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AT THE same time as waging war on Saddam, President Bush is supporting Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's war against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and making the whole area more dangerous.
This article explains why we fight for a socialist solution to the problems of the Middle East.
What Way Out Of The "Bloody Trap"?
WHEN THE modern state of Israel was created in 1948, the horrors of the Nazi holocaust were still fresh in the world's minds. Many hoped this new state would bring peace and security to the persecuted and dispossessed Jewish people.
Marxists such as Leon Trotsky, however, had warned years beforehand that such a "Zionist" state would be a "bloody trap" for Israel's Jews themselves. Twentieth-century Israel was founded on other people's land after a military occupation drove out and dispossessed up to a million Palestinians.
Israel was also a "bloody trap" for the Palestinian people. This vicious squashing of their national aspirations ensured years of war and internal conflict.
In the Cold War, US imperialism tried to use Israel as an imperialist wedge in this strategically vital region, acting against the twin threats of socialism and the Arab revolution. This inevitably increased conflicts with neighbouring Arab regimes.
Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza strip in the 1967 war and expelled another million Palestinians. Today there are four million UN-recognised Palestinian refugees, many living in refugee camps. There are another million 'displaced' Palestinians, also mainly in camps.
This has built up a strong Palestinian national consciousness. Demands for democratic, national and social rights, in particular for a state, have grown into a unstoppable force. Israel's military action cannot destroy these aspirations.
However, the dismal history of the Palestinian Authority (PA) shows that capitalism cannot accept the prospect of a genuine independent Palestine. Both Israel's ruling class and US imperialism fear that a truly independent Palestinian state would become a radical rallying point for the poor and exploited throughout the Middle East and threaten their power, prestige and profits.
It would give new hope to other nationalities and minorities in the region that they can achieve their national aspirations. Corrupt and despotic local tyrants would oppose its existence, seeing it as signifying the end of their rule.
The imperialist powers traditionally use bloody tactics of divide and rule in the area, in particular by using the national aspirations of Israel's five million Jews, built up by fifty years of more or less constant wars.
It would be impossible to deny Israeli Jews their right to a national homeland. Under capitalism, most of Israel's Jewish population, backed by its large armed forces, would fight to the end to defend their homeland from extinction.
No to divide and rule
SOCIALISTS UNDERSTAND that imperialism needs to be expelled from the region, and call for the right of self-determination of Palestinians. But how can these demands be won?
The Arab regimes, who oppose Israel and back Palestinian self-determination only in words, have not been able to defeat Israel militarily.
These regimes try to counter Zionist Israel with an Arab nationalism which doesn't distinguish between Israel's ruling class and the working-class majority (many of them impoverished Sephardic Jews forced out of Arab countries).
Genuine self-determination for Israeli Jews will only be achievable if the Jewish working class also supports national self-determination for the Palestinians.
Unfortunately however, many Jewish people see these Arab regimes (which fail to help Palestinian refugees in their own countries) as aiming to drive Jews into the sea. Socialists cannot support either the Israeli state in its present form nor the Arab states.
But any suggestion that the Palestinians should meekly accept minority status within a 'democratic Israel' would be treated with contempt.
Already, under Arafat's supposedly 'independent' PA, long-suffering Palestinians have got poorer and suffered increased oppression. What chance would they have of justice and equality as a minority inside a capitalist Israel?
That's why we call for an independent socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel as part of a wider voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East with democratic national rights for all minorities.
Under capitalism, a so-called Palestinian state would be at best a new version of the PA. However, if the rotten local capitalist regimes were overthrown and democratic socialist governments came to power, there would then be the basis for genuine negotiations between the two peoples.
This is the only practical solution that corresponds to the consciousness of both the Palestinians and Israeli Jews.
The battle for a socialist Palestinian state and a socialist Israel means that both Israeli workers (under the cosh of recession but involved in many class battles recently) and the beleaguered Palestinian workers need to be convinced. Socialists need to forge the unity of oppressed people throughout the region.
In the course of building socialism - a society based on need not profits - both Israeli and Palestinian workers can decide democratically, and without coercion or compulsion, the exact nature and borders of a future society.
THERE IS no capitalist solution for these problems. Workers and young people need to build a working-class alternative to the bosses' parties. The first priority should be to build strong workers' movements on both sides of the national divide, committed to a socialist programme.
A planned economy would allow many sore and delicate issues to be resolved. Resources would be equally shared and controlled and run by the working class.
A socialist federation would see the free movement of peoples. An enormous increase in living standards, including a massive house-building programme, would allow the question of Palestinian refugees' right to return to be solved.
A socialist Middle East could provide the resources to absorb the millions of Palestinians given the right of return and guarantee increased living standards for the whole population.
For all its difficulties at a time of siege mentality on both sides this programme - which reaches out to both the Israeli and Palestinian working classes - is the only way out of the gruesome cycle of wars, occupations and national antagonisms.
Maavik Socialisti is the CWI section in Israel: www.maavak.org.il
The way forward for the Palestinians
HOW CAN the Palestinian struggle be taken forward? Clearly the Palestinians have the right to armed self-defence against the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) onslaught.
However, attacks on Israeli civilians are counter-productive, driving Israel's workers into the hands of Sharon and the ruling class.
The Palestinian people won't win self-determination by military struggle alone. They certainly can't be asked to postpone their struggle until Israeli Jews accept the need for a genuine Palestinian state. But the Palestinian movement needs to help undermine support for Israeli capitalism (and its repression) amongst Israeli Jews, particularly the working class.
A successful struggle needs a mass movement of the Palestinians under the democratic control of elected popular committees of struggle.
Palestinians have the right to resist arms in hand. But mass demonstrations and solidarity appeals to Israeli conscripts in the occupied territories would have an effect on sections of the conscripts and on Israel's working class as a whole.
Socialists fight for:
- Withdrawal of all Israeli forces from all Occupied Territories - the Gaza and West Bank. Stop the aggression against the Palestinians.
- A mass struggle throughout the region against imperialism and capitalism - the conflict's root cause.
- The right of Palestinians to resist Israel's occupying forces. For a mass struggle to fight for genuine national and social liberation. For the establishment of popular, democratically controlled grass-root committees to lead the struggle. The right of these committees to provide democratically controlled armed defence.
- The right of Palestinians to self-determination, including an independent state. For a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel, as part of a voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East, with full rights for minorities.
- An end to Sharon's war of re-occupation and his reactionary, capitalist government. An end to the use of Israeli soldiers as cannon fodder by the ruling class. For the right of all conscripts, soldiers and reservists to refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories.
- A struggle by the masses of the Arab states against the corrupt, reactionary, capitalist ruling Arab elites. For a socialist Middle East.
In The Socialist 14 February 2003: