After the Gaza War and the UN Statehood Vote – Palestinians Face Crisis of Leadership (January 2013)

“It would make clear that the Two-State solution is alive and put an end to the nonsense about a bi-national state.”

~Palestinian Official to Uri Avnery about the significance of the UN vote

The massive majority vote in favor of accepting Palestine as a non-member observer state in the UN is presented by PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as a great victory for the Palestinian struggle. On the 2.12.2012, Abbas proclaimed to a crowd of 5000 in the West Bank that “we now have a state”, that “the world has said loudly, ‘yes to the state of Palestine'” and that only negotiations with Israel could lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Palestinian masses, however, are not quick to believe the hype: while many are likely glad to see Israel humiliated, having been dealt a public-relations blow, demonstrations remain small, suggesting that the change in Palestine’s status is seen as more of a cosmetic change than anything else.

The support for Abbas’ actions at the UN from some Palestinians is understandable. Israel’s latest brutal attack on Gaza, despite the terrible toll it took on the masses, ultimately exposed Israel’s weakness: it could neither break the Gaza masses’ will and in fact strengthened Hamas. The fear of the Arab uprisings and the resulting US pressure prevented Israel from sending ground troops to commit a full-blown massacre in Gaza. We join the Palestinian masses in celebrating this defeat for US and Israeli imperialism. It is exactly this defeat and this fear of revolution which drove Abbas to go to the UN to show the masses that, like Hamas, he can also strike a blow against Zionist oppression.

As Marxist revolutionaries, we fully support any move which helps assert the rights of the Palestinian people and advance their liberation from Zionist oppression. We condemn the racist Zionist state, which has reacted to even this timid act by Abbas by further oppression, stealing tax revenue which Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s behalf, and various other acts of repression and murder (see more on this below). These moves show that Israel is not even willing to accept a dependent, divided Palestinian state on 20% of Palestine. However, we would be committing a terrible mistake if we did not make it completely clear that Abbas’ overtures to Western imperialism are nothing more than a survival tactic, which can only lead to a further compromise of Palestinian rights. As Amira Hass wrote,

“Fatah Revolutionary Council member Sabri Saidem alluded to when he said, somewhat snarkily: “if Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands vote for, then you will know that your leaders are mocking you” – i.e., that they have agreed to Israeli conditions (not persecuting Israelis at the International Criminal Court and returning to negotiations without preconditions).”

These states did not end up voting in favor of accepting Palestine as an observer state, but many other imperialist countries with a record of supporting Zionism did, like Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, as well as Jordan, which has a long record of collaborating with Zionism against the Palestinians (though in the case of Jordan, the mass uprising which the monarchy is now facing has certainly played a role in its vote).

More than anything else, the UN bid has exposed the impotence of the current Palestinian leadership. Both Fatah and Hamas have accepted, in both theory and practice, the two-state solution: while Fatah acts as a police force for Israel in the West Bank, Hamas is policing the border and proclaiming its willingness to negotiate with Israel and accept some sort of two-state solution. The main difference is that Hamas, which like Fatah in the past but unlike Fatah today, still enjoys a great deal of mass support, or at the very least sympathy. Thus Hamas’ leaders believe that through limited and controlled armed struggle, they can better force Israel to accept a solution which would benefit them. Fatah, on the other hand, is reduced to begging the world to force Israel into letting it sell out the rights of the Palestinian masses. As Hamas’ limitations are exposed, it will surely follow the same path as Fatah. Indeed, Fatah spokespeople have already indicated that the next thing on the organization’s agenda is the resumption of unity talks with Hamas.

Hamas’ statement after the attack on Gaza to the effect that it opposes reconciliation with Israel must be seen in this context: while the leaders of the organization realize that they must take a harsher stance towards Israel in words, this rhetoric has been used before. Hamas has no real alternative to capitulating to Zionism. In fact, Hamas has already begun making overtures to Fatah, as can be seen in it allowing the Fatah anniversary celebration to take place in Gaza – the first such event since 2007.

Hypocrisy of the Zionists

When confronted with proof of Israel’s brutality against the Palestinian people, supporters of Israel will usually retort that all the Palestinians have to do to get their own state is to cease the armed struggle (“terrorism”), recognize Israel and give up on the right of return. These conditions are unacceptable to the Palestinian masses and to any supporter of their democratic rights. Unfortunately, Abbas does not fall in the latter category. Along with the rest of Fatah and most of the PLO, Abbas accepted the Oslo agreements two decades ago, and in particular, accepted Israel’s “right” to exist on stolen Palestinian land, even if on a smaller part than it currently occupies. But he has taken this one step forward, when, in a pathetic, grovelling interview to the Zionist media, Abbas said that

“I visited Safad before once. But I want to see Safad. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there. Palestine now for me is ‘67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever…this is Palestine for me. I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts are Israel.”

Abbas was clearly trying to appeal to the Obama administration to support him against Israel, while testing the water to see if the Palestinian masses would resign to another one of their rights being officially sold out by their ostensible leadership. He miscalculated on both counts. US imperialism, while less confident in the viability of its Zionist partner in crime than a few decades ago, is still much more suspicious of the alternatives, especially following the Arab uprisings which shook and toppled so many of its client regimes in the region. And the Palestinian masses, still unbroken, have completely rejected Abbas’ sell-out. Though mass action is difficult, given the repressive Fatah and Hamas regimes in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, mass discontent finds way to express itself, whether in a courageous demonstration in Lebanon, away from the threat of Israeli , PA and Hamas repression, or in sharp criticisms by PFLP and Hamas leaders. Even though these groups have also signaled, in various ways, that they are willing to negotiate with the imperialists, the fact that more radical Palestinian groups are driven to condemn Abbas’ comments surely shows that these sentiments are widespread in Palestinian society.

Even though Abbas’ victory in the UN shows that Israel is becoming more and more isolated, at the end of the day, the Palestinian state he has won is no more than a paper state, and this situation shall persist as long as Zionist oppression of the Palestinians continues. Not only does the Obama administration continue to back Israel, currently, in its ongoing massacre in Gaza; Israel itself contemptuously rejects Abbas’ attempts at reaching a settlement and the UN vote. Following Abbas’ announcement of another UN bid, various members of the Zionist government issued election-campaign-fueled statements threatening to overthrow Abbas if he succeeds (an empty threat, as Israel is dead-scared of the alternatives to Abbas), culminating in Finance Minister Steinitz’sannouncementt that “we are under a double Palestinian attack. From Gaza a terrorist attack, and from Ramallah by Abu Mazen a diplomatic attack which is also strategic for a UN bid (sic)… in my opinion, the diplomatic attack is no less dangerous”. It is easy to dismiss Steinitz’s rhetoric as meant to galvanize his base in preparation for the Likud primaries; however, one must note that this announcement was part of his effort to expose the fact that, away from the world’s eye, the current Nethanyahu administration has doubled funding for the settlements.

That the Zionists treat Palestinians the same whether or not they try to achieve their goals peacefully or not, formerly a well-founded theory, is now official Zionist government policy. After Palestine’s status in the UN was upgraded, Likud politicians have predictably repeated their threats and warnings – but center-left Zionist leader Tzipi Livni, supposedly a Zionist “dove”, has also joined the chorus, calling the move a “strategic terrorist attack”. Labor Party leader Shelly Yechimovich has so far remained silent on the subject, as usual, fearful that anything she says might alienate either her more left-wing base, or the West Bank settlers, whom she has been actively courting for years.

The Gaza Massacre and the Left-Zionists

In the midst of the violent attacks by the Zionist right and center-left, Abbas can continue to count on his most enthusiastic supporters: the Zionist left. On the 29.11.2012, a demonstration was held by supporters of Meretz and Hadash in favor of Abbas’ UN bid. Two other notable speakers appeared at the demo: Alon Liel, formerly a mainstream Zionist politician who has broken to the left in recent years, and Sufian Abu-Zaide, a Fatah leader who spent 12 years in Israeli prisons.

It may seem that these demonstrations indicate a growing solidarity with the Palestinians and support for their rights by a significant number of Israelis. However, this is an illusion. Left-Zionism has a decades-long history of supporting various measures that it believes can lead to a two-state solution, while staunchly supporting the continuing existence of Israel as a Jewish Apartheid state. During therecent Zionist massacre in Gaza, Meretz called for negotiations with Abbas, expressing support for the Israeli army and its actions in principle while criticizing the attacks from a tactical perspective, while Hadash used the slogan “security will not be achieved by siege and assassinations” – criticizing the government for being ineffective more than anything else.

The logic of the left-Zionists is simple and has been a common theme of many op-eds celebrating the UN vote: upgrading Palestine’s UN status can be used to force Israel to agree to a two-state solution, which will see the Palestinian leadership recognizing Israel’s claims to the majority of historic Palestine, thus guaranteeing Israel’s continued existence. Thus, to the left-Zionists, support for Abbas’ diplomacy isn’t a way to support Palestinian national rights, but a way to do away with claims to these rights once and for all.

Why Did the Motion Pass?

There are many questions that one can and should ask about the UN vote. For example: why has Abbas, who only recently tried to placate Zionism by signalling that he would be able to officially renounce the right of return, taken a move that was obviously going to upset his imperialist sponsors in the US and Israel? Why did so many forces obviously hostile to the idea of an independent Palestinian state vote in favor of the resolution? Is Palestine’s new status going to give the Palestinian people new tools to use in their fight against Zionist oppression? In short, why did the UN vote unfold as it did, and how is this going to affect the Palestinian struggle?

The answer to the first of the last two questions is many-sided. For the longest time, Israel was the only force in the region that imperialism could rely on to carry out its policies. The Arab uprisings which have been taking place over the last two years have seriously strengthened this perception. Israel, feeling more indispensable than ever, has done quite a lot to antagonize its longtime allies: from its constant aggression against the Palestinians, which many imperialists perceive as disproportionate and as a radicalizing factor in the region, to its constant undermining of Abbas and the PA, Israel’s actions have made at least most of the European imperialists understand that they must do something to signal that they are displeased with the Zionist state. Israel, unimpressed, responded to their vote by announcing new construction plans in the West Bank, including the E1 territories between Jerusalem and Maale Adomim, which is the continuation of a longstanding Zionist plan to annex this part of the West Bank (a move which has drawn condemnations even from stalwart supporters of Israel like the US and Canada).

As for the Arab regimes, facing an already insurgent population, they certainly could not risk voting against a Palestinian state again. The people of the region have many reasons to hold their rulers partly responsible for the plight of the Palestinians, including Assad’s aggression against Palestinians and their organizations from the beginning of the Syrian uprising, Morsi’s refusal to remove the harsh restrictions on Palestinians travelling through the Rafah crossing, and the Jordanian monarchy’s decades-long collaboration with Zionism.

From Abbas’ side, he is desperately struggling to maintain the balance between his servitude to Zionism and the US and his need to maintain the very little legitimacy he still has among Palestinians. With Fatah acting as a police force for Zionism in the West Bank, its claim to represent the national aspirations of the Palestinian people are more questionable and questioned than ever.Demonstrations last July and June against a visit by then-deputy Prime Minister and war criminal Shaul Mofaz saw 1000 people coming out to protest against Abbas, and went on despite brutal repression by the PA. Earlier that year, Palestinian protests of solidarity with the Arab uprisings were viciously repressed by Fatah (as well as Hamas, in Gaza).

The most talked about wave of protests in the West Bank, however, took place in September. The protests tackled mainly economic issues: for example, the price of gas in the West Bank was about the same as it is in Israel, about 8 shekels per liter. This despite the minimum wage in the West Bank being only a quarter of that in Israel. However, as Uri Avnery wrote at the time, there can be no real distinction between the economic situation and the occupation of Palestine:

“Actually, the PA is quite helpless. It is bound by the Paris Protocol, the economic appendix of the Oslo agreement. Under this protocol, the occupied territories are part of the Israeli “customs envelope” and the Palestinians cannot fix their own customs duties. Amira Hass of Haaretz quotes the following conditions: inhabitants of the Gaza Strip are not allowed to export their agricultural products; Israel exploits the water, minerals and other assets in the West Bank; Palestinian villagers pay much higher prices for water than Israeli settlers; Gaza fishermen cannot fish beyond three miles from the shore; Palestinian inhabitants are forbidden to travel on the main highways, compelling them to make costly and time-consuming detours.

“But more than any restrictions, it’s the occupation itself that makes any real improvement impossible. What serious foreign investor would go to a territory where everything is subject to the whims of a military government which has every motive for keeping its subjects down? A territory where every act of resistance can provoke brutal retaliation, such as the physical destruction of Palestinian offices in the 2002 “Operation Defensive Shield”? Where goods for export can rot for months, if an Israeli competitor bribes an official?

“Donor nations can give some money to the Palestinian Authority to keep it alive, but they cannot change the situation. Neither would the abolition of the Paris Protocol, as demanded by the demonstrators, change much. As long as the occupation is in place, any progress – if there is any – is conditional and temporary.”

Avnery is mostly correct, but his outlook blinds him to some obvious questions one can ask about the PA’s ability to cope with the situation. After all, one is only bound by agreements to the extent that one chooses to be. Israel certainly does not feel bound by any of the agreements it has signed. Were there a revolutionary government in Palestine, it would certainly tear up these exploitative agreements. However, Avnery, the two-stater and committed Zionist, certainly does not want that: while the impoverished masses were protesting Fayyad’s government’s measures, he was busy enjoying “delicacies” in the company of Fayyad and Nabil Shaath, another senior Fatah member.

Fayyad’s economic policies were a sensitive area for the many liberals and left Zionists who spent years praising Salam Fayyad and his “nation-building” strategy – a codename for neo-liberal policies – and calling Ramallah an “economic miracle”. Fayyad’s reputation caused the demonstrations to be more focused on him than on Abbas, and some Palestinian and Arab leftists even went so far as to accuse Abbas of orchestrating the demonstrations in order to draw away attention from his own policies, and thus refused to support the demonstrations. While we do not believe that the evidence for this is conclusive, we believe that revolutionaries always have the duty to intervene in the struggles of the masses, to help take them forward and combat the inevitable betrayals of their reformist, nationalist and religious leaders. During the West Bank demonstrations, this meant joining with the masses despite Abbas’ maneuvers.

The Vote and the International Criminal Court

It is probably clear to even the most adamant supporters of Abbas’ UN bid that changing Palestine’s UN status would not result in more resolutions and actions against Israel by the organization. Israel, for its part, seems determined to prove this assertion correct: on 11.12.2012, Zionist military force raided the offices of Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner solidarity organization. Addameer was heavily involved in the prisoners’ hunger strike last year, and certainly the Zionist state would have an interest in attacking it. Then on 12.12.2012, the notoriously racist and murderous, even relative to other Zionist armed forces, Israeli Border Guard (Magav) murdered Mohammad Salaymeh, a 17-year-old Palestinian who was on his wayto buy his birthday cake in a bakery in Hebron. The message to Palestinians is clear: observer state status or not, Israel can continue to murder, expropriate and otherwise oppress Palestinians as it pleases.

However, one of the more sophisticated arguments in favor of the UN bid says that although Israel will continue with its crimes against Palestinians, it will be more vulnerable to action through the International Criminal Court. As Gregg Carlstrom wrote,

“I asked that question – what will you do on November 30? – to a range of Palestinian officials and analysts over the past few days. Their unanimous answer was not to answer… perhaps with good reason: The diplomatic upgrade carries few tangible benefits.

“The most significant is that the Palestinians could ratify the Rome Statute and accede to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which would allow them to bring cases against Israelis – for war crimes committed in Gaza, perhaps, or for the ongoing construction of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Thousands of people, from military leaders to individual settlers, could be subject to prosecution… A symbolic upgrade at the UN is one thing; a wave of indictments that effectively bar Israeli officials from traveling abroad would be another entirely… (Several European countries, most notably the United Kingdom, reportedly offered to vote “yes” at the UN in exchange for a Palestinian promise not to join the ICC).”

Noam Wiener is more careful:

“Notably, this does not mean that we will be seeing Israeli generals and politicians hauled off to The Hague on November 30. The ICC gains jurisdiction only prospectively, so alleged crimes committed before the new member joined are not subject to ICC investigation. Second, the ICC would only have jurisdiction over crimes committed on Palestinian sovereign territory, but where that territory starts and ends is entirely unclear and will doubtlessly be subject to prolonged legal wrangling. Third, even if alleged crimes have been committed (and this needs to be investigated on a case by case basis), because of the ICC complementarity regime (on which I have already commented in +972), the Prosecutor will only investigate cases that Israel has itself neglected to investigate. Finally, the Prosecutor will only apply his or her very limited resources to those cases considered to be the most grievous violations of international law. As inhumane as the occupation of Palestine is, even if the Prosecutor is convinced that specific crimes have been committed in the occupied territories, it is unclear whether he or she will also think that these crimes are grave enough to warrant her attention in light of other instances of international crimes committed around the world.”

This means that any investigation by Israel of its own war criminals, which always is and can only be a cover up, would prevent an investigation by the ICC. But as Wiener wrote, even when there is no investigation, the ICC prosecutor can choose which cases to pursue. The biggest problem with this is not the technical issues mentioned by Wiener, but the nature of the UN, which neither Wiener, nor Carlstrom, nor most of the other pro-Palestinian commentators care to discuss. The UN has always been dominated by the imperialist states, who use the institution to force their own interests on the oppressed countries. A quick review of those persecuted by the ICC in the past shows that this list includes mainly war criminals from oppressed countries, who have outlived their usefulness in the eyes of the imperialists.

The ICC argument shows the main weakness of the pro-Palestinian movement: it lacks any sort of class perspective. While opposed to imperialist oppression, it perceives of it as the result of a bad policy on the behalf of wicked politicians rather than an essential part of today’s capitalist system. Palestinian liberation would mean an unprecedented wave of uprisings in the region and perhaps all over the world, which would seriously threaten imperialism’s domination. The only way to make sure that the imperialist war criminals will face justice is for the workers and oppressed to take power.

The Way Forward

The question remains: how can this be accomplished? As we wrote on Abbas’ last UN bin:

“Recognizing that the Palestinian masses are not strong enough on their own to defeat Zionist oppression, we have all along said that the revolutions by the Arab workers of the region would come to the support of the Palestinians… The revolutionary uprisings that toppled the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, and continue to challenge the region’s other strongmen, are just the beginning. Imperialist capitalism cannot support democracy in these countries. To secure the democratic freedoms that the masses demand, the working class will have to lead the urban poor and peasants in overthrowing capitalism and building workers’ states on the road to socialism. This is the Trotskyist strategy of permanent revolution.

In the long run, Israel will become a death trap for its Jewish citizens as well. Imperialism’s support for Israel stems from the fact that its wars and oppression have served the imperialists’ need to keep the Arab masses down and its oil wealth safe for exploitation. Thus, Arab revolutionaries can and should appeal to Israeli Jewish workers and poor – but only on the basis that they break with Zionism and join the Palestinian revolution, not on the basis of promises to the Zionists that they can retain their privileged position in any part of Palestine.

The workers’ state that would be formed out of the regional revolution would allow the return of the refugees who were driven off their lands by Israel. With the return of the refugees, the workers’ state would become Palestinian in its national character. However, Jews who join with the Palestinians in a revolutionary struggle, will also become a part of the ruling class – the workers and the poor, Palestinians and Jews alike.

For all this to become a reality, the exploited and oppressed masses must find an international revolutionary working-class political party capable of leading the struggle to victory. The internationalist strategy outlined in this statement aims to unite the working class based on an uncompromising struggle for the interests of the people most exploited and oppressed by capitalism. It expresses the perspective of authentic working-class Trotskyism, the anti-Stalinist Marxism of our times. We believe the vanguard revolutionary party that workers need must aim to re-create the Fourth International, the Trotskyist World Party of Socialist Revolution.”

With increased repression by the Zionist state on the other hand, and a resurgence of hunger strikes among Palestinian in Israeli prisons, it is clear that the Palestinian struggle for liberation is still alive. The perspective of socialist revolution is essential for this struggle to succeed. This socialist revolution will create a Palestinian workers’ state as part of a regional socialist federation, thus making the dream of one Palestinian state a reality with the only possible class character that such a state could have.

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