How to create a real counterweight?

Only an Arab revolution can liberate Palestine

Neither a one-state nor a two-state ‘solution’ can be achieved under the current balance of forces, writes Paul Demarty

Perhaps the most striking feature of Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza strip - besides, of course, the carnage - is the wilful mendacity of the entire enterprise.

That mass arrests should begin in the name of finding three youths known (it turns out) by the Israeli state to be dead; that Hamas should be blamed for those murders, an eventuality no competent state spook could entertain seriously; that the whole package should be, astonishingly, repeated in the case of a ‘kidnapped’ Israeli soldier, used as an excuse to scupper a ceasefire, and who likewise turned up dead after a renewed offensive: who could believe any of this stuff? And nobody does: any more than the viewer of a pornographic film really believes that the guy with the moustache is there to fix the fridge.

Israel’s periodic punishment beatings of the Gaza population have the peculiar effect of provoking the most cynical inanities and floods of crocodile tears among our media, of exposing how laughable the lofty claim of journalism to ‘speak truth to power’ truly is among the pliant creatures that line news desks. It is said that the first casualty of war is the truth; but in the case of Gaza, the first lie is that this can even be called a war. The supremacy of Israel - whose ‘right to defend itself’ is, naturally, inviolate - is so absolute, its power over those besieged in Gaza so obviously enormous, that the use of the word ‘war’ is itself an apology.

Gaza is a prison - sometimes, the provocations of the ‘guards’ are severe enough to provoke a prison riot, a flurry of explosive rockets that might land anywhere within a 50-mile radius of the notional target. The response of Israel is identical to that of a sadistic gang of screws: a terroristic battering of the population; massacres of civilians, and deliberate targeting of basic infrastructure (the power station, which will be inoperable for at least a year; the tunnels that carry blockade-breaking supplies through Rafah), are designed only to brutalise and to cow.

Three weeks in, with a Palestinian civilian death toll closing in on 2,000 (at least half of whom are women and children), the notion that there is any point to this exercise other than terrorising the population of Gaza is proving difficult to carry, even in rabidly pro-Israel circles. The Daily Mail wrings its hands, and urges its friends in Tel Aviv to make peace; Nick Clegg calls for talks. “I am a passionate supporter of Israel,” Boris Johnson declared on his LBC phone-in show, but “I cannot for the life of me see the purpose of this. It is disproportionate, ugly and tragic and will not do Israel any good the long run.” His awkward position is increasingly typical of the political establishment.

Fingers are wagged sternly even in Washington, which bankrolls the whole enterprise in the form of billions of dollars in annual aid to Israel. The cash flow has been momentarily interrupted by the Senate, but only because Republican wingnuts like Rand Paul cannot abide such government largesse going to anyone.

Others we may view more charitably. Sayeeda Warsi, tired of being the British government’s token Muslim, has displayed a rare glimpse of backbone and resigned her post over the government’s “morally indefensible” position on the Gaza conflict. The United Nations is genuinely incandescent that seven of its schools (and counting) should be cynically bombed by the Israel Defence Forces.

This is, of course, just part of the cycle. Superficial international ‘pressure’ builds on Israel to make ‘peace’, which it does at leisure, taking the opportunity to impose further privations on the Palestinians. When all this bloodshed recurs, as inevitably it will, it will not be Israel’s endless ratcheting that gets blamed by high-minded commentators and pious politicians in the west, but Palestinian impudence.

So what is really going on here? We cannot dissociate the timing of Israel’s assault from the signing of a historic unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah in April, in which two forces who, seven years ago, clashed violently in Gaza achieved a tentative reconciliation. Israel has been spoiled by the disunity in the Palestinian camp, and enjoyed the pliant ‘non-violent resistance’ of Fatah (read: mostly unsuccessful attempts to apply diplomatic pressure on the world stage).

Unity between these forces was intolerable. Yet it does not seem to have been wholly derailed by the Gaza onslaught; Fatah operatives have been found offering the sort of mild criticisms of Hamas that the Mail makes of Israel. Nabil Shaath, an advisor to Mahmoud Abbas, laments that Hamas “just needed a promise that at the end of the ceasefire there would be a normal life for Gazans. But, by not throwing rockets, maybe they could have avoided giving excuses to the Israelis.” Nonetheless, Abbas has supported Hamas’s terms for a ceasefire, including the opening of the Israeli and Egyptian borders with Gaza.

This may explain the escalation - after the wedge strategy failed, the next obvious option is to double down and seriously weaken the ability of Hamas to operate. Cadre must be destroyed; their hiding places (the famous tunnels) likewise. This hardly has value in the long term - persistent violent interference in the life of a people tends not to win their affection, and Hamas will be able to replace fallen fighters with the angry and bereaved, of whom there are very many more. You cannot train soldiers overnight, however, and short-term disruption to Hamas’s activities is eminently achievable.

More worrying is the longer-term aspect of Israeli strategy, focused on the problem of the “demographic peril” - that the Palestinian population grows faster than the Israeli Jews, and therefore its subjugation will become more problematic. Comrade Moshé Machover has highlighted repeatedly that the strategic aim of Binyamin Netanyahu and Likud is to pursue large-scale ethnic cleansing, when an appropriate excuse presents itself.

Gaza is not the major prize on this front (hence Ariel Sharon’s decision a decade ago to abandon the few settlements there, although Israel has taken the opportunity to slice another 3km ‘buffer zone’ off the strip), but the West Bank: terrorising the Gaza population sufficiently for large numbers to go into exile, however, drains the swamp that feeds the likes of Hamas. Such is, ultimately, the most plausible motive for the slaughter, the plainly deliberate targeting of civilian buildings and non-combatants - to scare or force people into leaving. Over 460,000 people have been displaced so far (a quarter of the population): how many will return?

Thus the absurdity of the abundant calls for ‘peace’, some disingenuous and some naive. Sure: who could object to peace? As I write, the Egyptian government has negotiated a 72-hour ceasefire, and representatives of Hamas, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are negotiating in Cairo. Assuming no further provocations are engineered by Israel, as happened with the last few ‘ceasefires’, Operation Protective Edge will conclude; the Gazans will pick through the rubble, and Israelis will be officially permitted to sleep safely in their beds. A sham war will thus be ended with a sham peace, which will obtain until the next time a bombardment of this captive population is congenial to the Zionist state.

Peace is impossible under the present arrangement of forces in Israel-Palestine. We may assume that, at the very least, Netanyahu is well aware of this fact - he is a political descendant of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who correctly ridiculed the mainstream Labour Zionists for imagining that Jewish settlers would be welcomed by the native Palestinian population; he was an honest colonialist, well aware of what a colonial project entails. Inevitably, the colonised spurn the ‘gifts’ of ‘civilisation’; inevitably, they resist.

Israel, moreover, is a special case of what Karl Kautsky called a “work colony”, whose purpose is for the settlers to form a new society among themselves. This leaves the native population surplus to requirements, of course, and so marginalised at best (as in the US), exterminated at worst (as in Tasmania).

Israel had the misfortune, however, to rise at the moment the great colonial empires collapsed (among them its historic allies and sponsors, France and Britain). Its ability to secure for a Jewish state the entire territory of mandate Palestine was curtailed and frustrated - the project has been pursued, in the near half-century since the Six-Day War, mostly at a snail’s pace, one settlement after another, enlivened by periodic explosions and regional conflicts.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian national movement is weaker than ever. The strength of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in its high period was drawn from the global context - the cold war, and the national liberation movements that ripped through the colonial world. Today, decolonisation is all but complete, and the Soviet bloc is gone. America is undisputed world hegemon - and, for all the handwringing on Capitol Hill, is certainly not about to ditch its key Middle East ally.

Thus Fatah is reduced to forlornly protesting outrages in the corridors of power, and deputising for the occupiers in the West Bank; Hamas is reduced to rocket attacks with no discernible purpose other than to declare to Israel (and their own supporters) that they have not disappeared, in spite of everything. Hamas may have more of the élan of resistance about them now, but we must remember that theirs is a reactionary, religious and sectarian project which is inevitably limited in its constituency.

Between these two facts - the implacable expansionism at the heart of Zionism, and the military-political weakness of the Palestinian forces - both the ‘solutions’ touted around on the left are false, because their implementation is envisaged only within current Israel-Palestine parameters. A two-state solution is unacceptable to Israel, which has never and will never agree to Palestinian statehood except under extreme duress - and which power exists at present able to deliver such duress? Similarly, a one-state solution would under present circumstances - and by the same logic - be favourable to Israel: it alone is the power that can impose terms. The second-class citizenship of Arabs in Israel proper may be preferable to life in Gaza, but it is still a mockery of self-determination.

Redressing the balance means creating a real counterweight to Israel and other US allies in the Middle East, which in turn means tackling the unresolved Arab national question, destroying the reactionary Gulf regimes and positively overcoming the meaningless Sykes-Picot borders so dangerously collapsing today. In other words, an Arab revolution. The agent of such a revolution needs to unite diverse peoples, across not only those borders, but also the ideological delimitations of religion and sect - only the working class, not jihadis or exhausted nationalists, can do so. Only such a regional power would be able to end Zionist oppression once and for all - while assuring the Israeli Jews that their genuine national rights would be respected under the new order.