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FOR A DEMOCRATIC SECULAR PALESTINE!
What is happening now in Palestine is becoming clearer to many people. It is the Zionist ‘solution’ to the Palestinian ‘problem’ – abolish the Palestinians by enforcing a new exodus from the West Bank that makes a future Palestinian state irrelevant or prepares an apartheid Bantustan utterly subservient to a powerful Zionist neighbour.
This much is becoming clearer. What is not clear to many is how we arrived at this point. Didn’t we have a peace process? In 1993, the Oslo Accords were hailed as the basis for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Why hasn’t it worked? If the Oslo Accords really did promise peace and justice we should demand that the United States intervene to ensure their implementation and we should shout it out loud and clear from today’s march.
But do the Oslo Accords promise such a solution? Our answer is no, and because it is no this march should loudly demand an end to US intervention and point to a real road to peace and justice – not just for the Palestinians but for the Jewish population of the Middle East. Why do we say no!
Oslo and the new Intifada
In the wake of its victory in the Gulf War US imperialism saw an opportunity to impose its own solution on the Palestinian people. The PLO, having opposed the war against Iraq, was pressured by the reactionary Arab governments to accept this settlement. The Oslo Accords were therefore a product of defeat. Their basis was not the liberation of Palestine but continued subjugation. For Israel, the Accords were an opportunity to end the first Intifada and to legitimise its continued domination. The essence of the agreement was summed up by an Israeli negotiator - “in practice, the Oslo accords were founded on a neo-colonial basis, on a life of dependence of one on the other forever.”
The role of the PLO was to police the agreement and repress the inevitable opposition that would arise. The Palestinian National Authority, with Arafat at its head, had its security forces trained by the CIA and Israel. It murdered and tortured opponents, exercised draconian censorship, and suppressed strikes – locking up the leaders of striking school teachers. Sixty per cent of the PNA budget went to bureaucracy and security. According to the PNA’s own accountants, $400 million went missing annually.
The daily lives of Palestinians got worse. Their movement became increasingly restricted, settlements expanded and unemployment rose. The Camp David talks that were supposed to be a final settlement promised a series of disconnected cantons, surrounded by Israeli settlements and military bases, east Jerusalem would not be the capital and Palestinian refugees would have no right to return. It is the Oslo Accords that led to this point.
The second Intifada broke out as a reaction to this failure. Yet even in the wake of the current Israeli onslaught Yasser Arafat is appealing for the peace process to be restored and pinning his hopes on the intervention of the US. Yet, the US is fully behind the actions of Israel. The visit of Colin Powell has provided the political cover for an onslaught financed and armed by the United States.
What kind of solidarity?
There is no doubt that the current plight of Palestinians has provoked sympathy and support around the world. However, being outraged at the actions of Israel and drawing attention to the suffering, while an important aspect of any campaign, is not enough. This can soon dissipate or be channelled into arguments and activities that do not challenge the root cause of the problem.
These weaknesses are evident in the present campaign. The unspoken assumption of the campaign is that the peace process in the Middle East needs to be restored. Inevitably what follows from this position is a call for US imperialism to “re-engage” in the Middle East and impose a settlement. Rather than being seen as the main obstacle to peace, US imperialism is seen as its guarantor.
For some the Irish peace process is put forward as a model for the Middle East when in fact this process has bolstered British imperialism, re-enforced partition and deepened sectarian division in the north. Rather than being an alternative model for Palestine, the Irish peace process is exactly the same rotten imperialist ‘solution’ that must be rejected.
A real solidarity campaign needs to challenge the role of imperialism and the collaboration of our own government in the oppression of the Palestinian people. It needs to develop links with secular democratic forces in Israel, the Occupied Territories, and the Palestinian Diaspora that have rejected the Oslo accords and the segregationist logic behind them.
The Socialist solution
Socialists maintain that the only lasting solution to the conflict must promise peace and justice for both Palestinians and Jews. This can only happen through creation of a Palestine based on equal rights for all its citizens regardless of religion and ethnic background. The idea of separate Jewish and Arab states existing alongside each other on the basis of peace and equality is an illusion. This ‘two-state solution’ does not fundamentally challenge Zionism and would leave intact the institutionalised discrimination against non-Jews in Israel. Indeed, it legitimises Zionism by accepting that Jews and non-Jews cannot live in the same state.
Such a solution would open the way for more forced population movements – Palestinians out of the Israeli state and Jews out of the Palestinian one. We also know what a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel would be like - a powerless corrupt Bantustan that represses political opposition and is dependent on the political goodwill and financial support of imperialism. All the real control would remain the hands of Israel - the right to invade, to limit the armed power of the Palestinian state and determine its diplomatic and international agreements.
Achieving a just solution for Palestine means challenging not only Zionism but also the dictatorial Arab regimes that oppress their own populations. For all their rhetoric Arab rulers fear the Palestinian struggle because it challenges the foundation of their own rule - US imperialism. This is why they have sought to actively subvert the struggle at every opportunity. This is what underpins their support for the Oslo peace process and now the current Saudi peace proposal. The fact that this plan was drawn up over dinner between a Saudi prince and an American diplomat shows the contempt in which the US and its Arab allies hold the Palestinian people.
Rather than imperialism, socialists look to the working class and the oppressed as the force that can liberate the Middle East and solve the conflict in Palestine. To be successful such a movement must recognise that the main enemy is imperialism and that the best way to fight imperialism is to overthrow the present reactionary Arab rulers. Such a movement would also state clearly that Jews have a right to live in the Middle East. It is only by adopting such a position that a significant number of Israeli Jews can be broken from Zionism.
Such a project may sound ambitious, and indeed it is, but it is the only vision that can offer any way forward. We have seen the disastrous consequences of imperialism, Zionism, pan-Arab nationalism, and political Islam. In The Middle East and around the world the need for a socialist alternative has never been greater.