Article from the Jan 2005 issue of the Socialist , newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI

Editorial: Abbas election - a new future for Palestinians?

THE ELECTION of Mahmood Abbas as President of the Palestinian Authority and the entry of the Labour Party into coalition with Sharon in Israel are being greeting in Washington and London as an opportunity to restart the failed Middle East peace process.

Some commentators have welcomed the 63.3% vote for Abbas as indicating a "significant change in the Palestinian street". George Bush has raised the prospect of bringing Abbas and Sharon face to face in a three way summit that would also involve his administration.

After four years of the second Intifada there is undoubtedly certain war weariness among the mass of the Palestinian population. Abbas may enjoy a honeymoon as Palestinians wait and see if anything will come of negotiations. But this is not likely to last long.

Abbas is one of the old guard leadership of the PLO who spent most of their time in exile and are viewed with increasing distrust and suspicion by the "Palestinian street".

His election victory was no ringing endorsement for his candidature or his call for an end to the armed intifada.

It was only because the key leaders of Fatah united behind Abbas that he was able to win. Marwan Barghouti, who has much more authority among the armed groups and the youth, but who has been in an Israeli prison for over two years, was at one point almost neck and neck in opinion polls with Abbas but was pressured to withdraw.

Hamas, the largest of the Islamic organisations, stood aside from the elections. Gaza has been Hamas' main base but disillusionment with the Palestinian Authority has seen their support grow in parts of the West Bank.

In order to win, Abbas had to promise that his Presidency would mean a fight to achieve a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as it capital, and a better life for Palestinians.

He will not be able to deliver on this. The Sharon government, which lost it's majority when right wing religious parties defected, has brought the Labour Party into the Coalition to help it proceed with the plan to evacuate the Gaza settlements and withdraw from this area. Sharon's unilateral "solution" also involves evacuating a number of West Bank settlements.

This is not the granting of a state to Palestinians, but rather withdrawal by the Israeli forces to a line they think they can defend. Even if the evacuations take place, the huge wall that is to separate Israel from these areas will continue to be built.

Sharon's plan, if implemented, will not be accepted by Palestinians and, if the Abbas leadership is not able to achieve something better, any honeymoon he does enjoy will quickly end.

Fatah is due to hold a congress in August to elect a new leadership. If Abbas is seen as not having delivered this could see a younger leadership begin to emerge in opposition.

In the Middle East, as in Northern Ireland, except even more sharply, no lasting solution is possible on the basis of capitalism. Capitalism cannot deliver a viable state for the Palestinians that would begin to tackle the poverty and misery endured by the majority of the people of Gaza and the West Bank, let alone deal with the issue of the future of Jerusalem or the refugees in the Palestinian diaspora.

For working class Israelis, capitalism means permanent insecurity along with declining living standards.

As in Northern Ireland, it is the working class, not the political establishment and not intervention by the world powers that can provide an answer.

The Palestinian people need a leadership that will continue the Intifada, but as a mass movement under the democratic control of the people, to end the occupation. They also need to appeal to the working people of Israel to make common cause in the struggle for a socialist Palestine, a socialist Israel as part of a socialist federation of the Middle East.

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