Horror upon horror

The Hamas suicide bombings that rocked Jerusalem and Haifa at the beginning of December, killing 26 Israelis, mainly civilian jewish youth, marked a considerable escalation of the 'second intifada'.

These bloodthirsty attacks were themselves a response to the Israel's assassination of Hamas's West Bank military commander, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud: just the latest example of its policy of assassinating leading Palestinians, whether fundamentalist or secular. The claims by the anti-Arab racist butcher, Ariel Sharon, that his hard-line stance against Palestinian 'terrorism' would result in increased 'security' for Israeli jews, has been revealed to be spurious and just another murderous dead end. In reality, the escalation of hostilities between Arab and jew that Sharon both represents and provokes threatens both peoples with many more years of such carnage.

With its 'anti-terrorist' war in Afghanistan going better than it originally expected, the Bush administration is feeling less pressure to engage in coalition-building than it was a few months ago. Since it is no longer quite so concerned to mollify Arab opinion, the expressions of disapproval for Israeli 'excesses' that were pushed to the fore a few weeks ago have been replaced by expressions of solidarity with Sharon's equation of the Hamas attacks with the atrocities of September 11 in the US. Thus the bombardment of Palestinian cities, the tank invasions of Palestinian territory, and the whole litany of Israeli terror, are now given guarded but open US support as part of the 'war against terrorism'. Washington expresses 'understanding' of the Sharon government's designation of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority as a 'terrorist-supporting entity', a designation which led to a walkout of Labour members of the Israeli cabinet from the meeting at which it was voted on.

US policy in the Middle East is strategically based on its alliance with Israel as a 'guard dog' for its interests in the region, whose potential for instability is enormous. But in its detail, it contains a large measure of pragmatism, and can be varied according to prevailing forces. In fact, it appears as though the United States has been compelled to modify its stance again in the face of an Israeli government which draws on and encourages popular support for militarism based on chronic insecurity, has been absolutely intransigent in the face of American demands for 'moderation' and has basically told Bush and his envoy, former marine corps general Anthony Zinni, to get stuffed, along with US efforts to restart the peace process.

The climate of anti-Arab xenophobia in Israel is such that the Labour Zionists fear breaking from Sharon's coalition, which they originally joined after the destabilisation of the Barak government by Sharon and the Zionist right in order to try to exercise a 'moderating' influence. With Sharon's aim of destabilising the Palestinian Authority (in part a creation of the Labour Zionists) and causing the overthrow of Arafat (openly declared in conversation with Turkey's president Eà§evit), that tactic has palpably failed. Yet Peres and co fear severe electoral defeat if they break from the Sharon coalition in the current climate, and are agonising over what to do next.

The Labour Zionists, of course, are not motivated by altruism or any intrinsic sympathy for Palestinian national rights. Rather, they are motivated by a more far-sighted vision of the real interests of the Israeli bourgeoisie. They fear most of all that Sharon's bankrupt policy of repression and escalation, followed by massive retaliation, can only lead Israel to another Lebanon-style disaster, albeit this time closer to home, and thereby ultimately endanger Israel's security still further in the long term. As many an embarrassed 'friend of Israel' has recently asked, 'Does Sharon want to find himself forced to negotiate with Islamic Jihad?'

Far right elements of the Sharon coalition may be daring enough to advocate the 'removal' (ethnic cleansing) of Arabs from the occupied territories, but in reality, such a policy would embroil Israel in an unending bloody war with the surrounding Arab peoples, a war that could tear apart the social stability and cohesion of the Zionist state. And of course, the overthrow of the Palestinian Authority and a return to the situation of total occupation that existed prior to the Oslo accords would entail similar dangers - Israel would inevitably find itself embroiled in a situation not unlike the US quagmire in Vietnam.

Thus, despite the current belligerence of the Sharon regime, and its determination to press its claims even to the point of sticking two fingers up at Uncle Sam, the rational interests of Israeli capitalism, and indeed of its US imperialist ally and patron, dictate that at some point a return to negotiations with the Palestinians will be necessary to extricate itself from yet another bloody mess.

Our unconditional backing for the liberation of the Palestinians from national oppression does not mean that we have in any way to support or take responsibility for the bloodthirsty attacks of Hamas or Islamic Jihad. We well understand the deadly dire circumstances of terror, helplessness and despair that is fuelling their growth, but nevertheless true partisans of the Palestinian people have to condemn their bloody actions, which only further reinforce the hold of extreme reaction over the jewish population.

The mass support for these reactionary forces is a product of despair, and the secular bourgeois Palestinian nationalist forces, personified by Arafat himself, can do nothing to bring about any improvement in the conditions that spawn it. Thus the families of young Palestinian men see it not as a source of mourning, but of pride, that their sons strap a powerful explosive charge to themselves and go and kill a number of the Israeli population who they see living a relatively comfortable life while Palestinians suffer.

They suffer, above all, from the theft of their land, robbery which of course the Israeli settlers in the occupied territories continued right through the peace process, even under Israeli Labour governments that were either powerless or unwilling to stop them. Indeed, the feeble attempts by Arafat to go against the tide of outraged Palestinian opinion and rein back the fundamentalists and suicide bombers, in the context of Israeli terrorism, intransigence and continued land theft, only undermine further the secular nationalist forces.

It is the bankruptcy of these forces that has led to where we are now. While the current situation would be extremely difficult for any leadership of the Palestinians to cope with, it has to be said that the whole strategy of the mainstream bourgeois nationalists, relying on the various corrupt and dictatorial Arab regimes as supposed 'friends of the Palestinians', has led them to be tainted with exactly the same odium and stench of failure that issues from these so-called allies. In the end, even the much-vaunted 'Arab revolution' from the 1950s to the 1970s, that represented the high point of the radical-secular regimes from Nasser to Assad, did not significantly change the lives of the masses of the region, who were still condemned to poverty and deprivation under in reality corrupt and brutal capitalist dictatorships. In fact, part of the 'radicalism' of this trend was itself the glorification of allegedly enlightened despotisms, which were anything but benevolent for the masses.

Naturally, as the demagogic radicals ran out of political steam, they tended to evolve into more conventional, openly reactionary (and sometimes openly pro-western) dictatorships of the Sadat/Mubarak type. In the last decade, the Oslo process has drawn Arafat and his collaborators in this direction also. Thus far, the inability of any force based on the oppressed Arab masses to come up with a politics based on real liberation, which has as a vital component some kind of programmatic thrust towards mass democracy and socialism, has opened the door to the malign influence of fundamentalism.

The formal recognition by leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation of Israel's right to exist, and the call for a separate Palestinian state in the occupied territories, are not part of a strategy aimed at using democracy as a weapon of struggle against the Israeli ruling class, but rather passive attempts to enlist the help of the imperialists in making Arafat into a weaker Palestinian parody of Sadat or King Hussein. Even the most 'radical', ostensibly socialist, of the nationalist groupings - the likes of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - have in reality acted as handmaidens of reactionary, anti-democratic dictatorships such as those of the Assad dynasty in Syria. In doing so, they have robbed the Palestinian struggle, the genuine struggle of an oppressed people, of a key weapon which could be used against the Israeli ruling class - the weapon of democracy. Thus they have played into the hands of Zionist reaction.

A genuinely revolutionary socialist solution to the complex, fraught national conflicts of the Middle East requires an offensive struggle for the democratic rights of all the peoples of the region. Obviously, this must include the Israeli jews who have no right to oppress the Palestinian Arab population, but who certainly have every right to live in the region and exercise the rights of a historically constituted nation. There must be a political settlement between the Israelis and Arabs, based on a radical redistribution of territory, and the creation of two, equal states of Israel and Palestine, as a step toward a voluntary union of the peoples. The productive resources of Israel must be put to the use of the masses of the entire region, instead of being used as a militarist club wielded against the Arabs. It must become an engine to raise the living standards of the Arab peoples towards that of the advanced capitalist world.

Such a perspective can only be put forward by a revived communist movement - one that can appeal to the working masses of Israel in an internationalist manner, on the basis that only such a progressive transcendence of the current murderous hatreds can offer real peace and security to all the peoples of the region, Arab and jew alike.

Ian Donovan