The following article was published in Proletarian Revolution No. 62 (Winter 2001). It is an updated version of a statement which appeared in November 2000.
Since the end of September, demonstrators throughout Palestine have been locked in a volatile struggle against the occupation forces of the state of Israel, perhaps the most widespread struggle since the previous “Intifada” ten years ago. With machine guns, rocket launchers and helicopter gunships, the Israelis have murdered hundreds of Palestinians, a third of them children, and wounded thousands more, losing only a few of their troops in the process. Yet the vastly outgunned Palestinians have continued to fight.
Thirteen of those killed have been so-called Israeli Arabs, Palestinians living in the Israeli state proper. As these second-class citizens of Israel rebelled against both their own ghettoized conditions and in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israelis responded in true apartheid fashion with indiscriminate shooting and police-supported pogroms by Israeli civilians. The ferocious response showed that the rebellion has proven what Israelis would prefer to forget: that every city or kibbutz marks the spot of a destroyed and expropriated Palestinian town or village, that all Israel is “occupied territory.”
The spark for this conflagration was a provocation by Ariel Sharon, the Israeli official responsible for the 1982 massacre of 2000 Palestinians in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. With an armed guard of 1000 Israeli troops, Sharon “paid a visit” to prayer services at the Al-Aqsa mosque on September 28. But the powder had been packed for over seven years by the “peace process” that began with the Oslo accords.
Under cover of the supposed peace negotiations, the population of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza has doubled and the territory they cover has tripled. “Access roads,” open only to Jewish settlers and Israeli troops, have been built throughout the territories, bisecting the area into isolated and unviable patches of land – Palestinian villages and towns isolated from each other by a series of checkpoints and barriers.
It was on this colonial basis that the Oslo process projected the establishment of “sovereignty” for the Palestinians. Not only were Palestinians required to forego all claim to the 78 percent of Palestine territory encompassed by the state of Israel, as well as accepting the continued occupation of 59 percent of the West Bank, but they were to do so without control over their airport, any international boundaries or any movement between the scattered fragments of the Palestinian Bantustan. Arafat’s Palestinian National Authority (PNA) would have as its primary task the domestic repression of Palestinian militancy. And the millions of Palestinians in diaspora could hope at most for a token few to be allowed to return to their homeland.
Israeli government propaganda and its echoes in the U.S. media strive mightily to portray the current uprising as orchestrated by Yasser Arafat to extract more “concessions” from the Israelis. But it is clear that the uprising is directed nearly as much against Arafat and his collaborationist role as against the Israelis. While there have been incidents of Palestinian policemen turning their guns on Israeli soldiers, on most occasions they appear to have kept their distance and neutrality while their people get massacred. On occasions when Israelis have had to face gunfire, it has mostly been from street fighters whom, under the terms of the Oslo accords, Arafat and his police have tried to disarm.
Even when the Israelis have begun a strategy of deliberately firing upon cadres of Arafat’s Fatah and the police, this pattern has remained in place. Since October’s meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, Palestinian police officials have consulted with CIA operatives, including director George Tenet, on how to get the uprising under control.
Arafat’s whole political strategy is based on appealing for a U.N.-backed force to “protect” the Palestinians from the Israelis and patrol the current boundaries of his PNA Bantustan. Even this demand has been categorically rejected by the U.S. and Israel. But even in the event that such a force were put together, it would represent a danger for the Palestinian masses: it would be devoted to disarming them and would serve to etch the present untenable boundaries in stone, leaving the Palestinians under their “protection” to choke in isolation and economic backwardness.
To prevent the struggle from widening in this key region, outgoing President Bill Clinton has worked to render his final services to U.S. imperialism by presenting the Palestinians with an offer he thinks they cannot refuse. While superficially more generous than anything ever promised under the Oslo framework, it remains a recipe for dispossession.
With the acquiescence of a kept press, the U.S. government has portrayed the offer as representing 95 percent of the post-1967 occupied territories. In fact, it allows for a drastic expansion of the boundaries of Jerusalem, Israeli “buffer zones” and other exceptions, so that the areas remaining under Israeli control will amount to 35 percent of the West Bank. In all, the proposed Palestinian mini-state will amount to only 15 percent of Palestine as a whole.
Israel would keep control over international borders, gradually ceding to an “international” force that would include Israeli troops. The Palestinian “state” would be armed only to the extent necessary to suppress its own populace, next door to the most heavily armed state in the Middle East. Such “sovereignty” and “statehood” is farcical at best.
Most contemptibly, Clinton’s plan denies the right of return to the majority of the millions Palestinian refugees in nearby Arab states. Only a token few would be allowed to return to land and homes under Israeli control, while more would be allowed to resettle in a Palestinian statelet already full of impoverished refugee camps. Most would allegedly be “absorbed” into the countries where they are now held hostage – and which have disenfranchised, exploited, scapegoated and oppressed them for nearly half a century.
The motivating force behind this plan is the racist fear by the Israelis of the so-called “demographic problem,” a problem that was “solved” in the 1948 “War of Independence” through a massive campaign of murders and expulsions, ethnic cleansing on a grand scale. To preserve the “Jewish character” of the Israeli state and minimize the risks associated with Palestinian uprisings, a Jewish majority must be guaranteed, within both the boundaries of Israel itself and Palestine as a whole. For the sake of this racial and religious supremacism, millions of Palestinians are to remain dispossessed with the seal of approval of U.S. imperialism.
Instead of the grand compromise and supreme peace offering it is portrayed as, Clinton’s plan is what can be expected from imperialists: an insult to Palestinian self-determination, a death-trap in the guise of a state. Yet this is not enough for the Israelis. Prime Minister Ehud Barak, facing a tough re-election campaign against Sharon, has insisted on further concessions by the Palestinians.
Rather than reject Clinton’s offer outright, Arafat has responded with a “yes, but” and posed five “reservations,” mostly for clarification. Only on the right of return did Arafat object to Clinton’s proposals. The intensity of the Intifada has made it impossible for Arafat to immediately accept Clinton’s proposed satrapy, but his subservience to his imperialist masters remains clear.
The central problem is not one plan or another. All these agreements and treaties have been symptoms of the basic problem, the dispossession of the Palestinian people as a whole and the denial of their right to self-determination. Zionism, Israeli nationalism, relies on the assertion by force that only Jews have national rights in Palestine. Self-determination for the Palestinians would require the right of exiled Palestinians to return to their homeland, and for refugees both inside and outside of Palestine to return to their homes. It would entail the elimination of the state of Israel as a separate Jewish state, defined by its religious and racial exclusiveness, in favor of a single united Palestine with democratic rights for all its citizens.
To achieve this goal requires an anti-imperialist struggle, since Israel is a heavily subsidized, heavily armed outpost for the United States serving to help repress mass struggles. It has played this role well repeatedly, as during the 1970 “Black September” massacre in which the Israeli Mossad helped prop up the Jordanian monarchy against a mass uprising. Thus the struggle demands working-class leadership and a genuine socialist solution.
In contrast to this is the repeated willingness of the petty-bourgeois nationalist leaderships of the Palestinians to betray even their own limited nationalist program. As early as 1988, at the height of the last Intifada, Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization signaled, by renouncing its former program for a democratic secular state in all of Palestine, that it was prepared to come to some kind of accommodation with Israel and its U.S. backers. The Oslo agreement and the present slaughter resulting from it are just the latest in a long string of betrayals, going back as far as the Black September uprising, which the PLO’s armed groups refused to support on the grounds of non-interference in the affairs of a “brother” Arab regime.
The fact that Arafat, after years of taking marching orders from the U.S., has reluctantly changed tack is due solely to the action and determination of the Palestinian masses. Elements of his own Fatah movement, once the dominant faction in the now-defunct PLO, have spoken with fear of the possibility of civil war should Arafat disregard the masses’ anger and try to patch things up with Israel.
Today, Islamist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese Hezbollah pose as an alternate leadership to Arafat’s Fatah. With acts of individual and small-group heroics (suicide bombings, guerrilla attacks on Israeli troops, and kidnappings) they can appear to be striking blows against the Israeli oppressor. But their elitist strategy is no substitute for the action of masses. They choose terrorism as a pressure tactic on the imperialists rather than mass self-defense of the workers and oppressed. Their reactionary program offers no solution to the plagues of unemployment and misery afflicting the Palestinian workers, and promises only heightened sectarian divisions which can only serve the interests of the Israelis and the imperialists.
Nor can pan-Arab nationalism provide a solution: it also remains within a bourgeois framework. The venality of the Arab bourgeoisie and its various regimes was shown in the recent “emergency” summit of the Arab League, which fulminated loudly against Israel’s latest atrocities but committed itself to no action whatsoever, as well as in the pressure on Arafat by the monarchs and autocrats of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to accept Clinton’s machinations. Promises of even the most elementary material aid to the Palestinians, such as medical supplies, have been minimal, let alone offers of military aid. The rulers of the Arab world are terrified of their own people, who are brutally oppressed and subject to superexploitation at the behest of the imperialist powers which the various regimes serve as clients.
Against the Goliath of Israeli military might and its U.S. backing (over $5 million per day in military aid alone), we need not more Palestinian Davids but a revolutionary army. Instead of cheering for elitist bands of Islamist guerrillas, relying on quisling PNA police in league with the CIA, or waiting for the corrupt bourgeois Arab regimes to arm the masses, the Arab masses will have to arm themselves and make use of their power as workers to organize the struggle against Zionism.
Ten years ago, general strike action during the last Intifada united Arab workers throughout Palestine. Since then the Israelis have consciously implemented a policy of reducing their reliance on Arab labor. Israel imports thousands of immigrant workers from non-Arab countries, resulting in increased unemployment both for Israeli Arabs, at about 30 percent, and for those in the West Bank and Gaza, at 50-70 percent. Nevertheless, with no stake in the capitalist system that rests on the oppression of the masses, the working class remains the only force capable of leading the Palestinian people in a victorious struggle for national freedom.
Moreover, on a regional level, the working class as a whole remains very powerful, from the many-millioned mass of Egypt’s workers to the brutally superexploited migrants in the oil fields of Arabia. Any proletarian uprising in the Middle East would threaten U.S. hegemony over the world’s oil supply and would therefore face imperialist intervention, both from the U.S. directly and from Israel. Consequently, the liberation of Palestine and conquest of Palestinian self-determination is inextricably linked with the emancipation of the working class throughout the Middle East and the formation of a socialist federation of workers’ states.
Victory will require the building of an international revolutionary leadership of the proletariat, a re-created Fourth International. Comprised of workers both in the oppressed nations and among the imperialist powers, it would fight for the international unity of the working class in the struggle against imperialism, for the self-determination of oppressed nations and the masses’ democratic rights, and against Zionism and all forms of reactionary bourgeois nationalism. It would fight for the reconstruction of the world economy on a socialist basis, eliminating the material basis for all forms of national oppression and chauvinism.