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TEN MONTHS after the eruption of the second Palestinian Intifada and half a year since Sharon's landslide election victory, the Israeli state is in the grip of a grave crisis, arguably the deepest in its 53 years of existence. ARIEL GOTTLIEB of Maavak Sozialisti (the Socialist Party's counterpart in Israel) explains why only a socialist solution is possible.
Israel's Grim Realities
THE COMBINED impact of Hamas' deadly suicide bombings (most recently in Jerusalem) and a severe economic recession, undermines the basic argument of Zionist ideology put forward by the Israeli ruling class: that for Jews, Israel is the safest place on the planet. This claim, pounded into the heads of Israeli Jews from kindergarten to army service and beyond, is now at odds with the grim realities of life.
A low-intensity war is already being waged in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but the general trend is escalation to a wider, all-out and regional war. Recently IDF (Israeli Defence Force) tanks and auxiliary forces have entered Jenin (after the suicide attack on Wall Street cafe in the northern town of Kiryat Motzkin, wounding 20).There has also been military actions around Bethlehem, as well as the now commonplace missile attacks on Palestinian headquarters and assassinations of suspected terrorists.
But, unlike previous wars, when economic issues and social tensions were pushed to the back of the national agenda, the current period is characterised by the ongoing presence of labour disputes and social protests.
THE ISRAELI economy has been in recession since 1997, with the exception of a short-lived hi-tech boom in 2000. The US downturn has hit the export-orientated IT sector, and coincided with the collapse in tourism and foreign investment following the Palestinian uprising.
Economic statistics for the second quarter are staggering: a 0.9% decline in GDP (national output), and a fall of 37.8% in exports, 27.4% in investments and 1.2% in living standards. The growth forecast for 2001 has been reduced to 0.5%, which means 2% negative growth in per capita terms.
Official treasury forecasts for 2002 still stand at 4% (based on no further escalation of the conflict and a rallying of the US and global economy), but Klein, chancellor of the Bank of Israel, has already declared these to be wide of the mark, setting his estimate at 2%, still negative measured per capita.
Between suicide bombings and IDF invasions of Palestinian Authority, unemployment figures open news broadcasts and make front-page headlines.
Official unemployment nears 10%, and is predicted to go over that rate before the year ends. 20,000 workers were laid off in July, with start-up companies and factories closing on a daily basis.
Many of the redundancies are in Arab, Druze and Bedouin towns and villages or in mixed cities, fuelling the already high levels of anger and frustration there. A Histadrut official in Acre, a mixed town where several plants have recently closed, warned of "a social Intifada which will make the Palestinian one pale by comparison".
In a recent survey, 34% said they were afraid of losing their jobs. A wide consensus exists on the perception that this government is doing absolutely nothing to tackle rising unemployment. In the words of David Tara, an unemployed worker kicked out of his flat after failing to pay the rent: "This government is only interested in itself and the rich. They don't get it, the Israeli state and society are simply crumbling".
But this government is doing something. Like its predecessors, it has declared war against the unemployed but not unemployment, cutting the duration of benefits and hardening the criteria for receiving them.
Labour and Welfare Minister Benizri topped it all when he shamelessly accused the unemployed of "dodging work".
A 4% budget cut across all government ministries (except for defence) is already being implemented. Even MK Amir Peretz, [Member of Knesset, the Israeli Parliament] Histadrut chairman and leader of the small One People workers' party, used to making deals with top politicians and capitalists, was forced by mounting pressure from below to issue an ultimatum saying that unless "significant changes" are made in next year's budget, his party will leave the coalition.
OPINION POLLS from the last weekend show that Sharon's seemingly impervious popularity has weakened. Only 49% are now satisfied with the prime minister's overall performance (down from 59% on the previous poll), while 42% were dissatisfied (up from 31%).
When asked about his performance on security issues, 38% were satisfied (down from 50%), and 53% dissatisfied (up from 41%). When asked whether they believed Sharon would bring terror and violence to an end, only 21% answered "yes" (down from 43%), while 70% answered "no" (up from 41%).
In certain sections of the Israeli population, people are voting with their feet. Several isolated Jewish settlements in the northern part of the West Bank, previously housing tens of families each, have now become virtually deserted.
Middle-class families that can afford it are buying flats in Europe, not for investment purposes but as a possible refuge if the situation does not improve.
Another poll conducted for Channel 2 TV station found 25% of Israelis would emigrate if they could. A similar process is taking place in Palestinian society, where unemployment stands around 50%, poverty is devastating and freedom of movement for ordinary people non-existent.
Wealthy traders and members of Arafat's corrupt ruling clique are preparing their houses abroad to receive their families and accumulated property, while youths from the refugee camps with nothing to lose are increasingly willing to exchange a life in hell for the 'glory of martyrdom' (with the honour and financial aid this will bring their families).
Fat'hi Natur, manager of Jenin's local TV station, considers emigrating to Australia: "This is not life. Those who commit suicide don't do it for nothing. With all due respect to paradise and shahids (martyrs), anyone going to blow himself up has already blown up inside. If there were jobs, freedom, food, people would not even think of suicide. Everything has collapsed, everything is crashing."
Among the confusion and despair of military or diplomatic solutions, the idea of unilateral separation raised by sections of the ruling class has been gaining support amongst some Israelis. This means dismantling some of the most isolated Jewish settlements and at the same time annexing the bigger settlement blocks and the area around them, possibly deporting Palestinian residents in the process.
The aim of these steps will be to establish defensible borders on ethnic lines for Israel, and then putting up high walls and fences to ensure separation. If implemented, this plan would provoke massive resistance and a wider conflagration would quickly follow.
BUT AN opening also exists for socialist ideas and Maavak Sozialisti - the CWI section in Israel - is trying to take advantage of the opportunities that still exist, campaigning on the social and economic issues but also linking them to a class analysis of the national question, showing how the ruling classes on both sides are incapable of providing personal security, decent living standards and democratic rights.
For Israeli, as well as Palestinian workers and youth, the only hope lies in overthrowing their respective capitalist class and in the process of building socialist states working out the problems of refugees, boundaries and water rights in their common interests.
We are determined to build the socialist forces that will provide the only real alternative to the vicious circle of poverty, oppression and wars.
Future issues of The Socialist will examine the strategy of the Intifada and explain why socialists oppose the tactics of suicide bombings.
In The Socialist 24 August 2001: