Israel-Palestine peace accord: Imperialism calls the tune

As Arafat is forced to step up repression, there are signs of a split in Fatah

Last week’s Wye Plantation agreement between Israel and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority once again demonstrates imperialism’s ability to impose its New World Order.

Begun in 1993 with the Oslo accord, the Middle East peace process continues at a snail’s pace. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu agreed to cede a further 13.1% of the occupied West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, in exchange for Yasser Arafat’s agreement to impose even more repressive measures on those who wish to continue the liberation struggle. As a result of the complete marginalisation of all elements within the Palestine Liberation Organisation claiming adherence to some kind of anti-imperialist ideology, militant rejectionism is now led by the reactionary clerics in Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Arafat also agreed to convene the 750-strong Palestine National Convention within three months in order to remove from the Palestinian Covenant all mention of the commitment to the “elimination of Zionism”. Netanyahu claimed that the agreement will not only ensure that Arafat jails even more ‘terrorists’, but also will “stop vitriolic incitement” - ie, will bring the wrath of the Palestinian administration on the heads of all those who continue to demand self-determination. Netanyahu had made a great show of pretending to stage a last-minute walk-out from the Maryland talks to force through extra concessions. He easily defeated an ultra-nationalist no-confidence motion in the Knesset, after declaring how much “it hurts ... to give away one centimetre” of the West Bank to the Palestinians. “But I have to tell you,” he continued, “we fought like lions to reduce as much as possible the amount of land to be handed over.”

Soon after the vote Netanyahu announced he would not implement the Israeli withdrawal until he received Arafat’s detailed plans for suppressing ‘terrorism’.

For his part Arafat proclaimed that there would be “no return to confrontation and violence”. Even while he was in Wye, his security forces were making further arrests on the West Bank. But it is not only Hamas and Islamic Jihad that Arafat is targeting. Over the weekend there were clashes in Ramallah between Palestinian police and supporters of his party, Fatah, after its premises were raided and illegal arms seized. In the process a young Fatah supporter was shot dead. Immediately a general strike was called in Ramallah, and 2,000 Fatah supporters staged a march. They chanted slogans against the military investigation chief, Moussa Arafat, who just happens to be the autocratic leader’s nephew. Moussa was dubbed a “CIA agent” by the protesters - apparently for carrying out his uncle’s orders.

Soon however, there will be no shortage of the genuine article. An undisclosed number of CIA agents are to oversee the Israeli withdrawal and general questions of ‘security’ - ie, the Palestinian clampdown on ‘terrorists’. They will mediate between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority in the event of disputes as to which administration has the right to deal with such dissidents. Former CIA director Robert Gates stated that both sides “trust the CIA more than they trust each other”.

This latest move is highly symbolic. Arafat’s transformation from liberation fighter to New World Order dupe is complete. He not only looks to the USA to broker deals in order to wring piecemeal concessions from Tel Aviv, but actually welcomes direct imperialist intervention to police them. Clearly he has no faith in his own ability to permanently keep the lid on internal opposition, and of course does not even contemplate challenging Israeli military might himself. Yet he still has enough support to carry most of the Palestinian population behind him - for the moment: the events in Ramallah offer a portent of what the future could hold. However, while his reputation as an intransigent patriot lasts, he can be confident of retaining US support.

This latest stage in the process triggered by the 1993 Oslo agreement was also widely welcomed by imperialism as a whole. Unlike similar accords in South Africa and Northern Ireland, where liberation movements also turned to imperialism after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Oslo did not envisage a relatively speedy settlement. May 1999 was the projected date for the final establishment of the state of Palestine in the Gaza strip and West Bank - although the exact borders were not precisely determined. Since then of course the previous Israeli Labour administration was replaced by Netanyahu’s far-right Likud, and the painfully slow progress was for a time halted altogether.

Arafat, in a typical piece of impotent bluster, announced that he would declare Palestinian statehood according to the Oslo schedule next May - apparently forgetting that he had already done that in November 1988 in Algiers. It would have had just as little effect on the real world this time around. Nevertheless, Netanyahu seized the opportunity to declare that such a unilateral move would pre-empt negotiations and allow him to withdraw from any commitment to Oslo. The Wye agreement has finally set the tortuous process back in motion.

Each time Arafat takes a tiny step forward to his goal in the shape of winning a little more land for his administration to control, he compromises the eventual outcome to the Palestinians’ detriment. He has agreed that the territory gained will effectively be cut into strips by Israeli-controlled areas allowing access to Jewish settlements. The USA is to finance the construction of by-pass roads connecting them to Israel at a cost of around $500 million.

A viable Palestinian state will never be built on the basis of disconnected pockets of territory. But from the point of view of basic democratic rights of the people, such deals are outrageous. Restrictions on Palestinians’ rights to travel, to be part of a community, to live as a nation, will not only be retained, but enshrined de facto.

No wonder opposition to Arafat has started to spread from the religious right to Fatah itself. The Palestinian Authority, already renowned for its dictatorial brutality, including killings and torture to match the worst that Israel has produced, is set to step up its repression. Under the guise of fighting ‘terrorism’ it will be pressed by Israel and the US to arrest even more opponents - real and potential - and if necessary to employ the ‘final solution’ of executing them. No doubt Arafat’s European backers - 60% of his administration’s budget is provided by EU governments and other European organisations - will continue to turn a blind eye.

Arafat hopes that the sight of the Israelis withdrawing and the raising of the Palestinian flag in newly reclaimed pockets of territory might at the very least buy him some time. In truth the partial withdrawal was the least the Israelis had to do to prevent the situation getting out of control. The Daily Telegraph foresaw “a renewed Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip” (October 24), had this deal not been struck: “At worst, Israel could have faced internal insurrection and war on two fronts, with Egypt and Syria. Mr Arafat could have been swept from power by the extremists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.” It was not so long ago that the Telegraph was condemning “Mr Arafat” as the worst of the “extremists” threatening imperialist interests.

As well as wanting to ensure some sort of stability in the region, Clinton had another reason for pushing the Wye deal as hard as he could. According to the Wall Street Journal, his aim was “coming up with an agreement - any kind of agreement - that would allow the president to call the meeting a success” (October 23). Not only would that further weaken the chances of a successful impeachment, but hopefully it would boost the Democratic candidates in next week’s mid-term elections. On the basis of such matters are Palestinian rights negotiated away.

Imperialism continues to resolve the world’s ‘hot spots’ - on its own terms. It has succeeded in defusing many revolutionary situations negatively. However, in order to achieve the stability it craves, it needs to impose settlements around which a majority consensus of all sides can be built. In South Africa that was done, and Northern Ireland is still on track to do the same.

However, the Palestine question has not been settled at all. Israel has a government which depends on the votes of ultra-nationalists, who believe that giving up an inch of the ‘promised land’ is a sacrilege. The Palestinian Authority is ruled by an autocrat whose main concern is his own survival. Any statelet which emerges will be without economic viability, infrastructure or even communal feasibility.

Jim Blackstock