Israel after Sharon: Palestinians still under siege
24 April 2006
We reproduce below three recent articles dealing with developments in the Israel-Palestine conflict since the end of Ariel Sharon’s political career and the accession of Hamas to government in the Palestinian Authority. First is an article by Roland Rance from Socialist Resistance (www.socialistresistance.net) on the Hamas landslide. Then Eric Ruder of the US Socialist Worker (www.socialistworker.org) interviews Israeli socialist Tikva Honig-Parnass on the Israeli elections. Finally, we carry a response to the Israeli election results by Omar Barghouti, previously published in Counterpunch (www.counterpunch.org).
What is most striking about the articles is the description of the Palestinian peace process, once touted as a model for Ireland, as a mechanism for legitimising a brutal and racist colonialism. Irish republicanism, if it were not blinded by decay, demoralisation and parochialism, would be shaking in its boots. Also striking is the inability of existing Palestinian organisations to advance the democratic programme of the Palestinian masses – The PLO supports a two-state solution that capitulates to imperialism and Hamas, a former protégé of Israel, organised around a program for a medieval Islamic state. Above all what shines out is the utterly ruthless hypocrisy of the imperialist powers, supporting ethnic cleansing by Israel under the banner of peace and democracy while at the same time using every weapon in their armoury to negate the outcome of the Palestinian elections – even demanding that Hamas cancel the political programme that it had presented to the electors.
While the scale of the Hamas landslide victory in the Palestinian elections may have been unexpected, their victory will come as no surprise to anyone who has been following developments in Palestine.
The Hamas victory comes on the background (well-covered over the past decade in Socialist Resistance and Socialist Outlook) of the inevitable collapse of the Oslo agreement, the increasing corruption and arbitrariness of the Fatah-led Palestine Authority, and the apparent abandonment of the struggle by the Palestinian left.
During the first Palestinian Intifada at the end of the 1980’s, Israel fostered the growth of Hamas as a counter to the then-proscribed PLO. Religious fundamentalism was then seen as a lesser threat than secular nationalism.
Eventually, Israel was obliged to co-opt the PLO as its agent in controlling the anger of the Palestinian people. Now, Israel’s former protege has surpassed its rival, both in popular support and in militancy.
Despite the hostile rhetoric, many Israelis secretly welcomed the result. As Lebanese Marxist Gilbert Achcar writes in International Viewpoint, “the electoral victory of Hamas is the outcome that Sharon’s strategy was very obviously seeking”.
Once again, Israel can claim that there
is “no-one to talk to”, that the Palestinians do not want peace, and all
of the tired old arguments which twenty years ago were used against the
Of those who voted, almost half voted for Hamas; the complicated electoral system turned this into nearly two-thirds of the seats.
In fact, on the national list, Hamas won 29 seats to Fatah’s 28; it was in the multi-member constituency seats, where Hamas won 45 seats to Fatah’s 17, that a slight voting majority was turned into a landslide. The voters’ desired outcome could almost be described as Fatah policies carried out by Hamas people.
Nor should we give credence to the Israeli claim that Hamas is only interested in anti-Jewish violence. In fact, since the beginning of an unofficial truce 11 months ago, not one Israeli has been killed in a Hamas attack.
Meanwhile, in the election week alone, two Palestinian children — one of them only nine years old — were shot dead by Israeli troops. It seems clear that Israel is trying to provoke Hamas into an armed response in order to vindicate the Israeli refusal of meaningful negotiations.
The Hamas victory has unleashed a furious response, not only from Israel, but from the USA and the EU too. Having demanded that Palestinians practice “democracy” while living under military occupation, they now declare that the result of the democratic vote is unacceptable, and that, in order to be recognized, Hamas must reject everything it stands for and the platform on which it was elected.
There seems little likelihood of this happening. Hamas has clarified its pragmatic recognition of the fact of Israel’s existence, and declared that its interim aim is a truce lasting “a generation or two”.
There will be discussion and cooperation on the ground, but further political negotiations are unlikely, and the Oslo process is almost certainly finished.
A Hamas-led government is likely to demand the release of political prisoners as a precondition for any talks. Prominent prisoners, including Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and PFLP leader Ahmed Sa’adat were elected. Sa’adat, convicted of the assassination of the rightwing Israeli minister Rehavam Ze’evi, is actually held in a PA prison, and Hamas has promised that his release will be one of its first acts.
Hamas will also lay far greater emphasis than Fatah on the right of return for Palestinian exiles. In an article in the Guardian, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mishal reminded readers that “our people are not only those who live under siege in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but also the millions languishing in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria and the millions spread around the world unable to return home”.
This issue will be a sticking point for both sides; Israel will maintain its permanent refusal even to discuss the matter, while Hamas will not be prepared, as Fatah has been, to play down the issue and hope for it to go away.
Indeed, the relationship between Palestinians
living under direct Israeli rule, and thus living in exile, is likely to
again become a central issue in Palestinian politics.
It is thirty years since Palestinian academic
Hussein Agha, now a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, pointed
out the possible conflict of interest between those Palestinians desperate
to end Israeli military occupation, who might accept a two-state approach,
and those in exile, for whom return and the end of partition were central
concerns. Fatah and the PLO originated from the Palestinian exile, and
for ten years were based there exclusively. A crucial turning-point was
reached in the first Palestinian Intifada, in 1987, when Palestinians in
the 1967-occupied territories altered their slogan from “We support the
PLO” to “We ARE the PLO”.
Rabin made it clear that they were to rule “without civil rights and without the rule of law”; this job description, combined with corruption and nepotism, arbitrary rule, and the lack of any coherent political strategy to confront Israeli brutality and intransigence, served to discredit the so-called “Tunisians” who had returned with Arafat.
The Hamas leadership, along with a new generation of leaders schooled in the Israeli prisons and the first Intifada, are seen as honest and competent, and not tainted by the failures and excesses of the past decade.
Their reality (and for many of them, their entire life) has been the Israeli military occupation, and the pressures on them to come to a deal to end the occupation, even at the expense of the Palestinian Diaspora, will be huge. For this reason, many Palestinian activists supported the demand for all Palestinians to take part in these elections.
Others, recognising this as a trap that would legitimise the Oslo agreement, rejected any participation in the elections; a position well expressed by economist Adel Samara in Ramallah, who wrote;
“Since it was expected that the PLC elections were going be used to terminate the Right of Return, and because the western capitalist pressures were expected as well, Islamic Jihad Movement, the Arab nationalist current and some socialists declared the boycott of these elections. I am, like all these people, proud to say that my thumb was not stained by the ink of these elections”.Hamas appears to be proposing a way to square these interests. In his Guardian article, Khaled Mishal spoke of reforming the PLO, while other Hamas leaders have proposed that the elected candidates should represent the 1967-occupied territories in a reconstituted Palestine National Council. Mishal himself is apparently already in discussion with Fatah head Farouq Qadumi, who refused to return to Palestine alongside Arafat.
A new PLO?
A reformed and reinvigorated PLO, with full participation of Palestinians both inside and outside Palestine, would be able to reassert the unity of the Palestinian people and to more effectively resist Israeli attempts at divide and rule.
This alone, however, will not be sufficient to build a movement capable of defeating Israel and building a free Palestine.
This will need also the involvement of the left and liberal parties (who suffered a humiliating defeat in these elections, winning a total of just seven seats) and of the dormant Israeli radical left (who appear to have lined up behind Amir Peretz and the Labour Party, or even behind the dying Sharon’s Kadima).
The responsibilities of the Palestinian
and Israeli left are enormous, and unless they respond more effectively
in the coming period than they have since Oslo, they will again be abandoning
the field to the fundamentalists in both communities.
Eric Ruder interviews Tikva Honig-Parnass
Q: What does the founding of the new party Kadima represent? Will it survive Ariel Sharon’s departure from the scene? Has Kadima completely changed the character of Israeli politics?
A: The appearance of Kadima is an expression of a process that has been underway for a long time. What once seemed to be essential differences between the Zionist right and left with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been blurred--to the point where they have almost entirely disappeared.
Both left and right always shared the principal
aims of Zionism--to build an exclusive Jewish state with a Jewish majority
that rules directly and indirectly over the whole of historic Palestine,
while preferring the solution of mass expulsion of Palestinians when circumstances
Since the failure of the Oslo framework, which was intentionally caused by the Labor government of Ehud Barak in 2000, the left has signed up with the mainstream consensus shared by most of the Zionist parties, with the exception of the messianic, fanatic right wing of the settlers and transfer parties.
Kadima, which presents itself as a “centrist” party, is the embodiment of this consensus and therefore has attracted leaders from Likud (like Ariel Sharon, who founded the party and was its leading candidate until his stroke) and Labor (like Shimon Peres), as well as many supporters who traditionally voted for these parties. In addition, most of those who previously voted for the racist populist party of Shinui, which has lost almost all of its support according to the polls, have shifted their allegiance to Kadima.
Hence, Kadima will almost certainly win the coming elections and lead the future government coalition. The only real question is how big a victory it will enjoy. Although the distinct political organizations of the Likud and Labor parties still exist, they differ from Kadima only tactically, and thus are part of the broad consensus emerging in Israeli politics.
The collapse of Oslo has ended the left’s rhetoric of “peace and negotiations” and opened the way for it to explicitly adopt the strategy of unrestrained warfare directed at Palestinians (economically, socially, politically, geographically and so on). It’s presumed that this pressure will ultimately force the Palestinians to accept Israel’s dictates.
In the meantime, the so-called left, center and right are united around the “unilateral” strategy first initiated by the Labor party and later adopted by Sharon (and his successor, Ehud Olmert). The approach of unilaterally imposing Israel’s will on Palestinians was embodied in the misnamed “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip and the erection of the “separation wall,” which has annexed large areas of the West Bank to Israel.
Even if Labor and Meretz (the party associated with Israel’s Peace Now movement) pay lip service to preferring negotiations with a moderate Palestinian leadership to policies of unilateralism, they have de facto been supporting the daily policies of Sharon and Olmert, which are in fact policies of elimination and ethnic cleansing in slow motion.
In recent days, Kadima has announced plans
to carry out the hiving off of the Jordan Valley from the rest of the West
Bank, and the bifurcation of the north of the West Bank from the south.
In a sense, this is true--Kadima has adopted the hypocritical method that traditionally characterized the Zionist left: speaking about “peace” while carrying out the cruelest policies. This is the “secret” of Kadima’s likely victory--which in all likelihood will thrive as a party because it embodies the refusal of the majority of Israelis to recognize the national rights of the Palestinians as a condition for a just peace.
Q: The traditional parties in Israeli politics are Likud and Labor. What accounts for their decline?
The expected decline of Labor’s share of the vote is a decisive stage in the gradual process that has taken place since 1977, when Likud first ascended to power. This process is a consequence of the convergence of the policies--both economic and political--of what used to be the two main parties, Labor and Likud.
Labor has traditionally represented the interests of Israel’s capitalist class, especially since the introduction of privatization and “free market” policies that Labor implemented in the mid-1980s. Israeli capitalists supported the Oslo agreement because it helped them accomplish their goal of integrating into the globalized economy and playing a hegemonic role in the “New Middle East,” while using the Palestinians as a cheap labor force.
Due to developments within the Israeli economy, however, Israeli capital has since lost interest in Palestinian workers, thereby removing their objection to the strategy of war and ethnic cleansing undertaken by Israeli governments since the Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, which began in 2000.
Kadima now embodies this approach and wholeheartedly supports pushing Israel’s borders to the east to incorporate the large settlement blocs and newly confiscated agricultural lands of dispossessed Palestinian villages.
The settlements currently being built and expanded in the vicinity of Israel’s imposing apartheid wall are areas where important alliances have been forged between the settlers, the state agencies that subsidize and build the walls, and real-estate corporations and high-tech industries--the representatives of both the old economy and the new. Israel’s high-tech firms have transferred many of their factories into the newly annexed areas west of the apartheid wall, where a captive, skilled and cheap Jewish labor force and massive government subsidies have provided these companies optimal conditions.
Parts of big capital still support the Labor party--first, because its strategy toward the Palestinians is not essentially different than that of Kadima, and second, because these sections of capital support Tony Blair’s “third way,” the variant of conservative social democracy also endorsed by Amir Peretz, who is the newly installed Labor party chairman and the leader of the Histadrut, Israel’s main labor federation. Like a growing number of their counterparts abroad, Israeli capital sees the need to restrain the “wild free market” in order to insure the survival of the neoliberal project in the long run.
In the past, the bulk of Labor’s constituency
came from well-to-do Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of European origin), who for
decades made up the bulk of the Israeli “peace camp.” For them, the Labor
party served as the bulwark for preserving the Ashkenazi-capitalist hegemony.
The historical tendency of the Mizrahim to vote for Likud was an act of protest against the Ashkenazi elite, which had led the ideological and political charge to erase their Mizrahi-Arab identity. Voting Likud also provided the Mizrahim with a means to demonstrate their support for patriotic militarism and Israeli security--a litmus test of sorts for allowing them to join Israeli society, steeped as it is in anti-Arab racism.
Amir Peretz is of Moroccan origin and was raised in the development town Sderot. His positions on Palestinian and “security” issues, even by his own admission, are no different from those of Kadima.
This is likely to bring about a change in the political voting patterns of development-town Mizrahi residents. Their identification with the Mizrahi origins of Amir Peretz, together with his social economic approach, is likely to lead this constituency to “safely” express itself in support for the Labor party.
But the support of the development towns has not halted the shrinking of the Labor party’s support. Precisely because of this new support for Labor among Mizrahim, a mass desertion of the racist Ashkenazi middle classes has taken place, leaving what they considered “their” party to join the newly formed Kadima.
The election of a Moroccan as Labor’s candidate for prime minister, together with the support of the Mizrahim in the development towns, constitutes a perceived threat to the Ashkenazi identity of the Labor party.
Kadima became an attractive alternative because it adopted the Labor party’s known “pragmatism.” This applies not only to Kadima’s approach to unilateral implementation of the “peace plan,” but also to their strong political and ideological orientation toward the U.S.
Kadima’s adoption of an approach that defers to the dictates of U.S. imperialism as a central dimension of Israeli strategy is something that Likud in the past (and what remains of it in the present, together with the fanatic right) don’t share to the same extent.
Q: What impact has Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian elections had on the Israeli political situation? And what’s behind Israel’s recent abduction of a secular Palestinian figure from a Jericho prison? Is there a connection between the raid and the upcoming elections?
A: The Hamas victory will not change in any essential way the war plan that Israel has pursued for some time now.
Following the directives of the U.S., Israel did all that it could to weaken Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction. Both the U.S. and Israel opposed Abbas’ request to delay the elections, refusing to provide him with the smallest of crumbs to ensure his victory.
This was not done because of the contradictory position toward the Palestinian Authority of seeking to weaken it on the one hand while preserving it symbolically. Rather, the growing power of Hamas (it’s not clear to what extent Hamas’ outright victory had been predicted) was supposed to be used to buttress Israel’s argument that “there is no one to talk about peace with,” thereby allowing Israel to unabashedly continue its wholesale war.
The raid on the Jericho prison and the
transfer of its prisoners to Israeli jails reflects the way in which Israel,
in collaboration with the U.S. and Britain, is going to exploit the Hamas
Of course, the U.S. and Britain also aimed at strengthening the position of Olmert in the elections. The argument that he lacks the military credentials of, say, Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu can now be countered by pointing to the Jericho operation as proof of his ability to continue the force-centered approach of Sharon.
"Israel votes for disengagement and final
borders" and "Israelis abandon the dream of Greater Israel" were the main
themes in the spin that characterized mainstream, even some progressive,
media coverage of the Israeli parliamentary elections which took place
on March 28. In reality, the election results revealed that a consensus
has emerged among Israeli Jews, not only against the basic requirements
of justice and genuine peace, as that was always the case, but also in
support of a more aggressive form of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and
cementing Zionist apartheid.
Before exposing the spin, readers must be cautioned that "right," "left" and "center" are relative terms; they have substantially different meaning in the Israeli political context than in any comparable parliamentary system, including the Palestinian Legislative Council. With the exception of the Palestinian dominated political parties, all Israeli parties represented in the seventeenth Knesset converge on the three fundamental No's of Zionism: No to the return of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted by Israel during the Nakba (catastrophe of dispossession and expulsion around 1948); No to a complete end of the occupation and colonization of the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in 1967; No to full equality -- in the law as well as in government policies -- between Israel's Jewish citizens and its Palestinian citizens, the remaining indigenous population of the land.
Some may argue that the "ultra-dovish" Jewish-Israeli party, Meretz, has dissented from the consensus on the second clause, when it supported "ending the occupation." In fact, Meretz has never accepted a complete return to the internationally recognized borders of 1967, which put East Jerusalem with its Old City on the Palestinian side. It has always argued for keeping parts of the OPT under Israeli control, not to mention that its consistent position against Palestinian refugee rights and full equality in Israel makes the xenophobic right parties in Europe sound quite liberal in comparison.
Just recently, Meretz's leader, Yossi Beilin, wrote to Avigdor Lieberman -- seen by some analysts as the new leader of the "fascist" right in Israel -- admiring him for being "very intelligent, a successful politician, an excellent man of action, and a smart Jew," further praising him for "guiding us to a situation in which the Jewish people, too, will indeed finally have a Jewish state of its own." Lieberman has called for ethnically cleansing Israel of half a million of its Palestinian citizens by "adjusting its borders" to leave them out, denying them citizenship and any pertinent rights. It is worth noting that most of the land belonging to this target group has already been confiscated by the state over decades. Opportunistic politicking notwithstanding, Meretz was squarely rebuffed by Israeli voters, winning only 5 seats in last week's elections, compared to its already paltry 6 seats in the 2003 elections.
In sharp contrast to the steady fall of the "left,", Lieberman's ultra-right party, Israel Our Home, whose main constituency is among the Russian-speaking immigrants, won an astounding 11 seats on a platform which explicitly calls for denying Israeli citizens "the right to live in the state on the grounds of religion and race," as the Israeli commentator Akiva Eldar writes. Although other extremist parties that sat in the Knesset, like Rehavam Ze'evi's Moledet, have in the past advocated a similarly fascist agenda, this is the first time in Israel's history that any such party is embraced as part of the mainstream. "Lieberman's acceptance into the heart of the consensus," cautions Eldar, "is evidence of the moral degradation of Jewish Israeli society."
A recent study of Israeli racism  confirms
this "moral degradation." More than two thirds of Israeli Jews stated they
would not live in the same building with Palestinian citizens of Israel,
while 63% agreed with the statement that "Arabs are a security and demographic
threat to the state." Forty percent believed "the state needs to support
the emigration of Arab citizens." This general shift of Israeli public
opinion to extreme right positions well explains the remarkable rise of
Olmert's Kadima party, whose 29 Knesset seats make it Israel's principal party, was given a reasonably strong mandate by the Israeli electorate to "disengage" or "separate" from the Palestinians, both popular Israeli -- and increasingly Western -- euphemisms for separating Palestinians from their best lands and water resources, incarcerating the former in Bantustans not very different from South Africa's, while maintaining Israeli control over the latter. Hailed in the leading Western newspapers as a force for peace, Kadima's program not only categorically rejects the internationally sanctioned rights of Palestinian refugees but also calls for the permanent annexation of the largest Jewish colonies, all illegal according to international law, as well as the vast Jordan Valley portion of the West Bank. Such a plan, more or less endorsed by the Bush Administration, effectively blocks any realistic prospects for a "viable" Palestinian state -- let alone a truly sovereign state within the 1967 borders, in accordance with UN resolutions. It is therefore a recipe for further conflict and bloodshed, not peace. Hardly a "center" party, by any fair standard.
The good news in this election, one may
stubbornly argue, is that Labor, the stalwart crucible of the Israeli left,
gained in this election, raising hope for a "center-left" coalition that
seeks a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. It is true that, unlike
Likud, Labor has largely maintained its presence on the Israeli political
map, but, in the 2003 elections, Labor and its ally, One Nation (led then
by Amir Peretz, Labor's current leader), won 22 seats. In the current elections,
Labor went down to 19. Regardless, Labor's platform is the true cause of
concern, not its number of seats.
Under Peretz, a committed union leader and a Jew belonging to the down-trodden "Sephardic" (meaning Mizrahi/Arab) community, Labor has shifted to the left, argue Israel's apologists, in an attempt to further polish their spin. Reality on the ground was, again, at odds with such a cunningly crafted image. As soon as he was elected Labor's new chairman, Peretz, a self-declared "man of peace," announced  that he favored a "united Jerusalem" as Israel's capital and resolutely opposed permitting Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties in Israel, both positions in contravention of international law. Furthermore, his first innovative idea in the political arena must have extinguished any naively misplaced hope for progress towards a just peace under his leadership. The "Hong Kong paradigm," the idea of "leasing" from the Palestinians for 99 years the land on which the largest Jewish colonies were established, was to become Peretz' creative contribution to the search for peace. Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli writer and a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, shrewdly commented on this scheme saying :
"It is impossible to give any more fitting expression to the colonialist nature of the annexation of parts of the West [Bank] than the example of the takeover by the British Empire of parts of the hapless Chinese Empire. Indeed, the inventors of the Hong Kong paradigm identified the similarity: robber capitalism that operates under the auspices of military power against an impotent rival, the bullying takeover of land and water resources while displacing the natives, and making huge profits while exploiting patriotic sentiments and nationalist urges."Settlers, the main would-be benefactors of Peretz' initiative, were depicted in many misleading media stories as the biggest losers of this vote. Actually, they scored a most significant victory. Focusing their attention on the small, remote and extremely costly to defend settlements that Kadima and Labor were ready to give up, the media curiously ignored the fact that the leading "peace" parties in the current Knesset have accepted the bulk of the colonies -- housing more than 80% of the settlers and controlling most of the illegally settled land in the OPT -- as an inseparable part of Israel. The largest settlements, which are most detrimental to the pursuit of a just peace with the Palestinians, have been embraced by the emerging Israeli consensus, with US blessings and sheepish European acquiescence. Aside from a minority of settlers, expected to be evacuated by a Kadima-Labor government from the midst of densely-populated Palestinian areas in the OPT, the settlers' decades-old agenda of "legitimizing" their colonization of the most fertile lands and the largest water aquifers of the West Bank -- including East Jerusalem -- by annexing those lands to Israel will be largely fulfilled. Besides, the direct representative of the settlers, the National Union - National Religious Party coalition, also won 9 seats, giving it some say in deciding the fate of even the smaller settlements.
Given the above, it is little wonder that Palestinians and discerning observers around the world were not fooled by the media spin about Israel's elections bringing us any closer to peace based on the minimal requirements of justice. Perhaps no one sums up this election better than Gideon Levy, who writes :
"Contrary to appearances, the elections this week are important, because they will expose the true face of Israeli society and its hidden ambitions. More than 100 elected candidates will be sent to the Knesset on the basis of one ticket - the racism ticket. An absolute majority of MKs in the next Knesset do not believe in peace, nor do they even want it - just like their voters - and worse than that, don't regard Palestinians as equal human beings. Racism has never had so many open supporters."The Israeli majority has chosen apartheid. And since Western governments have welcomed the result as a breakthrough for peace, Israel's Wall and colonies can only be expected to grow more aggressively under the pretence of "consolidation" and "separation," condemning the entire region to endless bloody conflict. It is time for the international civil society to fulfill its moral obligation by opting for sanctions and boycotts -- similar to those that brought down South Africa's apartheid -- for the sake of equality, justice, real peace and security for all. Nothing else has worked.
Omar Barghouti, independent political
and cultural analyst who has published essays on the rise of empire, the
Palestine question and art of the oppressed. He holds a Masters degree
in electrical engineering from Columbia University, and is currently a
doctoral student of philosophy (ethics) at Tel Aviv University. He contributed
to the published book, The New Intifada: Resisting Israel's Apartheid (Verso
Books, 2001). He is an advocate of the secular, democratic state solution
in historic Palestine. His article "9.11 Putting the Moment on Human Terms"
was chosen among the "Best of 2002" by The Guardian. He can be reached
 Akiva Eldar, Lieberman -- nyet, nyet,
nyet, Ha'aretz, Macrh 13, 2006.