Israeli workers key to progress

It is a nauseating sight. Tanks and troops from the misnamed Israeli Defence Force roll into another Palestinian town and raise the Israeli flag. Houses are bulldozed, administration offices destroyed, youths are shot. The pretext for the current offensive was an attack on a bat mitzvah, in the northern Israeli town of Hadera, by a lone gunman who killed six Israelis and injured a dozen. In response Israel insisted on "teaching the Palestinian Authority a lesson it will never forget" (The Guardian January 19). This "lesson" - which has been 'taught' many times before - consists of Israeli attacks on key PA buildings. The headquarters of its media mouthpiece, the Voice of Palestine, was destroyed by Israeli troops. And in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, temporarily under Israeli occupation, F-16 fighters reduced the police station to rubble. Yasser Arafat has been confined for over a month to Ramallah by an Israeli blockade. His regime is in deep crisis. Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, the Israeli defence minister, observed that, "Everyone is fed up with Arafat" (Jerusalem Post January 21). "Everyone" included the Likud majority of the Israeli government. The dovish elements within the ruling coalition itself - with foreign minister and Labour grandee Shimon Peres at their head - would rather deal with a Palestinian people led by Arafat than by Hamas. The United States has been impatiently urging Arafat to 'get tough', but is yet to abandon him completely. Having all but completed the first phase of its 'war on terrorism', the US government now has no compulsion to fete Arab opinion. Gone is talk of a Palestinian state and criticism of Israeli 'excesses'. In its place is the usual pious rhetoric in defence of 'the region's only democracy', as its rightwing admirers often glowingly refer to Israel. There is no doubt that the Israeli government could, if it chose, move decisively against Arafat. It could topple his administration or even re-annex the Gaza and the West Bank. Instead the rabidly chauvinistic Sharon government is playing a double game. On the one hand, it destroys the PA's infrastructure under the guise of retaliation against terrorist attacks and, on the other, it makes demands of Arafat which are impossible to meet - not least because of the damage inflicted by the Israelis themselves. The idea is that failure discredits Arafat in the eyes of the international community, while compliance diminishes him before the Palestinian people. Whether Arafat is ousted by his own people - perhaps in a coup from within the PA - or is the victim of a sniper's bullet is of little consequence to Israel. The cleaner its hands the better but, either way, the path would be clear for what is left of the PA to be declared a 'failed state' in need of Israeli 'assistance'. The level of control that Arafat is able to exercise over his own people is questionable. The al-Aqsa Brigade - a militia linked to Arafat's Fatah movement - claimed responsibility for the Hadera attack despite the fact that Arafat himself has declared a ceasefire and condemned the outrage. At Israel's behest, he had begun - albeit hesitantly - to round up militants held responsible for such attacks. Prominent among these was Ahmed Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Israel holds Saadat responsible for the assassination of the ultra-reactionary Israeli tourism minister, Rahavam Zeevi. Saadat's arrest, along with that of other PFLP militants, has prompted the PFLP to threaten to target PA security chiefs. PFLP supporters took to the streets denouncing Arafat for his capitulation to Israeli pressure. Together with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they issued a joint declaration calling for Saadat's immediate release. Neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad have yet to go as far as threatening PA officials, as neither wants to be seen to be creating divisions within the national struggle of the Palestinians. However, as one Hamas spokesperson put it, the PA is "digging its own grave" (The Guardian January 17). For revolutionary socialists and communists neither Fatah nor the islamicists have any answers for the Palestinian people. One wants to impose a settlement from above, without regard for democratic rights. The other uses terror tactics in support of a reactionary political programme. The indiscriminate suicide attacks on Israeli civilians are reactionary. Attacks like those on Hadera rally Israeli working people around the chauvinism of Sharon and Likud. For some sections of Israeli opinion, Sharon has not gone far enough. The Jerusalem Post dismisses the recent Israeli actions as inadequate: "Such symbols and signals are out of sync with the post-September 11 world, in which terrorism will not be tolerated" (January 21). The Israeli working class is not the enemy of the Palestinian struggle for national liberation. In fact the opposite is the case - it is potentially the Palestinian people's most powerful ally. Despite all their heroic endeavour, the plain fact is that the Palestinians' second intifada is doomed to failure unless it can win the Israeli working class to its side. Communists fight for the unity of the working class and the unity of peoples. It can only be a voluntary unity, forged in the fight for consistent democracy. Concretely, the Palestinians need their own state with full powers - something the Zionists aim to prevent at all costs. But all peoples, including those of oppressor nations, have rights, as Lenin made clear. Obviously, it is the Palestinians whose national rights are being denied by the Israeli state, not the other way round. However, a consistently democratic programme must take account of the democratic rights of those who presently side with the oppressor. To demand a democratic, secular Palestine - and leave it at that - is completely insufficient. To effectively deny the right of the Israeli nation to exist would be to reverse the poles of oppression. Just as the Israeli working class must be won to champion the right of the Palestinians to their own democratic state, so Palestinian workers must insist - in opposition to the nationalists and reactionary islamicists - that the right to nationhood of the Israeli people is respected. * Israel out of Gaza and the West Bank * For a democratic, secular Palestinian state with full powers * For the right to return of all displaced Palestinians * For a democratic, secular Israel * No to Zionism, no to islamicist reaction * For voluntary unity of the peoples of the Middle East Mike Speed