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Palestinian Liberation Struggle Continues


Leila Khaled addresses a rally in GazaLast week two leading Palestinian figures entered Gaza, something that was long impossible for either of them. Leila Khaled and Kemal Meshal represent different ends of the spectrum of the Palestinian opposition to the state of Israel: secular, revolutionary socialism and political Islam respectively. That both could finally enter Gaza openly and attend mass celebrations of their respective movements (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Hamas) is itself a defeat for Israel and its blockade of Gaza. Essentially Israel had to retreat, at least temporarily, from its most recent assault on the impoverished Palestinian enclave in which 1.7 million people eke out an existence in an area not much more than twice the size of Cork city and suburbs.

Israel also suffered a defeat the week before when, on November 29, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ position at the UN to non-member observer status. The vote gives some recognition to Palestine as a state, means it can join UN agencies and it could open the way to the Palestinian state becoming a party to the International Criminal Court. Since this would mean they could take cases against Israel, there was no way Israel would vote for the new Palestinian status, even though successive zionist governments claim to be in favour of a ‘two-state solution’ to the conflict between them and the Palestinians.

Only the United States, Canada, the Czech Republic and a few Pacific Island governments such as Palau and Micronesia voted against the motion in the General Assembly, while traditional US allies such as Britain and Australia abstained, as did Germany. France, Italy, India, Mexico, Iraq, New Zealand (a traditional US ally) and scores and scores of other countries voted to upgrade the Palestinian status at the United Nations. In all, 138 countries voted for, 41 abstained and 9 voted against.

The vote, however, can be seen as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it did reflect, albeit in a form distorted by the pro-imperialist functions of the UN, that all over the world people are increasingly less-enamoured of the Israeli state. More and more people across the globe, including in the imperialist heartlands, are much less supportive of Israel than they were, say, three or four decades ago, having been antagonised by the zionist state’s relentless brutality against the Palestinians.

Many Palestinians were understandably jubilant with the United Nations vote, which they saw as a slap in the face for Israel right at the time that it was raining down more destruction on Gaza.

However, the other side of this is that imperialist governments that once fully backed Israel now recognise that the Palestinian resistance is not going away and nor is the growth of support for them around the world. This makes it necessary, from the viewpoint of a section of the imperialist powers, to bring the Palestinian leadership(s) into some form of arrangements overseen by the imperialists. This is especially the case for the United States, which has sponsored a whole series of Middle East negotiations with Israel’s neighbours going back at least to Camp David and then, especially since the Clinton era, directly involving the Palestinians, although essentially this has meant Fatah, yesterday’s ‘terrorists’ and today’s moderates.

Liberal Western governments, like Sweden, have also played an important part in the process of ‘house-training’ a Palestinian leadership which would accept the existence of the zionist state, abandon the struggle for the dismantling of that state and its replacement by a democratic and secular Palestine in which Palestinian and Israeli-Jew would live together on the basis of equality. Liberal governments have provided substantial funding to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, most especially to its dominant faction, Fatah, and plenty of training in community work and ‘conflict resolution’ as substitutes for actual emancipation. Even the United States provides $US200 million in ‘aid’ to the Palestinian Authority to help corrupt the struggle for Palestinian liberation.

The UN vote could be seen as part and parcel of this process of getting the Palestinians to settle for some sort of truncated and poor Palestinian state while guaranteeing the continued existence of the zionist state built on dispossession, exclusion, discrimination – and, indeed, expansionism. This is the case regardless of the fact that the request for the motion and vote came from within the Palestinian leadership.

It is, after all, questionable how much the vote really means. The American ambassador to the United Nations was, for instance, clear about how the vote changed little on the ground itself. As she noted, “Today’s grand pronouncement will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that prospects of a durable peace have only receded.”

Of course, the reason they have receded is that Israel is not prepared to accept, in practice, even the farce of a ‘Palestinian state’ that presently exists. It gave the United Nations the finger by immediately announcing that a further 3,000 dwellings for Israeli settlers would be built on the West Bank, in total violation of international law and UN resolutions. Israeli premier Netanyahu wagged his finger at the Palestinians like the imperial master he and successive Israeli governments think they are, telling the Palestinians off for going to the UN and claiming this violated agreements with Israel, as if nothing Israel does, like the expansion of the West Bank settlements, violate agreements with the Palestinians.

The Israeli establishment knows it has the backing of Washington, especially around the issue of forcing the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel on Israeli terms. As US secretary of state Hillary Clinton made clear at the end of November, the United States opposes any attempts by the Palestinians to advance even the power of the corrupt, pro-imperialist Palestinian Authority outside direct negotiations with Israel. It was okay, you see, for the UN to create Israel without reference to the Palestinians who were to be dispossessed, but it’s not okay for the Palestinian leadership to advance anything through the UN without Israeli approval.

Ever since the Nixon-Kissinger era, Israel has known it could rely totally on US support. This is because Israel acts as a beach-head for American imperialism in the Middle East. As a state whose existence is dependent on the United States it is a much more reliable US proxy than pro-Washington dictators in the region, as these come and go. Moreover, the US government sees the Israeli rulers as “like us”, unlike even the most pro-US rulers in the region.

While the UN vote was met with real enthusiasm among sections of Palestinians, this is far from unanimous. One of the most succinct expressions of criticism came from Australian-based Palestinian lawyer Randa Abdel-Fattah who declared on December 3, “It is a testament to the wretched position the Palestinians are in that they have come to regard being granted non-observer status as some kind of victory.” She quoted a Palestinian who had tweeted, “The worst thing that has ever happened to the Palestinian cause is its transformation from a struggle for liberation into a bid for statehood.”

The problem being that Palestinian statehood goes side-by-side with Israeli statehood. The zionists would continue to have their wealthy country on land entirely stolen from the Palestinians and the Palestinians would get an impoverished collection of towns and cities with a bit of agricultural land insufficient to generate much wealth, and providing a reserve army of labour for Israeli capitalists whenever they needed it. Moreover, such a state would have to police its population on behalf of Israel, least any of them want to get back the country that had been stolen from them.

Irish republicans will be familiar with this scenario, because important elements of it are strikingly similar to what happened here.

At the end of 1921 the British ruling elite offered a treaty which would guarantee continued British control over Ireland, through the formation of two states. The British would rule one and a pliant section of the former national liberation movement would rule the other, maintaining British interests there with “an economy of British lives” as Lloyd George put it.

The difference is that what is being offered the Palestinians is not the equivalent of the Twenty-Six Counties, but like if the British had of offered a Free State consisting only of Connacht! Moreover, since Israeli settlements divide up the West Bank anyway, it would be the equivalent of a Connacht Free State pock-marked by loyalist villages and roads.

And just as the British found Collins, Griffiths and co. to be reliable tools, so the Israelis and their US sponsors found Arafat and the leaders of Fatah to be people they could get to do their bidding. All three cases could be seen as striking confirmations of Connolly’s point that the nationalism of the oppressed by itself isn’t enough; that, as Connolly put it, without socialism, such nationalism becomes simply national recreancy.

The two-state ‘solution’ is essentially, then, the alternative to the complete emancipation of the Palestinian people through the dismantling of the zionist state and the establishment of a democratic, secular and socialist Palestine for Palestinians and Jews, and all others living there. However, while favoured by most of the imperialists and the dominant sections of the PLO, especially Fatah, and in a formal, rhetorical sense by the Israeli establishment, one of the ironies of Israeli arrogance, epitomised by the spread of what are effectively Israeli annexations in the West Bank, is that they are rendering the two-state ‘solution’ obsolete.

As the British Guardian newspaper noted in a report on The Palestine Papers from Wikileaks, “The overwhelming impression that emerges from the confidential records of a decade of Middle East peace talks is of the weakness and desperation of the Palestinian leaders, the unyielding correctness of the Israeli negotiators and the often contemptuous attitude towards the Palestinian side shown by US politicians and officials.” Indeed the pathetic grovelling of the senior Palestinian negotiators, as revealed in The Palestine Papers, simply reveals that their cap-in-hand to Israel and Washington will only ever get them a kick in the teeth. No wonder the Guardian report noted, “It is a picture that graphically illustrates the gradual breakdown of a process now widely believed to have reached a dead end” (23/1/2011).

Two years on, at the start of December during a speaking tour of Canada, one of the leading two-state advocates, Mustafa Barghouti, declared, “The two-state solution is dying before our eyes” (Toronto Star, 4/12/12). Jerusalem-based lawyer Daniel Seidemann said about the same time, “We are weeks away from the end of the two-state solution. By 2013, Jerusalem will be so balkanized that it will be impossible... to carve out a solution acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians” (ibid).

Where does this leave things for the Palestinian struggle and those of us who support it?

The United Nations and the various institutions of the ‘international community’ are, at best, a cul-de-sac for national liberation movements and struggles. However, without a mass movement on the streets globally supporting the cause of Palestinian liberation, major factions within the Palestinian movement will increasingly be drawn into the spider’s web of these institutions. Fatah, in its running of the Palestinian Authority, already acts – as mentioned above – largely as a cat’s paw of Israel. In 2010 alone, for instance, there were 3,000 instances of co-ordination between the PA and Israel and more than 600 meetings of police and civil defence personnel (see the official Israeli report, here). Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah president of the PA, has even gone so far as, a few weeks ago, dumping the historic demand of the right of return (see here). As Hicham Safieddine noted on Electronic Intifada on November 30, Fatah has “transformed itself from a popular resistance movement into (a) mutated occupation-enforcing apparatus” (see here).

The largest alternative to Fatah, the Islamists of Hamas, have also been shifting to a more accommodating stance in relation to Israel. In late November, for instance, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told CNN that a Palestinian state within the West Bank and Gaza was acceptable (see the Safieddine article mentioned above).

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has called for a global stepping up of solidarity with the Palestinians, for instance through an intensification of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign. There is an urgent need to grow the international movement of solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle, irrespective of UN votes and negotiations by parts of the PLO leadership. Moreover, such solidarity does not mean portraying the Palestinians as poor, put-upon victims, but as a risen people fighting for their own liberation. Within that context, progressive people in Ireland can extend particular support to those fighting for a free, socialist Palestine, most particularly the PFLP.

The same unquenchable spirit of resistance that is found in the risen people here exists in Palestine. Their struggle is our struggle too.


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