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Middle East on brink of war
LIKE A raging forest fire, an uprising that started in the West Bank and Gaza has spread into Israel proper and ignited mass demonstrations throughout the Arab world.
The subsequent kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah has led to Israel threatening to declare war on Lebanon and Syria, and on Palestine.
Meanwhile, a section of Israeli Jewish workers, whipped up by reactionaries, have launched attacks on Palestinians living within Israel, leading to the horrific prospect of a possible degeneration into an inter-communal civil war.
The Palestinian masses are enraged at the brutal violence used against them by the Israeli police and armed forces, with more than 70 Palestinians dead, and over a thousand wounded; and ordinary Israelis, faced with the prospect of both a regional and an internal war, fear for their very existence, for the first time in decades.
What caused the conflict?
THE SPARK that ignited the current conflict was the provocative visit by Ariel Sharon, the right-wing leader of the opposition Likud party, to the Temple Mount, a disputed site, holy to both Muslims and Jews. Ariel Sharon is hated by Palestinians for his role in the Sabra and Shatilla massacre of Palestinians during Lebanon war.
Sharon's visit acted as the spark to an already incendiary situation. Many Palestinians feel extreme anger and frustration at a peace process that has been dragging on for years, brought them nothing and is going nowhere.
After seven years of peace negotiations, the Israeli army is still occupying most of the West Bank and parts of Gaza, and Israeli soldiers still shoot at unarmed civilians.
The Palestinian masses see their would-be state taking the shape of a brutal dictatorship: Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority is an oppressive, dictatorial regime, with heavy press censorship, where journalists, human rights activists and strike leaders are frequently arrested without trial - with the active consent of Israeli and US leaders.
Palestinians have been humiliated time and again by Arafat's concessions over refugees, Jerusalem, etc. Since the beginning of the Oslo peace process in 1993, poverty and unemployment in Palestine have rocketed, at the same time as the Palestinian leadership have been lining their pockets from the 'peace dividends'.
Palestinian workers and youth living within Israel have also been disillusioned with the Oslo peace process. In addition to continuing to be second-class citizens, they have borne the brunt of the four-year recession in Israel, with unemployment in some towns and villages reaching 35%-40%.
Although 95% of Israeli Palestinians voted for Ehud Barak, his government has turned a blind eye to their distress.
The recession has led to attacks by the Israeli state on working-class Jews also.
This has led to extreme anger, bitterness and a sense of betrayal amongst Israeli workers and youth and in the absence of a genuine, mass workers' party to provide an alternative, a layer of workers have turned to the ultra-orthodox party, Shas.
Why the peace process has failed
IN 1993 the Committee for a Workers' International (the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated) and its small forces then in Israel, were the solitary voice predicting that the Oslo peace process, on a capitalist basis, would be incapable of resolving the underlying causes of conflict, leading to future hostilities.
Capitalism is incapable of bringing genuine peace because it cannot provide the resources to solve the region's fundamental problems.
Unable to solve the fundamental problems of the national question, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders - serving the interests of the capitalists - drafted the Oslo accords to achieve 'stability' in the region by means of oppression, with the Palestinian Authority playing the part of a puppet regime, repressing the Palestinian masses on behalf of the Israeli state and US imperialism.
A movement of the masses
THE UPRISING, led by the Palestinian youth, shows the incredible potential power of the masses when they move into action. The Israeli army, with all its sophisticated weapons, could not suppress the anger, determination and willingness to sacrifice of the Palestinian masses.
Attempts by the Israeli army and police to quell the protests through violence simply added fuel to the fire: for every Palestinian killed, thousands more poured onto the streets.
Within Israel, despite trying to disperse demonstrations using live ammunition and rubber-coated bullets, the police were unable to prevent Israeli Palestinians blocking main roads in the heart of Israel for several hours, and were forced to withdraw their forces from Arab towns and villages.
Tragically, this movement lacks a socialist leadership, with a clear programme, strategy and set of demands, able to channel the mass energy into challenging the rule of capitalism.
In the absence of a socialist leadership, the movement has taken on a religious, anti-Jewish character, fuelled by the forces of Islamic fundamentalism on the ground. In Israel, for example, Palestinian demonstrators stoned buses carrying Jewish workers.
This kind of action, instead of uniting Jewish and Palestinian workers against their true enemy - the capitalist system - only serves to deepen the divide, and has led to an escalating spiral of violence within Israel.
Most recently, hundreds of Jewish youth have attacked Arabs in mixed, urban centres within Israel, leading to injuries and death.
The escalating violence threatens to explode into a regional war, with a possible Bosnia-type, ethnic war erupting between Arabs and Jews within Israel itself.
Even if the capitalist leaders manage to calm the situation and stave off an all-out war, any period of quiet will be temporary, because the fundamental causes of the explosion will remain.
A socialist solution
A GENUINE, socialist leadership, with roots in the Palestinian masses, could explain that the real enemy and cause of the problems are the capitalists and their system. Such a leadership could channel the mass energy into a strategy to fight and defeat both Israeli and Palestinian capitalism.
The Palestinian masses could make a class appeal to the Israeli working class to struggle for their own rights, against the Barak government, which is hated by Jews, and for the establishment of socialism in Israel.
The only solution to the national question in the Middle East lies in the establishment of a socialist society. Maavak Sozialisti (CWI - Israel) is fighting for the establishment of a socialist Israel, alongside a socialist Palestine, as part of a socialist federation of Middle Eastern nations, on a free and voluntary basis.
Working people of the region could then use the region's vast resources and technological know-how to eliminate poverty and unemployment, which are the breeding ground for national and ethnic hatred.
Democratically elected committees of working people on both sides could reach agreement on issues that are impossible to solve under capitalism, such as the plight of Palestinian refugees, and Israeli settlers.
Capitalism offers the people of the Middle East nothing but a future of bloodshed, terror and social degeneration. Only a mass struggle for socialism can bring the peace, freedom and prosperity that all peoples of the region so desperately long for.
In The Socialist 13 October 2000: