The so-called “Road Map” for the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was born of a US-UK desire to help various Arab regimes defend their support for the war against Iraq before their hostile subjects. Bush proclaimed his support for the eventual creation of a Palestinian mini-state at the Azores summit in March, immediately prior to the start of hostilities against Iraq by the “coalition of the willing”.
The circumstances surrounding the final release of the Road Map and its contents make clear that the purpose of US intervention on the Palestine question is to consolidate its own position as the Mideast superpower. Unlike previous similar initiatives, the Road Map was unveiled without even a US presidential appearance, much less the Rose Garden handshake between Palestinians and Israelis that has accompanied previous initiatives. Israeli reaction was swift and unmistakable. In the immediate aftermath of the road map’s publication, the Israeli Defence Force launched a number of operations in the West Bank and Gaza. The most devastating was on May 1 in Gaza City, claiming 12 lives, including those of top Hamas member Yusef Abu Hein and his two brothers and three children—one aged just two years
The road map was only issued after the US successfully forced part of the first stage on the Palestinians—“comprehensive political reform”. This translates into the removal or sidelining of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and the installation of a regime that is ready to do Washington’s bidding.
Arafat has for a long time wanted a sell out deal with Israel, as was demonstrated by his signing up to the Oslo Accords in 1993. But both Tel Aviv and Washington have wanted to remove him because of his subsequent refusal to go along with Israeli efforts to rewrite the Oslo agreement in order to reduce the territories making up a Palestinian state and legitimise the vast increase in Zionist settlements on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Arafat’s fate was sealed when he failed to suppress the intifada that erupted in September 2000 as a result of Likud leader Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount.
The Chalabi of Palestine
Washington’s chosen replacement for Arafat is Mahmoud Abbas — known as Abu Mazen — a businessman and adviser to the rulers of Qatar, who sits on the right wing of Arafat’s Fateh and who led the discussions culminating in the Oslo Accords. Abu Mazen is the Chalabi of Palestine. His elevation to the post of prime minister, which he assumed by making a speech promising to combat terrorism “by any party and in all its shapes and forms”, was backed by Washington. So was his slate for cabinet posts —particularly the nomination of Muhammad Dahlan as top security official because of his proclaimed readiness to crack down on militant Palestinian groups.
Only after Abu Mazen was successfully installed was the road map published. An unnamed Bush official told the press candidly of Washington’s intentions: “We’re telling people that this is the moment to build up Abu Mazen, and it undermines that objective if you treat Arafat like he’s still in charge. That cannot happen and must not happen.”
Three Phases of Defeat
As for the road map itself, the document offers little to the Palestinians other than a series of demands that they abandon and suppress any struggle against Israeli occupation. Its proposals are divided into three phases, culminating in the founding of a Palestinian mini-state by 2005. “The Quartet” — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — are to decide whether each stage has been completed successfully. But each stage is progressively less well defined and no definition is given as to what would constitute a Palestinian state. From the general tenor of the document, it can only be an apartheid-style bantustan, wholly subservient to its more powerful Israeli neighbour and answerable more or less directly to Washington.
Phase One of the Road Map begins with an immediate and unconditional cessation of violence by the Palestinians, “visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere” and the mounting of “effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure”. The restructured/retrained Palestinian security forces” are to resume security cooperation with their counterparts in the Israeli Defence Force, “with the participation of US security officials”.
Only after such a massive security clampdown is deemed by Washington to have been successful is Israel to begin a “progressive withdrawal” of its troops — and then only from those areas occupied from September 28, 2000, the start of the intifada — and freeze any further settlement activity.
Phase Two is meant to focus on “the option of creating an independent Palestinian state”, but with only “provisional borders” and “attributes of sovereignty” as determined by “the consensus judgment of the Quartet” and only after Palestinian elections are held that it is hoped will further marginalise both Arafat and any group opposed to Washington’s dictates. The fate of the Palestinians is also linked in the document to securing “the goal of a comprehensive Middle East peace (including between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon)”.
Phase Three, a “final, permanent status resolution in 2005”, is meant to include a settlement of all outstanding issues including borders, sovereignty over East Jerusalem settlements and the disputed right of nearly 4 million Palestinian refugees to return to the lands from which they were dispossessed in 1948. None of this is defined, other than with a prescription that it should be “agreed, just, fair, and realistic”.
The Road Map offers far worse conditions to the Palestinians than anything contained in the Oslo Accords, and it holds out potential rewards that are even less attractive. There is not a chance that any Palestinian entity created by this document would have even a semblance of independence. It would not enjoy territorial contiguity and would continue to be policed by Israeli forces as a virtual prison camp for a captive population. The Road Map could only be advanced by a regime drunk on its own power, which believes it can do what it wants in the aftermath of the military crushing of Iraq.
The Palestinians will inevitably resist efforts to impose a US-inspired settlement.Abu Mazen has no popular base and is widely viewed as a tool of the US and Israel. As for Sharon, he calculates that he enjoys enough support in Washington to derail any negotiated settlement that requires Israeli concessions. The majority of his cabinet is on record as opposing an independent Palestinian state in any form, while some have come out forthrightly for what amounts to the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and Gaza in order to establish a “Greater Israel”.
Speaking to Haaretz on April 14, Sharon granted that the “Iraq war created an opportunity with the Palestinians we can’t miss”, but boasted that he had told President Bush “a number of times—I made no concessions in the past, and I will make no concessions now, or ever make concessions in the future, with regard to anything that is related to the security of Israel.”
Labour, Greens side with Sharon
Predictably, the Clark government has added its weedy little voice to the chorus of Western nations demanding that the Palestinians accept Bush’s Road Map. On his recent visit to the Occupied Territories, New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff met Arafat personally to warn him of the ‘consequences’ of not following the Washington line. Goff’s ‘friendly advice’ is the diplomatic flipside of the military pressure New Zealand helps to bring to bear on Palestine as a part of the so-called Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), a US-funded international army which patrols the southern border of the Gaza Strip on behalf of Sharon. The ‘peacekeepers’ in the MFO specialise in trying to stop supporters of the intifada smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip across remote tracks and through tunnels from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. And how about the Green Party, which has been keen to present itself as a supporter of the Palestinian cause, sending MPs to speak to rallies and condemning Sharon in parliament? The Greens are giving enthusiastic support to the Road Map. The Greens are a party which represents the interests of small business, so they are naturally sympathetic to the politics of the small-time capitalists in the Palestinian Authority who are selling out to the US in the hope of becoming the managers of a UN neocolony. We’ve already seen the Greens sell out over Afghanistan, where they supported UN-organised military action, and Iraq, where they backed a Franco-German military occupation as an ‘alternative’ to US military occupation. Support for the Road Map is one more reason not to trust the Greens.
Some of the information in this article comes from the World Socialist Web Site at www.wsws.org
Different Road, Different Destination
If Bush’s Road Map offers nothing but destruction, is there a different, revolutionary road for the Palestinians and their supporters around the world? Let’s look at the facts: Palestine is a small semi-colony whose economy is dominated by the imperialist US and its puppet Israel. Israel itself is an artificial apartheid state which can only exist because of enormous US subsidies. The US has always supported Israel over the Palestinians, because Israel is a guaranteed friend for the White House in the Middle East. Surrounded by Arab populations that hate it for its treatment of the Palestinians, Israel has only ever had Western imperialist powers like America to turn to for help. That suits the Americans fine – they can use Israel as a foothold in an oil-rich region, in return for throwing it billions of dollars worth of financial and military aid yearly. American help might seem on the surface like a good thing for working class Israeli Jews, but in reality they pay for Uncle Sam’s ‘aid’ with dangerous lives in a garrison state in perpetual economic crisis.
Even if it achieved full political independence, Palestine could never be free of imperialist domination, as long as its economy was dominated by the US and Israel. As we have seen, the Road Map offers the Palestinian people not a viable state but a Bantustan. Under the terms of the accord, this ‘state’ would constitute less than 20% of the original Palestine, be broken into hundreds of pieces by Israeli roads and be pockmarked with armed Zionist settlements and Israeli army bases. Devoid of heavy industry or a proper infrastructure, such a ‘state’ could serve only as a crash pad for Palestinians forced to cross its borders every day to work in Israel. The petty capitalists who dominate the Palestinian Authority would serve as managers of the Palestinian labour force, taking a few crumbs from the Israelis and the US. In order to achieve real independence, then, the Palestinians also need to get rid of imperialist economic domination. In other words, they need to take over the resources and industry in Palestine and run them for their own benefit under a planned economy.They need socialism. But the tiny size of the Occupied Territories means that a socialist revolution would have to spread to Israel to survive for long. Sharon’s artificial Jewish theocracy needs to be abolished and replaced by a secular, socialist Palestine.
From Popular Committees to Permanent Revolution
A socialist, secular Palestine in place of Israel and the Occupied Territories seems a long way off, but the Palestinians people have at times taken steps in its direction, despite the aggression of Israel and the sabotage of Arafat. In the first months of the intifada, grassroots organisations called Popular Committees were formed to organise the resistance to the Israelis. The Popular Committees featured fighters and supporters from a range of Palestinian factions, and soon began to attract considerable support from a population tired of the empty promises and backroom deal making of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. As the war intensified and spread throughout the Occupied Territories the Popular Committees began to threaten the authority of Arafat. A power struggle emerged with Arafat and the Palestinian Authority continuing to attract the loyalty of the Palestinian elite and the Popular Committees rallying workers and students.
When Arafat was directly threatened by the Israelis, the Popular Committees would mobilise their forces to defend him, without giving up their independence. In other words, they made a ‘military bloc’ with the Palestinian capitalists for the purpose of fighting the occupying imperialists, but retained the independence that would be necessary to overthrow Arafat and Co once the Israelis had been defeated. Trotskyists refer to this as a strategy of ‘permanent revolution’. Watching the Popular Committees in action, the Trotskyists in the Palestinian Socialist Workers League recognised that they were a force with the potential to create a new, socialist Palestine.
Unlike the corrupt capitalists Arafat represented, the Popular Committees had the desire to fight the Israelis until victory, and to mobilise the masses of the Arab world to help them in their task. And, with their base in the working class, the Popular Committees had the potential to be political and economic building blocks of a socialist society in post-Zionist Palestine.
In a leaflet issued early in 2002, the Socialist Workers League wrote that “it is necessary to develop and expand the Popular Committees, turn them into elected councils of representatives of the Palestinian workers, peasants and soldiers opposed to occupation, and coordinate their activities at the national level. This national council will have the political and moral authority necessary to conduct the mass uprising and turn to the masses of the region, including the Jewish workers, with the call: Let us fight together against imperialism, Zionism, and the client regimes from Egypt to Saudi Arabia! Let us build our own social regime: the socialist society of the workers, peasants and refugees!”
The Left Let Palestine Down
But the Socialist Workers League slogan ‘All power to the Popular Committees!’ was largely ignored by the left outside of Palestine. Instead of supporting the real nucleus of a socialist Palestine, the Western left either supported Arafat and an independent capitalist Palestine ‘as a step forward’, or else argued that support for the intifada meant support for Arafat and suicide bombers, and was thus not worth giving. A better response came from Workers Democracy, the group that was on the frontlines of the Argentinean revolution at the same time as the Popular Committees were forming in Palestine.
Together with the Communist Workers Group and three other organisations, Workers Democracy produced a statement urging the international left to rally to provide arms and other aid to the Popular Committees. The failure of the left to take up this call by the ‘group of five’ can be linked to the failure of the Popular Committees to develop into a successful challenge to Israel and to the government of Arafat. Without the massive international solidarity Workers Democracy wanted to see, the Popular Committees were overwhelmed by Sharon’s reoccupation of the West Bank. Today the Islamist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have taken over the role of the Popular Committees, fighting the Israelis independently of the Palestinian Authority. But the Islamist, pro-capitalist and anti-worker politics of these groups are reflected in counterproductive tactics like suicide bombing, and in an Arafat-style willingness to sell out in return for a few crumbs from the imperialist table. Hamas is already talking about a ceasefire with Israel, if only the Israelis will ‘give us back the 1967 boundaries of Palestine’.
Back in New Zealand...
What about the hard left in New Zealand? Here as elsewhere, the anti-capitalist left has tended to divide between a stagist ‘capitalist state as a step forward’ line and an ultra-left ‘no struggle for independence is worth supporting’ line.
Some groups haven’t even made it that far. On Palestine as on other issues, the Socialist Workers Organisation (no relation to the Socialist Workers League in Palestine) has tailed the Greens, trying vainly to pick up a few stragglers with ‘moderate’ policies that nip at Nandor’s heels. At an emergency rally held in Auckland after Sharon’s invasion of the West Bank last year, SWO members rolled up armed with placards bearing the militant slogan ‘Palestine attacked – Helen Clark should speak out’. Unfortunately for the SWO, Helen Clark had already issued an empty and utterly useless condemnation of the invasion. So for that matter had George Bush. The SWO’s slogan reflected the fact that its leadership shares the Greens’ belief that the New Zealand government can play a ‘good cop’ role on the international scene, helping to rein in ‘bad cops’ like Sharon and Bush. Back in 1994, for instance, the SWO urged Jim Bolger to send a frigate to Mururoa Atoll in retaliation for French nuke tests. The SWO thought that a National Prime Minister could represent Kiwi workers against the French, so it’s no surprise that it thought Helen Clark could fight for the Palestinians against Sharon. The Clark government’s wholehearted endorsement of the Road Map shows how wrong the SWO was.
The ultra-left attitude toward the intifada was expressed locally by two articles in the now-defunct anarchist paper thr@ll. Bad Badder Baddest, a January-February 2002 article which thr@ll co-editor Fyd McLean described as ‘exquisite’, openly announced that ‘We are not hung up on Palestine for the Palestinians.’ For the authors of this piece, Palestinian national liberation could only mean ‘localised tyranny...religious and cultural oppressions’ (1) In a later article, thr@ll reported the protests which followed Sharon’s invasion of the West Bank, but asked whether these actions could have any value, if they were motivated by the desire to create an independent Palestine. thr@ll couldn’t understand that it was possible to create a revolutionary independent Palestine, by building the Popular Committees into organs of direct democracy like the workers’ councils of revolutionary Russia or 30s Spain. Like many anarchists used to the strategy-free ‘ra ra ra’ politics of the militant end of the Western anti-globalisation movement, thr@ll’s authors struggled to deal with the complexities of a real revolutionary situation in a semi-colony where nationalism inevitably has a powerful appeal amongst the working class. Obsessed with avoiding the pitfalls of capitalist nationalism, thr@ll’s articles failed to see the anti-capitalist potential of the intifada.
At the other extreme is the Dunedin-based International Socialist Organisation. The ISO has been very active in the anti-war and pro-Palestine movements in Dunedin and Wellington, and the latest issue of its Socialist Review features an article called ‘Victory to the intifada!’(2) The ISO makes the very good point that activists shouldn’t be afraid to use the slogan ‘Victory to the intifada!’ Nor though should revolutionaries be afraid to explain what that slogan should mean. Nowhere in its article does the ISO draw a class line through the intifada. Nowhere is it clear whether the article favours Arafat’s intifada for a capitalist Palestine, or the intifada for a socialist Palestine reflected in the slogan ‘All power to the Popular Committees!’ If Fyd McLean is blinded by Arafat’s capitalist nationalism, then the ISO is blind to the danger of national capitalists hijacking the intifada. In their different ways, McLean and the ISO exemplify the mistakes the revolutionary left has made over Palestine.
At most, Bush’s Road Map can only temporarily quash the intifada. More dangerous, in the long-term, is the failure of much of the Western left to understand the logic of the Palestinian struggle and the strategy required to defeat Israel and its allies in the White House. In Palestine and elsewhere in the Third World, the theory of permanent revolution offers the only way forward, past the twin wrecks of stagism and ultra-leftism.
(1) Bad Badder Baddest is online at http://thrall.orcon.net.nz/21badbadder.html (2) The ISO’s article is online at http://www.iso.org.nz/sr/14/intifada.htm