There is a way out of the hell to which the Palestinian masses have been consigned by Israel. Jack Conrad outlines a communist approach
Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, has not been finished off by the Israeli military’s 52-day onslaught. Though around 1,400 Palestinians have been killed – doubtless including many Hamas leaders, members and fighters – its standing is probably higher than ever. Recruits will flock to join Hamas … and not only in Gaza.
Israel’s generals, security bureaucrats and war cabinet surely never aimed to destroy Hamas. So why did the Israeli government agree to give the go-ahead for opening full-scale hostilities on December 27 2008? Qassam and Grad rockets launched against southern Israel had little or nothing to do with it. Militarily they are utterly insignificant. An exasperated but futile protest against Israel’s continued blockade of Gaza and a desperate propagandistic gesture of Islamic defiance.
However, within Israel, Hamas rockets did provide convenient political cover to excuse daily air raids and, on January 3, the entry of ground forces. As calculated, the whole operation netted widespread support amongst the Jewish Israeli population. Approval ratings stood at over 90% throughout. With a general election pending on February 10 – from which Arab parties are banned – this counts as a stunning success. Tzipi Livni, vice-prime minister, foreign minister and leader of Kadima, wants, along with other ministers in Ehud Olmert’s coalition government, to be seen to be tough on Hamas and tough on the Palestinians.
Then there was the November-January interregnum between the outgoing and incoming administrations of George W Bush and Barack Obama. With a power vacuum paralysing Washington, the Israeli political establishment saw a golden opportunity to set the short to middle-term agenda in the Middle East.
There could have been a high-risk air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israeli hawks noisily clamour for a “pre-emptive” strike to stop Iran building nuclear weapons. Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the rightwing party, Israel Beitenu, says that “to accept an Iranian nuclear bomb in 2010 is like accepting Hitler’s election in 1933. A nuclear Iran is like Hitler with nuclear weapons.”1 As things turned out, it was Hamas that was singled out. Far nearer at hand and a far easier victim for the Israeli Defence Force to pummel, make an example of and thus redeem its tarnished reputation after the ignominious 2006 failure in Lebanon.
Another calculation. In the longer term Israel has every interest in making life so intolerable, so humiliating, so insecure for the native Arab population that another bout of forcible ethnic-cleaning would be accompanied by a voluntary exodus from Gaza and the West Bank and Israel itself.
Far-right nationalist and religious Zionists crazily envisage a greater Israel – based on various biblical passages: Genesis, Numbers, Ezikiel. At its largest extent their Land of Israel stretches from the Nile to the Euphrates.2 Of course, any such Israel would come with a poisoned chalice. An oppressed Arab majority. The Zionist conquistadors would have to permanently deny them elementary democratic rights. That or the newly acquired Arab population would have to be driven out in their many millions.
Such grotesque fantasies aside, present-day Israel is the last ongoing colonial-settler project. The aliyah (in Hebrew ‘ascent’ – or migration to Israel) therefore constitutes a fundamental part of the Zionist programme and is enshrined in Israel’s ‘law of return’ (enacted by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in July 1950). Any Jew, no matter where they live, no matter how dubious their Jewish antecedence, has the legal right to assisted settlement in Israel, as well as automatic citizenship.
A heterogeneous mixture of the genuinely desperate, the cruelly duped, secular dreamers, religious fanatics and cheap adventurers have come to the promised land over the years. Between 1948 and 1992 Israel took in 2,242,500 Jewish migrants. The bulk from eastern Europe – displaced by Word War II – the centres of Jewry in the Arab world and the Soviet Union. Nowadays, however, the flow of migrants has reduced to a mere trickle: mainly they come from the former Soviet Union, North America and Ethiopia.
Remarkably, some 85% of Ethiopia’s Jewish population, the Falasha or Habashim, 120,000 of them so far, have gone to Israel under the law of return. Though some bitterly complain of discrimination and that amongst Jews they occupy the lowest economic position, there can be no doubt that since 1985 the Israeli state has gone to extraordinary lengths to facilitate their migration and subsequent assimilation. In 1984-85 10,000 Ethiopian Jews, victims of famine, were airlifted to Israel via Sudan.
Israel needs people. Or, put more accurately, Israel needs Jewish people. Even a little Israel goes hand in hand with Jewish immigration and conflict with and expulsion of the Palestinian natives. All keenly felt and bitterly resented throughout the Arab world.
There are over 4.5 million UN-registered Palestinian refugees – in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.3 There is also a Palestinian diaspora living in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Britain, Germany, Chile, Argentina, the US and many more countries besides. Meanwhile, Israel’s remaining 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs are treated as second-class citizens. Officially, after all, Israel was founded as and continues to be a Jewish state.
Since 1967 Israel’s main arms supplier has been the US. Before that it was France. Not that there was an instant love affair between the two countries. George Marshall, president Harry S Truman’s secretary of state, was more than cool about recognising Israel in May 1948. Nor was John Foster Dulles, Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of state, pro-Israel. It was the rise of Arab nationalism and the turn towards the Soviet Union instigated by Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser (1918-70), that led to a US shift. From 1958 the US-Israel alliance slowly expanded in scope, considerably deepened after the Six Day War of 1967 and then took its present form after the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the Egyptian-Israeli 1979 peace treaty.4
US aid to Israel amounted to $3.2 billion in the years from 1949-73. In the 1974-97 period it amounted to $75 billion. Today Washington financially underwrites Israel and provides a huge military aid package worth $3 billion annually. In return for imperial sponsorship, Israel acts as the regional guard dog (a region which not insignificantly possesses something like 50% of the world’s readily accessible oil reserves).
Those on the left who welcomed the election of Barack Obama – the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, George Galloway, Stop the War Coalition – because they hope he will chart a fundamentally different, peaceful, more even-handed course in the Middle East, will be sadly disappointed. US imperialism is in relative decline, world capitalism faces the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s and with the Keynesian emergency rescue programmes national antagonisms are bound to become more acute. Structural causes of war.
Obama is, of course, committed to upholding “Christian values” – though “intellectually”, he says, he has “drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith”.5 Obama will surely continue George W Bush’s policy of unwavering support for Israel. Indeed he has been perfectly candid about this: “I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon … Let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally, Israel”.6 Obama’s choice of White House chief of staff is instructive. Rahm Emanuel’s father was a fervent supporter of the Irgun terrorist group and he himself has a long and active pro-Israeli record.7
Since 1947-48 Israel has repeatedly fought, invaded and defeated its Arab neighbours: the Gaza war being only the most recent example of Israeli aggression. Its armed forces are vastly superior, compared with any Arab country or any conceivable combination of them. Armchair generals rank Israel as the fourth or fifth most powerful state on the face of the planet.
Territorially Palestinian politics are cleaved between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah on the West Bank. Two statelets for one people. Uncompromisingly, the 1988 Hamas charter demands an end to the Zionist state of Israel and its replacement by a single Islamic state of Palestine. True, though Hamas doggedly refuses to recognise Israel, it has offered a “long-term truce” in return for Israel withdrawing from all territories it has occupied since 1967. Yet Israel has no wish to treat with Hamas. After the Hamas landslide victory in the January 2006 Palestine Authority elections and the Fatah June coup in the West Bank, Israel imposed its asphyxiating blockade on Gaza.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – dominated by Fatah – plead for peace and what they still credit as a two-state solution. The PLO’s present line dates back to 1988, when the demand for a return to the status quo ante 1948 was formally abandoned. Fatah had been steadily moving in this direction since the mid-70s, however, the real turning point was the US-brokered Oslo accord, signed in August 1993 by PLO chairman Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (1922-95). The PLO effectively conceded Israeli hegemony over the whole of mandate Palestine in return for limited self-government in Gaza and the West Bank. Abject surrender. The vital questions of Jewish settlements and the right of Palestinians to return to their lands were put aside. A diplomatic coup for Israel.
Nowadays PLO leaders say they would accept a West Bank and Gaza solution – with “minor” adjustments, including Israeli control over the new and much extended Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem. Palestinian refugees are to have the “right of return” only to this “demilitarised” state.8
Israeli politics are notoriously fragmented. At least a dozen parties, coalitions and blocs are represented in the Knesset. But virtually the entire Israeli Jewish spectrum oppose any kind of democratic settlement with the Palestinians. The nationalist and religious hard right has absolutely no truck with Palestinian statehood. Centrists and liberals pay lip service. Only the left, the peace camp, seems serious about a two-state solution: and that means Palestinians getting the West Bank and Gaza, and nothing more. Note that working class politics in Israel, to the extent that it exists, are still those of a labour aristocracy.
Amongst imperialist politicians the aim is transparently clear. Isolate Hamas. Neutralise Palestinian militancy. Persuade their leaders and opinion-makers to accept the legitimacy of the Zionist state. Let the exile and refugee camp population resign themselves to defeat. In other words, never-ending subordination and a bifurcated statelet or, even more likely, a series of disconnected, impoverished reservations.
That is what Tony Blair’s mission on behalf of the Quartet – USA, European Union, United Nations and Russia – amounts to. Meanwhile, Israeli-Jewish settlements and outposts on the West Bank proliferate and expand. Conditions of the Palestinian masses continue to deteriorate. There are well over 460,000 Israeli citizens living on the West Bank (including east Jerusalem).
Built on less than 3% of the land, due to the extensive network of settler ‘corridor’ roads and restrictions on Palestinian access, Israeli settlements now “dominate more than 40% of the West Bank”. Then there is Israel’s so-called security wall. It has annexed 56 settlements, incorporating 76% of the settler population. That and the “matrix of settlements” cuts the West Bank up into four ‘cantons’.9
Left in Britain
Conventionally, in Britain at least, what passes for the mainstream left damns Zionism as almost akin to fascism. Ignoring the history, power, connections and wishes of the Israeli-Jewish population, there is the call for the abolition of Israel and a single state of Palestine.
Jews, most of whom consider themselves secular, will paradoxically be allowed religious freedom, but not national rights under most such schemes. There are some 5.5 million Israeli Jews. About 10-11 million Palestinians worldwide; but only 6-7 million of them live in Israel, the occupied territories, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
It is fair to say, then, that the projected single Palestinian state would include roughly equivalent numbers of Hebrews and Arabs. Presuming, that is, there is no forcible movement of peoples. No attempt to drive the Jews into the sea. No closure of refugee camps and dumping of Palestinians over the other side of the border by Lebanon (where they suffer discrimination and are barely tolerated). No rescinding of citizenship rights and mass deportation from Jordan (where Palestinians are highly integrated). No round-up and expulsion of Palestinian workers in Saudi Arabia, etc.
At its most perverted, the call for the destruction of Israel by the left in Britain – as noted above, long since abandoned by Fatah and the PLO – blurs over into the kind of anti-semitism preached in the 19th century by Mikhail Bakunin. Eg, under Gerry Healy (1913-89), the Workers Revolutionary Party and its colour daily paper Newsline pumped out an endless stream of demented nonsense, much with “strongly anti-semitic undertones” (quote from an internal investigation conducted by a special commission of the International Committee of the Fourth International – a body which till then had been run and controlled by the WRP). ‘Zionist’ was used as a code word for ‘Jew’.
The call for a single Palestinian state “may seem completely utopian”, owns up the Socialist Workers Party’s Alex Callinicos. He also correctly states: “For over 30 years the Palestinian movement, supported by much of the left and progressive opinion worldwide, has had an official policy” for two states. Undaunted, he claims, however, that there is “very clear evidence that the two-state solution cannot work”. Crucially, there exists, he says, the “massive imbalance of power between the two sides. Israel is one of the greatest military powers in the world, backed and subsidised by the US”.10
He is right. Well, at least when it comes to the balance of power. The contrast between Israel and the Palestinian side could hardly be greater. The remit of the Palestinian Authority now only extends to the Palestinian ‘cantons’ of the West Bank. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority is financially dependent on a drip feed provided by outside powers such as the European Union. A drip feed which can be cut off at a whim (as Hamas in Gaza soon discovered). Israeli policy is calculated to maintain this massive imbalance – to keep the Palestinians weak, dependent and prone.
Yet to argue on this basis that a two-state solution cannot work is akin to arguing that the left in the second half of the 19th century was wrong to have campaigned for Irish independence. After all, Britain was then the world’s pre-eminent economic and naval power and had a population some 10 times larger than Ireland’s. Even without the 1921 division, Ireland would have remained economically dependent on and militarily vulnerable to its mighty neighbour.
Of course, the two-state solution fought for by Karl Marx, Fredrick Engels and the First International was primarily about establishing independent working class politics in Britain. If they are to become a ruling class, workers must first have their own foreign policy. That, by definition, necessitated standing against the oppression of other nations.
Hence it is pertinent to ask exactly who is going to establish the single Palestinian state. In other words, we come to the vital matter of agency. After all, according to no less than comrade Callinicos himself, the Palestinians are incapable of achieving any kind of viable state alongside Israel by their efforts alone. Perhaps what the SWP envisages is a combination of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood governments in Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
An anti-working class agency if ever there was one. Such a pan-Islamic alliance would hardly produce a secular Palestinian state. Nor would it produce a democratic Palestinian state. True, if such an unlikely conjuncture were to happen – and, just as unlikely, achieve military victory over Israel – it would probably trigger a mass exodus of Jews. Weyman Bennett, of the SWP’s central committee, would doubtless welcome such an outcome. On the January 10 2009 Gaza demonstration in London he was heard shouting, “Smash capitalism, smash Israel” and demanding that Israeli Jews “should go back to where they came from … New York or wherever.”11 But neither the military nor the international balance of forces can be wished away. A simple statement of fact.
No democratic solution can be won without the consent of Israeli Jews, or at least a considerable swathe of them. Yet the fact is, despite the warnings, pained outrage and courage of Israeli-Jewish socialists, anti-Zionists and pacifists, the population at large consistently, often overwhelmingly, supports the wars of their political masters, irrespective of the hatred of Israel that this inevitably engenders.
Why? Israel is a colonial-settler state and all such states face a fundamental problem. What to do with the people whose land has been robbed? During the wars of 1947-49 and 1967 well over a million Palestinians fled or were forcibly driven out and those who remain – constituting some 20% of its population – form a disaffected underclass of second-class citizens.
Both the Palestinian enemy within and the Palestinian enemy without engender a state of insecurity. Israeli Jews collectively and individually live alongside those whom they have dispossessed. Understandably, the Israeli-Jewish population feels under constant threat and therefore – frightened, insecure, maddened – willingly supports, urges on even the most misjudged acts of Israeli aggression, oppression and state terrorism. The hope is to crush or finally remove the Palestinians. An oppressor’s peace.
Does it follow that Israel cannot make peace with the Palestinians? That any Israeli settlement with the Palestinians is bound to be phoney? There can certainly be no democratic settlement with Israel as a Zionist state – any more than there can be with an Islamic Palestine. Nevertheless, the Israeli-Jewish people, the Hebrew nation, is a real, living entity and cannot be dismissed or discounted, just because Israel began and continues as a settler colonial state – albeit not of the standard kind (migrants to Israel originate not mainly from a single home country). Zionism is, of course, a nationalism sui generis. While it now boasts a homeland, Zionism claims purchase over the loyalty of all Jews: ie, the majority of the people-religion who do not live in Israel and who do not speak Hebrew.
Israel emerges out of the last phase of the British empire, covered with the blood, grime and dirt of unforgivable crimes. No-one should forget. That said, there is no reason for refusing to recognise the definite, historically constituted Hebrew nation which took state form with the May 14 1948 declaration of Israeli independence and the nakba.
Since then millions of Jews have migrated to Israel, learnt Hebrew, intermarried, had children, assimilated and made and remade the Israeli-Jewish nation. This recent historical phenomenon has to be distinguished from the much older and much wider Jewish people-religion. The Israeli-Jewish nation inhabits the territory of Israel and uses Hebrew as its everyday language.
Of course, most, if not all, the world’s states came into existence by way of ghastly oppression. But, while fully taking into account history, any consistently democratic programme must be squarely based on contemporary realities – crucially human facts on the ground – not on abstract, futile or potentially cataclysmic attempts to turn back the clock.
Abolition of Zionist Israel, terminating the legal privileges granted to Jews, halting expansionism and ending the oppression of the Palestinians are basic democratic demands. None of that, however, should be taken as synonymous with an eviscerating reconstruction of the pre-1948 situation. One might just as well call for the abolition of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc, and a return of lands to the enfeebled remnants of the aboriginal populations.
The only realistic, progressive and humane programme must be based on a mutual recognition by both Palestinians and Israeli Jews of each other’s national rights. Needless to say, it would be an excellent thing if both nations chose to happily live side by side in a binational secular state or, even better, to merge together in a single, centralised state. Why on earth would any rational human being wish to oppose either such outcome? The question is, though, how to arrive at the desired destination? Given where we are situated today, our discussion must necessarily include process as well as agency.
For Islamists like Hamas, and sadly for much of the left in Britain, what Israeli Jews want matters not a jot – the Hebrew nation is an artificial implant, an ally of US imperialism and from the start has oppressed the Palestinians. Therefore, so the argument goes, Israeli Jews have no right to determine the kind of state they wish to live under. Hence we find either explicit or implicit plans for – or, more likely, dreams of – military conquest (which serve in practice to perpetuate national divisions).
Let us imagine, for the sake of argument, that such an outcome was on the cards. Israeli Jews would not meekly accept it. They would in all probability desperately fight, with all means at their disposal … and at huge cost in terms of economic disruption and human suffering. There is also, of course, the consequent certainty that a single Palestinian state born from a violent caesarean operation, would, as Karl Kautsky warned in 1921, merely see the poles of oppression reversed.12 Israeli Jews would become dispossessed second-class citizens.
However, as the more realistic proponents of a single Palestinian state readily admit, Israel cannot be disposed of so easily. Yes, Israel is allied to the most powerful nation on earth and is a regional superpower in its own right (the IDF’s inability to destroy Hezbollah in the 2006 Lebanon war does not detract from that).
Furthermore, the majority of Israeli Jews are fanatically nationalistic. Under present circumstances they would not even consider a single Palestinian state, within which “minorities” – not least they, the Israeli-Jewish half of the population – are to be given “full” religious but not national rights: that is, the right to self-determination, up to and including the right to separate. The whole of the 20th century since 1933, but especially the 1943-45 holocaust, ensures that. Without military conquest – a highly unlikely and in and of itself an unwelcome outcome – the immediate demand for a single-state solution is both unhelpful and illusory.13 While the demand sounds reassuringly militant, it offers precious little in terms of bringing about a rapprochement between the two peoples and advancing working class interests.
A democratic solution
Needless to say, ours is not a solution to be negotiated by or presided over by Kadima and Fatah or Likud and Hamas. Progressive Israeli Jews must be won to champion the right of Palestinians to a separate state, which evidently, if it is to be viable, must cover a much larger area than Gaza and the West Bank. Everything – population numbers, socio-economic coherence, historical wrongs, national antagonisms – demands a contiguous Palestinian state. A state which joins Gaza and the West Bank and has east Jerusalem as its capital.
Progressive Palestinians must likewise champion the right of Israeli Jews to a separate, non-Zionist state centred on eastern Judea, the coastal Akko, Sharon and the Philistean plain and Galilee. That is where the vast majority of Israeli Jews live. Whether Tel Aviv (Israel’s cultural and economic centre) or west Jerusalem serves as the capital can be left open-ended. Tel Aviv is the obvious choice. Anyway, only on such a reciprocal basis is it possible to overcome national antagonisms and look forward to the eventual unity of the two peoples.
Both states must, of course, be democratic and secular. Appropriate rights must be accorded to minorities. And there are linguistic, religious and ethnic minorities in both proposed states: Palestinian Arabs in the new Israel, Hebrews in the new Palestine. And let us not forget the Arab Christians, Bedouins, Druze and Muslim Circassians who would also live in both states. The suggestion that communists call for ‘pure’ national-religious states – Israeli-Jewish and/or Muslim Palestinian – is either malign misrepresentation or the result of sheer ignorance. There are few, if any, ‘pure’ states and the left should always support/advocate the deepest and widest voluntary unity of peoples that objective circumstances permit.
So without doubt the Israeli-Jewish state we advocate will include within its borders minorities which should be voluntarily assimilated and therefore not discriminated against. Those who cannot, or will not, grasp this elementary point, desert not just Marxism, but basic common sense. In addition, there must be substantial compensation for the Palestinian people from the state of Israel. They should be compensated for the historic injustice they have suffered and be hauled out of poverty. That means financial transfers, building programmes, redirecting water supplies, the return of land, etc.
No democratic solution for the Israel/Palestine conflict can be achieved in isolation. Objective circumstances simply do not permit it. That is as certain as anything can be certain in this uncertain world.
Top Israeli politicians either implicitly threaten yet another bout of horrible ethnic-cleansing, or, at best, offer a so-called two-state solution whereby Palestinians are left with nothing but Gaza and a “cantonised” West Bank. Sad to say, the leaders of Kadima, Shas, Likud, National Union, Labour, etc are thoroughly representative. There can be no doubt about it. A clear majority of the Israeli population, including the trade unions and the working class, desire an oppressor’s peace. Polls show most Israeli Jews – ie, 64% of respondents – want to see Israeli Arabs removed from the country.14
By themselves the Palestinians – debilitatingly split between Hamas and Fatah – palpably lack the ability to achieve anything beyond abject surrender or hopeless resistance. Certainly not a single Palestinian state where Israeli Jews have “full” religious rights but no national rights (advocated by the SWP, etc). Nor, for that matter, two geographically roughly equal democratic and secular states (which this writer favours). Economic resources, military power and international connections all massively favour the Israeli side and militate against the Palestinians.
Hence the question of agency and the determining relationship between means and ends. A democratic, two-state solution for Israel/Palestine must be seen as part of the process of creating a progressive counterbalance to US power in the region.
In isolation, establishing two secular, democratic republics – one in a redrawn Israel, the other in a redrawn Palestine – would be constantly blocked and undermined. In the first place, of course, by the existing Israeli regional guard dog. That failing (an unlikely event), US imperialism would intervene, using its full might (the same applies to a single Palestinian state imposed against the will of the majority of Israel’s population).
There is, however, a way to cut through the Gordian knot. Widen the strategic front. There are nearly 300 million Arabs in a contiguous territory that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean, across north Africa, down the Nile to north Sudan, and all the way to the Persian Gulf and up to the Caspian Sea.
Though studded here and there with national minorities – Kurds, Assyrians, Turks, Armenians, Berbers, etc – there is a definite Arab or Arabised community. Despite being separated into 25 different states and divided by religion and religious sect – Sunni, Shi’ite, Alaouite, Ismaili, Druze, Orthodox Christian, Catholic Christian, Maronite, Nestorian, etc – they share a strong bond of pan-Arab consciousness, born not only of a common language, but of a closely related history.
Arabs are binational. There are Moroccans, Yemenis, Egyptians, Jordanians, etc. But there is also a wider Arab identity which has its origins going back to the Muslim conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries.
The most well known candidate for Arab unifier was Nasser. This uncrowned Bonaparte led the Free Officers’ revolution in 1952, which overthrew the pro-British monarchy of Farouk I. Nasser then oversaw a radical agrarian reform programme, nationalised the Suez canal, allied Egypt with the Soviet Union and put his country on the course of state-capitalist development. This went hand in hand with crushing both the Muslim Brotherhood and the working class movement.
Nasser called it ‘Arab socialism’. Especially with his success in the 1956 crisis – an Israeli invasion followed by a pre-planned joint French and British intervention and then an unexpected American veto – Nasser’s popularity soared throughout the Arab world. Pro-Nasser Arab socialist parties, groups and conspiracies were sponsored or established themselves. His name became almost synonymous with pan-Arabism.
Nasser demanded that natural resources be used for the benefit of all Arabs. Hugely popular with those below. Everyone knew he meant oil. Of course, the house of Saud instantly became an implacable enemy. Yet because of mass pressure the Ba’athist authorities in Syria sought a merger. Despite the repression suffered by their co-thinkers in Egypt, the ‘official communists’ and the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood likewise favoured unity.
The United Arab Republic was formed on February 1 1958. Nasser was appointed president and Cairo became the capital. Yet the UAR proved fleeting. Syrian capitalists did not gain access to the Egyptian market and Egyptian administrative personnel were painted by Syrian officers, bureaucrats and top politicians as acting like colonial officials. The union ignominiously collapsed in 1961. Opposition came from the Damascus street. However, from then onwards the UAR became a hollow pretence. It united no other country apart from Egypt.
The 1967 Six Day war with Israel proved to be the final straw for Nasserism. Israel’s blitzkrieg destroyed the airforces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan on the ground and by the end of the short-lived hostilities Israel occupied the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Nasser was humiliated and died soon after a broken man.
Evidently, Arab reunification remains a burning, but unfulfilled task. The fact that Nasser’s short-lived UAR saw the light of day is testimony to mass support for Arab unity. What was a potent sentiment in the 1950s and well into the 1970s needs to be revived in the 21st century and given a new democratic and class content.
Communists need to take the lead in the fight for pan-Arab unity. A task inseparable from the struggle for socialist revolution and the formation of mass Marxist parties – first in each Arab country and then throughout the Arab world. A Communist Party of Arabia.
What of reconciliation between Israeli Jews and the Palestinians? In my opinion this can only happen in the context of ending the US-UK occupation of Iraq, sweeping away the House of Saud, the petty Gulf sheikdoms, the corrupt regimes in Egypt, Syria and Libya, the Hashemite kingdom in Jordan and the creation of a centralised Arab republic. The form we envisage for working class rule.
2. “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, the Kadomites, the Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis xv, 18-1).
3. www.un.org/unrwa/publications/pdf/rr_ countryandarea.pdf
4. See A Ben-Zvi Decade of transition: Eisenhower, Kennedy and the origins of the American- Israeli alliance New York 1998.
6. www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2008/06/05/israel_backers_hear_obamas_vow_ of_ fidelity
7. See electronicintifada.net/v2/article9939.shtml
10. Socialist Worker August 5 2006.
11. Weekly Worker January 15.
13. J Rose Israel: the hijack state London 2003, p67.