Road map to hell

Palestinian feedom demands unity below, argues Ian Donovan

Now that Iraq has been seized for the benefit of big oil and the 'new American century', the new 'road map' for the Israel/Palestine question is being brought to the fore.

Drawn up by the so-called 'quartet' - ie, the US, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - this 'peace plan' supposedly embodies proposals that will lead to a Palestinian state. But it probably would not be a good idea to hold one's breath until Palestinian freedom is attained; the bottom line of this renewed 'peace plan' is that if the Palestinians were only to give up their fight against Israeli occupation completely, renounce the whole ethos of their national struggle (dubbed as 'terrorism'), and replace their leaders with pliant supplicants who have the approval of the US and above all Israel itself, then and only then will they have the privilege of living in some kind of truncated geographic entity that somewhere down the line will be blessed with 'independence'.

It seems, however, that if Ariel Sharon has any say on the matter it will never get off the ground. The butcher of Sabra/Shatila and Jenin (among others) gave Colin Powell the brush-off in his diplomatic shuffle this week, protesting that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories need to engage in at least 'natural growth' at the expense of the Arab population - which does not bode well for the halt to new Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas that is supposed to be part of Bush's plan.

The 'road map' really is a concretisation of Bush's speech on Palestine last June, when he called for the ousting of Yasser Arafat as leader of the PLO and Palestinian Authority as a precondition for any kind of negotiations for a 'provisional' Palestinian state. Arafat was deemed "tainted" by terrorism on the say-so of Sharon, Bush's soul mate, who has benefited enormously from the political consequences of the continued settlement of the territories seized in 1967 - ie, the West Bank and Gaza. Neither he nor the Israeli ruling class are about to voluntarily hand them over to some made-over PLO administration in Ramallah, as Bush knows very well.

Talk of a Palestinian state is cynical hogwash designed to achieve 'regime change' in the Palestinian authority - installing a leadership that is prepared to bargain away whole swathes of Palestinian land (Arafat has shown over the whole fiasco of the Oslo peace negotiations of the 1990s that he is quite capable of doing that himself). Even such a pliable Palestinian leadership is only acceptable if it is prepared to kiss Sharon's backside and repudiate the whole tradition of radicalism and the struggle for liberation.

This is the role of the new Palestinian prime minister, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas). Formerly the PLO's secretary-general, this apparatchik appears to have been groomed by the United States to play the role of stooge, the would-be Hamid Karzai of the Palestinian authority. His determination to crack down on the 'terrorism' of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the secular Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is hardly in doubt: indeed it is his main sales pitch to the Americans.

However, it is, to say the least, highly unlikely that he will have much more success in this endeavour than Arafat. In the end, the popular support for suicide terrorism against Israeli civilians is not something that can be turned on and off like a tap, even if the Americans were to provide Abu Mazen with a reinforced, US-trained police force. Rather, suicide bombings have a symbiotic relationship with the programme of Israeli settlement of the territories - stopping and reversing the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from the territories would take much of the wind out of the sails of the suicide bombers.

The debate about whether to trade 'land for peace' has ravaged Israeli society for decades and never fully been resolved one way or another - the empirical 'common sense' of such a programme is countered by its incompatibility with Zionist doctrine. After all, what really is the difference between today's settlers on the West Bank and the founding fathers of Israel, who carried out a rather similar programme of stealthy, gradual annexation of land and pressure against the Arab population in the lead-up to the founding of the Israeli state itself?

This is a conundrum that Zionism as a political movement, even with a now long established and immensely powerful state, cannot solve and is organically incapable of coming to terms with. A genuine repudiation of annexation and colonisation - ie, a repudiation of historic wrongs that are being done today in the occupied territories - requires a programmatic reckoning with the historic wrongs of the previous two or three generations that are inherent in Israel itself.

This contradiction, in fact, is the real obstacle that prevents the Israeli ruling class from making an enduring peace with the Palestinians. Real peace requires an admission that a historic wrong was done, and a commitment to genuine coexistence between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples that can only be cemented by massive compensation to the Palestinians for their dispossession, pauperisation, marginalisation and savage oppression over decades.

The same contradiction is also the reason why Bush's road map, even in the unlikely event that the Palestinian state he projects actually comes into existence, cannot solve the Israeli-Palestinian question. Such a state, the product of a grudging, purely pragmatic manoeuvre in the 'war against terrorism', would be a prison camp for the Palestinians, and would leave Zionist terror intact as an external prison guard. It would no more embody justice than the pathetic reservations to which native Americans were confined by the expansionist United States. It would be seen as a betrayal of the birthright of every Palestinian and would inevitably at some future point implode from within in the context of renewed anti-imperialist struggles.

It would be utterly impractical and wrong for communists and defenders of the rights of the Palestinians to demand that Israeli Jews give up their existence as a distinct people. We cannot demand that they liquidate their national consciousness and merge with the Palestinians in a unitary, Arab-dominated state; or, even worse, ape the more extreme secular nationalists - not to mention the likes of Hamas - in their call for Israeli Jews to simply leave, or face being driven out of, historic Palestine. Such demands for a fully consolidated nation to give up its right to exist are incompatible with democracy and help cement the hold of Zionism over the Israeli population. But what communists must demand, if any kind of Hebrew-centred Israeli national entity is to coexist with the Palestinian people, is a complete de-Zionisation of that Israeli nation.

A radically reworked Israeli national entity, living side by side with the Palestinian people, initially in a two-state arrangement, must abolish all its reactionary, discriminatory laws. In particular, it must end the chauvinist, anti-Arab so-called 'law of return'. This gives automatic immigration and citizenship rights to anyone of Jewish ancestry anywhere in the world, even if they have no connection with Israel and have never set eyes on the place. By the same measure it denies to literally millions of Arabs who were driven out in the Naqba (catastrophe) of 1948, and their descendants, the right to even enter the country. Israel's citizenship laws must be completely democratic and secular, as indeed must those of the sister Palestinian state that would be the outcome of a genuine 'peace process' coming from below, not Bush's fraud enforced in the name of the 'war against terrorism'.

There must be a right of all Palestinian refugees, from 1948 and after, to settle in either a Palestinian or the Israeli state - with the help of massive Israeli material aid to ensure a decent living standard. There must also be completely free movement of both peoples (albeit without state aid) between the two states, and perhaps in time a joint citizenship, as a prelude to a genuinely binational entity coming into being and thereby dissolving the initial separate states.

Such a genuine peace process can only come from below, from the masses of the region, both Israeli Jew and Palestinian Arab. It must be fought for against both the imperialists and the Zionists on the one hand, and the various reactionary Arab regimes and the islamist surrogates for a provenly impotent Arab nationalism on the other hand. For, although the nationalism of the Arabs contains a component that is against oppression - both directly in terms of the Palestinians, and indirectly in the sense of wider Arab sympathy for them and resentment at the legacy of colonialism and imperialism - nationalism as a political programme ultimately plays a counterproductive and therefore reactionary role in the anti-imperialist struggle.

At best it chains the masses to the illusions of common interests with Arab 'native' exploiters; at worst it provides a channel whereby foul elements of reaction can find their way in and poison the struggle against oppression: witness the growth of reactionary islamic movements that particularly oppress Arab women, and the pollution of Arab movements, both religious and secular, by anti-semitic filth imported from Europe. This not only does a disservice to what should be a progressive struggle against oppression, but also through fear of anti-semitism, fosters the worst fascistic ultra-Zionist elements within Israel and renders a progressive solution to the Palestine-Israel question less likely.

If there is to be any hope of turning a movement from below into reality, the rebirth of genuine communism in the Middle East, among both Arabs and Jews, is essential. Indeed, such democratic demands, and gains to be fought for, can only be fully consolidated with the overthrow of capitalism itself and the beginning of a region-wide, if not worldwide, socialist order. That is the end to which progressive elements, both in Israel and among the Arab populations, must strive.