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Political earthquake as Hamas wins election
Another setback to imperialism in the Middle East
YET ANOTHER political earthquake has struck the Middle East. Hamas, standing for the first time in national elections, achieved a massive landslide victory in Gaza and the West Bank with 76 seats out of 132 in Parliament.
Kevin Simpson, CWI, London
Fatah which used to be the majority in the Palestinian Authority (PA) only won 43. Hamas won seats in all the major towns and cities even in places like Bethlehem where there is a large Christian population, and in Nablus which was historically a stronghold for Fatah.
This was a crushing defeat for Fatah and particularly for the weak PA President Mohammed Abbas. But it is also a severe blow and a huge surprise for both the Israeli ruling class and Western imperialist powers and their plans for an imposed 'peace settlement'.
The win is a major embarrassment for the Bush administration's campaign to 'democratise' the Middle East. Many of the corrupt Arab elite are also undoubtedly scurrying around their marble-lined, air-conditioned palaces wringing their hands at what this victory means for their already shaky grip on power.
The landslide has been accompanied by a torrent of propaganda in the Western press about "terrorists" winning at the ballot box. But the hypocrisy of the imperialist powers knows no limits. They have supported the Israeli capitalist state for decades. This regime has presided over one of the most brutal military occupations in the world using methods which can only be described as state terrorism.
HAMAS'S VICTORY was in the main a huge protest vote against the corrupt Fatah leadership at the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) while the Palestinian majority slowly starved or were crushed under Israeli military occupation.
But the election's significance is not just confined to the Gaza and West Bank. It could have profound consequences for the region. Given the huge tensions in the Middle East and its vital geo-political importance to US and other imperialist powers, this election victory could contribute - along with other events - to abrupt changes in international relations.
The Middle East is characterised by various degrees of grinding poverty and social collapse, made worse by the implementation of at least 15 years of 'neo-liberal' policies. The collapse in living standards in the Middle East has in part exacerbated already burgeoning problems around the national question and the struggle of national minorities for their rights, particularly the Palestinians. The failure of imperialism's 'peace process' has actually complicated the situation further and led to more tension on this issue.
The huge pressure for change from the working class and the poor peasantry has been reflected, even if in a distorted way, in many of the political developments that have shaken the region over the last few months. The election of Hamas belongs to this category.
It is true that political support for Hamas' ideas has risen amongst some layers of the poorest and most downtrodden in the vacuum that exists in the West Bank and Gaza. However, rather than signifying overwhelming support for Hamas' Islamist policies, the extent of the election victory mainly reflects the anger against Fatah.
One Palestinian woman, summed up the mood of many Palestinians, saying "For 10 years Fatah haven't done anything for us. We have to try Hamas. We can't say if they will be better but we have to try." (The Guardian, London, 24 January 2006)
"Change and Reform"
HAMAS ORIENTATED its entire campaign around this mood. Running under the name "Change and Reform", Hamas highlighted the rampant corruption of the PA and promised a clean-up.
Other organisations seen as being to the left of Fatah, such as the Peoples Party (Communist Party) the DFLP (Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) stood candidates. However, historically the leadership of these organisations made serious mistakes by tail-ending the nationalist approach of Fatah which sought a solution within the confines of capitalism. Experience has shown this is impossible.
These organisations went into retreat in the 1990s because of the confusion and demoralisation caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and they never recovered. In these elections they never really distinguished themselves from other parties critical of Fatah and as a result they only won five seats.
When Hamas arose in early 1988 just after the beginning of the first Intifada, the Israeli state encouraged its development. These tactics were used by the Israelis to undermine Fatah, which then had majority support in the Occupied Territories, and prevent opposition to it taking a 'left' character.
Hamas' aims, expressed in its founding charter in 1988, are to create an Islamist state on the territory encompassed by Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. Such a state would be ruled under Shariah law. This would be an oppressive reactionary society which would be hostile to an independent movement of the working class in defence of its rights and socialist ideas. It would also mean the widespread oppression of women. It would represent a move backwards socially and politically.
The preamble to the Hamas Charter of 1988 states: "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." This is taken to mean a call for the destruction of the state of Israel.
Hamas opposed the Oslo 'peace agreement' and also boycotted the first elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (Parliament).
While Hamas has organised elements of mass protests during the second Intifada, these have always been strictly controlled from above and only used intermittently. One of its tactics has been suicide bombings.
The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) opposes these tactics because it drives sections of Israeli Jewish workers into the arms of the government. This is because they feel they have no option but to support the government's oppressive measures as the only available measure to try to protect their security.
This does not mean the CWI has a pacifist approach. We believe in a mass, democratic struggle of the Palestinian working class and poor peasantry to end the occupation. Such a movement will have to be armed to defend itself against the attacks by the IDF and others but those bearing arms should be accountable to the working class as a whole.
Even before the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, the PA leadership was in reality paralysed and unable to control events on the ground. Arafat was forced to announce the holding of local elections. They had long campaigned for this, eager to consolidate its growing base at local level. Hamas made sweeping gains in these elections last year which prepared the way for its election victory last week.
Whatever they said publicly, Hamas' military and political leaders knew that a campaign of suicide bombings on its own would not defeat the Israeli ruling class. There was also a certain war-weariness amongst the Palestinian masses. This forced Hamas to look at the possibility of entering the political process. Undoubtedly, the entrance of Hezbollah in Lebanon into Parliament had an effect. Abbas and the PA insisted on Hamas agreeing to a ceasefire in March 2005 as a precondition to standing in elections. Abbas took this gamble because he saw it as the only way in which Hamas might be forced to disarm its militias, something demanded by the imperialist powers and the Israeli state.
Hamas did not want to win an outright majority in these elections. They would rather not have taken the responsibility of ruling Gaza and the West Bank. This is why they spent the first day after the election appealing to Fatah to join them in government. They are also attempting to find a non-Hamas MP to be prime minister.
PA funding threat
A new and very unstable situation has opened up in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli government has said that there will be no negotiations with the PA because Hamas will be part of the government.
Of course, the Israeli regime has not mentioned that it was prepared to have contacts with local councils run by Hamas and facilitate through prison officials, negotiations between Hamas prisoners with other Arab countries as well as their leadership. It has threatened not to pass over VAT receipts or customs duties to the PA as has been the case previously.
The Bush administration has said that it will review all aid to the Palestinian Authority since Hamas is on its list of banned terrorist organisations. At the moment it donates $234 million a year. But its first act was to plead with Abbas to stay on as President. Undoubtedly, one calculation behind this request was to have a non-Hamas member who could act as an intermediary without it appearing as if they are negotiating with 'terrorists'.
The EU (as opposed to its member states) also donates $280 million a year to the PA. It is less likely they will cut back or halt funding. But the imperialist powers face a very difficult decision.
On 31 January, the PA will need $100 million, at least, to pay the wages of its 135,000 employees. Without these wages an explosion of mass protest could occur. At the moment there is no money and the PA is bankrupt.
There will be huge pressure on imperialism to find some solution to this potential disaster - either through channelling the money via Abbas, the president, or perhaps with some of the Arab regimes stepping in with emergency funding.
In Nablus, demonstrations have taken place by Fatah members calling for the resignation of the entire leadership of the organisation. Members of Fatah militias have announced an "internal intifada" to drive out the old corrupt leadership.
As far as Hamas is concerned, it is very unlikely that it will renounce its call for the destruction of Israel or disarm immediately. This would cause huge divisions. Hamas leaders in the run-up to the elections did make the point that in return for a withdrawal by Israel to the 1967 borders, they would be prepared to announce a 10-15 year ceasefire.
What Hamas may do is formally set up a separate political party from its armed militias in an attempt to overcome this problem. Hamas may be looking at the example of Sinn Fein and the IRA as an example to emulate.
However, in Northern Ireland the 'peace process' has foundered. It is three years since the local power-sharing government collapsed. The level of violence which characterised the Troubles may have died down in terms of its intensity but the sectarian polarisation between Protestant and Catholic communities is as great if not greater, than before. None of the fundamental problems have been solved.
But in the Middle East the tension, huge social and economic problems, and the geo-strategic importance of the region mean that rather than a reduction in violence, a new period of instability and clashes could develop.
It still remains to be seen whether Hamas can successfully take control of the PA security forces. Many of them are Fatah members. Partly this depends on Hamas' ability to keep on paying their wages. But there is no doubt that the possibility of episodes of violence, verging on open civil war is more likely. There have already been armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah supporters.
The Hamas victory will destabilise the capitalist and feudal elite across the region. Egypt has already seen an increased vote for the Muslim Brotherhood in the most recent elections.
In Saudi Arabia, more hardline Islamist candidates won ground in the limited elections that took place last year. There is already a growth in support for reactionary Islamist organisations, including al-Qa'ida amongst the population.
Jordan already has a majority of Palestinians living there and the Muslim Brotherhood is active as an opposition group. In all of these countries, these forces will be strengthened and the ruling elite weakened by Hamas's victory.
The election results in Gaza and the West Bank will also increase fears that Iran, which has refused to bend to imperialism's pressure to close down its civilian nuclear programme, is strengthening its influence in the region, because of its historic links with Hamas.
The political situation in Israel will also become more complicated for a time. Fears amongst Israeli Jews have been whipped up as a result of the Hamas victory. Soon after the election of Hamas, Israel's Defence Minister, Mofaz, implied in a media interview, that Hamas leaders should not think they were exempt from assassination attempts by the IDF following their election victory.
Ahead of Israel's general election, and with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon incapacitated following a stroke, Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu is keen to attack Sharon's policy of unilaterally withdrawing Israeli settlers from Gaza as 'playing into the hands of terrorists'.
Hamas will now have to deliver the goods - and quickly - to the Palestinian people. While in power in local councils, although it cleaned up the worst examples of corruption, it also carried out cuts in spending and sold off local council land and property, ostensibly to clear debts which involved paying "non-Islamic" interest payments.
Experience will show the Palestinian masses that only a break with capitalism and feudalism can begin to offer a way out of the disaster they face. But disappointment with Hamas rule will not be, in and of itself, enough to ensure this conclusion is drawn. A clear socialist alternative as part of an independent working class movement will have to be constructed for that to happen. The CWI will, along with the most conscious activists, struggle to make that objective a reality.
This would require a struggle to end mass unemployment and poverty. But this would only be the beginning - a movement to end the political and economic oppression by Israeli, Palestinian and Arab capitalism needs to be built which can put in its place a democratically planned socialist economy to transform the living standards of the region.
Such a struggle would also include the right of Palestinians to self-determination, including an independent state with full rights for all minorities. This would mean the fight for a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel, as part of a voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East.
The socialist review:
Directed by Steven Spielberg
FILM DIRECTOR Steven Spielberg should get a gold medal for turning a pivotal event in world history into a tedious morality play.
Munich attempts to cover Mossad's (the Israeli intelligence agency) revenge of the killing of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September.* They had taken them hostage to demand the release of Palestinian political prisoners in Israel.
Two athletes were killed in the Olympic village, the other nine were massacred in a botched rescue attempt by the West German police.
Following this outrage, Israeli 'Labour' prime Minister Golda Meir secretly set up 'Committee X' - whose Mossad agents went after Palestinian targets under the codename: 'Operation Wrath of God'.
After every 'hit' the widows of the murdered Israeli athletes were telephoned by the Committee. But many relatives wanted legal justice not extra-judicial executions.
But this action was more than revenge. After all, within days of the Munich atrocity Israeli jets blasted Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria killing over 200 people and injuring many.
Operation Wrath was in fact quickly expanded into a campaign to suppress exiled Palestinian nationalists and militants throughout Western Europe and the Middle East.
It was aimed at disrupting the various factions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO); a 'war on terror' that persists to this day with the Israeli state's policy of targeted assassinations of Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The US and western European governments turned a blind eye to Mossad's activities but when it assassinated the wrong man in the Norwegian town of Lillehammer the game was up. The Norwegian police caught five members of the hit squad and the subsequent court case exposed Mossad's murderous campaign.
Committee X was officially wound up. However, Mossad continued its bloody campaign, finally killing Black September's main organiser, Ali Hassan Salameh, in 1979.
Although Operation Wrath was over it had singularly failed to end the armed struggle for Palestinian national and social liberation. And, notwithstanding the false methods of Black September and others, the ongoing Israeli state repression has fuelled a decade-long Palestinian Intifada. Indeed, the fundamental Palestinian national question underlying the bloody events of Munich and its aftermath remains unresolved.
Given the subject matter, Munich is a huge disappointment. Instead of producing a drama-documentary of events, Spielberg manages a limp morality play which becomes very tiresome.
In his account the Mossad agents are depicted as decent, home-loving guys, new to this deadly game. And who, after several 'hits', are wracked with moral doubts. However, there is little evidence for this version of events. In fact, the Mossad members interviewed in the recently shown Channel 4 TV documentary Munich: Mossad's Revenge expressed no qualms about their role.
On the contrary, Ehud Barak (later becoming Israel's Prime Minister and a Middle East 'peacemaker') - who was part of the commando team in the 1973 'Beirut bloodbath' - was positively gung-ho about his role.
Moreover, Spielberg plays fast and loose with the facts to contrive his view of Mossad agents being 'reluctant killers'.
For example, when the PLO representative in Italy, Wael 'Aadel Zwaiter, is assassinated (despite his reported opposition to terrorist methods) the Mossad agents in Munich are shown nervously hesitating before pulling their gun triggers. They then run from the victim's apartment block in a panic. In fact, the Mossad agents coolly followed the target, shooting him dead before the victim could react, and then they casually strolled out of the building.
Later, to try and explain the Palestinian national cause, Spielberg concocts a ludicrous scene where Mossad agents and Palestinian guerrillas end up sharing a 'safe house' in Athens but without incident!
If readers want an insightful account of Munich, see the excellent documentary One Day in September.
Munich, directed by Steven Spielberg, is on general release.
One Day in September ,(1999) is available on DVD.
*The group Black September named itself after the civil war in September 1970 between the Palestinian Fedayeen and the Jordanian monarchy when, following a failed uprising, thousands of Palestinians were killed and driven out of Jordan.
In The Socialist 2 February 2006: