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From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Wed Oct 11 07:37:12 2000
Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2000 07:42:24 +0200
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Sindyanna of Galilee <asafadiv@NETVISION.NET.IL>
Subject: ODA Position Paper on the Intifada of al-Aksa

ODA Position Paper on the Intifada of al-Aksa

The Organization for Democratic Action, 11 October 2000

Ariel Sharon's visit on September 28 to the al-Aksa compound—followed by clashes there in which Israeli police killed seven Palestinians—has triggered an explosion spreading beyond the Occupied Territories into Israel itself. The fury has made clear to all that the Oslo Accords are finished. The groups that were party to these accords have suffered a major, perhaps mortal, blow. As a political party, the Organization for Democratic Action (ODA—Da'am in Arabic) closely follows these events. Our activists within the borders of 1948 take part in them, listen to people, and visit the families of the dead and wounded in Um al-Fahem, Majd al-Krum, Nazareth, and elsewhere. The level of mass participation and confrontation within the 1948 borders, including especially the massive closure of roads, is unprecedented even when compared with Land Day in 1976. When Minister of Police Shlomo Ben Ami calls the events a civil revolt, he is not far from the mark.

All the understandings and arrangements by which Israel ruled the Occupied Territories (by means of the Palestinian Authority) and its Arab citizens (by means of the Supreme Monitoring Committee) have collapsed. This debacle heralds the start of a new era. Whereas the Oslo Accords assumed Israeli supremacy, their failure has shown the masses blocking the roads that it is in their power to change the situation. The martyrs—nearly eighty now in Israel and the Territories—went to their deaths because they were no longer willing to yield up their fates to the leaders who had taken part in shaping Oslo.

When we analyze the events, however, we must distinguish absolutely between, on the one hand, the heroism and self-sacrifice of youths who go out to express how fed up they are with the American-backed Israeli oppression, and, on the other hand, the Arab leadership, whether in the Territories or in Israel, which has consistently neglected the economic interests of the people in order to advance those of its own particular class. It is important to bear this distinction in mind, lest we pin our expectations on the wrong persons in the lengthy struggle that lies ahead.

The ODA has been claiming for some time that during the past three years, a change of opinion has occurred in the Arab world, including the Territories. In contrast with the situation that prevailed in the days of the Madrid Conference (1991), the Arab world is no longer willing to accept American-Israeli dominance in the region. Hafez al-Assad epitomized this new attitude when he refused to accept an agreement that would deprive him of a small strip of lakeshore. The US and Israel refuse to see this change. Israeli supremacy and Arab subordination remain the basic ingredients in their recipes for peace. Yet the change in Arab opinion is clear and strong. Thus, as the date for signing the final-status agreement approached, Arafat felt that what he was being asked to agree to would cost him his head. At Camp David, therefore, he didn't tell Clinton, I don't want to, but rather, I can't. The Barak government too collapsed as Oslo's moment of truth approached.

He rules today without a parliamentary majority. Both of the two major players, then, lack popular support. It is not in their power to put through an agreement that would, in effect, streamline the Middle East for globalization. Likewise, the status of the US has declined: witness its inability to keep oil prices down.

Many questions arise as the clashes complete their second week: Whose fault are they? Did Arafat initiate them, capitalizing on Sharon's provocation? Is he able to stop them? What now is the place of the Arab citizens in Israel? What is the role of its leadership? Are we heading toward war?

In this position paper we shall try to answer these questions, but first we must draw a second clear distinction, namely, between the clashes within the borders of Israel and those within the Territories. Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line share common roots and feel deep solidarity, but the political apparatus in each case is utterly different. Within Israel, the intifada now taking place is a spontaneous popular uprising, as yet without leaders and without specific demands.

It expresses a deep rupture of all former understandings between Jews and Arabs. In the Territories, on the other hand, although the events are much more powerful than anyone expected so soon—and have taken many lives—they still remain within the basic American rules: as of now, for example, there has been no declaration of statehood.

The al-Aksa intifada

The uprising in the Territories was partly spontaneous, partly not. Earlier, at Camp David, Clinton made a major mistake by showing himself to be clearly on Israel's side. He blamed Arafat for the summit's failure. Then certain American columnists undertook a vendetta against Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who –although the recipient of much US foreign aid—had failed to push his Palestinian protegé in the direction Washington wanted. Despite such pressures, however, the Arab world didn't budge. It signaled, instead, that the Clinton era was past and that the next president had better be fairer.

Arafat chose to bring down the Camp David summit over the issue of al-Aksa. He ignored matters that were at least as important, such as getting rid of the Israeli settlements and solving the refugee issue. He stuck with al-Aksa, because he knew that around this point he could mobilize the whole Muslim world. After the Sharon visit and the killings, he used the resulting demonstrations and the heavy-handed Israeli response to improve his bargaining position—taking care, however, not to burn all bridges. It is no accident that the people who stormed Israeli positions were not his uniformed security forces, who maintained a fairly steady, if ineffective, contact with their counterparts in Israel's army. Rather, Arafat sent two groups: unarmed stone-throwing youngsters and the tanzim (organization). What is the Tanzim?

This is a force composed of members of Fatah, the Arafat faction within the PLO. Its members are to be distinguished from the people he brought with him from Tunis. Arafat turned the Tunisians into the core of the PA's ruling establishment, but he also built up and armed the leaders of the local popular movement, including many who took part in the original intifada ten to thirteen years ago. These make up the Tanzim. They bear grudges against both Arafat and the corrupt Tunisians, but they do not constitute any alternative to the PA. In the recent events, Arafat has used the Tanzim in order to avoid committing his official security forces (although the latter too have occasionally taken part in the disturbances). The Tanzim activists have agreed to this arrangement in order to improve their position with regard to the future distribution of power.

At the forefront of the clashes, along with the Tanzim, are young men and children throwing stones. Here Arafat has attained the height of cynical cruelty: If he sent only stone-throwers into the battle, Israel would be under great pressure not to use live ammunition, as in the old intifada days. But by sending stone-throwers side by side with the armed Tanzim, he gives Israeli soldiers reason to shoot. The stone-throwers then become martyrs, and the much larger number of Palestinian fatalities improves Arafat's status in international eyes.

In the interim Oslo agreement, Arafat agreed that Joseph's Tomb and the Gazan settlement of Netzarim would remain in Jewish hands. Yet now he sends stone-throwing youth together with the armed Tanzim against Israeli guns in order to reconquer these places, while dimly in the background stand his uniformed police. In a people's war, indeed, you send all you've got to fight the enemy, but when you have an armed force, why expose unarmed people to bullets and missiles? If ever Arafat does return to the negotiating table, having amassed in his view enough points, he had better be in a position to explain to the families for what grand purpose he sacrificed their children.

The purpose he has in mind is far from grand. No doubt the young men throwing stones would like the current battles to become a War of Independence, freeing them from the Israeli yoke—from the roadblocks and the settlements. But this is far from being Arafat's program. He is dependent on the US and Israel down to the very last rifle. Without their approval he has no money to meet his budget. Indeed, without their

approval he cannot travel or make a phone call or turn on an electric light, for all these things remain under Israeli control. (Barak, for example, has just closed Gaza's airport.) Arafat is in no position, therefore, to throw off the American framework and opt for a lengthy guerrilla war. Instead, he attempts to buy time, hoping that the US will finally agree to give him the bit more rope he wants. On the one hand, then, he refrains from declaring a state and burning the bridges. On the other hand, he refuses to sign a final-status agreement ending the conflict. The narrow space between these alternatives is dangerously volatile, as the present explosion shows. In the absence of an independent, revolutionary leadership, the al-Aksa intifada can lead to nothing except protracted conflict.

The intifada of the child

On September 30, one day after the killings at al-Aksa, a television camera picked out 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dira, crouching in fear beside his father at Netzarim Junction in Gaza until Israeli fire killed him. In response, the Palestinians in Israel took to the streets. This death on camera brought into focus feelings of humiliation and helplessness that had continued to accumulate through the last decade.

It has been a decade in which the whole Arab leadership, from the Islamic movement to Azmi Bishara, tied the fate of its people to the Labor Party and the Oslo Accords. In return they received precisely nothing. Israel's Arab population, numbering more than a million—about a fifth of the total—has no place in the nation's planning. The Arabs are not part of the country's hi-tech revolution. Their rate of unemployment and poverty increases with each passing year. Their average income is less than half the Jewish. Their living space shrinks because most of their land reserves have been confiscated. They have no industrial areas, as Jewish towns do. Many remain without sewage systems. Their roads are a mess. Only 5% of the university students are Arab... The list goes on and on.

This intifada too has had its harbingers: the events at Um al-Sahali in April 1998; those at al-Roha in September 1998; those at Lod in June 1999. In all these instances, people showed they were ready to confront the police in order to defend their homes and the little that is left of their lands.

Ehud Barak, who owes his position to the Arab vote, preferred to form a right-wing coalition with the National Religious Party (Mafdal) and Shas. Barak is Arab-blind. (Scolding them for the recent disturbances, he reminded them that they live in a model democracy.) The Arab hatred for him has begun to surface, although the demonstrators have yet to define their grievances in political terms. Till now we see an outpouring of pent-up rage. True leaders have yet to emerge and formulate specific long-range demands.

An abyss has opened between the Arab population and the Israeli establishment. The police have used live ammunition against the demonstrators, killing at least eleven so far—an unprecedented number of fatalities. (Land Day in 1976 claimed six lives.) The police failed to prevent a pogrom in which armed Jews from Nazareth Illit swept down on Arab Nazareth, killing two and wounding many more. All over the country, Jews have taken the law into their own hands, destroying Arab property and threatening Arab lives. (Guns exist in practically every Israeli household.) These things are happening, we should remember, not under the regime of Benjamin Netanyahu, but rather under that of Ehud Barak, whom Arab voters helped put in office.

An abyss has also opened between the masses and the Arab leadership, including the Knesset members, who placed themselves at the service of Barak as they had at the service of Rabin and Peres before him. This leadership comes from among bourgeois elements and academics in Israel, who—after the collapse of the worldwide socialist camp—grew weary of bearing the stigma of being Arab. The Oslo Accords opened a golden opportunity for them to find a niche in the Israeli establishment, serving as bridges for peace between the Jewish state and the Arab world. Even as the latter was rejecting normalization with Israel, these

leaders were promoting it (much to their discredit in Arab capitals). One ought not to be fooled by the seemingly radical rhetoric of leaders from Hadash, the Islamic Movement, or Balad (Bishara's party). Indeed, they attack the symbols of Zionism, such as the flag and the hymn, but they carefully refrain from attacking Barak, whose government they would join at the drop of a hat. They prefer a headline or an appearance on a talk show to the day-to-day grind of relieving the hardships of Arab life in this country. When and if the dust settles after the present upheaval, how shall the Arab leaders justify their support for Barak? How justify their policies of the last decade? Over and over they claimed that it is possible to live in co-existence with Zionism. During the Rabin years, Hadash leaders even announced, Zionism has changed. Only one left-wing party called on the Arabs in Israel to cast a blank ballot rather than vote for Barak, and this was the ODA.

The political alliance with Labor cannot continue. We continue to hold, as we always have: the Arabs in Israel deserve a leadership that will connect them to the Arab world as a whole, including their people in the Territories. They deserve a leadership that will strive to detach itself from the American Falcon, teaming up instead with an anti-capitalist global program.

Diplomatic contacts

The recent meeting of Arafat and Barak in Paris (October 5), which aimed at a cease-fire, ended in failure. The US agreed to conduct these talks with the participation of French president Jacques Chirac and UN Secretary Kofi Anan, both known for their good connections in the Arab world. This was the price that Washington had to pay in order to conciliate the Arabs, after betraying its lack of neutrality.

Arafat's purpose was to attain a broad-based international investigation into the causes of the violence and improve his bargaining position against Israel. Barak and Albright, however, were only willing to accept an investigation by the two sides plus the US. They brought heavy pressures to bear and reached, they said later, an understanding—but Arafat did not sign. Chirac objected to the proposal and influenced Arafat, who canceled his verbal assent, and the talks collapsed. Barak came home without an agreement. The options open to him are hard: He can form a national-unity government with the Likud, using overbearing force to quell the violence—thus securing his power for the present while closing the door on the peace process. Or he can make yet another attempt to call Arafat to order and drag him into signing an accord. The Americans are pushing for the second alternative, but it is doubtful whether Arafat, at this stage, can afford to be seen yielding to the Israeli conditions.

The US does not want to see the Middle East go up in flames. As of today, it is attempting to bring about a summit at Sharm al-Sheik that will include Bill Clinton, Hosni Mubarak and Kofi Anan. It is hard to predict whether this initiative will work. Clinton, Barak and those Arab states that back Oslo are extremely concerned lest war break out at this time. They will do all they can to calm things. A total explosion would cost them all dearly in political terms. >From the recent events we may draw several conclusions:

1) The US is losing control in the area. The Clinton regime based its regional strategy on two axes: a) war with Iraq, which conceals an implicit threat against the other oil-producing countries; and b) the Oslo Accords, including absolute support for Israel. The latter was to emerge as the regional economic power.

Both of these axes have fallen apart. Despite the long siege, Iraq has managed to endure. Secondly, the Oslo Accords appear to be finished. The most recent expression of Washington's weakness was its inability to use its veto (it abstained) in the UN Security Council when the latter condemned Israel in the light of the al-Aksa events.

2) The Arab world can no longer be managed as in the past. Its masses will not tolerate both their own dictators and the dictates of the World Bank. The huge demonstrations throughout this world against the US and Israel are a warning to dictatorial regimes such as those in Egypt, Jordan and Syria. All are on thin ice. Or to vary the cliché, they find themselves between the American hammer and the anvil of their poverty-stricken peoples.

3) The Israeli political system, which conducted the Oslo process, has reached a dead end. Barak does not have a coalition of doves that can approve concessions—even partial, symbolic ones—on the Golan Heights or in Jerusalem. Israeli society is immersed in a religious and nationalistic fanaticism bearing strong marks of Fascism. The result is likely to be entrenchment in militant right-wing positions.

4) The Arab population in Israel will have to formulate its demands anew. It will have to open a militant, independent struggle to force the Israeli government to stop blocking its development, its sources of livelihood and its possibilities of decent housing. The Arabs cannot carry out this struggle as part of the Labor bloc, but only as a militant opposition. The present task is not to lobby in the Knesset, but rather to mobilize the people for struggle. The people on the street must have input into the decisions of the leaders. There is no reason why more than a million citizens should not use their popular and electoral power to defend their interests.

5) Nine years ago the US and Israel rejected the alternative of an independent Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories, preferring the approach that is signified today by the names Madrid and Oslo.

In taking these steps, the two rejected the principle of solution by compromise. Just as Washington was to get hegemony over the world, so Israel over the Middle East. The principles of Oslo express a total Israeli victory. At the same time, however, they transformed the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis into a struggle for existence, destined to continue beneath the surface when not bursting forth in violence. The architects of Oslo proved that there can be no reconciliation between the Palestinian movement for national liberation and Zionism, just as, in South Africa, there could be no reconciliation with apartheid. It was apartheid that had to be transformed—and not the demand of the blacks for equality.

The situation in the Middle East reflects what is happening all over the globe. The new world order that began to emerge after the Gulf War is already collapsing. From Seattle to Jakarta, from Prague to Mexico City, millions struggle for a change in the global capitalist system. Zionism is an integral part of this system, and its fate will be determined together with it.

The Oslo Accords fostered an illusion that a Zionist Israel with adjusted borders could co-exist with an Arab world led by pro-American regimes. Now these accords have reached an impasse. All who were party to them—and who had expected to benefit at the expense of the masses – today find that their feeding trough is broken.

A solution to the difficulties of the Middle East must be sought far from American hegemony. The ODA does not believe it possible to achieve it without real progress toward a radical change in the industrial centers of the world. Not the Palestinians alone, or even the Arab world alone, can create a political and social alternative to the order that Washington wants to impose. The global economy must change. From capitalism serving a tiny group—whether uncontrolled capitalism as in America or flexible as in Europe—there must be the shift to a socialism that serves all. The ODA sees itself as a component in a worldwide movement that is beginning to move away from capitalist globalization toward socialism.