Thursday, January 29, 2009

Israel’s Massacre in Gaza: A Balance-Sheet of the Struggle

By Walter Leon
Thursday, 29 January 2009

Israel has recently declared a unilateral ceasefire, bringing to an end one of its bloodiest military incursions into the Gaza strip. As the dust settles, the scale of the devastation becomes clear: over 1,300 Palestinians lie dead, with estimates of the number wounded topping 5000. Much of Gaza's infrastructure lies in ruins, with power stations, water networks and sewage systems destroyed; homes, mosques and even schools have been reduced to rubble. According to the UN, the cost of rebuilding Gaza could run into billions of dollars [1].

The most obvious victims of this war (though to call such a one-sided conflict a war seems in bad taste) are the people of Gaza, whose terrible plight is difficult to imagine. Though it would be an insult to the people of Gaza to draw equivalence between their level of suffering and that of the people of Sderot, the situation for the residents of Israel's border towns should not be ignored. For them too, things have become highly unpleasant: three of their number have been killed, and their lives have been blighted by the constant threat of rocket-fire.

But what of Hamas and the Israeli ruling class? And for that matter, where does this leave the interests of US imperialism?

Defeat for Hamas

Despite official proclamations of a "popular victory" [2], Hamas has been severely weakened. Although Israel failed to completely destroy them, many of their best cadres have been killed, including members of the so-called ‘Iran-unit', composed of a hundred or so guerrilla fighters trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard [3]. In marked contrast, Israel suffered no real military damage, losing a mere ten soldiers.

Even Israel's failure to recover Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier, is of secondary importance - it will not be long before his release is negotiated. When Israel's bombardment was at its fiercest, Hamas was conducting secret negotiations with Israel (via Egyptian mediation), and when Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire, Hamas didn't take long to declare one of their own.

Despite Hamas' absurd claim of victory, this defeat leaves them in a position where they will be forced to accept a deal largely on Israel's terms. It is instructive that hardly anyone turned up to the victory parade organised by Hamas in Gaza City [4].

Indeed, the deal being negotiated between Hamas and Egypt is tantamount to a surrender by the organisation. As Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff write in Haaretz [5]:

"The Egyptian proposal is mostly bad for Hamas. It doesn't let the organization bring the Palestinian public any political achievement that would justify the blood that has been spilled, and even forces on it the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, in the form of its renewed presence at the Rafah crossing (as a condition for its reopening).

"Once the cease-fire is reached, the IDF will withdraw from the positions it captured in Gaza, and only then will the two sides begin to discuss the opening of border crossings and removal of the blockade, which was the reason Hamas gave for waging war. The most that Cairo is offering is a timetable for the opening of the crossing points, and even that depends on negotiations due to begin after the cease-fire is reached, and it's tough to know how or when they will end."

So Hamas is prepared to accept its border crossings being under the control of the Palestinian Authority, which has many times shown itself prepared to do Israel's dirty work policing the Palestinian masses, and even foreign powers: according to a report in al-Sharq al-Awsetv [6], Hamas will accept the crossings being monitored by ‘international observers'. Israel will insist on preventing weapons being taken into Gaza, and Hamas will be in no position to oppose this.

So, instead of self-determination, Hamas is preparing to settle for being regulated (and effectively disarmed) by the occupier and its stooges. Why? Because they want to be seen as ‘responsible' by the imperialists. Its attacks on Sderot and other towns, designed to increase its bargaining power, are mere pin-pricks on the Israeli state.

Such a movement as Hamas, tightly controlled from the top, suppressing any dissent (let us not forget that one of Hamas' first actions upon taking control of Gaza was to attack the offices of the Palestinian Trade Union Federation), and alienating potential support amongst Israel's own poor and downtrodden, is completely incapable of building the sort of mass movement needed to threaten imperialism and its local stooges.

Like the PLO before it, Hamas will likely come to some sort of accommodation with the occupier in return for a limited degree of autonomy. This will expose the internal contradictions within the movement. Just as when the PLO was negotiating the Olso Accords with Israel, the more hard-line Tanzim (centred around jailed leader Marwan Barghouti) broke away, factions opposed to the current sell-out will split from Hamas. (This has already begun to happen - a dissident faction of Hamas has just set of a bomb near the Gaza border, killing one Israeli soldier.)

However, these factions will in the end offer no real alternative. (For instance, Barghouti has repeatedly signalled his willingness to negotiate with Israel.) Hamas and the PLO don't collaborate with Israel because of some elaborately worked-out plan or conspiracy - they do it because the logic of their movements prevents them ever mobilising a mass base, and so the failure of their ‘armed struggle' (i.e. attacks on civilians) to dent Israeli power leaves them with no option but to sell out in the hope of receiving a few crumbs in return.

A Pyrrhic Victory for Israel

At first, this war seems like an overwhelming victory for Israel. Having pulverised Gaza and slaughtered its inhabitants at will, Israel has severely weakened Hamas as a force, and most probably made it much more pliant at the negotiating table. However, for all their military bluster, they have failed to stop the rocket attacks on southern Israel: the first rocket since the ‘ceasefire' was fired on Wednesday night from the refugee camp of el-Bureij, and landed at Kibbutz Re'im, in the southern Israeli Eshkol region [7]. In reality, Israel is acting from a position of weakness, not strength. For a start, notice how Israel delayed launching a ground offensive until relatively late into Operation Cast Lead, indicating how fearful they were of another defeat, such as the one inflicted upon them by Hezbollah in 2006.

More importantly, though, Israel will no longer be able to count on the unconditional support of the United States for its most barbaric acts and stubborn negotiating positions. Although we have no illusions that Barak Obama represents a break with the interests of American capitalism, he does represent a different wing of the US ruling class to that of George Bush, one more aware of America's diminishing power and need to negotiate with her former foes.

If the US' original aims in invading Iraq were to establish a base from which to police the oil-rich region, the reality is that Iraq is steadily falling under the influence of Syria and Iran. The US will need to negotiate with both to secure its political and economic interests in the Middle East. Any deal with either will have to include the appearance of progress on the Palestinian question. President Ahmadinejad of Iran in particular aims much of his rhetoric towards Palestine (often resorting to the crudest anti-Semitism). Facing massive economic problems and growing working-class militancy at home, he cannot afford to be seen as soft on America and Israel.

Therefore, it is in US interests for Israel to make some compromises. However, the interests of the US and Israeli ruling classes are not always identical. As Marxists, we reject the crude characterisation of Israel as simply under US control. The relationship is dialectical: the US has considerable leverage with Israel because Israel is bankrolled by it (to the tune of over $3bn annually), but Israel can also drive a hard bargain with the US, as it is their only reliably ally in the region. The US cannot afford to antagonise Israel too much. However, the US can still use its enormous financial leverage to wring uncomfortable compromises out of Israel.

Leaving aside the machinations of the imperialists and their lackeys, Israel's assault has generated widespread revulsion around the world. In Gaza itself, the hatred and bitterness it has sown will not go away easily. Nature abhors a vacuum: if Hamas discredits itself in the eyes of the Palestinian masses, something will take its place, and that something might be far more dangerous to Israel.

The Lessons of the First Intifada

The First Intifada, or uprising, started in 1987, in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza. The uprising was spontaneous, initially without the intervention of the PLO, which was still in exile in Tunisia. Quickly, local defence committees were elected to organise the resistance. (Incidentally, Hamas opposed these councils.) The committees organised medical care, food aid, and independent networks of underground schools.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians were largely unarmed, and over a thousand were slaughtered by Israeli reprisals. Still, the Intifada continued to grow, with its tactics of civil disobedience and general strikes causing the Israeli state far more problems than Hamas' rocket attacks ever could. Crucially, because very few Israeli civilians were targeted during the first Intifada, it had a profound effect on the consciousness of the Israeli masses, who for the first time recognised the Palestinians as a people with national aspirations of their own.

Eventually, after six years, Israel was forced to grant some concessions. The Israeli ruling class bought off the PLO, who had by this time returned to Palestine and taken control of the movement. But the lessons of this heroic uprising are there to be learned: only by mass strikes and civil disobedience, mobilising the Palestinian masses, can the Israeli ruling class be threatened. The million Palestinians living in Israel (‘Israeli-Arabs'), often carrying out the most poorly-paid work, could easily be mobilised in this way, and would have a profound effect on the Israeli economy.

The Israeli Working Class

One must also not forget the working class of Israel itself. The workers and poor of Israel gain nothing from Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. Instead, their civil liberties are eroded in the name of security, and the massive military budget leads to huge cuts in public spending and widespread poverty. Tel-Aviv's municipality does the bidding of the property developers, demolishing poor neighbourhoods to make way for glittering sky-scrapers. The Israeli working class should be the natural ally of the Palestinian masses. But for years, the ruling class has been able to skilfully manipulate the ‘security threat' (aided, of course, by terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians) to create a permanent state of fear, which leads Israeli workers to back their state against the ‘external threat'.

However, this cannot last forever. The Israeli ruling class' inability to solve the most basic needs of Israeli workers creates enormous contradictions that will eventually come to the fore. Recently, the Israeli Communist Party, despite the associations of Stalinism with anti-Semitism, has enjoyed some growth. As well as its success in the Tel-Aviv municipal elections [8], the ICP has played a leading role in mobilising the (admittedly small) anti-war movement around Tel-Aviv [see video below, note the number of red flags]. Despite its reformism, the ICP is the only authentic force on the left in Israel, with the potential to both oppose the occupation and improve the lives of Israel and Palestine's workers and poor.

Can The Question be Resolved?

On the basis of capitalism, this question is insoluble. Israel can never allow a genuinely independent Palestinian state to emerge, which would deprive it of valuable territory and resources, and could challenge it economically. The best Israel can offer is a series of disconnected ‘Bantustans', which would act as pools of cheap labour for Israeli capitalism, and markets for its produce.

The only solution therefore is the abolition of capitalism. For this, the revolutionary collaboration of the Israeli and Palestinian masses is required. Developments in Egypt, where the working class is becoming more and more militant, are crucial. Only a socialist federation of the Middle East, where all peoples can live with freedom, dignity and self-determination, can solve the problems of the suffering masses of Palestine and Israel.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama's Inaugural Call for "National Unity"

By John Peterson
Monday, 26 January 2009

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord." - Barack Obama

American workers are faced with an economic and social crisis on a scale not seen in decades. One after another, the pillars of American capitalism are crumbling around them: all the major banks and financial services companies; all the major auto makers; the dream of home ownership and a secure retirement; the aura of invincibility of U.S. military might; the promise of a tomorrow better than today. In short, the bedrock upon which U.S. capitalism has justified its continued exploitative existence has turned to quicksand.

As Marx and Engels described life under capitalism in the Communist Manifesto: "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind." This shattering of the "American Dream," the realization that this is indeed as "good as it gets" is having and will continue to have a profound effect on the consciousness of all classes in society, not the least of which is the working class. Already there are symptoms of a simmering discontent beneath the apparently calm surface of society. As the crisis deepens and the illusions in Obama are inevitably dashed against the cold realities of this system, these undercurrents will gain strength and direction, bursting to the surface in dynamic and unexpected ways.

The capitalist class, represented in government by the Democrats and Republicans, has also had its confidence shaken. They are unsure how best to proceed. Some argue that the market should be allowed to "adjust itself," while others advocate Keynesian state intervention and a new "New Deal." But while they may be divided on how best to get the economy moving again, they are unanimous in their defense of the capitalist system as a whole. Not once will you hear Obama, Bush, Biden, Cheney, the Clintons or the rest raise any doubts about the system itself. They are also well aware that the social consequences of the crisis could spiral out of their control. They have therefore chosen the best man they could find for the job: Barack Obama. He has in turn put together a galaxy of pro-capitalist and imperialist talent to assist him in carrying out his policies. The 44th president's historic task is clear: to preserve the United States of America as we know it today. That is to say, his role is to defend the U.S. capitalist system in its epoch of imperialist decay.

Then and Now

The constant comparisons and references to Abraham Lincoln are no accident. Lincoln came to power during a profound crisis that ultimately led to a bloody civil war that claimed some 618,000 lives. Although the Civil War was at root a war against the slave system, it was waged largely around the slogan of "preserving the union." Lincoln leaned on the masses and on the working class in particular, on their instinctive striving for unity and sense of outrage at the slave system to wage the war. His call for "national unity" resonated with the mood of society and the economic needs of the capitalist system. The war and Lincoln's role were revolutionary and supported by Karl Marx himself.

Lincoln's historic task was to defend burgeoning Northern capitalism and extend it to the entire country. At the time, this was a necessary and progressive task, despite the misery and exploitation that is part and parcel of the system. Capitalism was still in its historically progressive phase, and the abolition of slavery in the South "cleared the decks" for an unprecedented development of the productive forces and the strengthening of the urban working class, thus laying the material basis for socialism.

But things are far different today. Obama comes to power at a time of capitalist decline. His task is to preserve a rotting system whose historic task has been exhausted. Capitalism has ceased to play any progressive role for the vast bulk of humanity. It has already served its historical purpose: to lay down the material foundations for socialism. We will build on the technology and productivity of labor achieved by humanity under capitalism in order to build a new society, free of exploitation and based on the common interests of the working class majority. However, the capitalist class will not give up their power and privileges without a fight. This handful of individuals is determined to continue their domination and exploitation of billions of humans around the world. Their system is increasingly incompatible with the continued existence of humanity itself. We can either replace it with socialism on a world scale, or the entire "experiment" of human civilization could be thrown into a very violent and horrific reverse.

What Sort of Unity?

It is with these considerations in mind that we must understand the main theme of Obama's inaugural address: a call for national unity and sacrifice in the even harder times to come. But first, let's take a look back at the early Bush years. After September 11, 2001, GW Bush also invoked a call for "national unity." Here is what we explained at the time in the article What Sort of Unity?:

"Even more significantly, the sleeping giant of the American working class has now been awakened to social and political awareness. At the moment they are enraged, grieving, and in shock. They are reaching out for solutions that are familiar to them – military aggression, religion, abstract 'unity' and so on...

"The thundering cries for war and revenge are one of the most visible effects of the attacks. Overnight, the country has been gripped by war fever and nationalist hysteria. Sales of American flags have gone through the roof, and there is hardly a fast food store or church without a variant of 'God Bless America' displayed. Religious invocation has also reached unheard of levels as people look for answers in a world apparently gone mad. To hear the politicians and news anchors, one would not imagine that there is a separation of Church and State in this country. The calls for national unity are nearly universal and all the superficial political differences between the Republicans and Democrats have been drowned out by the beating of the drums of war...

"...It is therefore vital that we are clear as to what GW Bush means by 'national unity.' What he is calling for is for the working class to subordinate itself to the interests of the ruling class. This is always the situation under capitalism, but in times of crisis, war, and revolution, the importance of keeping the millions of newly conscious workers 'on the side' of the bosses takes on even greater importance. Especially when the very 'leaders' who are supposed to be protecting 'our nation' have proven completely inept at doing so, the spontaneous outrage of the working class must be channeled into 'safe' means – against an external enemy.

"...And although the immediate reaction of many has been to rally around the flag in the interests of 'national unity,' what they really strive for is the unity of humanity and an end to these terrible events. The fundamental effect of the attacks has been to give workers a shocking wake up call as to the cruelties of this world. Millions of people in the US now know what it feels like to live in uncertainty and fear - and they don't like it. They have been awakened to the fact that they cannot simply ignore the outside world - the problems of the rest of the world are also the problems of the American working class. And it is precisely the lack of stability of life under capitalism which will force millions of people to take their lives and futures into their own hands."

Nearly eight years later, what was the result of this "rallying around the flag"? Two imperialist wars costing billions each week while schools and hospitals are closed; some 47 million without access to health care; trillions in retirement savings lost and millions thrown out of their homes while CEO pay and bonuses reached astronomical levels. In short, the rich won and the working class and the poor lost.

Why is this? Why can't we "all just get along"? The reason is simple: the interests of the capitalist class and the working class are diametrically opposed. Under capitalism, the capitalist class holds all the cards. They control the media, the government, the courts, the police, the military, the banks, and the educational system. They write the laws. They make all the real decisions as to who works and who owns a home. In other words, they use every tool at their disposal to defend their own interests, which are irreconcilable with the interests of the working class majority.

Abstract "national unity," which blurs the clear class distinctions and contradictions that exist in society, subordinates the interests of the working class to the interests of the capitalist class. It is the "unity" of the horse and rider, of the lord and the serf, of the master and the slave. As Marxists, we are in favor of unity. But what is needed is class unity, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion or nationality. Only the power of the united working class can decisively challenge the domination of capital.

Change We Can Believe In?

Now it is Obama's turn to call for national unity. In his inaugural speech, he made it clear just what he means by "national unity." He acknowledged the "sapping confidence" of millions facing economic disaster. He addressed the "nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights." He compassionately identified with those losing their jobs and homes, calling on "we the people," on "this generation of Americans" to remain "faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents." He also invoked the specter of terrorism and the danger of relying on "our adversaries" for energy. He dampened people's expectations of a quick reversal of fortunes, saying that the challenges are serious, many, real, and "will not be met easily or in a short span of time." He invoked the Scripture and the Declaration of Independence, asserting the "God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."

And then, out of the swirl of lofty rhetoric, hints of what he really means:

"Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom

"...For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth...

"...Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction...

"We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

In other words, we must put aside our class differences ("differences of birth or wealth or faction"), stop complaining about our lot in life and accept the conditions we are forced to live under ("protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions"), and pull ourselves up by our boot straps to clean up the mess made by the capitalists and their system ("pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America"). In so many words, "hard work!" and "work hard!" This is the real "spirit of America."

But who is to do this hard work? Is it true that the millions "obscure in their labor," who break their backs for low wages just to scrape out a living, are simply not working hard enough? We might also ask: whose pleasures, riches and fame? Whose prosperity? Whose freedom?

After outlining an ambiguous plan to create jobs, lower health care costs, and cut unspecified inefficient government programs, he revealed his true colors as an apologist and defender of capitalism:

"Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control – and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good."

After lamenting the "excesses" of the system and taking a swipe at the "prosperous," he unveils the mythological creature of a kinder, gentler capitalism, which extends "opportunity to every willing heart."

Then, after invoking the "rule of law" and the "rights of man," he reminded Americans that they had "faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions." So much for Obama being a "communist"!

And in a line that could have been uttered by GW Bush himself, Obama had the following to say in reference to the Iraq War: "We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

And to tie his theme of national unity together, the following words:

"For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, ,the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate." [my emphasis]

In other words, we should applaud the sacrifice of low wage, part-time workers, who divide up capitalist scarcity and poverty amongst themselves for the "greater good." But more importantly, Obama's words have an unintended message: it is the millions of average working Americans that makes the country run. This begs the question: why don't these millions of American workers run the country?

In times of crisis, it is normal for people to want to band together, to seek protection, safety and comfort in numbers. But the fundamental question is the class question. Whose interests does Barack Obama defend? The working class majority or the capitalist minority? And if this is truly a democracy, should the interests of the majority be subordinated to the interests of a tiny minority?

Perspectives for the Future

The U.S. is a different place than it was just 8 years ago. A lot of water has passed under the bridge (and over the levees). Consciousness is changing rapidly. The old stereotypes about Americans no longer apply. For example, it will not be so easy to turn Americans' attention outward, hysterically, against an external enemy. Seven years of war and crisis has had an effect. University and factory occupations are back on the agenda. Now more than ever, there is an acute danger that the accumulated frustration and anger will be turned against the enemy at home: the bankers, CEOs, Big Business politicians, and the capitalist system itself. This is why Obama's task is so delicate and crucial from the perspective of the ruling class.

The capitalists have high hopes for Obama. They expect him to save their system. Millions of workers also have high hopes for Obama. They hope for an end to the instability, for a secure job at a living wage, a home, access to health care and a decent retirement. Hope for change is a powerful, inspiring force, but the truth is concrete. The reality is, despite this or that cosmetic change, life under Obama will be more of the same: tighter belts for the working class while the wealthy continue to enrich themselves, albeit with a more modest public display of their excesses.

Bush ended his presidency with a 22 percent approval rating, a tremendous collapse from his post-September 11 high. Obama enters the Oval Office with over 80 percent approval: the only direction it can go is down. Obama's call for national unity is a call for the lamb to sleep with the lion. We have seen the effects of such "unity" in the years since September 11. We must learn from this experience and base ourselves on class unity. We can rely only on our own strength and organization to bring about the fundamental change we need.

On a small scale, the social crisis is already being expressed on the streets, in the factories, and on the campuses. This process will accelerate in the coming period. In the final analysis, what is at stake is the survival of the capitalist system itself and the success or failure of the socialist revolution in the United States. This may sound far fetched just a few days into Obama's presidency, but events in the coming years will prove the correctness of this perspective. His honeymoon has already ended for many workers and young people who hoped for more. Thousands have already broken with Obama and the Democrats, are aware of the need for a mass party of labor, and are looking for a revolutionary socialist solution to the crisis. We invite you to contact the Workers International League, to join with us in the struggle to bring about real change, not just hope for change. Join us in the fight for socialism!

January 23, 2009


Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Wrestler (***)

Mickey Rourke has a lock in my opinion on the Oscar Award for Best Actor this year, for his role as Randy "The Ram" Robinson in The Wrestler. I'm not counting out Marisa Tomei as the stripper Cassidy, for Best Supporting Actress.

Randy "The Ram" Robinson was a wrestler on top of the game, twenty years ago. Video games, posters, action figures beared his likeness. Twenty years later, he is wrestling in the indy circuit, in front of crowds less than 100 people, for $50.00 payoffs. The story is based on the life of Jake the Snake Roberts, who has been through rehab who knows how many times. In addition like Ram, was denounced by his daughter, for screwing up everything and everybody he touched. (played by Evan Rachel Wood). Rourke's acting was based on watching Greg Valentine wrestle. Greg is a second generation wrestler, who also had his better days.

To prepare for this part, Mickey Rourke trained to be a wrestler, at a wrestling camp unpaid for his time. Being an former boxer, he had difficulty learning to throw a wrestler's punch. A wrestler throws a punch to be seen, while boxers punch to hurt people.

The wrestling locker room is realistic. Wrestlers have rituals, like shaking hands with everyone involved with the show. How hard you squeeze, tells how hard you punch. Wrestlers have dead fish handshakes.

Golden Lion (Won)
Golden Globe Award: Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama (Mickey Rourke) (Won)
Golden Globe Award: Best Original Song - Motion Picture ("The Wrestler" written and performed by Bruce Springsteen) (Won)
Golden Globe Award: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Marisa Tomei) (Nominated)
Academy Award for Best Actor (Mickey Rourke) (Nominated) (TBD)
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Marisa Tomei) (Nominated) (TBD)
Screen Actor's Guild Award for Outstanding Male Actor in a Leading Role (Mickey Rourke) (Nominated) (TBD)
Writer's Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay (Robert D. Siegel) (Nominated) (TBD)
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Mickey Rourke) (Nominated) (TBD)
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Marisa Tomei) (Nominated) (TBD)


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Israel Pulls Out of Gaza

By Alan Woods
Monday, 19 January 2009

Israel is withdrawing its forces from Gaza, following a tentative truce with Hamas. The withdrawal, which began on Sunday evening, was proceeding gradually today. Israel and Hamas separately declared cease-fires on Sunday. The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that Israel does not intend to keep a military presence inside the Gaza Strip, nor does it aim to reconquer the territory.

In a recent article (The invasion of Gaza: what does it mean?- Part One and Part Two) I pointed out that the intention of Israeli imperialism was not to occupy Gaza but to inflict the maximum damage on Hamas, terrorise the population and then withdraw. This is what is now happening. Olmert told European leaders visiting Jerusalem on Sunday evening that Israel planned to withdraw all of its troops to when the situation between Israel and Gaza was "stable":

“We didn't set out to conquer Gaza, we didn't set out to control Gaza, we don't want to remain in Gaza and we intend on leaving Gaza as fast as possible", Olmert said at a dinner with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic. This decision will cause immense relief in Western capitals who, while publicly sympathetic to Israel's security concerns, were alarmed by the mounting number of civilian victims and the destabilising effects in neighbouring Arab countries.

Hamas’ Empty Boasts

The main losers, as always, are the ordinary people. In this devastating three-week war, terrible damage has been inflicted. The troops and tanks that poured into Gaza on January 3 have had two weeks in which to pulverise Gaza, which had been already badly damaged by a savage air bombardment. Now the shell-shocked Palestinians will have time to take stock of the situation. The war has taken a terrible toll on an already impoverished territory.

As Palestinians emerge from their hiding-places to survey wreckage of their homes, the last thing they will want is the renewal of the fighting that has already claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Gazans, and will claim more as the wounded die in the hospitals. The infrastructure of this desperately poor land has been devastated. Its government and administration are in ruins. Despite these evident facts, the head of the Hamas administration claimed a "popular victory" against Israel.” The enemy has failed to achieve its goals," Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech. Hamas's decision to call a truce was conditional on Israel withdrawing within a week. This was "wise and responsible," he said.

These brave words do not reflect the real situation. The Israelis are withdrawing because they have achieved their immediate goal, which I outlined in my article: “Their intention now is to make a limited strike that will seriously damage the fighting capacity of Hamas and kill as many of its leaders and militants before withdrawing, having inflicted maximum damage on the economy and infrastructure of Gaza that will take a long time to rebuild.” This is just what has occurred.

In an attempt to show that it was still capable of putting up some kind of resistance, Hamas fired about 20 rockets onto the Negev on Sunday, even when a truce was being announced to the world. But these were mere pinpricks and did not affect the plans of the Israelis in the slightest degree.

Ehud Olmert saw them – and the declarations of Hamas leaders announcing “victory” – for what they were: empty gestures. The Israeli Prime Minister declared the mission accomplished and who can doubt that he had good grounds for saying it, at least as far as the short-term military aims were concerned. The massive offensive that Israel launched with air, ground and sea forces on December 27 pushed all before it. Against the might of the Israeli state, small homemade rockets can have no real effect.

The Israeli decision to withdraw is not at all conditional on what Hamas says or does. Hamas has already said that it will stop firing rockets “when the last Israeli soldier has left Gaza.” But in reality it will be forced to stop. Its fighting capacity will have been severely damaged. Moreover, the sword of Damocles remains suspended over the heads of the people of Gaza. If there is a renewal of Palestinian rocket attacks, the Israelis will not hesitate to intervene again.

Israel still holds Gaza in an iron grip. Israel Radio reported that the Israelis would allow 200 trucks carrying humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. But this can be opened and closed, like a water tap, whenever Israel chooses. In the economic as in the military field, Israel holds all the cards.

What Has Been Achieved?

So what has been achieved from the point of view of the Palestinians? At present Gaza’s situation vis a vis Israel remains precisely where it was before the conflict – a small and unviable state of 1.5 million people remains locked inside the strip by an iron blockade. Its economic life was being slowly strangled before the invasion. Now it must be completely wrecked. The outlook for these poor people is grim indeed.

According to the Palestinian Statistics Bureau, some 4,000 residential buildings were reduced to rubble during the conflict. Western diplomats have said it could cost at least $1.6 billion to repair the infrastructure damage in Gaza. "I don't know what sort of future I have now - only God knows my future after this," Amani Kurdi, a 19-year-old student told Haaretz, as she surveyed the wreckage of Gaza's Islamic University, where she had studied science.

Inside Israel, which lost the grand total of ten troops in combat (and three civilians in rocket attacks), the war was popular and bolstered the prospects of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak before the February 10 election. The war will have stirred up chauvinist feelings and increased the support for the right wing. This is shown by the opinion polls, which are predicting an easy win for right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Let us recall that he opposed Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza after 38 years, arguing that it would embolden Palestinian hard-liners.

The war has also undermined the credibility of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been attempting to negotiate peace with Israel. It has deepened the bitter splits that already existed among Palestinians, who feel depressed and disoriented.

During talks with Egyptian mediators, Hamas officials demanded the opening of all Gaza's border crossings for the entry of materials, food, goods and basic needs. It is probable that some concessions will have to be made on this issue. France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic (which currently holds the presidency of the EU) have called on Israel to open Gaza's borders to aid as soon as possible.

Olmert said Israel wanted out of Gaza as soon as possible and his spokesman, Mark Regev, said "enormous amounts" of aid could be allowed in if the quiet holds. But there will be conditions, as we already see from these words. “If the quiet holds” means: as long as Hamas is neutered and rendered impotent as a military force.

For the past weeks the Western governments have been content to stand by, wringing their hands and weeping crocodile tears while the people of Gaza were being subjected to a vicious bombardment. The simple fact is that these governments – and those of the so-called moderate (that is, pro-American) Arab states – wanted to see Hamas smashed and were in no hurry to stop the Israelis from carrying out this bloody work on their behalf. But now that the Israeli military machine has achieved its ends and decided to withdraw, a flurry of diplomatic initiatives has been commenced. The United States, Egypt and European countries are all striving for peace. That is to say – they are striving to prevent Hamas rearming.

That is the condition that the Israelis will demand, and are determined to get. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter threatened a military response to any renewed flow of arms into the Gaza Strip, saying Israel would view such smuggling as an attack on its territory. Therefore, we can expect to see as yet unspecified measures to stop Hamas smuggling weapons across the Egypt-Gaza frontier, a matter that the Cairo will be delighted to help bring about – if it can. Dichter told Israel Radio: "That means, if smuggling is renewed, Israel will view it as if it were fired upon."

Israel and Obama

The timing of the withdrawal is significant and confirms what I wrote in my article. In that article I explained that the Israeli ruling class attacked Gaza before Obama replaced George Bush on January 20, as a message to Washington not to reach any agreements with the Arabs that might not be to their liking. Having made their point very eloquently, they now withdraw so as not to cause unnecessary embarrassment to the man in the White House.

This was admitted by the Haaretz Service and News Agencies, which wrote yesterday: “Israeli officials have said that troops would withdraw completely before Barack Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday as the new U.S. president. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been publicly announced.” (my emphasis, AW).

The U.S. President-elect is to be sworn in on Tuesday. Everyone now looks to Barack Obama to solve this problem. But then, everyone now looks to Barack Obama to solve all the problems in the world. This would be a somewhat difficult task for the Almighty himself. Obama believes in the Almighty, but is already explaining to the people of the USA that he lacks the power to deliver miracles. This is unfortunate because miracles are exactly what are expected.

"The goal remains a durable and fully respected ceasefire that will lead to stabilisation and normalisation in Gaza," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. A spokeswoman for Obama said he welcomed the Gaza truce and would say more about the Gaza situation after he is inaugurated. Obama’s main priority is to bolster his position at home by pulling US troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. He needs to do this (and to make other popular gestures) in the first period of his administration, in order to prepare the ground for the deep cuts in living standards that he will be obliged to carry out later. His presentation of a wreath to honour US war dead a few days before his inauguration was no accident. He is saying to the US public: “Bush got you into this war. But don’t worry: I will get you out of it!”

However, as I explained in my article, in order to get out of Iraq, the Americans will have to talk to Syria and Iran, and in these negotiations (which will be conducted behind locked doors, far from the inquisitive eyes of public opinion), the fate of the Palestinians will be decided. The invasion of Gaza was part of these negotiations, which resemble a game of chess in which whole nations are disposed of like mere pawns, in order that powerful states can obtain their main goals.

The Palestinian people must not expect anything from “friends” like Obama or the governments of the European Union. Still less can they expect from “friendly” Arab governments who either fear the Palestinians because they are arousing the masses in their own countries, or else are using the Palestinian cause as a pawn in a diplomatic game of chess.

The Palestinian problem will not be solved by firing rockets or sending suicide bombers to blow up buses in Israel, as advocated by Hamas. Nor will it be solved by Abbas, who, under the guise of negotiating peace, is preparing to sell out to Israel and the imperialists. The problem can only be solved as part of the revolutionary struggle of the masses to overthrow the rotten pro-western Arab regimes and establish workers’ and peasants’ governments in the Middle East.

Just as the national problem in Russia was solved when the workers and peasants took power, so in the Middle East, the national question of the Palestinians, Kurds and other oppressed peoples can only be solved through workers’ power and a socialist federation. The only way to challenge the might of Israeli imperialism is to split the worker away from Zionism, and that can only be done on the basis of revolutionary class politics. Any other road will only lead to an increase in national hatreds, chauvinism, new massacres, wars and bloodshed. The Palestinians in the past had a socialist tradition. Today that tradition is the only salvation!

London, January 19, 2009


Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King (1929-1968)

"You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry… Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong…with capitalism… There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism.

Source: Frogmore, S.C. November, 14, 1966. Speech in front of his staff.

I believe if MLK lived longer, he would have disavowed pacifism. I was involved with organizing his "Poor People's Campaign," before he died. People were talking about he was going to change his stand on violence, I'm sure influenced by Malcolm X.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fmr. Clinton Special Counsel Lanny Davis vs. Israeli Professor Neve Gordon: A Debate on the Israeli Assault on Gaza

Taken from here

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli troops are pushing deeper towards Gaza's towns and cities as thousands of Israeli reservists enter the conflict for the first time. Israeli warplanes continue to bombard targets across northern Gaza and in the town of Rafah on the southern border with Egypt. Meanwhile, Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets into southern Israel.

The Israeli military is continuing to surround Gaza City, and many residents in the outlying suburbs are moving into the city center. A Palestinian human rights group told The Guardian newspaper up to 90,000 Gazans, more than half of them children, had fled their homes across the territory. Israel and Egypt have refused to open their borders to allow Gazans to flee the fighting.

The death toll now stands at nearly 900 Palestinians, many of them civilian, including 275 children. Another 4,100 Palestinians have been injured. Thirteen Israelis have been killed, including three civilians hit by rocket fire and ten soldiers. Four of those soldiers died in friendly fire incidents.

Aid agencies are warning of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza with the territory's one-and-a-half million residents in urgent need of food and medical aid. The BBC reports the main hospital in Gaza is close to collapse with patients reportedly dying because of a lack of specialist doctors and basic medical equipment.

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the offensive was nearing its goals but that the assault will continue. Olmert also spoke out in defiance of the UN Security Council's call for an immediate ceasefire, saying, "Nobody should be allowed to decide for us if we are allowed to strike." Both Hamas and Israel have rejected the UN resolution. Meanwhile, talks between Hamas and Egyptian officials are continuing in Cairo.

We turn now to a debate on the issue. Attorney Lanny Davis is with us. He's a senior adviser and spokesperson for the Israel Project, former special counsel to President Clinton. He joins us from Washington, D.C. Joining us on the line from Beersheba, Israel is Neve Gordon. He's the chair of the Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He is author of Israel's Occupation.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Lanny Davis, you're in full support of the Israeli invasion. Tell us why.

LANNY DAVIS: The right of self-defense. When terrorism kills innocent civilians intentionally, there isn't a civilized nation in the world that wouldn't attack back to try to prevent that terrorism. I use "terrorism" with a very specifically defined expression. When a party shoots to kill innocent civilians intentionally for a political purpose, including one's own citizens to be exposed to death for political purposes, that's terrorism. So I support the right of self-defense against terrorism, as any country would if this were happening, I believe. And the United States certainly would. If Rochester were being exposed to mortars and rockets from Montreal, I believe that the United States would not sit idly by and allow the Canadians to do that. So I think the first and most foremost right is the right of self-defense against terrorism, which is intentional killing of civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue proportionality, the number of people we've seen dead, close to 900 Palestinians, over 200 of them children, overwhelmingly civilian, versus the thirteen Israelis who have died, ten of them soldiers, four of them in friendly fire.

LANNY DAVIS: Yes, it's very disturbing that there are so many more deaths and suffering by innocent people in Gaza. I grieve and regret that as a human being, as an American, as a Jew who has supported a Palestinian state ever since I was a child and have been very critical through the years of the Israeli government not supporting a Palestinian state until just recently. So I grieve for those numbers, but I don't understand the word "disproportional."

Number one, if it was one child, if it was your child who was intentionally killed by a terrorist, and you asked your government to respond, and in order to respond, the people who launched the rockets placed their rockets among schoolchildren and innocent civilians deliberately—and that is an undisputed fact that Hamas has located its rocket launchers deliberately among civilians in schools, beneath hospitals—then that unfortunate and terrible tragic death of innocent civilians has to be more attributed to Hamas's calculated strategy of exposing its civilians to death, but certainly does not take away from my first statement of the horror and the grief of any innocent civilians, whether it's one child in Israel or a hundred children in Palestine or in Gaza. To me, they're equally tragic. There is no disproportionality. They're equally tragic.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Neve Gordon, you and your family have spent a good deal of time in a bomb shelter against the Hamas rockets in Ben-Gurion University, in the area around Ben-Gurion University where you live. You have called for the invasion to end now. Why?

NEVE GORDON: I would call for the invasion not to begin. We just had a rocket here about an hour ago, and the issue—I agree with some of what Lanny says. First of all, I agree with the idea of a basic right to self-defense. And the right to self-defense is a right to self-defense from violence. We have to understand that the occupation itself is violence. It's an act of violence. Putting people in a prison, in a prison of one million and a half million people and keeping them there for years on end without basic foodstuff, without allowing them to enter and exit when they will, is an act of violence. Without electricity, without clean water, it's all an act of violence. And these people are resisting. I am against the way they're resisting, but we have to look at their violence versus our violence.

About between ten and twenty people, Israelis, have died from rockets in the eight years that rockets have been launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel. During the same amount of time, 4,000 Israelis have died from car accidents. And yet, we don't see an outrage against the terrorism on the streets in Israel. But from these twenty people, we're allowed to enter into the Gaza Strip and bomb them from the air into their cage and kill 275 children. And Lanny says that it's not about disproportionality, but it is. Disproportionality is a term from international law. And by saying that he doesn't agree with it, he's defying international law.

And Israel has been defying international law and international agreements and international decisions from 1967, or probably from before. One of these decisions is that Israel must return these territories. And by maintaining and holding onto these territories through violent means, Israel is creating a situation where basically all the doors in the Gaza Strip are closed except one door. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, said it. Israel has closed all the doors in the Gaza Strip again, except for the mosque doors. We've closed the school doors. We've closed the economic doors. We've closed the medical doors. And so, and then we're surprised that we have to deal with Hamas.

So I think we need to change the hard drive, and the hard drive has to be that you don't solve things through violence. You solve things—you solve diplomatic issues, political issues through negotiations and talks. And it's about time that Israel sat down with Hamas and started negotiating with them. Hamas is the elected government of the Palestinian people. We don't need to like them. I don't like them. But they are the elected government, and we need to sit down and talk with them and not bomb them.

AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, your response?

LANNY DAVIS: Well, first of all, I appreciate—Professor Gordon and I probably have the same heart, and we probably have the same empathy, and we probably have the same goals of a two-state solution where people negotiate peace. And I appreciate Professor Gordon is sitting in a situation where his family is exposed to death, and I'm sitting safely here in Washington. So I don't mean to be judgmental, and I greatly respect what the professor just said, but I focus on facts, and I'm sorry to say that I must disagree with the professor's misstatement of certain facts, or omission might be also accurate.

Let's start with the international law issue. It is a violation of international law to deliberately launch rockets from within civilian areas. Article 53 of the Geneva Accords expressly says that. Yet the professor forgot to mention that. It is not a violation of international law to defend yourself if you're not intentionally targeting civilians. The Hamas is intentionally targeting civilians. The professor forgot to mention the distinction between defending yourself and tragically killing civilians in trying to find those who are launching missiles against you intentionally to kill civilians.

And finally and most importantly, I share the professor's desire for negotiations. And as I said, since I was a child, contrary to my father's strong views, I favored a Palestinian state, independent, and I still do. But Hamas's stated public objective is the destruction of Israel. There isn't a civilized country in the world that would sit across the table from a party that is launching terrorist—and it is defined as terrorism to intentionally kill civilians, as opposed to military. Nobody denies that's what Hamas is doing. And to sit across the table from an organization that says, "We will not recognize you. We want to destroy you, and we will use terrorism against your innocent children," is impossible. We did sit across the table from Fatah. We do have the beginnings of a negotiation with Mr. Abboud [sic.]. And we certainly do have the Fatah opposed to the terrorism of Hamas. After all, they were expelled by a military coup by Hamas.

So all of the issues that I believe the professor and I have in common, we should at least agree on basic facts, and the overwhelming one that I don't think the professor would deny is Hamas's aim is terrorism, to kill innocent civilians, and its objective is the destruction of Israel, not the recognition of Israel, not two states that can live side by side in peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Neve Gordon?

NEVE GORDON: The problem is the—yes, intentions are important, but the facts are more important. And the fact is that Israel is the one that's doing the harm to—much more harm to civilians than the Hamas ever did and ever will do. Israel has killed in the past two weeks 275 children, and not Hamas, regardless of the intentions. You mentioned the school. Israel is dealing with a propaganda war. Israel is the one that disseminated a video of Hamas shooting rockets from a school, a video that's almost two years old, claiming that the video was taken a day or two earlier. So Israel is in a propaganda war. Yes, the Hamas is fighting out from a civilian population, but Israel has the choice whether it's going to bomb the civilian population ore not, and it is intentionally deciding to bomb the civilian population. So in terms of intentionality in bombing areas where there are civilians, Israel is acting like a state terrorist. So, if your definition of terrorism doesn't take into account the identity of the actor—and state actors can also be terrorists—then when you bomb a school and when you bomb a university and when you bomb a neighborhood and you're killing much more civilians than militants, then you're doing something that is an act of terror.

And I have a problem. I think my views are pro-Israelis. I would like to see Israel existing in the Middle East sixty years down the line, and not only the first sixty years. And the only way for Israel to continue to exist in the Middle East is if it changes its approach towards the region and see itself as a leader of peace and not a belligerent actor in the region. And Israel has been living on the sword. Some of our neighbors have been living on the sword. But we have to come out and say we no longer want to live on the sword, because those who live on the sword, as the Bible tells us, also die on the sword. We have to come out and say we are willing to talk with our enemies, even with people that say that they do not believe in the existence of Israel. The PLO—you mentioned Fatah—the PLO said that they do not believe in the existence of Israel for many years. And ultimately, we sat down and talked with them, and they are now considered our Palestinian partner. I believe that if there is a pragmatic side, a strong pragmatic wing in Hamas, that if we start negotiation with them, over the years these people will also agree to the existence of Israel and be willing to live side by side with us. If we do not talk with them, if we continue this cycle of violence, ultimately Israel will be destroyed, because ultimately, the technological edge that we have over our neighbors will not be meaningful. So we have to change our approach. We have to be pro—by changing our approach, we're actually pro-Israeli. We say we want to see Israel a hundred years from now. And the only way we'll see Israel exist a hundred years from now is if Israel makes peace with Syria, with Lebanon and with the Palestinian people.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Neve Gordon and Lanny Davis, we're going to break, then come back. Then, we will be joined by Congress member Dennis Kucinich, speaking to us from Cleveland, one of five Congress members to vote against the resolution in support of Israel. And then we'll be speaking with Jewish women who are standing up to the Israeli invasion of Gaza, one in Toronto, one here in New York. A major protest is planned today outside the Israeli consulate at 5:00 in the afternoon. Lanny Davis is former attorney, former special counsel to President Clinton. He is currently an attorney, and he's a senior adviser and spokesperson for the Israel Project. Neve Gordon is in Beersheba in Israel, chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are attorney Lanny Davis, senior adviser, spokesperson for the Israel Project in Washington, D.C., and Professor Neve Gordon, chair of the Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, author of Israel's Occupation. I want to talk about why Israel invaded at this point. What is your understanding of this? They said Hamas broke the ceasefire. Professor Gordon, is that the reason you feel that this happened?

NEVE GORDON: Hamas did launch an incredible amount of rockets at the end of the ceasefire. Israel actually is a first actor that broke the ceasefire on November 1st, when it attacked in the Gaza—November 4th, when it attacked in the Gaza Strip.

I think the actual reasons have to do—the two major reasons—with rebuilding the reputation of the Israeli military after its humiliation in 2006 in Lebanon and the upcoming Israeli elections. Both Labor and Kadima, the two out of the three major parties, were behind in the polls against BB Netanyahu's Likud, who was blaming them of being soft on the Palestinians. And I think the timing, in terms of the elections, which are on February 10th, was perfect to show that Kadima and Labor, that are in party, know how to be tough on the Palestinians. And in fact, already in the polls we see that Labor has added almost 50 percent to what it had before the war began. So I think there's some cynical political issues and reputation issues that played a dramatic part in initiating this war.

I think that Hamas also acted—or miscalculated and acted totally wrong, that it launched the rockets on Israel. I think, strategically and morally, it was a mistake. But I'm not sure Israel had to react through such a war. I think through diplomatic means it could have been stopped.

AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, are you concerned about the blockade not only on the Palestinians, but also on information? The New York Times, the BBC, Reuters, CNN have all filed a complaint with the Israeli prime minister not allowing international press into Gaza. Why do you think Israel is not allowing press in?

LANNY DAVIS: Well, first of all, I don't want to duck your latter question, because I'm in favor of greater media going into Gaza so they can report the facts rather than false reporting. I'd like to get back to that.

But let me start with your use of your word "blockade." That's an inaccurate or at least a biased word. I don't say that you intended it that way, but it is. There is a blockade of tunnels and any other means of access that the Hamas has used to allow the import of these rockets from Iran. This is an Iranian-subsidized operation, just like Hezbollah. And yet, 165 trucks of humanitarian, medical, food aid went into Gaza yesterday from Israel. It is the Egyptians that have blocked access. You must ask the Egyptian government, "Why are you blocking access?" Because they know these tunnels have been used by Hamas not to resupply their people with food and medical aid, but with rockets who are placed among civilians, next to schools, under hospitals, to kill civilians in Israel. So "blockade" is really, I think, a word that needs to be changed. It's a selective blocking of terrorist war instruments that are being supplied primarily by Iran, and the Egyptian government has the ability to open those tunnels, and they see the same danger as does Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me put that question—

LANNY DAVIS: On the issue—

AMY GOODMAN: Just one sec—on the issue of the blockade to Professor Neve Gordon, which predates the Israeli invasion, the total blockade of Gaza that many people have been challenging around the world. Can you explain what that blockade is, Professor Gordon?

NEVE GORDON: Well, since Hamas was elected into government in a democratic election, Israel decided basically to economically boycott the Palestinian people, and particularly Hamas and the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, and is basically controlling all the borders and deciding who can enter and who can leave and what can enter and what can leave. And it is actually allowing a certain amount of humanitarian aid, and it's allowing this humanitarian aid, according to Israel's own claims, in order that there won't be a humanitarian catastrophe. So, basically, Israel is saying, "We'll allow 165 trucks so there won't be a humanitarian catastrophe, so we can continue the war against Hamas." So it's a kind of new war ethics, a war ethics that you're fighting against not another military, but militants in an armed wing of an organization that are within the civilian population, and so you're basically attacking the civilian population, and you're saying, "We don't want a catastrophe to happen, so we can continue attacking you." There's something very cynical about it and something horrific about it.

And so, actually, there has been a blockade on Gaza, and it's been a very severe blockade on Gaza. And even Israel claims that there's been a blockade on Gaza and saying that Israel allows humanitarian assistance to enter so it can continue bombing them is very, very cynical.

LANNY DAVIS: Let's agree on a basic fact here. Ms. Goodman, you used the expression "absolute blockade" a second time after I said the first use of your expression "blockade" was inaccurate or imbalanced. So I would like to suggest that you at least say "partial blockade," because it is not aimed at anything other than preventing munitions and rockets coming in from Iran. That's a fact. And ask the government of Egypt whether they agree. Secondly—

NEVE GORDON: If a Palestinian wants to import a car—

LANNY DAVIS: Professor, professor, let me just—let me just make one other point.

NEVE GORDON: —a car, he can't import the car. If a Palestinian wants to import a cow, he can't import a cow.

LANNY DAVIS: I really—I really wanted to interrupt you badly, but I appreciate you have a lot to say, and I'd like you to allow me to finish.

I am very surprised that you don't start with the fact that we agree on: all Hamas has to do is stop sending terrorist rockets aimed at civilians—you've never disagreed with me on that; we agree on that—and make peace with Israel. That's all they have to do, the same way that Mr. Abboud [sic.] and the Fatah have done in the West Bank, which is flourishing.

And secondly, most importantly, the occupation ended. In 2005, Israel took all of its troops out. Faced with a state or a terrorist state or a government that says, "I'm trying to destroy you, and I'm going to send rockets to kill your civilians," is the reason why the economic boycott, as you call it, would occur in any civilized country in the world. If Canada or Mexico had a destruction objective of the United States and were launching rockets against Houston or against Boston—if you think the United States or any other country in the world would allow that to happen without at least economic boycott while allowing humanitarian aid, then I would beg to differ with you.

On the media, Ms. Goodman, I—

AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, we began with you—I just—we're going to have to wrap up because we're headed to Dennis Kucinich.

LANNY DAVIS: OK. Well, just a quick comment on the media, which I didn't answer. I think that there ought to be more exposure, and there should be more openness with the media. I think Israel is moving in that direction. I certainly think that the propaganda, for example, a false report that an Israeli tank shot on a UN convoy, took forty-eight hours for the United Nations spokesperson who put that statement out to say, "Well, I'm not so sure." That was a forty-eight hour time gap. Everybody still believes it happened, because the withdrawal of the statement or the modification of the statement didn't get the front-page headlines that the statement did.

So we have to be very careful that when we get our media into Gaza, that we get people who are objective reporting the facts as to where are these missiles. Are they under schools? Are they in hospitals? And if so, is that an act that is a violation and a war crime in and of itself? That's why I want the media in Gaza, to prove the war crimes being committed by Hamas are where they're placing their rockets.

AMY GOODMAN: Lanny Davis, we began with you; we will end with Professor Neve Gordon in Beersheba.

NEVE GORDON: I have two comments to make, one related to protest in media. 700 Israelis have been arrested since this war began, because they protested this war. This has not made it to an international media, and it's an act of intimidation by the state against those who protest the war.

Second, regarding what Lanny said, that no country would allow another country to bomb its citizens, he's right. He forgets one essential fact, and that is the occupation. And Gaza was not—is still under occupation, because Israel controls all of its borders, and the West Bank is under occupation, and East Jerusalem is under occupation. And the act—the first, the initial, the primordial act of violence is the occupation. The rockets are a reaction to that act of violence. And so, we have to keep in mind that within—it's not between a state and another state. It's been between an occupier and an occupied.

AMY GOODMAN: We will leave it there. Professor Neve Gordon in Beersheba, chair of the Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He is author of Israel's Occupation. Lanny Davis, senior adviser and spokesperson for the Israel Project, attorney and former special counsel to President Clinton. Thank you both for being with us.

LANNY DAVIS: Thank you so much.


Friday, January 09, 2009

The Invasion of Gaza: What Does it Mean?

This is the second part of an essay by Alan Woods, about the situation in Gaza. His analysis has more depth than most analysis around. This part one.

By Alan Woods
Friday, 09 January 2009

Hamas is under intense pressure to accept international demands for a ceasefire. After the ferocious pounding they have received, they seem to be indicating that they may be prepared for a ceasefire, including halting rocket attacks on Israel. But Israel is not likely to stop the war just yet. It is demanding not only that that Hamas cease firing missiles, but that it accepts Israel, renounces violence, and adheres to the Palestinians' previous peace deals. In other words, it is demanding unconditional surrender.

Sooner or later, after the fighting stops, there will be new moves for a deal. The likelihood of some kind of deal between Syria, Iran and the USA before the end of the war must have been a cause for concern to the Hamas leadership, which depends heavily for financial and military support on Damascus and Teheran. The latter have made a reputation for themselves as the Palestinians' friends. But all history shows that the Palestinian people should place no faith in the friendship of foreign governments, because, as someone once said, countries have no friends, only interests. If the interests of Syria and Iran conflict with those of the Palestinians, it is not hard to see what they will do.

This fear on the part of the Hamas leadership may well have been the reason for their conduct in recent months. From the public declarations of some of the Hamas leaders it is obvious that they hope that Palestinian suffering would rouse the world's conscience and rally fellow Muslims to their side. In this they have succeeded. But if they imagined that this would be sufficient to force Israel to back down, they were sadly mistaken. Once they started the offensive, there was no going back for Israel, no matter how many demonstrations are held or how many EU missions are dispatched.

All these elements must have determined the tactics of Hamas, which must otherwise appear suicidal. They organized rocket strikes against Israel, and kept up a barrage of accusations against Fatah. Last winter they engineered the dramatic breach of Gaza's border with Egypt to advertise Gaza's misery and arouse the people of Egypt to their support. This was not appreciated by the Egyptian ruling clique, which is facing growing popular discontent as a result of the deepening economic crisis and falling living standards.

Effects on World Relations

The consequences of this war for US foreign policy will be far-reaching. This is not the eleventh of September! In the new world situation, the US can no longer achieve its objectives without the backing of regional partners as well as China, Europe and Russia. That is why there will be significant differences between the foreign policy of Obama and Bush. But in foreign policy one thing leads to another. In order to get Russia to support what the US regards as its vital interests in the Middle East will require that Washington be prepared to take Russian interests elsewhere into account.

This will probably mean that the US will agree to put on hold plans for missile defence in Europe, on condition that Russia takes steps to slow down the Iranian nuclear programme. Similarly, Nato expansion to include Georgia and Ukraine could be slowed. Since none of these things affect the vital interests of the great powers, such "sacrifices" could easily be made, just as one sacrifices a useless pawn in a game of chess.

In the same way "sacrifices" must be made in the Middle East. The fact that David Miliband, Britain's foreign secretary, recently visited Syria was a sign that the diplomatic machine was already in action. The reason for this is quite clear: Washington wants to get out of Iraq with a minimum of fuss. It must protect its rear and for this it requires the collaboration of Syria and Iran. But since it would be embarrassing for Mr. Bush to admit that he is talking to a "terrorist state", he sends his office boy from London. For their part the Syrians and Iranians are anxious to see the back of the Americans as soon as possible and would like, if possible, to obtain better relations with the transatlantic giant with the possibility of trade and investments this would open up.

Too weak to make war, Syria has proved strong enough to deny its neighbours peace, as we see from its meddling in Lebanon. Even the thickest minds in Washington are beginning to realise that the possibility of talking to Syria could cause less damage than leaving it as an enemy. Even Israel's outgoing prime minister, Ehud Olmert has understood this. According to Aluf Benn, a columnist in the Israeli daily, Haaretz, Olmert struggled in a recent meeting to persuade Bush that the Golan Heights may be a worthwhile price to pay for a major change in the region's strategic alignment.

Syria has recently grown closer to Turkey, which is keeping a close eye on developments in Iraq, especially the Kurdish area in the north, which sits on its border and serves as a base for the PKK. According to the Economist: "Syria, Mr Olmert explained, sat at the crux of two axes, one linking Iran to Hamas via Hizbullah, the other linking such 'pragmatic' powers as Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. A switch by Syria would dramatically weaken the extremists, the Israeli leader was said to have concluded."

Syria's economy is being damaged by collapsing crude reserves and world prices. It needs foreign investment to deal with unemployment that is unofficially estimated at more than 20 percent. Syria is a secular state and its leaders fear the growth in influence of the Islamist groups they sponsor abroad. A wave of support for Hamas inside Syria would not be good news for them, any more than for the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It does not require much imagination to see that in the future their attitude could change - if the terms were right.

The case of Iran is even clearer. The Iranian regime is facing revolutionary developments which we have analysed in previous articles. Its economy is being hit hard by falling oil prices. There has been a wave of strikes and student protests. The Ahmadinejad regime is clearly on its last legs and the ruling clique is looking for a replacement. A negotiated deal with Washington would be to its advantage.

How does this affect the Palestinians and Israel? History provides us with many examples where the rights of small nations have been used as bargaining chips by the Great Powers who cheerfully gamble them away without even the pretence at consultation. Once the professional diplomats sit down to talk, everything will be placed on the table and everything will be up for negotiation - including the fate of the Palestinians. As always, they are the pawns of great power diplomacy, and can be sacrificed very easily. The Palestinians should bear this firmly in mind, and not place any trust in the good will of even its most fervent "friends" in foreign governments.

On the Palestinian question up to now Syria and Iran have presented themselves as the most intransigent supporters of the hard line and have backed Hamas and Hezbollah with money and arms. The Americans and Israelis object to this. How can we solve this problem? Let us see... Israel possesses the Golan Heights, which Syria wants to be returned at all costs, since 1967. "Why not give us Golan?" the Syrians will say. To which the Americans will shake their head sadly: "For our part we would be delighted to oblige, but our friends the Israelis will object because it is a matter of their security." "Is that all?" the Syrians will answer. But we can also help them with the security issue. Don't forget we pay a big part of the bills for Hamas and Hezbollah."

At this, the Iranian delegate begins to express his displeasure: "The rights of our Palestinian brothers are non-negotiable," he protests, banging the table. But after a few hours (or weeks, or months), the Iranians have recovered their good spirits when the Americans produce a whole packet of economic proposals for trade and investment in Iran." "This comes just in time," says the Iranian, as the falling price of oil is causing us a lot of grief. Maybe we ought to be a bit more flexible on the Palestine issue after all." "Yes, says the American, with a broad smile, and don't forget when we withdraw you guys will control half of Iraq. All in all it is not a bad bargain."

This conversation is, of course, fictitious. But let nobody imagine that such things do not occur in the secret world of diplomacy where principles are nothing and cynical calculation everything. Naturally, not a word of these secret deals will be made public until decades later when some high diplomat writes his memoirs. In the next few months the opposite impression will be created: that the negotiations are very difficult, that Teheran and Syria are being very stubborn (it is always necessary to strike a hard bargain, especially in the Middle East where the tradition of haggling is strong). The talks will probably break down more than once, then they will be resumed. The time it takes to get agreement depends on many factors. But sooner or later a deal will be done, because it is in the interests of all parties that it should be so.

But nothing is simple in the politics of the Middle East. There can be complications for all this. Elections in Israel in February could produce a government opposed to any concessions. Binyamin Netanyahu not long ago was favourite to win the general election, although that will be affected by what happens in Gaza. His right wing Likud party generally opposes the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the West Bank. And the extreme right wing of the party strengthened its position in the primaries on December 9th. Moshe Feiglin, who heads that wing runs a website that denies the right of Palestinians to nationhood and urges Israel to annex the West Bank.

This kind of thing could push Syria and Iran back to the policy of "rejectionism". But in the long run they will have to negotiate. In any case, the new Israeli government, whoever leads it, will have to deal, not with George W Bush but with Barak Obama, whose agenda for the Middle East is rather different to that of his predecessor. Since America subsidises Israel, Obama will have a fair amount of leverage with which to exert pressure.

The only thing that can completely upset this scenario is the revolutionary movement of the masses in the Arab world and in Iran. The invasion of Gaza has set in motion forces that it will not be easy to halt. This is a factor that the politicians and diplomats cannot control with their usual methods of bribery, trickery and intrigue. In the last analysis it is the only hope for the people of Palestine and the whole world.

War and Revolution

Although Hamas has taken a battering, the longer the Israeli army stays in Gaza the more it may find ways of striking back. Until yesterday Hezbollah had only offered rhetorical support. However, the latest reports of rockets being fired into northern Israel may indicate that the conflict could spiral out of control.

As the BBC has reported: "Rockets have been fired into northern Israel from Lebanon, raising fears the Israeli offensive in Gaza may spread. Israel's army responded with artillery to a barrage of at least three rockets. No group has claimed responsibility."

The same report goes on to explain that, "The rocket attacks from Lebanon have raised concerns about a wider war, (...) It is is not clear if the rockets were fired by Hezbollah or by one of the armed Palestinian groups that operate in Lebanon. If Hezbollah mounted the attack there is a grave risk of a very strong Israeli reaction, our correspondent says. The Palestinians in Lebanon do not have the capacity to fight a war with Israel, but Hezbollah does."

Israel is clearly anxious that Hezbollah might be tempted to join in. If it does, in the present context, the Israel military will be pushed into hitting back very hard. This is very worrying to the imperialist powers, particularly the European who fear such a scenario. Whether Hezbollah gets sucked into the conflict we will see in the coming days. Meanwhile, inside Israel, too, this war will have serious consequences, as it drags on over time.

The aim of the war is to marginalize Hamas, to weaken and if possible destroy it. This aim is secretly welcomed by the "moderate" Arab regimes. And Abbas would not lose any sleep over it either, except for the fact that the attack on Gaza has caused outrage in the West Bank. The so-called moderate Arab regimes have been strangely restrained so far in their condemnations. In reality the rulers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan would not be too displeased if Hamas were to be wiped off the face of the earth, although these rulers would never dare to admit such a thing in public.

The petty bourgeois pacifists can only see the horrors of war but they are incapable of seeing the other side of the picture. History has shown many times that wars can lead to revolution. However the invasion of Gaza ends, one thing is sure. Sooner or later, there will be revolutionary developments in the Arab world that will lead to the overthrow of one rotten regime after another. All these reactionary regimes are all hanging by a thread. They live in constant fear that the poverty and discontent of the masses might erupt, leading to a revolutionary overthrow.

The world economic crisis that has led to a collapse of oil prices has underlined this threat. The present situation will lead to a further process of radicalisation throughout the Middle East. The workers and students who come out onto the streets to protest against the invasion of Gaza are not only protesting against the cruel treatment of the Palestinians. They are protesting against the inactivity of their own rulers, against their complicity with Washington and therefore with Israel, against their luxurious lifestyles that contrast so brutally with the misery of the masses.

In an editorial of 17/12/2008, the Financial Times expressed its concern about the stability of the Arab regimes: "Ripples through these regions easily build into waves. The US-allied leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, initially happy to see Israel hit Hizbollah or Hamas, quickly change their tune as soon as their peoples rally to the militants. Their legitimacy and survival is at stake." (my emphasis, AW)

In Egypt, where there was serious unrest even before the war, police have arrested dozens of campaigners for trying to send convoys of food and medicine to Gaza, and Internet organisers were calling for a general strike in support of the strip. There have been mass demonstrations in the Lebanon and the US embassy in Beirut has been attacked. There was a mass demonstration in Istanbul, and other big demonstrations have taken place in Jordan and the West Bank and all over the Middle East, in Indonesia, in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir.

In the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin tens of thousands of Israeli-Palestinians have protested against Israel's offensive. At present the majority of Jewish Israelis have remained passive or support the offensive, deceived by the propaganda about a defensive war. But as the war continues and casualties grow, that can change. There are already signs of differences in the Israeli ruling class. A former head of Mossad has said that Hamas must be included in future negotiations. This already indicates growing doubts even among the ruling layer. If the rockets keep on coming, even in reduced numbers, questions will be raised in Israel and elsewhere about what has really been achieved, especially as the death toll both among the Israeli troops and Palestinian civilians becomes even more severe.

The rulers of the Middle East are right to fear the revolutionary potential of the masses because it was already implicit in the situation before these events. Now it is coming close to boiling point. Arab governments, though furious with Hamas, will come under pressure to reflect the anger on the streets to take some action, and may face overthrow if they do not do so. That is why people like Gordon Brown want peace as soon s possible, because war means instability and instability can have effects that will not be to the liking of either London or Washington.

A Betrayal is Being Prepared

It is impossible to understand the events in Gaza outside this context. The aim of the Israelis is to pulverise Hamas in order to weaken them as against Fatah, whose services they will need in the next period. On the other hand, Hamas is attempting desperately to gain the sympathy of the Arab masses in order that they will not be completely marginalized. And both sides are issuing a message to those who are preparing to do a deal behind their backs.

Under Abbas the leaders are attempting to arrive at an accommodation with Israel. There is still talk of setting up an independent Palestinian state on land currently occupied by Israel. But how can this be established? The moment we pass from generalizations and pious declarations to the hard facts, the problems come to the fore. I wrote on this question in December 2007, when Bush organized the farce of the Annapolis conference:

"The slogan of the Israeli government is: what we have we hold. The Zionists have no intention of giving any important concessions. Hamas boasted that they had expelled the Israeli army from Gaza. That is a joke. The Israelis withdrew from Gaza as a tactical move to silence international criticism and create the impression that they were giving up something important, when in reality they have no interest in Gaza. This was intended to strengthen their stranglehold on the West Bank, which is the decisive question.

"The Israelis have relentlessly continued building the monstrous wall that slices through Palestinian territory on the West Bank, robbing large chunks of land under the pretext of 'defence'. The settlers have become increasingly bold and insolent. After the incidents in Gaza no Israeli government will want to confront the settlers in the West Bank.

"Then there is the little matter of Jerusalem, which both Jews and Arabs claim as their natural God-given capital. As for the right of return of Palestinians expelled from their homes since 1948, there is no question of Israel accepting them back, since that would completely upset the demographic balance of the ‘Jewish state'."

How are these problems to be resolved? To this question diplomacy has never produced a satisfactory answer. The defiance of the Israelis has just been expressed in the eloquent language of bombs, rockets and artillery fire. And what will the Palestinians say? They will have nothing to say because they will not be invited to these negotiations. The people who have fought and given their blood to fight for their rights, will see that their destiny is being determined by foreign governments who are only concerned with their own narrow national interests.

When all the fundamental issues are nicely decided, there will be a Middle East Conference, with the participation of all the well-known "friends of Palestine" - Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others. Abbas will then be invited, not to decide anything, but like a man invited to the last day of a trial to listen to the sentence. As for Hamas, whether they are invited or not depends on their good behaviour. In any case, it will make not the slightest difference to the outcome.

A Blind Ally

It is the elementary duty of every proletarian internationalist to defend the Palestinians against the violence of Israeli imperialism. But it is also our duty to say what is: the tactics of suicide bombing and firing rockets at Israeli towns are counterproductive and useless. They do not represent armed struggle because they do not even dent the armour of the Israeli state, but strengthen it by pushing the Israeli masses behind it.

A big part of the appeal of Hamas comes from its image of resistance to occupation. Hamas won the election in 2006 because the masses were tired of the corruption of the PLO leaders and their connivance with Israel. But if we pose the question purely in nationalist terms (Jews against Arabs), then no solution of the Palestinian question is possible. It is not possible to solve the problem of the Palestinian people by tactics like suicide bombings and firing rockets at Israeli towns and villages. The methods advocated by Hamas were tried by the PLO for 40 years and have led only to one bloody defeat after another. No amount of sympathy for the sufferings of the Palestinians can alter that fact.

What will be the end result of the war? In military terms Hamas will have lost massively. Many of its cadres will have been killed or taken prisoner. Its military infrastructure will be shattered. In terms of physical assets, Gaza will be left devastated. The economic damage will take many years to rebuild. In this sense the Israelis will have got what they wanted. More serious for Israel will be the long-term political effects. Although it will have suffered a severe blow, Hamas will not be destroyed.

And what will Israel have gained? The Israelis' "victory" in Gaza will turn to ashes in their mouths. Let us remember that the whole point was to achieve security. In the end they will have earned an even greater hatred in the Arab world than before. The threat of terrorist actions will not be any less than before but far greater. For every Hamas militant they kill there will be ten, twenty or a hundred youths who are now children filled with bitterness and hate, who will be ready to volunteer for suicide missions against Israel and its allies in the Arab and western world. If this is the idea of creating security for Israel in the future, it is a very strange one!

What will Hamas have achieved after all the dust settles on the ruins of Gaza? They may win some meagre concessions - perhaps a loosening of Israel's siege, an opening of Egypt's border, a lot of aid from fellow Muslims, and maybe a modicum of international recognition. Their prestige among the Arabs may have been enhanced. But the question remains: what has been solved by all this? We merely return once more to the same never-ending cycle of violence, wars and killings that solve nothing. The rage in Gaza over Israel's violence may momentarily boost Hamas' popularity, but after the excitement dies down the people of Gaza may start to ask what brought them to this mess.

The actions of the Israeli army are stirring up the whole Middle East. They will reap a new harvest of hate, bitterness and a thirst for revenge. But the tactics of groups like Hamas can never succeed. In fact, they are entirely counterproductive. The leaders of Hamas say: "As the weaker party we have the right to use any methods available to us to defeat our oppressors." To this we reply: "Yes, you have that right and we understand that the methods of terrorism and guerrilla warfare are always resorted to by a weaker side against a stronger oppressor.

To professional soldiers such guerrilla methods are always to be condemned. In olden times the shepherd David used his sling to kill the giant Goliath and doubtless the Philistine generals considered that an unfair and barbarous method that did not comply with the rules of warfare. But by the use of this simple but effective method, David won and Goliath lost his head. All that is true but we will say also this: a good general will only make use of such methods that are consistent with his strategic aims and likely to be successful. Only a bad general makes use of methods that do not lead to victory but will guarantee defeat. And the methods used by Hamas can only lead to defeat and help the enemy. That is why we oppose these methods.

If the methods of Hamas have failed to benefit the Palestinians, so have the methods of the Israeli imperialists failed the people of Israel. Every attempt by Israel to guarantee security by force has turned out to be counterproductive. The occupation of Palestinian territory after the 1967 six-day war has intensified the conflict with the Palestinians. Its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 led to the creation of its Nemesis, Hezbollah. Its 2006 war on Hezbollah undermined the pro-western government in Beirut. The current pounding of Gaza has discredited Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate Palestinian president. Security is a mirage that constantly eludes Israel's grasp, and the future of the state of Israel always has a question mark over it.

Equally, every attempt to defeat Israel by military means has ended by reinforcing reactionary Zionism. From the failure of the so-called armed struggle, Abbas and the leaders of Fatah have drawn the conclusion that the only alternative is to negotiate with Israel and seek the good offices of the imperialists. But we have already seen what that means over the last decade or so. It means negotiating surrender and selling out the cause of Palestinian national self-determination. Neither Hamas nor Abbas therefore offer any way out.

What will be the outcome of negotiations on a "Palestinian state" - the "two-state solution"? This solution depends on one thing only: the agreement of Israel (which, after all, will be one of the two states, and not the weakest of them). What will Israel agree to? They might accept some adjustments of the present frontier with the West Bank. They might allow some opening of the border with Gaza (which they can close at any time). They may impose some restrictions on building new Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, and they may even dismantle a few of the existing ones. They cannot hand over Jerusalem, which they regard as their capital, though there may be some sort of sharing agreement. Nor will they allow the right of return to Israel proper, although they might permit some to enter the Palestinian territory.

This is the best the Palestinians can hope for on the present basis: a truncated pseudo-state, which will be economically dependent on Israel, whose presence will stand over it like a dark and menacing shadow. Control of this "state" will be entrusted only to those Palestinian leaders like Abbas, who is prepared to act as a puppet of Israel, and who will mercilessly repress any dissident Palestinian group.

In other words, it will be a "solution" similar to that imposed on the Irish by British imperialism in 1922. That led to a bloody civil war in Ireland in which many more Irish were killed than were ever killed by the British. The same thing can happen with the Palestinians in the future, as we saw with the civil war in Gaza in 2007. Some Palestinians might accept, while others would undoubtedly reject, leading to new conflicts and bloodshed.

Take the revolutionary road!

Napoleon said that defeated armies learn well. All the defeats and sacrifices and martyrdoms will serve for nothing unless we are willing to learn from them and turn them to our advantage. If we merely look at the present bloody mess in sentimental and moralistic terms, as is too often the case, we will gain nothing from it. Our task, in the words of the philosopher Spinoza, is: neither weep nor laugh but understand.

Ultimately, both Jews and Arabs must have the right to live in peace and control their own destinies in a homeland of their own. It is easy to state this aim, but not so easy to say how it can be achieved. The so-called Peace Process is dead. There is no doubt it will be revived, but not until the Israeli army has done its bloody work in Gaza thoroughly.

We can predict that after the war there will be one deal after another, and they will break down one after another. None of this will do anything to solve the problems of the Palestinians. Nor will it guarantee security for the people of Israel. However, there is a solution to the Palestinian problem that is neither futile acts of terrorism or diplomatic sell-outs.

The events in Gaza were the spark that fell on a parched prairie. It provoked a wave of mass protests that has shaken all the existing regimes in the Middle East. The revolutionary potential implicit in these movements was instantly recognised by the strategists of Capital. Thus, the Economist wrote: "But unless the current furious street protests spark a region-wide revolution that scares the wits out of Israel and its friends, Hamas will still face the same painful old choice of how to come to terms with an immensely more powerful and equally determined enemy."

These words express the essence of the problem excellently. What do they mean? The intelligent bourgeois understand that the Palestinian question can act as a catalyst for all the accumulated frustration, rage and discontent of the masses in the Middle East. That is why they are continually pleading for peace, ceasefires, agreements and moderation. They can see what the Marxists can see: that a region-wide revolution is implicit in the whole situation. That is the starting point for the success of the Palestinian Revolution, and no other.

The question is posed very clearly by the above lines. The Palestinians are faced by an immensely more powerful and equally determined enemy. The events in Gaza have clearly shown the impossibility of defeating this monster by purely military means. Is there a power that is even stronger and more determined than the power of the state of Israel? Yes, there is such a power. It is the power of the masses, once they are organized and mobilized to fight. Two intifadas have shown that the Palestinian masses are prepared to fight heroically. But in war courage is never enough to win. A clear strategy and tactics, and above all good generals are necessary. In revolutionary terms this means that in order to win, the masses require a revolutionary programme, correct methods and tactics and good leadership. This is what is needed and this is what is lacking.

The present leaders of the Palestinians offer no alternative. Some of the leaders of Fatah in reality would not be sorry to see Hamas liquidated. They have in fact blamed Hamas for the Israeli invasion! This has caused a wave of disgust among ordinary supporters of Fatah and the mass of Palestinians on the West Bank, who are asking why their top leader has adopted such a position while their compatriots are being slaughtered. Arafat, with all his faults, would not have behaved like this. Many Palestinians are drawing the conclusion: "Abbas is a puppet of Israel."

Hamas is hoping to inspire Palestinians in the West Bank to overthrow Fatah. They have not yet succeeded in this. However discredited Abbas may be, Palestinians do not see Hamas as an alternative, though some young people in desperation may turn to it. That would be a tragedy. What is required is not a new generation of suicide bombers seeking revenge and martyrdom, but the construction of a viable mass revolutionary alternative.

The first condition for the future success of the Palestinian revolution lies in the revolutionary overthrow of the reactionary bourgeois regimes of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and then for a settling of accounts with the reactionary Zionist state itself. The whole Arab world is now in a state of ferment. The one thing that is lacking in the situation is a genuine revolutionary leadership, standing on the basic ideas of Marxism-Leninism. That is what is required to find a way out of this bloody quagmire.

In the past there were powerful Communist Parties in the Arab world, which claimed to stand for Marxism-Leninism, although the Stalinist two-stage policies of the leadership led to one defeat after another. Since the fall of the USSR, the old Communist Parties have ceased to exist. But there are many revolutionary cadres who are dissatisfied with the existing political leaderships and are looking for an alternative. It is to these layers, especially the youth, that we address ourselves. That is the only hope for the future.

Those who consider that the people of Israel are one solid reactionary mass understand nothing. If this were the case, then the future of the Palestinians would be hopeless indeed. But it is not true. On more than one occasion the masses in Israel have demonstrated against the brutality of their own imperialists and in solidarity with the Palestinians. Even in this conflict we had the first signs of protest in the recent anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv. On more then one occasion the Israeli workers have organized strikes and general strikes. The class struggle exists in Israel as in any other country. What is necessary is to intensify it and cut the ground from under the feet of the reactionary Zionists.

The victory of the socialist revolution in a country like Egypt would have important echoes within Israel, especially if it stood on the programme of Leninist internationalism.

The Palestinian question is part of the overall problems faced by the masses throughout the Middle East. The only real perspective for solving the problem is the creation of a Socialist Federation of the peoples of the region, with complete autonomy for Arabs, Jews, Kurds and all other peoples who inhabit this land. The fight for a free and genuinely democratic Palestine will be won as part of the internationalist socialist revolution, or it will not be won at all.

London, January 8, 2009