Palestine: the great betrayal

In Ein Helweh refugee camp, southern Lebanon, PFLP members spray the walls: 'No to the Gaza-Jericho Peace plan’

In Ein Helweh refugee camp, southern Lebanon, PFLP members spray the walls: 'No to the Gaza-Jericho Peace plan’

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No. 115 October/November 1993

The Declaration of Principles signed by the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organisation on 13 September 1993 is a contemptuous and humiliating insult to all those who have died and all those who continue to fight for national and social liberation in Palestine. EDDIE ABRAHAMS analyses the background to the agreement.

 The agreement proposes to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Governing Authority (PISGA) across the whole of the Occupied Territories beginning with the poverty stricken and strategically insignificant Gaza Strip and the 100 square kilometres around Jericho city. A 'final settlement' is then scheduled within five years of the formation of the Self-Governing Authority. This 'peace'-plan is neither new nor radical. It is the fruit of the Madrid Peace Process begun in October 1992. What was evident then remains the case today:

'At the heart of this conflict is the right of the Palestinian people to form an independent state in Palestine. This right is rejected, even in principle, by the USA and Israel. How can one talk of a serious (peace) conference when Palestinian self-determination does not even feature on the agenda. All that is on offer is a 'transitional period' of 'autonomy' ... lasting some 3 to 5 years ... following which the promise of a final settlement. An old scheme, dismissed in 1988 by the then Palestinian mayor of Ramalla as 'power to collect garbage and exterminate mosquitoes'! Nevertheless, today, with the intifada beleaguered and isolated, imperialism hopes that offering the Palestinian bourgeoisie the sop of 'autonomy' will be enough to silence the challenge of the intifada.' (FRFI 104, Dec 1991/ Jan 1992)

Less than one year later, the leadership of the PLO, headed by Yassir Arafat, has accepted the sop and abandoned all the national and democratic ideals of the Palestinian evolution. In exchange for what amounts to a neo-colonial, apartheid bantustan style 'autonomy', Arafat promises to try and terminate not just the intifada but the armed struggle and the Palestinian revolution itself. While Palestinian workers and peasants continue to suffer aggravated poverty and are gunned down in their own streets, Arafat committed the PLO to:

'encourage and call upon the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to take part in steps leading to the normalisation of life...' (Letter to Norwegian Foreign Minister, Financial Times, 10 September 1993)

In another letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, equating the revolutionary armed struggle of the oppressed with violence and terrorism Arafat states:

'... the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.' (ibid)

It is hardly surprising that the PLO has now split, with the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) resigning from the PLO executive along with a number of other opposition groups. George Habash, leader of the PFLP, has urged the Palestinian movement to hurl Arafat into the 'dustbin of history'. These forces are attempting to forge an alliance to organise and mobilise popular opposition to the deal.

This 'peace'-plan does nothing to advance even the most elementary requirements of the vast majority of Palestinians for popular power, self-determination and independent economic development. The response of the underground leadership of the intifada in the West Bank and Gaza Strip makes the issues abundantly clear:

‘The agreement reached between a branch of the PLO and the Zionist enemy does not meet the minimum demands that were raised by our masses when the uprising started. No Israeli withdrawal has been achieved, no recognition of the Palestinian national rights, no establishment of a Palestinian state and no freeze and removal of the settlements.'

The signing of the Declaration marks the final end to the PLO's role as a vanguard anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist movement in the Middle East. It represents a victory for Zionism, imperialism and the Arab bourgeoisie. Within the Palestinian arena it is a victory for the PLO's bourgeois trends and a defeat for the mass movement. The Palestinian bourgeoisie and their political representatives in the PLO are making their final peace with Zionism and imperialism. They are being willingly incorporated into a reactionary alliance against the working class, peasantry and poor of the entire region.

The 'peace'-plan for a bantustan

The neo-colonial, anti-working class, anti-popular character of the PLO-Israel agreement is hard to dispute. The PISGA, once it is established, will have no power whatsoever over Zionist settlements which include the richest and most fertile areas of the Occupied Territories.

Yassir Arafat: called off the armed struggle

Yassir Arafat: called off the armed struggle

It will have no jurisdiction over any Israeli citizens in any part of the Occupied Territories. It will have no authority over refugees or foreign affairs or relations with neighbouring countries. And it will have no control over Arab east Jerusalem. The Israeli police and army will have free use of all roads within the PISGA.

The PISGA itself will be a glorified local council with 'power' over health, welfare, education and tourism. It will also be required to form a Palestinian police force to keep law and order. This plan is but a modification of Israeli proposals advanced earlier this year:

‘All land occupied by Zionist settlers, all roads, military zones and public land, including the Jordan Valley and the West Bank Highlands will come under complete Israeli jurisdiction. This amounts to over 70 per cent of the Occupied Territories!

Palestinian autonomy over the remaining portions of land will be the autonomy of a bantustan. Israel will retain control of internal security and foreign relations. It will in addition control the infrastructure and water supplies, all land which is not privately owned and will have power to determine who shall or shall not reside in the Occupied Territories. These proposals merely transfer to Palestinians an existing colonial administration over which Israel will retain ultimate power through parallel structures of 'residual authority'. (FRFI 113, June/July 1993)

Even while signing the agreement, the Israeli government ploughs on remorselessly with its programme to complete 11,000 housing units constituting the largest ever building programme in the Occupied Territories. This is part of Rabin's plan to rationalise the expansion and development of Zionist settlements. Their strategic distribution and the network of roads and military zones linking them will secure Zionist control of the largest part of the Territories and restricts Palestinians to four enclaves in the West Bank, and two in Gaza, all isolated from each other and totally dependent on Israel.

Twenty six years of Israeli occupation have destroyed the economy of the West Bank and Gaza subordinating it totally to the needs of the Zionist settlers and Israeli capital. The combined Gross Domestic Product of the West Bank and Gaza is but 5 per cent of that of Israel. Gross National Product per head in the West Bank is just $2,000 while in the Gaza it is $1,200. The Israeli figure is $10,800. In this context it is downright treachery to speak of an independent Palestinian state even in the Occupied Territories as a whole, let alone in just the Gaza and Jericho. In the Gaza Strip at least 260,000 of the areas 780,000 people live in squalid refugee camps. Male unemployment now stands at 62 per cent and poverty is becoming desperate. An UNRWA official, Alex Pollock, notes that nearly all the area's infrastructure is 'either missing or in a deplorable state'.

This makes talk of the PISGA being merely a preparatory stage towards an independent Palestine, in a 'final settlement' five years hence, nothing but a deception. By then no Palestinian entity will exist! The Israeli government has repeatedly made clear, along with the US, its total opposition to any independent Palestinian state. Even as the 'peace'-deal was being signed in Washington, Israel issued a statement via its Paris embassy reiterating its 'opposition to the creation of an independent Palestinian state'.

The Declaration says nothing about the 'right of return' for Palestinians refugees expelled from their homeland from 1948 onwards. It leaves intact the entire Zionist colonial-settler state and military machine, ready to be used against resurgent revolutionary movements or other forces hostile to imperialism. Since the agreement President Clinton has assured Israel that there will be no cut in billions of dollars of US aid and military assistance.

Accord unites imperialist capital and the PLO against the people

The leaders of the USA, EC and Japan welcomed the Declaration as a decisive step to end the Palestinian revolution which over the decades presented the greatest threat to imperialist control over the region and its oil riches. They all understand however that the devastated economy of the Occupied Territories cannot sustain a stable bantustan PISGA. Poverty and desperation will breed opposition and threaten a revival of a revolutionary challenge. It is necessary therefore to take precautions. First they will try to bribe and silence this opposition. In the words of Alex Pollock:

‘… a well-funded programme could immediately provide jobs, alleviate [he proposes merely to alleviate not eliminate] suffering and defeat political opposition.' (Financial Times, 10 September 1993)

An EC diplomat put the same message in a different way:

‘Steps will have to be taken to support the population there otherwise the politics of despair will take over very quickly.' (The Guardian, 1 September 1993)

To this end imperialism is preparing a financial package with promises from the EC, the US, Japan and a number of Scandinavian countries. Meanwhile Arafat is touring the oil-rich Middle East governments begging for money to help buy support for the plan. Lest this bribery does not work, the Financial Times reminds us that the Declaration:

‘commits the new Palestinian police force to co-operate with Israeli security forces in combating Hamas and other radicals in the territories which remain committed to the armed struggle.' (Financial Times, 15 September 1993)

Abdullah Hourani, an independent member of the PLO Executive who has now resigned, quite correctly said:

‘This agreement transforms the Palestinian autonomy authority into a repression apparatus against our people in favour of Israel.' (Financial Times, 13 September 1993)

Large sections of Palestinians, even those among the ranks of Yassir Arafat's Al Fatah, see through the fraud of the Declaration. 180 Al Fatah guerrillas in Jordan issued a statement refusing to join the. proposed Palestinian police force:

‘We are ready to serve in a nationalist police force in an independent Palestinian state, but not to be tools to suppress our peoples' resistance against the Israeli occupation.' (ibid)

Who gains, who loses?

The only beneficiaries of the Declaration are the imperialists, the Zionists and the Arab/Palestinian bourgeoisie. The end of the Palestinian revolution will mean greater security for imperialist oil profits in the region. For the Zionists it opens the possibility of much more systematic and peaceful colonisation of Palestine (See FRFI 113, June/July 1993). The Declaration is a critical component of Zionism's strategy:

‘By incorporating the Arab states into a settlement with Zionism, it isolates the Palestinian national liberation struggle. By seeking to incorporate the Palestinian bourgeoisie into an effectively colonial settlement, the Israeli state is then left free to turn against the Palestinian masses — the working class, the peasantry, the poor — who have nothing to gain from the process, not even an independent Palestine.' (FRFI 113, June/July 1993)

These accords will enable Israel to rapidly sign agreements with surrounding Arab regimes and end the regional blockade against them. Israel then expects to emerge as a dominant economic force in the area. Already Israeli economists are talking of 'major opportunities in terms of export markets and imports of natural resources' and expecting a 22 per cent increase in exports.

As for the Arab and Palestinian bourgeoisie — well they can grovel for crumbs from imperialism without having to concern themselves about the wrath of the poor and oppressed. With the termination of the Palestinian revolution, the Palestinian bourgeoisie, with financial help from imperialist and Arab capital, hopes to carve itself a little niche as a subordinate partner of Zionism and Arab reaction. Preparing to enter the imperialist fold, the Palestinian bourgeoisie is eager to reassure imperialism that the PLO will abandon all ambitions for an economically independent and socially just Palestine. Mr Hisham Awartani, a bourgeois Palestinian economics professor, according to the Financial Times, is urging the PLO to:

‘recast itself to face the challenge: first it must resist socialist voices calling for a state controlled economy and nationalist voices demanding economic isolation from Israel.' (10 September 1993)

Mr Awartani is forthright about the need of the PLO to remove itself from the influence of 'trade unions, labour groups and old-time socialists.' The PLO must, in other words oppose these groups’ demands for social and economic justice — demands which represent the interests of the vast majority of Palestinians.

The PLO, the Palestinian bourgeoisie and the Revolution

The fundamental issue that today confronts socialists and anti-imperialists is to explain why and how the PLO, once a powerful symbol of anti-imperialist struggle, has surrendered with such a whimper. Why has it signed a 'peace'-accord which, in the words of Ali Jiddah, a PFLP supporter who spent 17 years in a Zionist prison (interviewed in FRFI 101 June/July 1991), 'is a total subjection of the Palestinians to Israeli and American conditions.'

Current developments are the culmination of a long process spanning some two and a half decades during which the right-wing, bourgeois and petit-bourgeois trends within the PLO, represented primarily by Al-Fatah, has sought to seize total control of the organisation and curtail and stifle the truly popular, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist struggle of the Palestinian masses.

During 26 years of the Zionist occupation and economic subjugation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Palestinian bourgeoisie and wealthier sections of the petit-bourgeoisie became internally integrated into the Zionist economy. Externally they were also dependent on the flow of aid from the oil-rich pro-imperialist Gulf states. Within the Arab diaspora, the substantially wealthy Palestinian bourgeoisie has always tied its fortunes to the bourgeoisie of the Arab world rather than the popular democratic struggle of the masses. As a result, the Palestinian right-wing's commitment to the national liberation struggle has always been qualified by its own narrow class interests and by its ties to the Arab bourgeoisie and the Zionist economy. Its interests are therefore opposed to a consistent and uncompromising struggle against Zionism, imperialism or capitalism.

The Palestinian bourgeoisie saw the national struggle as no more than a stepping stone to greater profits unfettered by Zionist rule. It opposed Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza because the occupation curtailed its own economic advancement, not because it devastated the lives of the masses. For the Palestinian bourgeoisie, the mass popular revolution was but a bargaining counter to be used in its selfish dealings with imperialism and Zionism. Like the bourgeois trend in all other liberation movements, the right wing of the PLO could not express or fight for the needs of the majority. Quite the contrary, it has always opposed the popular, socialist and revolutionary nationalist trends within the PLO.

At the peak of the PLO's anti-imperialist role, these left-wing and revolutionary nationalist trends were serious contenders to take over the leadership of the struggle. Imperialism therefore, in alliance with Zionism and the Arab bourgeoisie, spared no violence to destroy them. In September 1970, King Hussein's army suppressed a mass insurrection and drove the PLO out of Jordan. In 1976 Assad's Syrian regime used its army to save the Lebanese fascist falange from defeat at the hands of a joint democratic and leftist Lebanese/Palestinian alliance. Again in 1982, the PLO was subjected to savage attack when Israel invaded Lebanon killing 25,000 people. In 1984, the Syrian regime again intervened to stifle a resurgent left-wing popular alliance. From 1988 onwards the imperialists and Arab regimes ensured the total isolation of the intifada. This facilitated the Zionist repression which worked to drain and exhaust a mass popular movement which was moving to establish popular power and dual power.

These repeated assaults severely weakened the position of the left and revolutionary nationalist forces. They allowed the bourgeois forces to consolidate their position within the PLO which underwent a process of degeneration. Gulf oil money helped to nurture a privileged anti-democratic, bureaucratic stratum whose comfortable existence decisively separated it off from the lives and experience of the majority of the Palestinian poor and exploited. Thus the Palestinian bourgeoisie and its political representatives in the PLO lost any semblance of political principle and political independence. They steadily moved to tie their fortunes more tightly to the Arab ruling class. They abandoned the revolutionary and armed struggle and in return hoped that imperialism would reward them by pressurising Zionism into a compromise settlement.

The Gulf War marked a crucial turning point for these forces. The Arab ruling classes' willing alliance with the US in its war to crush Iraq, marked the Arab bourgeoisie's total submission to imperialism and the final humiliation and disintegration of the Arab nationalist movement. This totally isolated the Palestinian bourgeoisie, especially after the PLO, due to mass Palestinian anti-imperialist sentiment, was forced to support Iraq during the War. With an end to Gulf oil funding and with support from the Arab world at its lowest level, the PLO also faced a major political and financial crisis. Meanwhile on the West Bank and Gaza accelerated Zionist colonisation was threatening the remaining Palestinian bourgeois privileges. In these conditions, the PLO's bourgeois leadership threw in the towel and prepared to sue for peace on any conditions. They got the Madrid Conference and now the Declaration of Principles.

In its cowardly compromising behaviour the Palestinian bourgeoisie reflects in a concentrated form the character of the Arab bourgeoisie and indeed the bourgeoisie of most oppressed nations in the post-Soviet, new colonial times. Today they have abandoned all programmes for genuine independent national development and are prostrating themselves before their imperialist masters. The. Arab ruling class was willingly incorporated into the imperialist alliance to crush Iraq. In the Third World as a whole, the ruling class has enthusiastically endorsed neo-liberalism which is enabling imperialism to once again seize total control of the world's natural resources and labour.

During the great anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles of the post-war period things were different. The strength and economic performance of the USSR stood as an example of the possibilities, even to the vacillating bourgeois and petit-bourgeois trends, of independent economic development. The existence of the Soviet Union was a fetter on imperialism and offered the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements, even those led by bourgeois nationalists, a greater degree of freedom to manoeuvre in their struggles. Liberation movements were able to hope and to fight for political and economic independence from imperialism as a first stage in improving the material conditions of the masses.

In this context left-wing forces within liberation movements wielded significant power. In relation to the Middle East US Secretary of State Warren Christopher admitted as much, asserting that the Soviet Union whilst it existed:

‘emboldened radicals, intimidated moderates and left Israel, save for the friendship of the United States, in a lonely state of siege.' (International Herald Tribune, 21 September 1993)

The Gaza Strip: 780,000 Palestinians live in squalor and dire poverty

The Gaza Strip: 780,000 Palestinians live in squalor and dire poverty

However, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc has enabled imperialism to decisively reassert unrivalled international economic, political and military power against all Third World opposition. In consequence, the dependent bourgeoisie, weakened by its own corruption and is own subordination to imperialist capital, has neither the ability nor the will to seriously oppose imperialism. In exchange for a few perks it shamelessly submits to imperial dictates whilst the conditions of the masses touches levels of unprecedented poverty and suffering.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the onset of the new colonialism has highlighted once again the compromising and cowardly role of the bourgeoisie in the national struggle. James Connolly, a great Marxist and fighter for Irish national liberation murdered by the British in 1916, aptly noted that in the national struggle the working class cannot rely on ‘the leadership of a class whose social character is derived from oppression.' All 'bourgeois movements end in compromise' and the ‘bourgeois revolutionist of today becomes the conservative of tomorrow.' In the epoch of imperialism therefore, only 'the working class remains as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom.'

The cowardly role of the Palestinian bourgeoisie makes Connolly's standpoint particularly appropriate for Palestinian revolutionaries, For the sake of some minor neo-colonial economic and political privileges, the Palestinian bourgeoisie and its political representatives in the PLO have betrayed the interests of the masses. They have abandoned the struggle for a secular and democratic state across the whole of Palestine which could set the stage for real national and social emancipation for all the workers and peasants of the region — Arab or Jewish.

The future of the Palestinian revolution

For over five months the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been sealed off from Israel and from Jerusalem. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and their families who rely on slave labour in Israel for their meagre living are now desperately hungry. Imperialism, Zionism, Arab reaction and the PLO hope that the promise of international aid to release the masses from their desperate position will reconcile them to the neo-colonial autonomy plan and marginalise the opposition.

This task will not be easy. There have been numerous strikes and demonstrations against the deal. The left within the Palestinian movement, having withdrawn from the PLO, is organising against the sell-out. But confronted with the radical rhetoric of the fundamentalist forces, the left's fortunes will depend on how clearly and persuasively it can demonstrate that in this epoch the struggle for national liberation cannot be separated from the struggle for social liberation, that for success the struggle against Zionism and imperialism must be united with the struggle against capitalism.

The influence of Muslim fundamentalism among the poor and dispossessed of Palestine (see FRFI 113, February/March 1993) will seriously hinder the task of developing and consolidating an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist opposition. Despite its radical rhetoric opposing the agreement, Hamas, the major fundamentalist organisation, is already engaged in secret negotiations with Al Fatah. It is not so much opposed to the deal as to the apportioning of the spoils. In any event, fundamentalism's opposition to the PLO has never had any revolutionary or democratic content. This is evident from its support for private property and capitalism, its programme for driving women out of social life and out of the liberation struggle, its virulent opposition to communism's democratic, collective and egalitarian standpoint and its sectarianism against Palestinian Christians.

The Palestinian revolution confronts difficult days ahead. The least we can do in Britain is to continue exposing the reactionary role of imperialism and Zionism is sustaining an order in the Middle East the end result of which is abject poverty, war and death for the majority, whilst enormous riches are siphoned off to feed the greed of a tiny rich minority in the imperialist heartlands. ■


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