Middle East: Israel annexes more land
A UN vote giving increased recognition to Palestine has produced an Israeli show of contempt, writesTony Greenstein
It is widely accepted, not least amongst Israeli public opinion, that Operation Pillar of Defence - the murderous attack on Gaza, which indiscriminately killed all in its path - achieved nothing, other than emphasising Israel’s growing impotence in the region.
The month-long Operation Cast Lead attack in 2008-09, which killed nearly 10 times as many people and led to a ground invasion, also ended up achieving nothing (Cast Lead was, of course, fully supported by the quisling Palestinian Authority in Ramallah under ‘president’ Mahmoud Abbas, as the leaked Palestinian papers reveal1). The recent offensive merely emphasises that the Middle East is changing. No longer did Israel have a pliant and corrupt puppet in president Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Reactionary though Mohammed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood undoubtedly are, they are the product of the revolution, half-finished, which overthrew Mubarak and his elite. Egypt has moved to emphasise that it is no longer merely an extension of Israeli foreign policy, but that it has interests of its own. It is not unlike Turkey in this respect.
The very last thing the Egyptian rulers wanted was to see thousands of Palestinians crossing the border at Rafah to become refugees in Egypt. At the very least the consequences would have been extremely destabilising for a regime in which the US has invested so much. Pressed on all sides, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to a ceasefire after eight days, having previously agreed to end the blockade and the targeted assassinations. Of course, the Israeli state is a past master at tearing up or ignoring agreements which are inconvenient.
On November 22 the ceasefire came into effect, and a week later, on November 29, the United Nations general assembly voted to accord Palestine ‘non-member observer status’. Within hours Netanyahu had promised to build an extra 3,000 houses in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and put into effect the ‘E1 plan’ that envisages the expansion of the settlement Ma’ale Adumim, to the east of Jerusalem.
In addition to stealing £120 million from the Palestinian Authority in tax revenues it continues to hold, Netanyahu has thrown down the gauntlet. The Israeli state, the only active settler-colonial state surviving, was not brought into being through peace treaties, but through creating ‘facts on the ground’. This is an old Zionist tradition - common to both its ‘left’ and ‘right’ wings.
So Mahmoud Abbas got his meaningless recognition of Palestine as a non-member state, the only effect of which is that it will now have the right to take Israeli war criminals to the International Court of Justice. It changes nothing on the ground, but it has given Netanyahu the excuse to go ahead with a plan, which, if realised, would deal a death blow to the idea of a two-state solution, as is widely recognised even by its most ardent supporters.
Abbas received the support of some 138 states at the UN, with another 41 abstaining and just nine voting against recognition of Palestine, which included four Pacific island ‘states’. It is clear that there is a significant majority in the west which realises that, far from weakening Hamas, the recent Israeli attack has strengthened its position and undermined that of Abbas. That is why countries like Britain and Germany abstained rather than vote with the US.
It is unlikely that when push comes to shove either the EC or the United States will do anything other than rap Israel over its knuckles. After all, the logic of settlement has always been one Jewish state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. No wing of Zionism - labour or revisionist - has seriously countenanced anything other than a Palestinian Bantustan, at best. The only serious difference has been between those who wished to expel the Palestinians outright, with their slogan ‘Jordan is Palestine’, and those who envisaged small enclaves like Ramallah controlled by a Palestinian paramilitary.
Since the conditions are not conducive to the ‘transfer’ (mass expulsion) of the Palestinians - to do so would require another major conflict in the region - the alternative is a de facto apartheid state, where Jews now constitute a minority ruling over a majority, complete with their own ghetto wall.
Israel is and has been seen by the west as a solid and stable base for imperialist interests in the Middle East. What recent criticism by people like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s former national security advisor, suggests is that a section of the US ruling class is wanting to put a distance between the actions of a not wholly rational and strutting Zionist state, which seeks regional domination even at the expense of the US, and American wider interests. Although it is unlikely that Obama will want to adopt Brzezinski’s suggestion that Israeli warplanes over Iraq should be shot down!2
This change in attitude towards Israel is partly a result of the United States itself weakening as a global power, a consequence of its economic decline. It also stems from a fear that an over-confident and aggressive Israel could destabilise the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, lead to more radical elements challenging Mursi in Egypt, as well as taking the west’s eye off the ball in Syria in the past month.
What is clear is that there will be no solution to the question of Palestine by itself. Neither Hamas nor Abbas have the political ability to reach out to the Palestinian masses. Hamas seeks an alignment with friendly Middle Eastern states, such as Turkey and Qatar, and Abbas is content to play the role of the USA’s pet poodle. The key question in the region will be the overcoming of sectarianism - be it between Arabs and non-Arabs, or Christians, Sunnis and Shi’ites - and the unification of the working class and the poor against their real enemies, not least the sheiks and emirs of the Gulf.