The onset of the ‘Arab spring’, resulting in the overthrow of the dictatorial and kleptocratic Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes in Tunisia and Egypt respectively, is in the process of changing the Middle East in a most dramatic and radical way. As far as the struggle of the Palestinian people for national liberation and against zionist occupation and colonialism is concerned, the Arab spring has opened new opportunities for the advancement of this struggle, while creating near-insurmountable problems for the zionist state of Israel and its chief backer, US imperialism.
Following the ignominious fall of the brutal Mubarak dictatorship, the new Egyptian government on 3 May helped mediate an agreement of national unity between Fatah and Hamas, thus putting an end to the Israeli and imperialist attempts to keep Hamas in a state of isolation. Twelve days later, on 15 May, which the Palestinians mark as Nakba Day (the day of catastrophe) to commemorate the expulsion at gunpoint of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and land by zionist thugs, the Israeli army murdered in cold blood scores of Palestinian refugees who were demonstrating on the borders of Israel with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.
The salvos of the Arab spring are driving the process of Palestinian unity, obliging the Palestinian Authority (PA) to cooperate with Hamas and break out of the suffocating embrace of US imperialism, while plunging Israeli zionism and US imperialism into a crisis of incurable proportions. Already in March this year, several thousand Palestinians took to the streets in Gaza and the West Bank demanding national unity in the struggle against Israeli colonialism – hence the unity agreement of 3 May brokered by the Egyptian government.
The unity agreement provides for the establishment of a new government of technocrats to run the West Bank and Gaza until elections are held within a year, and the security forces of the two territories are to be merged. Further, on 27 May, Egypt partially reopened the Rafah crossing, causing great consternation in the zionist-imperialist camp.
The rising sentiment for national unity among Palestinians – be they in the West Bank or Gaza, in Israel itself, or living as refugees spread across the Middle East – is compelling the political leadership to focus on the minimum rights of the Palestinian people: an end to the occupation, the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their land, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
It is a sign of the times, and a reflection of the pressure emanating from the events in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the swelling sentiment for unity among the Palestinians, that Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and PA, which have been working so closely with Israel and the US, have agreed to be part of the new national unity arrangement.
Obama’s attempt to square the circle
Far from reading the writing on the wall, Israeli zionism, with the psychology of the doomed, has become even more intransigent, bellicose and obstructive, refusing to make any meaningful compromise of the kind needed to reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. The Israeli attitude, particularly in view of the developments in Egypt, is causing serious problems for US imperialism and creating further obstacles to its drive for domination.
On the one hand, US imperialism is committed to unreserved support for Israel, whose occupation of Palestine is draconian, and the treatment of the Palestinian people downright fascistic; on the other hand, it pretends to be the champion of democracy, rule of law and human rights in the Middle East.
In an effort to square the circle, US President Obama addressed the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful reactionary zionist lobby outfit, on 22 May. In the course of this speech, he stressed the “unbreakable” bonds between the US and Israel, the “ironclad” commitment of the US to Israeli security, and the close connection between a “strong and secure” Israel and the “national security interest of the United States”. Precisely for this reason, he said, “I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority. It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.”
However, he went on to point out that Israel faced isolation if she failed to conduct credible negotiations with the Palestinians. This is what he said: “But the march to isolate Israel internationally, and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations, will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative. And for us to have leverage with the Palestinians, to have leverage with the Arab states and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success.”
Too little too late
The above remarks of the US president are too little and too late, for the delegitimisation, not just the isolation, of Israel are far advanced and beyond repair. No one is to be blamed for this state of affairs except Israel and its chief patron – US imperialism.
Israel has honoured the historic Oslo Agreement in flagrant breach. During the 17 years since the signing of that agreement, the zionist state has built over 300 settlements and doubled the number of settlers in the West Bank; it has established a network of 120 security checkpoints, making Palestinian life a hell on earth; it has built the 820km–long apartheid wall that cuts into the heart of Palestinian land; it has turned Gaza into a concentration camp for its 1.5 million inhabitants; and its Israeli Arab citizens, who account for a fifth of Israel’s population, are subjected on a daily basis to discrimination, harassment and internal displacement, with large-scale demolition of houses that have been occupied by Palestinians for centuries.
As a result, people everywhere, including in the centres of imperialism, are disgusted with the policies of the zionist rulers of Israel and do not have much faith in its professions of respect for human rights and democratic values or its supposed desire for peace.
Bid for UN membership
Equally, the Palestinians have lost the last remnants of faith in a negotiated settlement with Israel brokered by the US. Going against heavy US pressure and Israeli rage, Palestinian representatives have stepped up efforts to persuade the UN Security Council to back their bid for UN membership and have accused the US of bringing undue pressure to bear on members of the Security Council (SC) to oppose the Palestinian application.
Palestinians had been hopeful that they would get the backing of nine out of 15 countries represented on the council (namely that of France, Russia, China, South Africa, India, Brazil, Lebanon, Nigeria and Gabon), thus forcing the US to veto the application if it wanted to stop the Palestinian move. Such an exercise of the veto would have served to expose the hypocritical rhetoric of the US about its commitment to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, damage further still its standing in the Arab world and beyond, accelerate the process of the delegitimisation of the zionist state, and given added momentum to the struggle of the Palestinian people for national liberation and self- determination.
As it was, France decided to abstain, no doubt under pressure from the US, leaving the Palestinians to take the matter to the General Assembly, where they have overwhelming support.
Whereas last year Obama spoke of “promise and determination to advance Palestinian statehood” in his address to the UN General Assembly, this year he threatened to veto the Palestinian bid for statehood if the Palestinians dared to approach the SC, saying that it was only negotiations between the contending parties, not a UN resolution, that could deliver a Palestinian state.
The 44th president of the US found it convenient not to answer the question on everyone’s mind: Why have 17 years of negotiations failed to deliver such a state? Why, instead, have these been 17 years of further colonisation of Palestinian lands, which have rendered the two-state solution pretty-well obsolete?
Well, the Palestinians have dared to defy the mighty US and handed in their application for membership to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. This move has caused a mixture of gloating and anger in the zionist and imperialist camp. Haaretz, the most popular Israeli daily, had this to say on 23 September 2011: “Ostensibly Israel has reasons to celebrate. Obama’s speech [at the UN] sounded more zionist than ever. The Palestinian leadership is on a collision course with the United States and the PLO Secretary General Yasser Abed Rabbo said yesterday … that the Americans would no longer be able to mediate between Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.”
While the New York Times disparaged a UN vote on Palestinian membership as “ruinous”, the Wall Street Journal condemned it as “another tool in [the Palestinians’] perpetual campaign to harass, delegitimise and ultimately destroy Israel”. The Journal has good reason to worry, for public opinion, even in the leading imperialist countries, has come round to supporting the recognition of a Palestinian state.
A recent BBC survey, based on interviews with 20,446 people in 19 countries, revealed that 49 percent of the respondents came down in favour of recognition of a Palestinian state, with fewer than 21 percent wanting their government to oppose the move. In France, Britain, Germany, and crucially the US (taken as a single block), 45 percent supported such recognition, while 36 percent opposed it. In France, 54 percent were in favour and only 20 percent against recognition; in Britain and Germany (again taken as one block), 54 percent favoured recognition. And given the origin of the poll, the real numbers in favour are likely to be far higher than those reflected here.
On 22 September, a day after the Palestinian President made his presentation on the UN podium in New York, the International Herald Tribune was obliged to concede on its front page that: “In bringing his case to the United Nations despite US pressure, Mr Abbas has captivated the annual General Assembly gathering.”
Thus it is clear that Israeli intransigence, aggression, brutality and racism have managed to create a solid base of support for the cause of Palestinian liberation, while at the same time contributing to the delegitimisation of the racist, theocratic state of Israel. And the US’s unreserved backing for zionism has contributed enormously to an exposure of the hypocrisy and hollowness of the ‘democratic’ rhetoric of US imperialism and its pretended concern for human values, freedom, democracy and human rights.
People everywhere can see through the double standards of the US by comparing its stance towards Israeli brutality on the one hand, and its hostility to the Syrian regime’s attempts to defend itself against an armed reactionary uprising inspired, aided and funded by imperialism and the reactionary Arab states and Turkey on the other.
Palestinians are certainly not deceived by US rhetoric, for 83 percent of them all across the world, according to polls conducted by western organisations, have shown their enthusiastic support for the UN bid.
In another blow to Israel and the US, on Monday 31 October Unesco, the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organisation, became the first UN body to admit Palestine as a full member state. In defiance of strong diplomatic opposition from the US and Israel, 107 members voted to admit Palestine. Only 14 countries voted against membership, while 52 abstained.
Mohammed Shatayyeh, a senior advisor to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said: “I think the international community has spoken loudly,” adding: “There are more than 100 countries that want to see an independent Palestinian state, an end to the occupation and Palestine as a member of international organisations.”
The response of the US to the admission of Palestine into the ranks of Unesco was the prompt withdrawal of the US’s financial contribution to this body; Unesco receives $643m every two years, of which the US share accounts for $80m – 22 percent of its operating budget. Under US law, Washington is forbidden from funding any UN body that permits Palestine to join as a member state. So much then for the US’s commitment to a two-state solution!
The Unesco decision poses a serious diplomatic challenge to the US administration, which finds itself in splendid isolation in its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Washington finds itself face to face with the dilemma of how to maintain its relations with the wider UN system – particularly if the Palestinians pursue their promise to seek membership of other UN bodies, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and crucially the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The cessation of US funding would have some extremely interesting and unintended consequences of hurting some core US interests, as for example, education projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, aimed at stabilising the situation in those countries in the interests of imperialism, which have been supported hitherto by Unesco. In a cable of 4 November 2011, Ban Ki-moon stated that “The efforts of Palestinians to enter other organisations in the world body, once they succeeded in entering Unesco, benefit no-one,”adding, “millions and millions of people could be affected if UN agencies see their funding reduced as a result of Palestinian efforts”.
The perverse reasoning and the servility underlying the above statement are simply breath-taking. That this first international civil servant should behave in such a disgusting way is proof enough that he is unfit to hold this office. If he openly wants to be a flunkey of imperialism, he ought to try some other job. According to Ban’s logic, the problem of Unesco’s funding arises not because the Americans have withdrawn funding in anger at the decision of well over 100 countries to vote for Palestine’s admission, but because the Palestinians exercised their right to join this body in the first place!!
It is instructive to note too that the vote on 31 October revealed deep divisions within the EU on Middle East policy. While France voted in favour of Palestinian membership, Germany voted against and Britain abstained.
Israel’s response to the vote was to accelerate the building of settlements in the occupied territories and to stop financial transfers to the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli cabinet resolved to speed up the tender of 2,000 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, of which 1,650 new units are to be built in East Jerusalem.
The Israeli government also decided to halt the transfer of the tax and customs revenue that it collects on behalf of the PA, amounting to some $100m and accounting for 70 percent of its total revenue. As 58 percent of the PA’s budget goes to pay public-sector workers, many of whom support large extended families, the result of this inhumane decision will undoubtedly fall harshly on a large number of already impoverished Palestinians.
Western diplomats, alarmed at Israel’s recklessness, have warned that the zionists are ‘playing with fire’ by refusing to transfer the funds they owe, for this refusal poses an existential threat to the PA at a time when political frustration and disillusionment among the Palestinian masses is rising sharply. According to a western diplomat, Israel was seriously underestimating the increasing readiness of Palestinians to dump a financially emasculated PA.
If this were to happen, the Palestinian people would be forced to resort to a third Intifada, for they know from bitter experience that the zionist rulers of Israel and their backers in Washington only understand the language of force.
This is clearly shown by the recent prisoner exchange between Hamas and the Israeli government. On Tuesday 18 October, Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, taken prisoner in a cross-border raid by the Gaza-based resistance in June 2006, was released. At the same time, Israel completed the first stage of its side of the deal by freeing 477 Palestinian prisoners into Egypt, from where they were taken to Gaza, the West Bank or third countries. A further 550 are to be released shortly.
Jubilant crowds gathered in Gaza and the West Bank to greet the released detainees. Hamas declared a public holiday in Gaza. Tens of thousands of Gazans gathered at a mass rally at a central square in Gaza City to hear Hamas leaders and some of the newly-freed Palestinians. Likewise in the West Bank town of Ramallah tens of thousands of joyful people massed outside the headquarters of the PA to greet prisoners and hear speeches by President Abbas, the Fatah leader, and Hassan Youssef, a senior member of Hamas, in a show of unity alarming to Israel and the US alike.
The prisoner swap was the culmination of five years of negotiations between Israel and Hamas, during which time Israel has subjected Gaza to a genocidal blockade in an attempt to dislodge its leaders, as well as launching a full-scale military invasion in December 2008. That bloody massacre, one of whose aims was to secure the release of Mr Shalit, claimed the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians. But the Palestinians stood their ground.
Some of the detainees released had served more than 30 years in Israeli concentration camps. There are still 6,000 Palestinian prisoners languishing in these dungeons, 21 of them elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Of these, 256 are under the age of 18 and 34 are women. Many of them are confined to solitary cells and denied visits by their lawyers and family members. Their only hope of release is further struggle on the part of the Palestinian people.
On his release, Mr Shalit gave an interview to an Egyptian reporter, in which he expressed the hope that the prisoner swap agreement would help spur peace between Palestinians and Israelis. This decent sentiment is only too likely to be ignored by the colonialist rulers of Israel until such time as the Palestinians, through struggle, force the Israeli establishment to realise that their time is up, and that the days of colonialism are well past their sell-by date.
Victory to Palestine!