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Peter Hadden

Broken promises and no peace for Palestinians

(May 1999)

From Socialist Voice, May–June 1999.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

After a year of stalemate in our own multi-party talks it is sobering to look again at the situation in the Middle East, where we see the consequences of a peace process gone wrong.

The initial euphoria of the Oslo deal and Rabin-Arafat handshakes on the White House lawn are but a faint memory. The plain truth is that the Middle East peace process, as it was designed during these early negotiations. is, at this moment, dead.

The Oslo deal offered little enough to the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza and nothing at all to those driven further afield to countries like Jordan, the Lebanon or the Gulf States. Since then the little on offer has turned into less. The withdrawals of Israeli troops from most of Gaza and some West Bank towns is a long way short of the Palestinian aspiration for a homeland.

In Northern Ireland we have no felt any real economic peace dividend despite the initial promises. After Oslo there were the same promises of aid, investment and a brighter future for the West Bank and Gaza. The reality has been a doubling of Palestinian unemployment and a 20% fall in per capita income.

To most Palestinians the issue of Jerusalem/AI Quds is the crunch question. No final settlement would be tolerated which did not include their right to at least share this city as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Yet the “progress” since Oslo has been in the opposite direction. Israeli policy has been to solve the issue of Jerusalem/Al Quds long before it ever reaches the negotiating table by forcibly turning it into a Jewish city. This is being done by trying to restrict the citizen rights of the city’s 170,000 Arabs and by a policy of land acquisition and colonisation of the predominately Arab eastern part of the city.

The latest dispute over the building of the Har Homma settlement with its proposed 6,500 Jewish homes is part of this policy. If built, this settlement would virtually complete the Jewish encirclement of East Jerusalem, cutting it off from its natural hinterland of Bethlehem and other West Bank towns and villages.

Har Homma threatens to be the final straw and could trigger a new intifada (uprising) among the Palestinians. This time though it might be an intifada with a difference – an intifada with guns not stones.

Israel’s strategy has depended on Arafat being able and prepared to keep the Palestinian population under control. But there is a limit to what he can sell to an increasingly restless people. Sections of his Fatah wing of the PLO have been to the fore in recent anti-Israeli demonstrations. Further pressure by Israel and the 40,000 strong Palestinian police force could stop pointing their guns at Palestinians and turn them instead against the old enemy.

There could then be a bloody escalation, with the Israelis resorting to heavy amour to reoccupy Palestinian areas. In turn this could trigger a wider conflict bringing in countries like Syria and Jordan. For the Israeli regime there is an added nightmare – the possibility of Palestinian areas within the borders of Israel joining a new intifada.

Although the US administration have basically come down on the side of Israeli policy to date, they will not want the situation to topple over the edge to a new war. Even the Israeli ruing class will baulk at this prospect. Significantly, they have acted with what by their standards, is a degree of restraint in dealing with meant riots.

Under US pressure there may be an attempt at a new balancing act in the region with a few concessions to try to buy time for Arafat. As each day passes it is increasingly questionable whether any such policy can succeed.

If the peace process has meant only broken promises for the Palestinians it has been a period of disappointment for the Israeli working class also. Oslo came about after the majority of the Israeli population had become sickened with the endless intifada and began to demand that their children should no longer have to go to serve as policemen in Gaza. Now instead of peace and secure borders they face the danger of an even more ferocious intifada, even of a wider war.

This would be a real setback for the Jewish working class. Recently there has been a significant upturn in workers struggles against the policies of the right-wing Likud government. At the end of last year there was a wave of public sector strikes which affected the ports, air transport, electricity and other industries. This year saw 550 workers at Haifa Chemicals occupy their plant opposing redundancies.

Prominent workers leaders, including some of the Histadrut (trade union federation) leadership have been discussing the formation of a new working class party. Their aim is to win seats in the Knesset (parliament) so that the working class have a say on all matters, including a voice in the peace process.

This would be a real step forward. However, as in Northern Ireland, the lesson of the failure since Oslo is that the working class need to have more than a voice – there needs to be the predominant voice if the peace process is to succeed.

A solution in the Middle East will only come about if it is based on the interests of the working class of the region, not those of the Zionist or corrupt Arab rulers. Within a socialist federation there could be viable states for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Jerusalem/AI Quds could be an open city which could harmoniously serve as the capital and main centre of both states. This is the alternative to ongoing conflict, permanent instability and the threat of war.

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