is happening in the Middle East has world-wide repercussions. That explains why the US, Britain, the Russians, the European Union, are all rushing to talk to Barak and Arafat. They are bending over backwards to achieve some kind of compromise and pull the situation back from the brink of war. But if it came to a war, America would inevitably back Israel, which remains its only reliable ally in the Middle East. If (which is in any case ruled out) Israel were faced with the threat of defeat US imperialism would not hesitate to come down firmly on its side, providing it with the necessary arms to enable it to win. Thus, the Arab regimes would be faced with a guaranteed military catastrophe - as on every other occasion when they went to war with Israel. Egypt and Syria are well aware of this, and therefore show no great inclination to fight. But that does not mean that war in the Middle East is impossible. Far from it.

The Arab regimes are under enormous pressure from the Arab masses to face up to Israel. But they fear a war like the plague. In the past we have seen regimes in Syria, Egypt and other countries collapse as a result of a defeat at the hands of Israel. Israel has a big, powerful and efficient army. They may succeed temporarily in reaching some form of compromise. But that is not all guaranteed. The situation could spiral out of control. Already Israeli helicopters have bombed Ramallah and other Palestinian towns. The effect is going to be to harden the resolve of the Palestinian people. The whole "peace process" so painstakingly put together over seven years is unravelling at lightning speed.

The formation of a national unity government in Tel Aviv, including Ariel Sharon - the man who deliberately provoked the present conflicts - could mean only one thing for the Palestinians: the definitive end of the peace process and the threat of all-out war. The next few days will decide which way the balance is going to go. Already the US military and naval forces in the region have been put on special alert, after the bomb attack on one of their ships off the coast of Yemen. This is an inevitable development, as some Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab world will draw the conclusion that they must take up arms. If this leads to a wave of terrorist bombings against civilian targets inside Israel it will provide the excuse the hawks are looking for to launch new and savage attacks on the Palestinians. It would be difficult for the Arab regimes to remain with their arms folded. They would be afraid of being overthrown. This could easily create an uncontrollable downward spiral into war.

Even now the conflict is spreading. Using the excuse of the kidnapping of a handful of Israeli soldiers, Israeli planes have been bombing southern Lebanon. Now they have bombed PNA police stations. The aim is the same: to spread terror and impose the will of Israeli imperialism through massive violence. However, instead of cowering the Arab masses this escalating violence on the part of the Israeli military is uniting the whole Arab people, from Morocco to Iraq, against imperialism, in particular US imperialism and its stooge, Israel. A demonstration of 300,000 took place in Morocco, another of one million took place in Tunisia. Similar developments have been witnessed in Egypt, Jordan, even in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The sympathy of the Arab peoples towards the Palestinians is based on the fact that they share a common culture, language and literature, but also similar social and economic conditions. In Egypt unemployment is over ten per cent. In the Lebanon it is about 20per cent. In Jordan it is about 25per cent. The growing discontent of the masses can easily spill over into street demonstrations in which the target will not be confined to US and British embassies. The aspirations of the Arab masses are not those of the cliques that govern over them. Many times the Palestinians have been betrayed by these so-called Arab "brothers". In reality the movement of the masses in these countries is seen as a threat by these despotic regimes. In order to divert the anger of the masses from themselves, the Arab regimes might decide that a military conflict with Israel would be a lesser evil. The stage would be set for enormous social and political instability throughout the Middle East. Not one regime is safe from overthrow - not Egypt, not even Saudi Arabia.

If there were a genuine revolutionary party and leadership the conditions would be present for a socialist revolution throughout the Middle East. The method of the Intifada is that of the class struggle. The general strike is one of its expressions. Therefore the Palestinian workers and youth are a key element in this equation. The workers of Palestine should place no confidence in the Arafat leadership. The Palestinian masses have not fought all these years just in order to create a Palestinian bourgeoisie. What advantage would there be for the workers and the poor? In order to achieve their own emancipation, the Palestinian workers must break with these bourgeois leaders. They must build their own workplace committees, committees of peasants, students, unemployed, and link up a national representative body. This body would become the genuine expression of the will of the Palestinian workers and youth.

But it would not be enough for the Palestinian workers to attempt to take power in their own territories. The economy of the territories is inextricably linked to that of Israel. Most of the Palestinian working class is actually employed in Israeli industries. Thus they would have to include in their programme the call for unity with the Israeli workers against their own bosses. Without working class unity the masses face an impasse. The alternative is fratricidal warfare where worker is pitched against worker. Along that road lies only disaster for the workers - Jewish and Arab alike. The attempt to solve the problems of the Palestinian people on a capitalist and nationalist basis has led only to a bloody impasse. It is necessary to strike out on a new road: the road of socialist revolution. The Palestinian workers and youth could provide a point of reference for all the workers of the Arab world. A call should be sent out to the workers of the whole Middle East to organise themselves with the aim of overthrowing the various bourgeois and despotic regimes in the area. Only by removing these puppets of imperialism and expropriating the wealth of the capitalists can the resources be made available to solve all the social and economic problems.

The Israeli workers must also wake up to the task of transforming society. Israel is an advanced capitalist country with a highly developed proletariat. If the workers in Israel were to move decisively against their own ruling class this would break down the national barriers and open the possibility of an international struggle for socialism in the area. At present the wave of bellicose chauvinist propaganda has had an effect. But this will not last forever. Experience will show that the policies of reaction and militarism in the long run spell a nightmare of death and destruction for all the peoples - including the Israelis. Today one war, tomorrow another, then ten more wars, until what? The alternative is either the common struggle of Jewish and Arab workers for their emancipation, or else mutual ruin.

Reaction in Israel

The Israeli Arabs make up 18 percent of the population of Israel. Although they have a higher standard of living than their brothers and sisters in the Occupied territories, they do suffer from systematic discrimination in jobs, schools, housing and social services. Until last year they were even barred from buying land and even from building homes in much of Israel. They live in overcrowded and dirty towns. Many of their traditional lands have been seized. And they live their lives in separate neighbourhoods. Only two or three experimental mixed schools exist. During the Intifada in the Occupied territories in the 1980s the Palestinians living in Israel as Israeli citizens did not take part in the protest. But now they have been taking part massively in the protests, in Galilee and even in mixed areas of Tel Aviv and Haifa. This has been the worst ethnic violence within Israeli borders since 1948. The Israeli right has responded with brutal pogroms. A letter from Tel Aviv reveals highlights the wave of chauvinist madness and pogroms that has been deliberately stirred up by the government and the press:

"A recent opinion poll by a daily newspaper has shown that 60 per cent of the Jewish population supports a 'transfer' (ethnic cleansing) of the Palestinians. During the last days, Jewish mobs have carried out outright pogroms in the Arab neighbourhoods and cities, as a result of which several Arab Israeli "citizens" have been killed with the tacit support of the police and the army. Not a single one of the Jewish working class organisations, either political or trade-unionist, have condemned the massacres."

Either the workers of Israel take on their bosses in a struggle for their own rights or the initiative passes to the reactionary elements. The leaders of the trade unions have made no condemnation of what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. This shameful silence brands them as collaborators with reaction. Karl Marx explained long ago, a working class that does not oppose the oppression of another people can never achieve its own freedom. So long as the Israeli labour movement remains passive in the face of what is happening in Palestine they will never be able to defend their own interests.

For a Socialist federation!

The national aspirations of the Palestinian people naturally express themselves in the striving for thier own territory and state. The present so-called Palestinian Authority in no sense fulfills this aspiration. It has proved to be a cruel trap for the Palestinian people. To the degree that this truth has dawned on the masses, it has given rise to a burning sense of injustice and betrayal. The anger of the masses is directed not only against Israel but also against Arafat and the PLO leadership.

The instinct of the masses tells them that the only way forward is the revolutionary action of the masses themselves. This is profoundly true, but insufficient to guarentee victory. The forces ranged against the Palestinians are formidable. The only way to break the stranglehold of imperialism would be to spread the revolution to all the neighbouring countries, beginning with Jordan, where the Palestinians are in the majority. That would create the necesary conditions for the proclamation of a viable revolutionary democratic Palestinian state. This can only be achieved by power passing into the hands of the workers and peasants. On such a basis it would be possible to make a revolutionary appeal to the working people of Israel.

In the last analysis, the only guarentee of success is to spread the revolution to Israel itself. Only the Israeli working class can overthrow the monstrous Zionist state. With a correct revolutionary policy, the impetus for this can come from outside Israel, but the final battle must be fought within.

At the present time this prospect seems remote. But so did the prospect of revolution in the former tsarist empire before February 1917. In any case, this perspective in no way rules out, but on the contrary presupposes, that the independent revolutionary movement of the Palestinian masses must be continued, extended and deeepened. Let the cynics and sceptics protest that a socialist policy is "utopian"! But let them show us what other policy is more "practical"! We know these "practical" policies. They have been tried for half a century and always turned out to be the worst kind of utopianism.

The idea of the establishment of two states on a capitalist basis is precisely A REACTIONARY UTOPIA. Those who advocate it have thought nothing out to the end. Where would the boundaries of the two states lie? Who would control Jerusalem? What rights would the minority have in each of the two states? Such a "solution" would solve precisely nothing. It would be a source of new wars and conflicts. In any case, this supposedly "realistic" solution is nothing of the kind. The Israeli imperialists have made it abundantly clear that they will not tolerate the establishment of a genuine Palestinian state on their doorstep. Thus, the solution of the problem can only come about through the overthrow of the Israeli state: that is, through a revolutionary policy that is capable of uniting the Jewish and Arab working class against their common enemy.

The "Communist" Party of Israel during the last elections called for a vote for Barak. Moreover, it supports partition ("Two states for two peoples"). Other so-called Marxists call for "a socialist Israel alongside a socialist Palestine". This is just another way of supporting partition, and makes even less sense than the position of the CP. If the situation is sufficiently ripe for the Jewish and Arab workers to take power, it would obviously be sufficiently ripe for the formation of a socialist federation..

The whole economic life of the region is so closely bound up that a federation would be the only lasting solution. Once the Arab and Israeli workers have power in their hands, all the disputed problems can be discussed and amicably resolved. This is only solution to the whole ghastly situation. The establishment of a socialist democratic secular republic in Israel would be only a step towards the formation of a federation in the whole territory of historic Palestine and the granting of the right of return to the Palestinian refugees. This in turn would be only the first step towards a socialist federation of all the peoples of the Middle East.

War or revolution?

At the time of writing, frantic efforts are being made by the USA and Europe to avoid a war. The West is terrified of the economic and political effects of a war. Already the price of oil has hit a ten-year high. Wall Street has already been thrown into a full-scale panic by fears of an all-out conflict in the Middle east that brought investors up against the prospect of dearer oil prices triggering recession in the west. Billions of dollars were wiped off the value of America's top companies when the Dow Jones industrial average responded to a sharp increase in oil prices by falling 3.6 percent in one day. A war in the Middle east would send the price of oil sky high and bring about a world-wide recession very quickly. Hence the panic in the West.

Most of the leaders do not want a war. The Arab leaders fear that they would be overthrown. They are desperate for a deal. For his part, Barak would be willing to oblige Washington and reach some sort of compromise. Most of all Arafat would like everything to calm down. But the big problem is: what sort of compromise? For the Palestinians, any "concessions" that Tel Aviv might be willing to offer will be too little, while for the Israeli hawks it will be too much. It is a case of trying to square the circle. In any case, it is now doubtful if any of the parties concerned in the negotiations can control the situation. Matters are spinning out of control with every day that passes. In the occupied territories, the mood is getting increasingly desperate. In Israel the war fever is growing by the hour. New fronts are opening up all the time. The whole logic of the situation points to war.

Our correspondent in Israel writes that most activists now fear worse to come: "There is a threat of war with Lebanon, for Israel refuses to exchange the civilian hostages it took in Lebanese territory for the soldiers kidnapped by Hezbolla outside Israel's borders, arguing that it is a terrorist organisation (the Palestinians are not terrorised by the state, of course). There is also the possibility of a large number of suicide bombings in buses carried out by desperate Palestinians."

The reaction of Arafat to the Israeli bombing of Ramallah was to release members of Hamas from prison. Whether this was done under pressure, or as a manoeuvre to encourage suicide attacks in Israel remains to be seen. Probably Israeli brutality left him with no alternative but to open the gaols. However, in the past Arafat has played with terrorism, which he does not fear, and would now be inclined to embark on the same course in order to recover his "credentials" and divert the mass movement (which he does fear) into more manageable channels. The Guardian (13/ 10/ 2000) reported: "In Gaza... the Palestinian leader responded to the Israeli rocket attack by freeing 350 jailed militants, including 350 members of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas... "Among the freed men were the leaders of the military wing of Hamas, including Mohammed Deif, a bomb expert who is considered to be their most dangerous man."

The launching of suicide attacks inside Israel would be a very negative development from every point of view. The whole history of the Palestine struggle proves that the tactic of individual terrorism is both useless and counter-productive. Far from weakening the reactionary Israeli state, it strengthens it. Bloody and indiscriminate attacks on Jewish civilians only serve to drive the population further into the arms of chauvinist reaction. The Israelis will respond to all such attacks with murderous counter-attacks on the Palestinians and the crimes of Israeli imperialism will be mitigated in the eyes of the world by the terrorist madness. The latter would give the government of Tel Aviv the green light for massive repression They have been replacing the Arabs who live outside Israel by foreign workers from the Philippines, South America, Turkey, Rumania, Thailand, etc. They might even be prepared to expel the entire Arab population from Israel. That would be a terrible episode that would clearly have far-reaching consequences, and not just in Israel and Palestine. This would make the problem of the Palestinians even worse than it is at present. Along that road no victory is possible. The success of the revolution can only come from the actions of the masses themselves. That is the lesson of the Intifada.

The events now unfolding in the Middle East are a further confirmation that the underlying social and economic contradictions in the area cannot be solved on a capitalist basis. So long as the wealth and resources of this region are in the hands, on the one hand of Israeli imperialism, and on the other of a series of despotic semi-feudal Arab regimes, poverty will not be eradicated. There will not be enough jobs, houses, clean water, hospitals, schools for everybody. In this situation the ruling elites always tend to play the national card, that is they will play one nation off against another.

There are only two roads for the peoples of the area: either socialist revolution or else a nightmare future of never-ending violence, death and destruction. The tragedy of the Israeli working class is that it does not have its own genuine independent voice. It is necessary to build an alternative. On this basis it would be possible to build a Socialist Federation of the Middle East, within which each nation would have both the fullest autonomy and the right to self-determination. Thus a homeland could be guaranteed both to Jews and Palestinians. Instead of spending huge resources on military spending the wealth produced by the workers of the region could be used to solve all the problems that capitalism has not been able to solve. On the basis of jobs, decent housing, clean water, health care, pensions for all it would be possible to work towards the solving of the national question and the harmonious collaboration and co-operation between all the peoples of the Middle East.

The removal of the threat of war would immediately lead to an improvement in living standards. Military spending now imposes a heavy burden on the shoulders of the masses everywhere. Syria, for instance, has a 400,000-man army, plus 200,000 involved in internal security. This consumes 40per cent of the budget. From salaries as low as $80 a month, citizens have to pay an additional tax for the "war effort". The elimination of this hateful burden would be just the beginning.

In the Bible the Israelites spoke of Palestine as a "land flowing with milk and honey". It could be so once more on the basis of a socialist federation and a common plan of production. The Middle East has huge untapped resources. A socialist planned economy would free the Middle East from the stranglehold of imperialism once and for all. It would overthrow the corrupt feudal rulers who monopolise the oil wealth that ought to belong to all the peoples. Poverty and war feed upon each other. The resources thus released for productive purposes would make the desert bloom. The peoples of the Middle East: Arabs, Jews, Copts, Druzes, Armenians, Turks, Kurds, have a rich cultural history. Once upon a time they led the world, when Europe was plunged in barbarism and ignorance. United in a Socialist Federation, they would occupy their rightful place in world history.

London, October 13, 2000