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Middle East Crisis: The failure of imperialism
IN THE dying days of his presidency, Bill Clinton tried desperately to achieve agreement on the unresolved issues in the negotiations between Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government of Ehud Barak. He failed. This was not just a personal blow to Clinton but a major defeat for US imperialism's attempt to bring a semblance of stability to the Middle East. KEVIN SIMPSON reports on the crisis.
THE 1993 Oslo 'peace agreement' lies in tatters. A much more volatile and dangerous situation has opened in the region. This will become much clearer following the Israeli Prime Ministerial election on 6 February.
Last December's peace talks had an air of unreality about them. While Palestinian, Israeli and US negotiators frequented plush conference venues to discuss "peace", the slaughter of Palestinians by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) continued.
This is a low intensity war where over 320, mainly young working class Palestinians, have lost their lives and left many thousands injured. The IDF and reactionary bands of Jewish settlers have enforced a continual blockade of many Palestinian towns and villages including the cutting of water and electricity supplies. In retaliation, ordinary Israeli Jews now face the prospect of increased bombing attacks by Palestinians in Israeli urban centres.
THE THREE main issues to be discussed were the right of return of the 4 million Palestinian refugees living in the Middle East to Israel and Palestine; the sovereignty of Jerusalem; and how much land the Israeli government were prepared to return to the Palestinian Authority.
Clinton's plan claimed to give the Palestinians 95% control of the West Bank and Gaza (with Israel offering to withdraw from land on which isolated Israeli settlements have been built). And in return for giving up the claim on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel, the Palestinian Authority would be given sovereignty over Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque (the third most important religious site in the Muslim world) and control of parts of East Jerusalem occupied by the Israeli Defence Force in the 1967 war.
However even these limited and misnamed concessions were in fact fabrications. The Palestinians were not being offered sovereignty over the Al-Aqsa mosque but day-to-day control - something which effectively exists at the moment.
A closer study of the Clinton proposals shows that in fact the Palestinian Authority would have only been given 65% of the former occupied Gaza and the West Bank. For example, the Israeli government offered to return the Dead Sea to Palestinian control!
Effectively all that was on offer was the same deal put on the table at the recently failed Camp David talks which immediately preceded the second Intifada in late September 2000.
US imperialism exerted massive pressure on the Palestinian negotiators to accept a deal. Arafat received over 50 phone calls from world leaders urging him to do so.
Arafat eventually refused to accept Clinton's proposals. It wasn't for principled reasons nor because it would have represented yet another betrayal of the Palestinian masses. The main reason was that there would have been a massive explosion of anger amongst the Palestinian masses. In this case the target would not have been the IDF but Arafat and his cronies. Hamas warned Arafat that he would be the target of armed attacks if he went ahead with the deal. His refusal was based on a cynical judgement of what was necessary for political survival.
THE IMMENSE pressure for a deal was also vital for Barak's political survival as well. Last year his government lost its majority and was torn apart by damaging splits.
Barak faced an absolute collapse in support amongst the Israeli Jewish working class because of the vicious attacks he has launched on the poorest sections of society and the failure to fulfill his election promises of new jobs, free education and peace with Syria and the Palestinians.
The majority of Israeli Jews now mistrust these negotiations. This is because the Oslo agreement is seen as failing to answer the security fears of the majority of the population.
Barak resigned, forcing elections for prime minister, ahead of a vote of no-confidence in the government. The idea was to pre-empt any challenges to his leadership from within the Labour Party and to stop Likud's former PM Benjamin Netanyahu from standing. Instead, he would fight the election against the supposedly unelectable caretaker leader of Likud, Ariel Sharon.
Now the polls indicate that Barak will be defeated in the elections by the arch-reactionary Ariel Sharon. Opinion polls put Sharon ahead of Barak by 27%. Rather than positive support for Sharon, these opinion polls show the depth of hatred there is for Barak amongst ordinary Israelis.
Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa mosque sparked the present Intifada. He was heavily implicated in the massacre of thousands of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps during the Lebanon war.
Ironically, Sharon's election campaign slogan is: "Only Sharon can bring peace". The recent demonstration of over 100,000 mainly Israeli Jewish settlers in Jerusalem opposing any concessions over the city will be utilised for Sharon's election campaign.
Barak's election campaign has by contrast fallen flat on its face. At its launch the majority of Labour Party leaders that Barak had invited all mysteriously discovered prior engagements. There are rumours circulating that if Barak continues to trail badly in the opinion polls Shimon Peres might replace him. However, Peres has never won a general election before!
There is no fundamental difference between Barak and Sharon. Both have a policy of vicious attacks on the Israeli working class and both have shown that they will use brutal armed force against the Palestinian masses. Maavak Sozialisti, the sister organisation of the Socialist Party in Israel is campaigning for a blank ballot in the Prime Ministerial elections and explaining the need for a workers' alternative in country.
THE ELECTIONS will probably see the formation of a national unity government with Sharon at its head. Against the background of the failure of Oslo and with the perception amongst Palestinians that Sharon is a butcher then there is most likely to be a flare-up in the Intifada. The Palestinians masses will draw the conclusion that the only way they will achieve a state is through a struggle to the end.
The effect of this raises the prospect of drawing in other Arab countries as the instability ripples out into the region. It is not ruled out that another Israeli-Arab war could result.
Notwithstanding new temporary truces and future negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian ruling classes, the failure of Oslo shows that imperialism and the capitalist leaders of the region can offer no lasting solution to the national question.
Only the struggles of the Israeli working class and Palestinian masses to overthrow capitalism - the fundamental cause of conflict, national oppression and poverty - and the dictatorial and corrupt elites in the Middle East offers a way out.
The establishment of a socialist Israel alongside a socialist Palestine leading to a socialist confederation of the Middle East is the only way the seemingly permanent cycle of war and bloodshed can be broken and become a thing of the past.
In The Socialist 19 January 2001: