|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Deadlocked: no way forward in Israel-Palestine talks
SINCE THE latest Israel-Palestine talks began at the start of September, peace envoys have been rushing between the US, Israel, Egypt and Jordan to try to keep them afloat. US president Barack Obama wanted to preside over a framework deal within a year but the negotiations have barely got off the ground in the first couple of months.
Given the failure of previous agreements in the six-decade long conflict, and the intransigence of the present right-wing Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, most ordinary people on both sides of the divide do not believe the talks will be successful. Yet the Palestinians are desperate for an improvement in their situation. Those in the Gaza strip have suffered particularly acutely over the last few years, victims of a vicious Israeli blockade that is allowing no exports out and few imports in. Poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, frustration, and trauma from Israeli military bombardments have become embedded in people’s lives in this densely populated ‘prison camp’.
Given this dire plight, how sickeningly craven was the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, when he told Israelis in a $250,000 US-funded advertising campaign: "I know we have disappointed you. I know we have been unable to deliver peace for the last 19 years". He went on to argue that peace is achievable. Throughout those 19 years and before, the Palestinians have endured a brutal occupation and extreme poverty at the hands of the Israeli regime and have never been offered genuine independence.
The Palestinians’ elected, Hamas-led parliament (confined to Gaza following the brief 2007 civil war between Fatah and Hamas), has been excluded from the talks. Yet authoritarian representatives of foreign capitalist elites, including King Abdullah of Jordan and Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak have been welcomed into them, alongside Obama, Netanyahu and Fatah Palestinian president Mahmood Abbas.
The aim of the talks is supposed to be a ‘two-state’ agreement. To the Palestinians, this means being free of Israeli repression, restrictions and interference, their pre-1967 land being restored, 1948 refugees having the right to return, and Jerusalem as a shared capital. For them, a freeze on the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is a precondition for talks.
For decades, however, Netanyahu was opposed to a Palestinian state, and it only entered his vocabulary last year. In the Israeli media and internationally there has been plenty of speculation about whether he is really willing to make significant concessions or whether he is simply posturing – feigning interest in talks – to placate Obama in particular.
Netanyahu has always advocated keeping East Jerusalem within Israel and expanding Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The talks reached deadlock over the West Bank settlement issue when, in late September, Netanyahu decided to restore the full settlement building programme after a ten-month partial pause. He came under great pressure to make this decision from the small, hard-line right-wing, pro-settlement parties in his government coalition.
Desperate for some tangible progress, the US was widely reported as offering various enticements to shift the Israeli government to extend the settlement freeze but, at the time of writing, with no success. There have been signs, though, that Netanyahu could be trying to placate the right wing of his coalition using other issues, to try to move them to concede on the settlements, temporarily, so that the talks can formally continue.
For instance, he recently supported a motion in his cabinet that paves the way to forcing new non-Jewish immigrants to swear loyalty to Israel as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’ as a condition of citizenship. Far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, would like this to be applied to all existing Arab citizens of Israel, a much more far-reaching attack, so he regards this present ‘loyalty oath’ as just a first step.
As well as promoting racist policies, the Israeli government is encouraging a siege mentality in Israel by playing up the ‘threat’ of Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and Syria. This increased leaning on nationalism is an indication of the government’s instability and lack of support.
The right-wing Kadima party, created by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, is waiting in the wings and could try to enter a new government coalition if the existing one falls apart. But whichever of the capitalist parties are in power, when any concessions to the Palestinians are eventually made by them, it will be part of an overall plan on behalf of the Israeli ruling class to concede as little as possible – and to prevent the development of a fully independent, armed, competing Palestinian state on their doorstep.
On the basis of capitalism, therefore, although a greater degree of Palestinian self-rule could one day be conceded, it will not be a solution that meets Palestinian aspirations and so end the cycles of bloodshed.
In desperation at the continued settlement expansion and blockade, support for a ‘single state’ solution encompassing Arabs and Jews has increased on both sides of the divide – although it still is a minority viewpoint. Some right-wing Jews have even advocated this. For them it would mean excluding the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza strip from such a state, as this would be the only way to guarantee a Jewish majority, at least in the short term. Unsurprisingly, a Palestinian opinion poll done at the end of August indicated that 90% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would oppose this.
For most Israeli Jews, ruling out a single state is the fact that they are now estimated to be just under half of the total population (including foreign residents) of Israel and the occupied territories, despite the influx of a million Jewish immigrants over the last two decades. Within 20 years, this is expected to decline to 42%, as the Palestinian birth rate is outstripping that of Jews. So, Israeli Jews fear being a discriminated-against minority in the state that they view as a safe-haven and Jewish homeland.
West Bank settlement building restarted even before the end of the ten-month pause and bloodshed has continued. In late August, four Jews were killed by Palestinians in the West Bank. In September, rocket fire increased from Gaza into Israel and more than nine Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military. At the start of October, far-right Jewish settlers attacked a mosque in the West Bank village of Beit Fajjar and Israeli border police shot dead a Palestinian in East Jerusalem and two Palestinians in Hebron.
Whatever the fate of this round of ‘peace’ talks, sooner or later, the Palestinians will be compelled to step up their struggle. But struggle of what kind? Terror attacks on Israeli civilians, organised by secretive militias like those of Hamas, lead nowhere. They serve to increase Israeli repression on the Palestinian population and to alienate Israeli workers, pushing them towards supporting brutal measures by their government’s immensely more powerful military forces.
A layer of Palestinians look to Hamas as being, at least, a determined opposition to Israeli aggression. But with its right-wing Islamic standpoint, Hamas cannot offer either a solution to the national conflict or an end to the endemic poverty. Its capitalist and reactionary religious agenda is poles apart from the type of democratic workers’ party that is needed to unite ordinary people in successful mass action.
Neither does Fatah offer a way forward. Most of its leaders are unpopular, not least because they are working hand-in-hand with the Israeli army against Palestinian militias, especially those of Hamas.
A genuine two-states solution that can end the conflict can only be achieved on a socialist basis. This raises the necessity of building workers’ parties with socialist programmes in both Israel and Palestine. For the mass of Palestinians, such a development cannot come soon enough. But for Israeli Jewish working- and middle-class people, too, the only pathway to ending the high levels of poverty and insecurity in Israel is along the same route.