Middle East teeters on the brink

Socialist Voice November 2001

Following the assassination of Israeli tourism minister Ze'evi by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Israeli army (the Israeli Defence Force - IDF) invaded six out of eight of the main cities in the Palestinian Authority. This was the first time in Israeli history that an armed Palestinian group had killed a serving cabinet minister and it represented a blow to the prestige and power of the Israeli ruling class.

by Kevin Simpson, CWI

As a result the most widespread and brutal invasion of the Palestinian Authority was undertaken by the IDF. Up to fifty Palestinians were killed, and hundreds of thousands more were punished with a 24 hour curfew imposed by Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

Israeli covert forces stepped up their activities of assassinations of Palestinians through the use of car bombs and snipers. One western diplomat said: "The situation has never been worse". For a few days it seemed as if an open war could break out between Israel and Palestine. After the September 11 atrocities in the US, the reactionary right-wing government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon portrayed Israel as being a victim of 'terrorism' with Arafat being the regions own 'bin Laden'. Sharon believed that under this cover the Israeli regime would have the freedom to act in brutally crushing the second intifada.

However, sympathy for the terrible conditions of the Palestinians and their demand for a genuine independent state have grown internationally over the last year of their struggle.

The Bush administration was forced to take these moods into account. In order to maintain the shaky support of Arab and Muslim regimes for the 'war against terrorism', Bush was forced to make a much clearer commitment to a Palestinian state. As world anger at the carpet-bombing grew over the last few weeks, Bush and his advisers put huge pressure on Sharon to withdraw from the Palestinian Authority and restart 'peace negotiations'. They also demanded Arafat took action against "terrorists" inside the Palestinian Authority.

However, Ze'evi's assassination allowed the Israeli regime to go on the counter-offensive, labelling the PA as a "terrorist entity" and threatening the destruction of Arafat's administration. As a result of US pressure Arafat condemned the killing of Israel's tourism minister, banned the military wing of the PFLP and arrested 20 of its members.

Some sections of the military believe that they have to use brutal strength to crush the intifada and force Arafat back to the negotiating table ready to accept even more concessions. Others - a minority but only for now - are in favour of seeing Arafat overthrown and welcome the prospect of a Hamas-led leadership in Palestine because "they (Hamas) would not be greeted with red carpets in foreign capitals, as Arafat is" (International Herald Tribune, 23 October). What these generals are saying is that they could invade the PA if Hamas led it. This is a recipe for open regional conflict under the conditions that exist in the Middle East at the moment.

The fact that this is on the agenda shows US imperialism, the Israeli ruling class and Arafat's PA have partially lost control of the situation through their inability to answer the hopes and wishes of the Palestinian masses through the conduct of politics by 'normal' means. The situation over the last few weeks has once again written in blood the lesson that capitalism has no solution to offer the working class and poor peasants of the Middle East.

Despite the reactionary propaganda of the Sharon government, Israel has been rocked by a number of strikes in the ports, and other public sector workplaces. Industrial unrest like this has never occurred during conflict. It shows that class divisions within Israeli society are quite deep although they can fade as a result of the tactics of suicide bombings which drive ordinary Israelis into the arms of reactionary parties.

Only a mass struggle of the Palestinians can provide a way forward for the fight for genuine national liberation. Popular committees should be elected and direct all aspects of the struggle under the democratic control of the masses. In order to achieve their objective, the Palestinians need to win the support of ordinary Israelis to an end to the occupation, and a genuine independent Palestine. This means winning them away from the policies outlined by successive Israeli governments which have led to five wars and two intifadas since 1948. This can only be done through a struggle for a socialist Middle East: a voluntary confederation of states which would include a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel. Capitalism - whatever it promises - means just more blood and war. That is what the last 53 years has shown.

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