The following article appeared in Proletarian Revolution No. 71 (Summer 2004).
With the full support of George W. Bush and his echo, John Kerry, the Israeli government of the butcher Ariel Sharon is laying the basis for yet another episode in the ongoing attempt to devastate the Palestinians as a people. They are trying not only to put a gravestone on the current intifada but also to erase the concept of and potential for Palestinian self-determination. Whether they will succeed temporarily in their first aim remains to be seen. In the second, they are doomed to failure.
On a political and military plane, the Israeli strategy has three components: “unilateral disengagement” from the Gaza Strip, the building of a wall through Palestinian lands in the West Bank and an added offensive against the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.
The latest Israeli attack, under the nauseatingly innocuous name of “Operation Rainbow,” consists of wholesale destruction and massacre in the refugee camp of Rafah. House demolitions, missiles and sniper fire murdered anywhere from 40 to 60 Palestinians, and left thousands more homeless. It is the largest such atrocity since the invasion of Jenin two years ago. (See For Arab Workers’ Revolution To Smash Israeli/U.S. Terror!, in Proletarian Revolution No. 64.)
Sharon’s “disengagement” plan would transform the Gaza Strip into the world’s largest concentration camp. The plan removes the 7000 Jewish settlers (and the soldiers who protect them), who currently occupy one quarter of one of the world’s most densely populated territories at the expense of 1.3 million Palestinians. Israel would retain control over all of the Strip’s land borders, all air rights and the adjacent sea, and forbid the reconstruction of the airport and seaport in Gaza. Israel would have the right to re-invade at any point. Israeli corporations would retain the exclusive right to exploit 4000 Palestinian workers in the Erez Industrial Zone under the eye of Israeli troops. The withdrawal would not be completed until the end of 2005, until which time the settlers and soldiers would retain free rein to bulldoze Palestinian homes. In exchange for such generosity, Israel insists that Gaza will no longer be considered “occupied territory.”
The plan, favored by the bulk of the Zionist bourgeoisie and by Israeli public opinion at large, was nevertheless seen by the majority of Likud’s 200,000 members as an unacceptable concession to “terror.” The desire to rid themselves of responsibility for Gaza while retaining effective control has long been mainstream for the Israeli ruling class, pioneered by supposed “doves” of the Labor Party like Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak. The setback to Sharon’s plan that the Likud ranks delivered will not blunt the Zionist maneuver for long. The slaughter in Rafah seems intended to send a message, both to the Likud ranks and to the Palestinian masses, that if Israel leaves, it does so from a position of strength, not weakness.
But what Rabin and Barak tried and failed to accomplish through the Oslo agreement and subsequent negotiations was to force a section of the Palestinian bourgeoisie, led by Yasir Arafat and the PLO, to serve as useful intermediaries. In the course of the present intifada, the PLO-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) established by these negotiations was exposed as being neither effective collaborators with Israel nor defenders of the aspirations of the Palestinian masses. It could not openly turn against the uprising without losing its last shred of credibility; yet its sole purpose was to use that credibility in order to suppress the uprising.
With the resulting vacuum of leadership, the power of the clerical reactionaries of Hamas grew, especially in Gaza, where they became a dominant force within the intifada leadership. They not only led thoroughly defensible forms of resistance (mass demonstrations, both unarmed and armed, and commando, bomb and mortar attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers), but also organized so-called “martyrdom operations” – suicide bombings on Israeli civilians. This tactic encouraged Arab masses to wait passively for martyr-saviors and also drove many Israeli workers deeper into Sharon’s arms in a futile quest for “security.”
The greatest danger for the Israeli state coming from a non-negotiated withdrawal from Gaza was that it would be seen by the Palestinians as a partial victory for the intifada. It was, in fact, seen this way by the overwhelming majority of Palestinians in Gaza, eager to be at least in part rid of the settlers and soldiers. Sharon has a grasp of the relationship between his state’s maneuvers and the mass struggles. Therefore, he uses U.S.-made Apache helicopter gunships and tanks to try to bloodily suppress such ideas.
Assassination has long been a key feature of Israeli strategy. But until recently, Israel had generally refrained from killing political leaders above a certain rank, out of fear of creating martyrs. Most targets were either leaders of the military wings of their organizations or lower-ranked political leaders.
That changed early in the morning of March 22, with the murder of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the quadriplegic spiritual leader of Hamas, as he left his mosque in the center of Gaza City. His successor as Hamas’s political leader in Gaza, Dr. Abd-al-Aziz al-Rantisi, was then assassinated, again by a helicopter-fired missile.
These killings are a blow to Hamas. Sensibly, the identity of Dr. Rantisi’s successor has been kept a secret; the loss of two widely-known charismatic leaders will not be easily replaced. More fundamentally, the killings sent a chilling message from Israel to the Palestinian people: “If you dare to rise up against your oppression, we will not hesitate to murder you.”
A great danger to the Palestinians stems from the pro-capitalist nature of Hamas’s conduct of the struggle. While nominally standing for the liberation of all Palestine, it wants to deter any revolutionary transformation of Palestinian society. Therefore its leadership is driven to attain at least a piece of whatever state power the Palestinian bourgeoisie is able to win. Since the projected withdrawal from Gaza did not come about as a result of negotiations with “the Zionist entity,” Hamas has promised to join PA institutions to administer the area. If this goes through, it is only a matter of time before Hamas representatives, shoulder to shoulder with their ex-PLO counterparts, are negotiating with “the entity” over matters like conditions of Palestinians at the Erez plants and the distribution of dwindling permits to enter Israel for work.
The Israeli “peace-seeking” and“disengagement” plan is a recipe for continued oppression of the Palestinians. His plan in hand, Sharon met with President Bush on April 14, just three days before Dr. Rantisi’s assassination, and received a letter confirming U.S. support for the key strategic aims of Zionist expansionism: the annexation of large settlement blocs in the West Bank, and the rejection of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands in the “Jewish state.” Not to be outdone, Kerry hastened to endorse the Sharon plan and the assassination of Rantisi by proclaiming himself “not 99 percent, but 100 percent” behind Israel.
The PA leadership responded with one voice to this Bush-Sharon agreement as if the sky had fallen. Yet, as Ali Abunimah of The Electronic Intifada pointed out, “Sharon’s position indicates a significant shift towards Israel’s traditional Labor-led ‘peace camp,’ while Bush simply rephrased formulas already used by former president Bill Clinton.” (“Why all the fuss about the Bush-Sharon meeting?”, April 14.) Preparing such annexations and maintaining the sacrosanct “Jewish character” of the Israeli state at the expense of the refugees was always the purpose of the so-called “peace process,” as coverage in PR has repeatedly demonstrated.
So why the fuss? Because the PA leadership lives and dies by negotiations. What Bush and Sharon now made clear was that the whole charade of “final status talks” was exactly that. The Palestinians could expect nothing more than an unviable, overpopulated, minuscule Bantustan from the “two state” solution.
Sharon may be able, by taking Israeli settlers and soldiers out of the line of fire, to dampen the intifada. Certainly, his apartheid wall, which further imprisons the West Bank Palestinians, may also thwart the mass uprising for now. But his aim, expressed with such cocky assurance, of finishing off the Palestinian struggle against national oppression is unachievable.
The full scope of Israel’s vicious injustices do not stop at the borders of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; they go to the very heart of its existence as an exclusively Jewish state. This was hinted at obliquely in a sentence of Bush’s letter to Sharon which has been little remarked upon, but whose devastating significance is clear both to Zionists and their more clear-sighted opponents: “We also understand that ... Israel believes it is important to bring new opportunities to the Negev and the Galilee.”
These two regions within Israel’s 1948 boundaries have the highest percentages of Palestinian Arabs, fourth-class citizens, often referred to by the misleading name “Israeli Arabs.” They form the lowest economic strata in Israel. Tens of thousands live in “unrecognized villages,” which have no paved roads, electricity, sewage or water systems, and are subject to being razed by planning agencies with no warning. From the foundation of the state of Israel, “economic development” in these regions has meant “Judaization” – the expropriation of Arab lands to make way for new Jewish settlers.
The ongoing harassment of Israel’s Arab citizens serves the purpose of pushing “voluntary” self-exile. This helps carry out the Zionist aim of achieving a Jewish majority in as much of Palestine as possible. Now, the U.S. has given a green light, not only to the further imprisonment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, but also the escalating Zionist attack on Israel’s nominal citizens on the basis of nationality and religion.
The establishment of an exclusive Jewish state at the center of the Arab world demanded, from the beginning, mass expulsion. Today, Israeli historians not only admit to the huge ethnic cleansing required by their state’s foundation, but wonder if it should have gone further. A colonial-settler state founded upon such blatant theft could only survive, in this epoch, as a heavily subsidized imperialist outpost. For the 1.2 million Palestinians living today within Israel’s 1948 borders, and for the 5 million refugees descended from those expelled, it remains the case that all Israel is occupied territory. Israel’s oppression does not stop at the borders of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; neither will the struggle against it. This is the fatal flaw of all of Bush and Sharon’s plans.
With the embarrassing crisis faced by the U.S. in Iraq, a dramatic escalation in the hostility and potential confidence of the masses of the Middle East is now occurring under the surface of events. That confidence, if coupled to the growth of class consciousness, will undermine the clerical as well as the secular nationalists who now mislead the struggle against U.S. and Israeli imperialism. When Arab workers place themselves at the head of the struggle in Palestine, it will be as part of the rising tide of revolution which will sweep the entire region.