After Sharon's Victory New Convulsions in the Middle East

The landslide victory of right-winger Ariel Sharon in the Israeli elections opens a new and convulsive period in the history of the Middle East. Barak's administration has been a complete disaster from every point of view. Under the pressure of US imperialism he attempted to reach a "compromise" with Arafat and the PLO leadership. As we predicted from the start, the Oslo agreement broke down. The problem is an insoluble one on a capitalist basis. Far from improving, the situation went from bad to worse. The farce of "peace" has ended. The Oslo agreement, already a stinking corpse, has now been officially buried.
The landslide victory of right-winger Ariel Sharon in the Israeli elections opens a new and convulsive period in the history of the Middle East. Barak's administration has been a complete disaster from every point of view. Under the pressure of US imperialism he attempted to reach a "compromise" with Arafat and the PLO leadership. As we predicted from the start, the Oslo agreement broke down. The problem is an insoluble one on a capitalist basis. Far from improving, the situation went from bad to worse. The farce of "peace" has ended. The Oslo agreement, already a stinking corpse, has now been officially buried. 

The right-wing Likud challenger Ariel Sharon defeated incumbent Ehud Barak by a nearly 20-point margin - 59.5 percent to 40.5 percent, according to Israeli television exit polls. On a low turnout - 60 percent, as opposed to over 80 percent in previous elections - Labour was routed. This result was expected. It is the direct result of the uprising of the Palestinian masses which has transformed the whole situation in the Middle East. The election result was an expression of widespread disillusionment with Barak, and the deteriorating situation in Palestine. This disillusionment led to a collapse of the Labour vote. The Arab citizens of Israel, who gave Barak 95 percent of its vote in 1999, were alienated by his policies which were no different to that of the right wing.

Barak, who spoke about peace but was really a hawk, was decisively rejected by the electorate. Having come to office offering peace and negotiations, he ended up carrying out a more repressive policy than before, not only in Gaza and the West Bank, but inside Israel. Barak ordered his troops to use what the UN Security Council has criticised as "excessive force" to crush a four-month-old revolt against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, causing the death of nearly 400 people, many of them children - not to mention thousands of wounded, a large part of them crippled for life; hundreds of destroyed houses; tens of thousands of felled trees; closure, siege and curfew reducing millions to poverty and hardship. Moreover, under Barak, the Israeli police shot down 13 demonstrators in the Arab villages and towns of northern Israel. The Palestinians could therefore be excused for concluding that there is no real difference between Barak and Sharon.

The allegedly epoch-making concessions thus turned out to be a farce. They were too little for the Arabs and too much for the Israeli reactionaries. In effect, they left the control of Gaza and the West Bank firmly under the control of Tel Aviv. The Jewish settlers were not only permitted to remain but their numbers increased. The Palestinian areas were cruelly squeezed by the closure of the border and other restrictions on movement. The breakdown of the much-heralded peace initiative in the end discredited the very idea of negotiations among a large part of the Israeli population, thereby paving the way for Sharon. Yet despite the noisy demonstrations of the fanatics and reactionaries, there was no enthusiasm among the majority of Israelis for the Likud leader. In fact, Labour leader Shimon Peres was more popular. The fact that Sharon did not win because of his warlike belligerance is shown by the opinion polls which consistently register a majority of at least 60 per cent in Israel want peace. The very low turnout (by Israeli standards) indicate that most Israelis did not trust either candidate.

Sharon's record

Sharon's victory will have set alarm bells ringing in Washington. The right wing Likud leader is an adventurer. A former military chief, he fought in the Sinai against Egypt during the Arab-Israeli wars and served as defence minister during Israel's 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon. Sharon was later removed from his position for his role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila. His visit to Temple Mount last year was the spark that ignited four months of violence in the region. Stratfor recalls his past record as a wild card in the Middle East:

"Consider Sharon's crossing of the Suez canal during the 1973 war. US President Nixon did not want the Egyptians humiliated. It was clear that Egypt, having expelled its Soviet advisors, was moving into the Western camp. Back-channel conversations between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had convinced the American that a cessation of hostilities - without humiliation for the Egyptians - was in the American interest. By then, Washington had launched a massive airlift that had been instrumental in resupplying Israeli forces and without which a different outcome might have taken place. 

"Realising that Sharon had broken through, Washington demanded that Sharon not continue his encirclement but halt. The Meir government, trapped between its dependence on the United States and the urgency of the war, could neither order Sharon forward -- US intercepts would have detected that - nor rein him in. The Israeli government deliberately created an operational ambiguity, built around the fact that with Sharon in command, he could be relied on to exploit the opening while providing the government plausible deniability. Sharon was positioned as the outlaw commander." 

The same thing happened in 1982. Israeli Prime Minister Begin ordered a move north to the Litani River in Lebanon in order to protect northern Israel from Palestinian attacks. But Sharon, then Defence Minister, did not halt at the Litani. Instead he moved much further north than expected, all the way to Beirut and central Lebanon. To this day it is unclear whether Tel Aviv had ordered the assault, or Sharon violated his orders. The ghastly massacres at the Sabra and Shattila camps, when Sharon deliberately unleashed the Christian militia on the refugees in order to terrorise the Palestinians in Lebanon is forever burned on the memory of the Palestinian people.

The Likud leader has a long history of opposing every peace agreement Israel has forged. He has long claimed that the Peace faction in Israel is leading the nation toward another war. Sharon opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state and argues that the security forces should be disarmed. This is a finished recipe for an all-out conflict that can plunge the whole of the Middle East into convulsions and might easily end in war. Some media circles have expressed fear that Sharon's hard-line attitude and military history spell imminent war between the Israelis and Palestinians, with the possibility of a regional Arab-Israeli war. But Sharon, like Barak before him, will be under the pressure of US imperialism which does not want a war in the Middle East and will be pressing for a renewal of talks with the Palestinian leaders.

A national government?

The victory of the Likud does not necessarily guarantee a Sharon administration. Since the recent election was for the post of prime minister, the composition of the fifteenth Knesset, the Israel parliament, has not changed. There are more than 15 different factions in the Israeli parliament. Even after his landslide victory, Sharon is assured of only a narrow margin of control. The situation is quite unstable. "On paper", writes the Guardian, "Sharon is supported by eight factions in the Knesset, giving him a wafer-thin majority of 62 in the 120-seat chamber. But that cumbersome majority includes at least three orthodox religious parties, notorious for their budgetary scheming." (The Guardian, 7/2/01.)

Thus, Sharon will be compelled to form a coalition within 45 days or face new elections. Sharon would like to form a national government with the defeated Labour Party. The US imperialists will apply pressure on the Labour Party to accept, in the hope of getting some sort of a check on Sharon. But if such a coalition is formed it will be unstable and riven with contradictions. Labour (under pressure from Washington) will argue for concessions to the Palestinians, but Sharon will be under even greater pressure from his supporters to stand firm. Israeli right-wingers saw Sharon's success as an answer to their prayers. Ultra-nationalist lawmaker Rehavam Ze'evi urged him to renounce concessions for "a cruel and false peace". It is therefore not likely that such a coalition would last, even if it were formed, which is not certain in any case.

The alternative, however, is even less stable: a coalition with the religious right wing parties and the Russian immigrants. In order to form a new government, Sharon must build a coalition that will give him at the very least a majority (i.e., 61 seats) in parliament. He could try to form a coalition with the ultra-orthodox Sephardic Shas party (17 seats); Yisrael Ba'aliyah, a centre right party supported by Russian immigrant Jews and led by Nathan Sharansky, a former industry and trade minister in Netanyahu's administration (six seats); another right wing party, the National Unity coalition (four seats); the United Torah Judaism, an ultra-Orthodox coalition party with five seats; and the National Religious party, a centrist party formerly a member of the far right with five seats. 

This would give Sharon 56 seats - still five short of the necessary majority. Other possible partners include Israel Our Home, a Russian minority party (four seats) and One Nation, a split-off from Barak's Labour party (two seats). Since the Russian immigrants are radically opposed to the dictates of the religious parties, the inner contradictions inside such a coalition would not take long to burst it asunder. Thus, despite his resounding victory, Sharon's position is far from sound: 

"The betting in Israel" writes Gershom Gorenberg, reporting from Tel Aviv, "is that Sharon will not last long in office, for the same reason Barak fell quickly. Sharon inherits the most fragmented parliament in the country's history. To rule, he'll need to form a coalition of as many as nine parties, with little to hold them together. A large faction of his own Likud is eager to see him fall, which would allow a comeback by ex-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even before the polls opened yesterday, political insiders were talking about who the candidates would be in the next election, expected before the end of this year." (Gershom Gorenberg is the author of The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount.)

In the aftermath of the election defeat, the mood in the Labour Party is one of demoralisation. With the enforced retirement of Barak, the way is open for the installation of a more flexible leader, possibly former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who would be completely under Washington's control. Other possible contenders for the Labour Party leadership include Parliament Speaker Avraham Burg, Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and Labour lawmaker and cabinet minister Haim Ramon, speaking on what he called "this very difficult morning for the peace movement and the Labour movement", said Peres should take over. "I would suggest Shimon Peres be chosen for a short time as a temporary chairman of the Labour party," he told Israel Radio. Burg also endorsed Peres as stand-in leader. Ben-Ami said he opposed a unity government and might enter the party race. 

What these noises mean is that the leadership of the Labour Party are placing their services entirely at the disposition of US imperialism. They want to act as a reliable second team, ready to take office after Sharon has discredited himself, and once again commence manoeuvring for a deal with Arafat and the "moderate" Palestinian leaders. In the meantime, like Pontius Pilate, the "Labour" leaders will sit back while Sharon and the military does the dirty work in the Palestinian areas. In this cynical game of power politics, Sharon plays the role of the right boot of imperialism, while the "Labour" leaders act as the left boot. In the last analysis, they serve the same Master.

The position of imperialism

International reaction to Sharon's victory was a mixture of unease and caution, Norway's Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland expressed fear Sharon's victory could spur violence across the Middle East. "If Sharon carries out what was said during the election, there is every reason to fear what will happen," he said. The European Union's Middle East envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos said the EU hoped that Sharon would "continue the dialogue with Israel's Arab partners in developing the peace process along the positive line of the last years".

Initially the new administration in Washington tried to remain aloof from the problems of the Middle East. It pointedly refrained from sending a US envoy to Taba, Egypt, last month for the last-ditch peace talks in the final days of the Israeli political campaign. Nor has the Bush White House been in a rush to assemble a new Middle East peace team or announce whether it will replace America's long-time special Middle East envoy, Dennis Ross, who has retired from the State Department. Foreign policy advisers close to Bush have criticised President Bill Clinton's personal involvement in bargaining over details during Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Edward P. Djerejian, director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, said the new administration must re-evaluate Clinton's "hasty" approach toward the peace process and spend more effort trying to build Arab consensus for an eventual deal.

US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that the new administration sees Arab-Israeli peace talks as one element in the Middle East rather than as the corner-stone of foreign policy. "We are not going to be stand-offish but, at the same time, we want to make sure the search for peace ... is seen in a regional context, so that the quest doesn't stand alone in and of itself," Powell said. In the Byzantine language of diplomacy, this means that the Bush administration hoped to distance itself from the wreckage of Clinton's Middle East escapade. They would be prepared to let the Palestinians and Israelis stew in their own juice. But in practice this is impossible. The USA cannot stand aloof from a region where its vital interests are involved. Sharon's election can raise tensions throughout the region and lead to a surge in violence that would quickly draw in the United States - one way or another - Bush's isolationist tendencies notwithstanding.

The experts in the State Department are too well acquainted with the new man in Tel Aviv to lull themselves with pious hopes that he will be moderated by the fruits of office. "We know Ariel Sharon quite well, too well in some cases," said Samuel W. Lewis, a former US ambassador to Israel. "We've seen his absolute dedication to force in solving problems." Violence in Israel "will have ramifications for US policy toward other Arab states at a time when the Bush administration is trying to build a new Arab coalition to tighten the noose on the Iraqi regime," said Shibley Telhami, an expert on Middle East affairs at the University of Maryland. "Before they know it, they're going to have some envoy going out there to talk to the Israelis and Palestinians."

The new US President George W. Bush congratulated Sharon in a brief phone call, saying Washington would work with him on peace and declaring the US-Israeli relationship "rock solid". These are not empty words, but reflect the real position. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Washington felt that it was no longer so dependent on Israel as in the past. America's vital interests in the Middle East are connected with maintaining peace and a semblance of stability in an area that is important both for economic and strategic reasons. In particular, US imperialism must prop up Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and keep Iraq isolated and weak. However, ten years after the Gulf War, none of these strategic aims has really been achieved. Iraq remains defiant, sanctions are beginning to crumble, and Saudi Arabia is in a state of chronic unstability.

With the aim of shoring up Saudi Arabia and the other stooge Arab states. Washington put pressure on Tel Aviv to make concessions to the Palestinians with a view to defusing the central problem of the region. But now this attempt is in ruins. The Americans will continue to exert pressure on Israel to continue negotiating with Arafat, but with little prospect of success. The attempt to reach a deal has merely served to expose the intractable nature of the problem and exacerbate all the contradictions. The danger of further explosions, possibly leading to a wider Middle East war with unforeseeable consequences now looms large in the calculations of Washington. In the event of such an outcome, there is no doubt that US imperialism will back Israel, for the very simple reason that Israel remains the only really firm ally of US imperialism in the whole region. This is ultimately decisive. In the event of war, the USA would yet again move heaven and earth to ensure an Israeli victory. The Arab regimes are well aware of this and therefore are hardly enthusiastic about the prospect of war.

Arab regimes terrified

The election of Sharon has sent a shudder down the spine of every Arab government in the region. News of the election result was predictably met by a howl of indignation in the Arab press. "The victory of the bloody terrorist and war criminal Sharon...is a clear message by the Zionist entity to Arabs amounting to an official declaration of war," thundered al-Baath newspaper, organ of Syria's ruling Baath Party. But this sound and fury does not reflect any burning desire for action to defend the Palestinians.

The events in Palestine are having a profoundly unsettling effect on the masses in the Arab world. Unlike previous periods of tension, the clashes in the streets of Palestine are covered by recently opened satellite Arab television stations, which broadcast the images into homes across the region. Sympathy for the Palestinians translates into resentment toward the United States, Israel's chief backer. The Arab regimes are terrified of a war with Israel - a war which they would lose just as they have lost every previous war with Israel. Egypt and Jordan both have peace agreements with Israel, have made clear to Arafat that they are not prepared to go to war with Israel at this time. 

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt took a cautious line on Sharon's victory. "We will wait and see what Sharon will do," he told reporters. "Will it be a policy of peace or that of suppression?" This is merely the continuation of the policy he outlined at the Arab summit in Cairo last October when he said: "Egypt will not take part in a war. We must cleave to the strategy of peace {which was adopted at the Arab summit of 1996}. War is no child's play." Mubarak explained that he was not prepared to sacrifice a single Egyptian soldier's life in another war with Israel. The same line has been repeated hundreds of times in Egyptian newspaper articles and in the press of other Arab countries. This caution is well founded. It reflects the fact that in the whole region there is not a single stable regime. There are reports of splits at the top in Kuwait and a deepening crisis in Saudi Arabia. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood's significant win in recent parliamentarian elections sparked a nation-wide resurgence in fundamentalist activity, which has alarmed Mubarak and the ruling clique. 

Despite all this - or rather because of it - it is not clear that war will be avoided in the end. If the situation deteriorates further in the occupied territories, resulting in new massacres of Palestinians, the mood of anger in the neighbouring Arab states will turn into blind fury. The Arab regimes may be forced to declare war in order to prevent themselves being overthrown. At the roots of the problem is the poverty of the masses, growing inequality, unemployment and despair among the youth. Writing in the left wing Palestinian paper Challenge (No. 64), Yakov Ben Efrat states:

"The call for war {on the part of the Arab masses} is strange. How have the masses reached such a point? The answer is easy: following a decade of so-called peace, they have become convinced that only a war can relieve their misery. With this demand, the street expresses its absolute loss of confidence in the strategy of peace, which left Arab lands in the hands of Israel, despite Arab readiness to make important concessions." And the author goes on to point out that this pro-Palestinian movement in the neighbouring states contains a warning to the Arab governments: "We oppose your policies, your corruption, and your alliance with the US and Israel." 

The poverty of the masses in Egypt, Jordan and other Middle East countries, has been enormously exacerbated by the merciless pressure of world imperialism, the privatisations, the abolition of subsidies and the unemployment and the ruination of local industries that flows from so-called policies of liberalisation dictated by the IMF and the World Bank (i.e. the USA). All these things are identified in the mind of the masses with the so-called peace policy and the capitulation of the Arab ruling class to US imperialism. Thus, the whole of the past ten years has piled up one contradiction upon another, preparing an explosion throughout the Middle East. 

Business Week (6/ 11/ 2000) reported on the situation in Jordan: "People across the Arab world are growing restive. On October 23, Jordanian security services had to use tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators who had gone to the border to protest Israeli actions." In Egypt, Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party is doing less well than expected in outgoing parliamentary elections. Unless this crisis is defused, says {Mohammed} Heikal, 'We are going to see a tidal wave of anger.' " The extreme and growing restlessness on the streets can, at a given stage, push the Arab regimes into a war which they do not want and which they fear as the Devil fears holy water. A war with Israel - which would inevitably end in defeat - would send these unpopular regimes falling like dominoes one after another. The effects of this earthquake would be felt on a world scale.

Arafat's manoeuvres

For his part, Arafat is desperate for a deal. No sooner had Sharon been elected than he pronounced his willingness to talk to the new boss in Tel Aviv. Arafat would be pleased to sign a deal with Israel that would sacrifice the cause of Palestinian self-determination, but unfortunately for him, the mass of Palestinians and rank and file of the PLO do not see things in the same way. While Arafat pleads for negotiations, the Fatah group vowed to intensify the Intifada, affirming Israel could have peace and security only by ending its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Despite everything, the Palestinian National Authority has promised to work with the new Israeli leadership. Yasser Arafat, said: "We respect the decision of the Israeli people. We hope the peace process will continue." Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said Palestinians would be prepared to negotiate with Sharon but only from the point where the talks ended with Barak. But this appears to be ruled out. There is no doubt that Arafat's offer was directed to Washington more than to Israel. The leaders of the PLO are hoping that the Americans will get them out of difficulties and put pressure on Sharon to reach a compromise. Arafat and the PLO leaders are looking to the good offices of Washington to find a way out. This is entirely utopian. 

Although the USA - for its own reasons - would like a negotiated settlement, it is not in complete command of the situation. Nor can the manoeuvres of US imperialism cannot necessarily avoid a war. The Americans would be delighted to oblige by brokering a compromise. But the problem is: what sort of compromise? Let us remember that the Camp David summit in July 2000, despite heavy pressure from Washington on both sides, ended in abject failure. The situation now is infinitely more difficult. Sharon has repeatedly said he will not negotiate with the Palestinians while their uprising continues. He envisages handing over only some 40 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Palestinian rule. His first act upon winning the election was to go to pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and issue an inflammatory speech, affirming that Jerusalem would remain in Jewish hands "for ever and ever." If that is the case, it is hard to see what the purpose of any negotiation would be.

The Intifada was the response of the Palestinian masses, exasperated by the constant sell-outs of Arafat and his cronies. Sharon's provocation was not the cause of the explosion, but only the spark that lit the fuse. The movement of the masses has transformed the situation, destroying the legitimacy of the moderate factions in the peace process. In the last few months, nearly 400 people have been killed - the overwhelming majority of them Palestinians. How can the families of hundreds of dead Palestinians believe Israel is sincere in making peace? Yet the legitimacy of Arafat's leadership largely depends on continuing some sort of peace negotiations.

The fact is that the present Intifada was not organised or led by the Palestine Authority. It was a spontaneous movement from below of the masses in Gaza and the West Bank, frustrated and tired of the constant sell-outs and capitulations of the leadership. As Yakov Ben Efrat points out in the article already mentioned:

"Ha'aretz (no. 1) quotes an unnamed Israeli political source: in a recent telephone conversation Arafat told Barak he has difficulty controlling the street, because the events express the will of the Palestinian people. The PA with its 30,000 rifles today merely watches from the rear while the youth up front throw stones and get shot. The figures demonstrate this too clearly. According to the human rights organisation B'tselem, in the Territories during the past month Israel's army has killed 14 members of the Palestinian Security Forces and 95 civilians, of whom 23 were younger than 17."

The workers and poor peasants in Gaza and the West Bank have no choice but to fight. Unlike Arafat and his clique, they have gained nothing from the so-called peace. On the contrary. Conditions in these areas are even worse than before, with mass unemployment and a drop of 30 percent in living standards. The truncated territory of the Palestinian Authority was never going to be viable, split into cantons, with a large number of Jewish settlers, economically dependent on Israel, the Palestinians suffer from lack of clean drinking water, a crumbling infrastructure, bad housing - all aggravated by constant Israeli harassment such as the closure of borders. The Economist reported the case of one Palestinian woman who was forced to give birth in a truck because the Israelis refused her the right to cross from one strip of territory to another.

The rank and file of Arafat's own movement are under the pressure of the masses, and have actively participated in the resistance. For this they have been singled out for assassination by the Israeli security forces. Far from intimidating them, this has merely poured oil on the flames. A grassroots leader of the Fatah movement, Marwan Barghouthi, immediately after the election vowed to step up a four-month-old uprising in response. "We have to face Sharon by strengthening the Intifada,, with the escalation of the Intifada," the Fatah leader told journalists in Ramallah after he led a peaceful demonstration in the West Bank city. "I don't think there is any chance to negotiate with Sharon under any circumstances and we call on our Arab neighbours not to invite Sharon and not to be mediators with Sharon," he added. This is the authentic voice of the Palestinians! They have paid a heavy price in blood and tears in the fight for their rights and are not prepared to allow this to be signed away in negotiations, the result of which are determined in Washington and Tel Aviv.

The PLO leaders' faith in human reason and good will is extremely touching. Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, secretary-general of the Palestinian Authority, said Sharon might modify his stance once in power: "Of course we reject what he is saying now as a candidate for prime minister...but when he is the prime minister something should be changed," Abdel-Rahman told Reuters. Yes, the PLO leaders who have for decades lead the Palestinian people from one defeat to another now place all their trust in the good will and reasonableness of - Sharon! They hang on his every word and gesture in the hope of detecting some hint of a concession. But no such hint is forthcoming. Sharon remains implacable. Whereas Barak tried to conceal the mailed fist inside the velvet glove of treacherous diplomacy, the leader of Likud openly brandishes the mailed fist of brute force under the noses of the PLO leaders - and then talks about negotiation - if the Palestinians refrain from violence! It would be amusing if the consequences were not so deadly serious.

Of course, the conduct of the PLO leaders can be interpreted in a different way - as a subtle tactic, intended to enlist the support of world public opinion for the Palestinian cause. It should be clear that the world opinion referred to here is not that of the working class and the Labour Movement - the only real friends the Palestinians have in the world - but the opinion of imperialism, especially American imperialism. In effect, Arafat is saying to Washington: Look, we are nice people. We want peace. We want to negotiate. But this terrible Sharon is so unreasonable! Why don't you help us? Why don't you have a little word with Mr. Sharon and ask him nicely to give us a little more? Then maybe we can sit round a table and do business...

This "tactic" is unfortunately the product of a slight misunderstanding. US imperialism is only interested in peace in the Middle east because it suits their selfish interests. They are not in the least bit concerned about the sufferings of the Palestinian people or its right to a homeland. Insofar as they have attempted to get Israel to come to an agreement with Arafat, it is only because the Intifada was causing a revolutionary ferment in the neighbouring Arab states which threatened American interests. As always, reform is a by-product of revolutionary struggle. It was not the "clever tactics" and negotiating skills of the PLO leaders that brought about this shift in the attitude of US imperialism, but the struggle and sacrifice of the Palestinian masses. And rest assured that, when the chips are down, US imperialism will support Israel, not the Palestinians. To appeal to Washington to intervene against Tel Aviv is like appealing to Satan to intervene against Beelzebub. This is not "realistic" diplomacy, but the worst kind of reformist blindness.

The 'United Nations'

In remarks to reporters, US Secretary of State Powell urged Arabs and Israelis to refrain from provocative actions that could spin out of control. "We want to work with our friends in the United Nations and elsewhere to persuade all of the parties to the conflict that during this very, very delicate time immediately following the election, we do nothing and the leaders in the region do everything to make sure that violence doesn't start to swell up," he said.

Such speeches reek of hypocrisy. This spokesman of US imperialism recommends that both Arabs and Israelis refrain from violence, thus placing the murderer and his victim on the same level. The fact is conveniently ignored that it is the Israeli army that is occupying the lands of the Palestinians, and not vice-versa; that the Israelis possess a powerful army equipped with the most modern weapons of destruction, while the Palestinians are mostly armed only with sticks and stones; and that the overwhelming bulk of the dead and wounded are not Israelis but Palestinian men, women and children.

The appeal to "our friends in the United Nations" is just another example of the same repulsive hypocrisy. Who does not know that the so-called United Nations is nothing more than a fig leaf to cover the manoeuvres of US imperialism? The Palestinians have had fifty years of pious resolutions from the UN which have done absolutely nothing for them, except to act as an excuse to the rest of the world to turn their backs. Ah, but we passed a resolution! The Israeli ruling class finds a good use for these resolutions in the smallest room of their house, and their friends in Washington have a good laugh at those pacifists and reformists who imagine that a good UN resolution can solve all problems. The history of the last 50 years shows this to be false. The Palestinians can put no faith in either the Dis-United Nations or in US imperialism - which is more or less the same thing under different disguises.

The masses in the West Bank and Gaza have concluded that they cannot depend on the good will of the Arab regimes, the UN or imperialism to solve their problems.

For a revolutionary solution!

From bitter experience, the masses in Gaza and the West Bank have learned that they must rely only on their own forces, their own revolutionary movement. This is undoubtedly correct, but it is not sufficient to guarantee victory. For that, a correct strategy, programme and tactics are necessary. 

In a revolution, the subjective factor is decisive - the revolutionary party and its leadership. Under the present leadership, no solution is possible and the only outcome will be a new sell-out. But this is not inevitable. In the course of struggle the masses are learning. The Intifada is already undermining Yasser Arafat's regime, while the power of the local militias and revolutionary groups is growing. The central authority is collapsing and there are elements of dual power. If - as seems inevitable - the conflict continues, the central authority may collapse completely. If a genuine revolutionary party existed, this situation of dual power could lead to the establishment of a new power - the embryo of a Palestinian workers' state, prepared to fight to defend the interests of the masses.

The movement must be organised through the medium of elected committees of the workers, small peasants, small traders, women, young people and unemployed. The committees should be linked up on a local, regional and national level, forming, in effect, the basis for a revolutionary government of workers and small farmers. Only such a government, which enjoys the trust of the people because it is composed of the people themselves, can lead the struggle against the Israeli occupiers. The Palestinians do not want to fight and die merely to have the fruits of the struggle snatched from them by a leadership that is always ready to compromise and capitulate to the oppressors, and that sees self-determination merely as a means of enriching itself at the people's expense.

It must be clearly understood that the Intifada cannot succeed if the struggle is isolated to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Intifada can never triumph on purely national lines. The battle is too unequal. The only hope for the Palestinians is to spread the conflict beyond the borders of the occupied territories. By their heroic struggle and sacrifices, the Palestinians have already succeeded in rousing the oppressed masses throughout the entire region, stirring up public anger in the neighbouring countries and thereby threatening Arab regimes and Western interests. The Intifada has thrown down the gauntlet to the whole world! This can only have two possible results: either the greatest of victories or the worst of defeats. No half-way solution is possible!

The Intifada is not isolated. It has the most tremendous reserves: in the Arab masses of the neighbouring countries and the workers of the entire world. The bourgeois Arab regimes are terrified by the Intifada because of the danger that it will spread to their own countries. The same fear haunts the imperialists. All these forces are ranged against the Intifada. The so-called bourgeois Arab friends of Palestine will betray the movement as they have done so often in the past. Nothing can be expected from the self-seeking Arab governments. The only hope left to the Palestinian people is to spread the revolution by appealing to the workers and peasants of Egypt, Jordan and the other Arab states to rise against their oppressors and to join hands with their brothers and sisters in a common revolutionary struggle.

Ultimately, the possibility of victory is linked to developments inside Israel itself. So far, the reactionary Zionist ruling class has succeeded in maintaining its control. But this situation cannot be maintained indefinitely. The victory of Sharon marks the temporary victory of reaction in Israel. But this will not last. Sharon will disappoint public opinion even quicker than Barak did. Unless there is a war, which would cut across the whole situation, his administration will be a government of crisis which probably will not be of long duration.

Israeli capitalism is entering into crisis. The economy is in steep decline with a nine billion shekel deficit. The Hi Tech sector which was until recently the engine of economic growth is rapidly deflating as a result of the NASDAQ crisis, with "Start-Ups" closing down every day. Sharon's government will attempt to place the entire burden of the crisis on the shoulders of the working class. The policy of deep cuts in health, education, welfare and jobs, which will erode his base of support and at a certain stage prepare a movement of the working class. In the convulsive period that now opens up, there can be violent swings of public opinion in Israel from right to left and back again. Many of the same people who voted for Sharon in these elections will swing the other way when it becomes apparent where his policies have landed them.

Beneath the surface, there is a growing mood of anxiety in Israel. The peace movement is not dead, although it is in abeyance. This was shown by the mass demonstration of thousands of Israelis who marched across Jerusalem, under driving rain, to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the murder of Emil Grunszweig - the peace activist killed by a Sharon follower during a 1983 demonstration demanding Sharon's resignation from the Defence Ministry. A day later, seventeen among hundreds of protesting activists were arrested when blocking the road in front of the Defence Ministry to protest the cruel siege of the Palestinian population. And the Yesh Gvul movement reports a great increase in the number of soldiers refusing service in the occupied territories ever since Sharon started to show a lead in the polls. 

Sharon's policies effectively rule out any agreement with the Palestinians. Therefore the conflict in the Palestinian areas will continue, with intensifying violence. Sharon's natural tendency will lead him to increase the brutal oppression of the Palestinians even beyond the levels seen to date. That is certainly what the settlers and other Sharon allies on the extreme right expect of him. New massacres and atrocities in the occupied lands are implicit in the situation. But that is not what most Israelis want. The last Intifada showed that it was entirely possible to win the sympathy of a broad layer of the Israeli society, to get them to protest against the brutality of the occupying forces. Such a movement can occur again in the future and develop into a mass movement against the occupation.

With no real solution in sight, the struggle in the occupied territories will continue, with ebbs and flows for years. As the conflict drags on, with an increasing number of Israeli casualties, the mood of the population will change, as happened in the USA during the Vietnam war. Possibilities will open up for the Israeli Marxists who now find themselves isolated. The policies of cuts and attacks on living standards will provoke strikes and movements of the Israeli working class. This is the real hope for the future of the Palestinian revolution. 

Lenin pointed out long ago that there was a relation between war and revolution. The present situation could lead to an all-out regional war, to Israel's international isolation and a deep rift in Israeli society. Avigdor Liebermann of the ultra-right wing "National Unity Party", who may get a senior portfolio in the Sharon cabinet, already set it out in vivid colours, in a newspaper interview which was highly embarrassing to the Sharon campaign: re conquest of the Palestinian enclaves, all-out regional war, Israeli planes bombing from Cairo to Teheran...(!) Yet most Israelis do not want war. Even while Sharon was climbing higher and higher in the polls, a steady 65 percent to 70 percent majority in the same polls expressed themselves in favour of continuing the peace process. 

Only one thing can cut across this perspective and play into the hands of the Israeli imperialists. That is, an outbreak of indiscriminate acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians. If the Palestinians act as though the Israeli people were one reactionary mass, instead of striving to break up the Zionist bloc and win over the working class and progressive sections to the Palestinian cause, any chance of success will be destroyed. The most reactionary wing in Israel will be strengthened and the sections of Israeli society which could be won over, would be silenced. This would prepare the ground for an intensification of repression in the occupied territories and the crushing of the Intifada.

Unfortunately, in the absence of a genuine Leninist leadership, a mood of desperation is beginning to emerge in the Palestinian areas. The constant provocations of the Israeli occupying forces generates a burning desire for vengeance which can express itself in terrorist moods among the youth. Groups like Hamas have in the past claimed responsibility for several suicide bomb attacks that killed or hurt scores of Israelis. Such tactics do not hurt the Israeli state, but merely push the mass of Israelis behind the most reactionary wing of the Israeli ruling class. If the movement were to be diverted along these lines - as has occurred so many times in the past - it would be a calamity the Palestinians. The revolutionary potential of the Intifada would be thrown away for the sake of a few futile gestures, such as the recent car bombs in Jerusalem. This must be avoided at all costs! 

Israeli society is far from homogeneous. It is riven with contradictions at all levels - not just the contradiction between workers and bosses that exists in all countries at all times. There is the contradiction between the interests of the ultra-orthodox and the Russian immigrants who are adamant against religious coercion. There is the resentment of the new generation against religious interference in their lives. There is the reluctance of Israeli mothers to see the lives of their sons put in danger in an unjust occupation, and so on. It is absolutely necessary that the Palestinian revolutionary movement take advantage of these contradictions and not act in a way that would allow the reactionaries to unite the entire population against them.

At a certain stage it must dawn on the Israeli masses that they are in an unwinnable conflict. At that point, a reaction will set in against the war and for withdrawal from the occupied territories. This was what happened in Vietnam, and this brought the USA to the brink of a revolutionary situation. (Not just mass demonstrations but a mood of open mutiny among the troops). Something similar can happen in Israel - although the present reactionary situation seems to rule it out. The mood of the population can and does change. That is why Lenin put forward the perspective of revolution in the middle of the First World War, which was also a carnival of reaction.

For a Socialist Federation!

The Palestinian masses, and particularly the youth, have shown tremendous combativity. They are daily confronting the Israeli occupiers with great courage. Armed with a revolutionary and internationalist policy they would be invincible. Unfortunately, without a clear programme and adequate leadership, this will also lead to a blind alley. The question therefore boils down to the perspectives for revolution. How can this be posed practically? How can the movement be advanced? The first step would be to take the power! Develop and extend the revolutionary committees and link them up on a local, regional and national basis. The only leadership we can recognise is the National Committee of the democratically elected representatives of the revolutionary movement.

The second step is to take the necessary measures to spread the revolution to the neighbouring Arab countries, starting with Jordan. The Palestinian masses can finish the job they started in 1970, and which was aborted because of the false policies of Arafat and the PLO. An appeal must be made to the Arab workers in Egypt to overthrow the imperialist stooge Mubarak. Once the Arab revolution starts, there will be no stopping it. The establishment of a Palestinian workers' state in the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan would be a viable base from which to conduct the struggle against Israel, especially if it were joined by Egypt. This would mean an intensification of the struggle, but it would be a more equal struggle than at present! With the correct leadership, the struggle would be waged by both military and political means: combining armed resistance with appeals to the Israeli soldiers and civilians. The reactionaries in Tel Aviv would have a real fight on their hands. The only way to fight Israel is by uniting the masses of all the Arab states in a revolutionary war, combining military means with an appeal to the working people of Israel. 

For the moment as far as Israel is concerned, the prospects seem bleak. But that can change. Sooner or later the masses will come to understand that there is no way out on the present basis. On a capitalist basis no solution for the Palestinians and Jews is possible. Without the revolutionary overthrow, neither a federation nor a democratic unitary state are possible. The Israeli-Palestine conflict can only be solved by SOCIALIST REVOLUTION. And that means socialist revolution throughout the Middle East, starting at the weakest link which is not Israel but Jordan and Egypt. This perceptive is not utopian. There is clearly a colossal social and political ferment in both Egypt and Jordan. That is why these regimes are forced to protest against the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. They care nothing about the sufferings of the Palestinians but are terrified of their own masses, who are suffering from unemployment and bad conditions. The Palestinian question is powerful a catalyst for profound social discontent, and the Arab governments are using it to try to divert this discontent. But this is a dangerous game. It may lead to war (though the Arab regimes fear this like the plague) and war can lead to revolution in one Arab country after another. This is precisely why the US imperialists are desperately striving for a deal. But a deal is further away than ever.

Only within a socialist federation of the Middle East, can the divisions be overcome through the implementation of the widest autonomy for Jews and Arabs, and all other minorities (Christian Marionites, Druzes, Copts, etc.). Once the working class has power, it will arrive at an amicable agreement about where these autonomous areas are situated. Of course, the right of return must be guaranteed, along with complete equality of rights of all citizens. An equitable solution can be found only within the context of a workers' state.

The prior condition for any really democratic solution is therefore the overthrow of both: socialist revolution in Israel and in Palestine. Any other proposal will necessarily have either an utopian or reactionary character, or both. This was the way the Bolsheviks set about solving the national question after 1917. Every nationality was guaranteed its own homeland, its own autonomous republic or region within the context of a SOCIALIST FEDERATION. Lenin explained that, in the concrete circumstances of Russia, where the Russian tsarist regime had viciously oppressed the Poles, Finns, Georgians etc., for generations, a socialist federation was the only way out. 

There are those who say that such a prospect is impossible, that Jews and Arabs can never live together. True, decades of monstrous oppression have created serious barriers in the way of unity - barriers that can only be removed by revolutionary means. We must look beyond the present situation and see the underlying revolutionary processes that are maturing beneath the surface. In fact, there is tremendous revolutionary potential in the Arab states and also in Iran. Even Saudi Arabia is not stable - a fact which is terrifying Washington. The whole situation is in ferment. Only the lack of the subjective factor prevents a general revolution. The ruling cliques, conspiring with imperialism, have so far managed to keep the lid on, but this will not last forever.

The poison of racism and discrimination will always be there unless and until its material basis is removed. This presupposes the expropriation of the capitalists and a socialist plan of production, together with workers' control and management that will mobilise all the productive resources of the region to solve the burning needs of the workers, peasants and unemployed. A centralised planned economy does not at all preclude the fullest autonomy for different regions within the context of a socialist federation. Once this idea is explained, the masses will understand that socialism does not mean the negation of their legitimate national aspirations but actually affirms them. 

The only way forward is on the programme of socialist revolution and internationalism. Any other policy will lead to catastrophe for Jews and Arabs alike.