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Peter Hadden

Middle East conflict – has it been resolved?

After agreement between Israel and PLO

(October 1993)

From Militant Labour, Number 57, October 1993.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Since old enemies Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin rubbed shoulders on the White House lawn and signed the Middle East peace accord, many people in Northern Ireland have asked: “If a settlement can be reached in the Middle East, why not here?” This reaction, while understandable, is in reality based on an overestimation of what has been agreed between Israel and the PLO.

Certainly the Middle East deal is significant. The Israeli state has for the first time recognised the PLO. Arafat, who 30 years ago began a terror campaign to destroy what he called the “Zionist entity” now, recognises pre-1967 Israel. He has accepted autonomy terms for some of his people which until now he had dismissed as the formation of a Palestinian “bantustan”.

However the only thing that has been concretely agreed is the granting of limited autonomy rights including the partial withdrawal of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) from the 25 mile long slum of Gaza and from Jericho, a not very important dot on the map of the West Bank.

Shabby deal

Socialists reject this shabby deal because it is not a solution for any of the people of the area. It does not give a Palestinian state. It does not free the 13,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and camps. It will not bring economic development and a decent life for the people of the area. In the long run it will not deliver peace and security to Israelis or Arabs.

Changed world relations, especially the consequences of the collapse of Stalinism and the Gulf war, have helped broker this agreement. The major capitalist powers, particularly the US, now have a freer hand in the region. In the past these powers used the Arab-Jewish conflict and then the existence of Israel to divide the people of this area. Now they wish to establish relations both with Israel and with the Arab states and so wish to see a regional settlement.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism which threatens to destabilise further, the entire region gives an added urgency to the US and other powers to seek a peace agreement which would help bolster shaky Arab governments like Mubarak in Egypt or Hussein’s in Jordan.

Troops bogged down

Any past belief on the part of the Israelis, that their state is militarily secure from its enemies has gone. In the six day Arab-Israeli war in 1967 they scored a quick and decisive victory. But the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 resulted in their troops being bogged down and eventually withdrawn from all but a southern strip of the country. The intifada in the occupied territories which began in 1987, has been a humbling experience. The mighty Israeli army has been unable to contain stone throwing children. Conscripts have been affected by their new role as policemen. Finally, the Scud missiles which landed on Israeli cities, during the Gulf War created a new mood of insecurity.

In 25 years’ time, given present birth and immigration rates, the Arab population of Israel and the occupied territories, will outnumber the Jews. All this has altered the mood in Israel, generating support for the call of land for peace.

At home the problems of the economy have created discontent. Unemployment is about 10%. Cuts and privatisation have angered the working class, leading to strikes and demonstration. This anger was a major factor in the 1992 election which saw the ousting of Likud and the coming to power of the Labour coalition. Most of the 450,000 Jews who had come from Russia and who have found themselves at the bottom of the social pile among Jews, voted Labour. It is a comment on the attractiveness of the Israeli state that 20,000 Soviet Jews have returned to Russia.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in. the form of Hamas, especially in Gaza, has added to the concern of the Israeli ruling class. Unable to contain the intifada the brutal methods of the Israeli state have turned the most militant layers of the youth to Hamas. Faced with a deteriorating situation, and-under pressure from the US, the Israelis have turned to the old enemy, the PLO, to attempt to lean on them against this new enemy, Hamas. For the Israeli regime the central plank of this new accord is that the Palestinian army of the PLO will take over from the IDF in containing Hamas in Gaza.

Arafat’s signature on this miserable deal is a consequence of the failed strategy of his group, Fatah, and of the PLO as a whole. Instead of using the Palestinian masses to spearhead a revolutionary movement to overthrow the rotten Arab regimes and to prepare for a socialist Middle East, Arafat relied, on these regimes and on the UN to deliver a Palestinian state. The result has been a permanent Palestinian diaspora and the brutal repression of Palestinians by Arabs in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere.

Likewise the failed methods of individual terrorism strengthened, rather than weakened the Israeli state. Insofar as the Israelis have made any concessions, this has been because of the mass resistance of the intifada, not the campaigns of Fatah and others.

Isolated in the Arab world, both by the collapse of Stalinism, which has left Arab regimes leaning to the West, and by their support for Iraq during the Gulf War, past PLO strategies have been left in ruins. With the very real possibility that Hamas might overtake them as the main force in the occupied territories, the PLO have accepted previously unacceptable terms.

Further agreements

Now that the deal has been signed; hopes have been-raised both in Israel and in the occupied territories that it will bring a solution. Support for it has risen. Thus it is possible that the deal will hold for a period and that further areas of agreement will be reached.

The West, anxious to stabilise the accord, have promised aid – $383 million from EC countries, $140 million from Scandinavia, a possible $2 billion over 5 years from the World Bank.

In an area like Gaza, where there is a lack of sanitation, electricity and other basic infrastructure and with a GDP per head on only $850, this can have some effect. But even if the slightly more developed West Bank is included there is no possibility of a viable capitalist Palestinian state being created by cash inflows. The existing economic base is negligible. There are only 30 companies who employ over 50 people. No company in Gaza employs over 70 people.

Economically these areas are, and will remain, little more than giant labour camps supplying cheap labour to Israel. Aid will go to bolster private businesses in order to try to create a Palestinian ruling class. But as has been seen in Eastern Europe, this is no easy matter, especially under conditions of political instability.

A capitalist state based in Gaza and the West Bank could not assimilate the Palestinian diaspora. Those who return will go back to the same poverty that they endured in Jordan, Egypt or elsewhere. In any case, the right to return is only offered to those expelled in 1967. The Agreement says nothing and offers nothing to the Arabs expelled from pre-1967 Israel, from the formerly Arab cities like Jaffa and Haifa.

But long before there would be any possibility of either autonomy or confederation with Jordan being offered to the West Bank, there are huge obstacles to be surmounted. Gaza is of no importance to Israel. But the West Bank, where over 50% of the agricultural land is used for settlements or for military purposes, is another matter. 83% of the West Bank’s water supplies the settlements in Israel and agreement to redistribute this will not be easy. Jerusalem is claimed by both.

No capitalist solution

Even if the agreement does survive and is built upon, the outcome will fall far short of the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian masses. A poverty stricken and autocratically ruled region is not a Palestinian state. The desire of the Israeli masses for stability, security and a decent life at home cannot either be met by Israeli capitalism. The net long-term effect will only be to reshape the conflict in the area, not to end it.

However, the very real desire for a solution among the Arab and Israeli population, shown by the support for this agreement, does demonstrate that it is possible to solve this conflict. If the reactionary Arab and Israeli regimes were over-thrown and socialist societies which offered a solution to poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment and underemployment were created, a peaceful solution could be negotiated.

This would allow the creation of viable states for Israelis and Palestinians. Jerusalem could be a shared city, with control and access to holy-sites for Muslim and Jew. But outside of a socialist federation, there can be no lasting agreement, no permanent solution.

So·the real lesson to be drawn in Northern Ireland is that here also the hope of reconciliation and permanent peace on a capitalist basis is a forlorn hope. Here also the task is to fight, for a socialist solution.

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