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How can Palestine be liberated?

April 19, 2002 | Page 6

LEE SUSTAR looks at the struggle for a free Palestine.

UNDER THE guise of "destroying the terrorist infrastructure," the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have not only carried out massacres, but also wrecked the economy of what was supposed to become a Palestinian state.

Even before the onslaught that began at the end of last month, the World Bank was reporting that Israeli military "closures" of the West Bank and Gaza since October 2000 have led to unemployment levels of 33 percent and a decline in real income. Fully half the population of the Occupied Territories lives on less than $2 a day. And in recent weeks, IDF troops have destroyed factories, shops, offices, olive groves, electricity grids and water systems throughout the West Bank.

That fits Ariel Sharon's "minimum" aim--"to imprison the Palestinians in several enclaves…[where] Palestinians will be allowed to 'manage their own affairs,' supplying cheap labor and a captive market," wrote pro-peace Israeli activist Uri Avnery in an article quoted in the current New York Review of Books.

Even if Sharon is eventually forced to withdraw his invasion force and restart negotiations, Israel won't allow anything more than a powerless "mini-state" that Palestinian militants warned against decades ago.

Washington gave the green light for Sharon's butchery. Yet Palestinian leaders still look to the U.S. to guarantee the creation of a state. As if the Washington politicians planning a 300,000-strong invasion to impose a "regime change" in Iraq care about justice for Palestinians.

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THE U.S. government's real aim is to keep its grip on the oil-rich Middle East. There was a widespread understanding of this when the modern Palestinian liberation movement arose in the 1950s and 1960s. Palestinian socialists and communists argued that their struggle had to be part of a larger anti-imperialist movement in the Arab countries and around the world.

By the early 1970s, the left could pressure the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to advance the call for a secular and democratic Palestine--in which Jews, Arabs, Christians and Muslims would all have equal rights. The question was how to achieve this.

Armed resistance won victories in anticolonial struggles in Algeria, Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe in the 1960s and 1970s. In South Africa, the Black working class mobilized its social power against the racist apartheid system a decade ago.

But Palestinians had neither the military might nor the social weight to defeat Israel. And Israel's repeated military victories over Arab countries shattered the idea that supposedly progressive Arab nationalist governments in Egypt and Syria would help to achieve Palestinian liberation.

Ever since, the PLO has embraced both armed struggle and negotiation--"the gun and the olive branch," as Yasser Arafat once put it. Meanwhile, nationalist and monarchist Arab governments alike have made their peace with Israel.

Nevertheless, the PLO, not wishing to alienate "friendly" Arab governments, avoided appealing to Arab workers, who have long identified with the Palestinian cause.

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PALESTINIAN RESISTANCE reemerged in the late 1980s with the first uprising, or Intifada. But the U.S. victory in the Gulf War in 1991 and the collapse of the USSR soon afterward isolated the PLO. Moreover, formerly left-wing national liberation movements, from South Africa to Nicaragua, had embraced the free market and come to terms with U.S. imperialism.

The 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the PLO was a part of this retreat. "The PLO has transformed itself from a national liberation movement into a kind of small-town government, with the same handful of people still in command," wrote Palestinian intellectual and activist Edward Said.

As a result, the Palestinian Authority (PA) established by Oslo plays a contradictory role. On the one hand, it has collaborated with Israeli officials and the CIA to repress radical Islamist groups that criticize the PLO for selling out. But continued pressure from Israel--including the expansion of settlements in the Occupied Territories and the refusal of Palestinian refugees' right of return--forced Arafat and the PLO to put themselves at the head of a new Intifada.

Nevertheless, Arafat still operates within the framework of the "gun and the olive branch"--in the hopes of pressuring the U.S. to impose a solution. But U.S. support for Sharon's butchery shows how far Washington will go to support Israel.

Over the last 20 years, Israel's hard-line policies have led to a backlash within the country itself. Pacifist groups and military resisters organized against Israel's war in Lebanon and the brutality of the occupation.

But because these groups accept a Zionist state based on the exclusion of non-Jews, they oppose the democratic right of return for Palestinian refugees who were expelled when Israel was formed in 1948.

The only way to escape from these contradictions is to return to the perspective of a democratic and secular Palestine, with equal rights for all. Achieving this will mean confronting Israel, but also its backer, U.S. imperialism. It will also mean confronting the corrupt and dictatorial Arab states that collaborate with the U.S.

Most importantly, the struggle for a democratic and secular Palestine must be tied to the struggles of workers throughout the Middle East, as they confront authoritarian governments and the power of multinational oil giants.

In the context of an international revolutionary movement, the section of Israeli society that wants peace can come to accept genuine Palestinian liberation. The enormous pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the Arab world in recent weeks show the potential for this strategy--for linking the struggle for Palestinian liberation to the movement for a Middle East free of imperialism and national oppression.

That is the struggle for international socialism.

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