Yossi Schwartz


The Three Intifadas
and the Crisis
of the Israeli Left

This document is to the best of our knowledge published here for the first time.
Lecture delivered at an International Seminar and Conference on the Balkans and the Middle East, held in Athens, Greece, 15-19 March 2001.
Transcribed by Daniel Rubinstein.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.


The Palestinian uprising known as Intifada which began on October 29, 2000, is not the second Intifada, as many people mistakenly call it, but the third one: the first Intifada took place between 1936 and 1939. The mass media call the present uprising by the misleading term of “Second Intifada” in order to impose the idea that both the conflict and its solution have their origin in the Six Days War of 1967 and not in the policy of ethnic cleansing employed by the Zionist movement since its inception, which reached its apogee in the 1948 war that created the refugee problem. The media also find it convenient to forget that the conflict stems from the role of the Israeli state as the main agent of Western imperialism in the Middle East, opposed to the national and social liberation of the peoples of the region, and that therefore its solution goes beyond the framework of contemporary capitalist society.

The present Palestinian uprising, in which youngsters armed with stones and guns confront tanks, helicopters and missiles, is the expression of the national struggle of the Palestinian people against the state of Israel and its imperialist supporter, the United States. It is also a revolt against the Oslo agreements, whose aim has always been to force the Palestinians to renounce their rights of self-determination by both diplomatic and military means.



The First Intifada

1. Introduction

At the end of the First World War, Palestine was inhabited by 750,000 people, 8.5% of whom were Jews, more than 10% Christians, and the rest Moslems, especially Sunnites. Among the Jews, a few were descendants from families which never left the country, while others were Sephardim (i.e. Jews of Spanish origin) which reached the country from the 16th to the 18th centuries and lived mostly in the town of Tsfat. About half the Jews lived in Zionist settlements, and of them only about 50% were openly Zionists. Then the Jewish population grew by 400% in the short space of 18 years: in 1936 there were in Palestine 404,000 Jews, most of whom immigrated between the years 1933 to 1936.

The Jewish migration to Palestine was the result of the political changes operated in Europe, which led to the creation of the right-wing nationalist government of Pilsudsky in Poland and of the Nazi government in Germany, while as a result of the economic crisis the United States and Canada imposed severe restrictions on the Jewish immigration.

The Jewish settlers created their own government, including political parties, a general trade union for Jewish workers only, and an army called the Haganah, which in 1936 had 10,000 soldiers and another 40,000 in the reserve. The central political organization of the Jewish settlement was the Zionist Labor movement led by David Ben Gurion, whose aim was the creation of a Jewish state. Others belonged to the “revisionist” movement led by Zeev Jabotinsky, which demanded a Jewish state including present-day Jordan. In addition, a small group of liberal intellectuals called the “Peace League” wanted to create a bi-national state, in which Jews would have a representation equal to that of the Arabs - despite their numerical minority - in the name of “equality”. Their leader was Yehuda Magnes, and among its members was the well-known philosopher Martin Buber. Till the UN decision supporting partition, both the Shomer Hatzahir movement and the Communist Party of Palestine supported this program, which was (whether its supporters knew it or not) the program of “liberal” Zionist colonialism.

The Zionist movement, from the beginning of its operation, bought land for exclusive ownership and use by the Jews; this discriminatory practice was known as “the redemption of the land”. The lands were bought mainly from absentee Arab effendis, while the tenants that worked them were expelled from their houses and replaced by Jewish workers (this was called “the movement for Hebrew Labor”). Though no statistics were kept of these practices, it is clear that many thousand Palestinians were expelled from their lands in this way.

In 1936 the number of Arabs in Palestine reached 968,000. Most of them were peasants who lived in 850 villages; less than a third lived in the cities (Acre, Haifa, Yaffa, Jerusalem, Hebron). About 50 upper-class families controlled the Arab parties, such as the “Palestinian Arab Party” dominated by the Hussein family. The Arab peasants at that time had still not developed a national consciousness: they were locally centred, and their main loyalty was to Islam. One of their main leaders was the Sheikh Az-a-Din El Kasam, which organized the expropriated peasants into guerrilla groups that attacked Jewish settlements (the contemporary Moslem guerrilla movement carries his name). He was killed in a battle in November 1935 and his death was one of the main immediate reasons for the outbreak of the uprising in April 1936.


2. The Arab Revolt

Already in 1933 it was possible to note the growth of Arab opposition to British and Zionist colonialism. In order to prevent an uprising, the British proposed to create a “legislative assembly” composed of 11 Moslems, 7 Jews, 3 Christians and 5 government officials. This proposal was rejected by the Zionists, not because of any opposition to foreign government, but because they wanted to create a hundred-percent Jewish legislative assembly (the so-called Knesset Israel). The revolt, which began spontaneously as a wave of strikes and demonstrations, was part of a more general uprising against European colonialism which shook Syria and Egypt as well as Palestine. It surprised the local upper classes, which rushed to create a “Supreme Arab Council” in order to control it. This council (which began to operate on April 25, 1936) called for a general strike that began in the cities and continued till October 1936, when it was eventually called off because of the fear of social revolution among the leading circles in Palestine and the Arab countries.

Great Britain created a commission of inquiry in order to ascertain the causes of the revolt, which issued a report on July 7, 1937. The Peel commission recommended a partition the country, a step that, in its opinion, involved the transfer of the Arabs living within the border of the future Jewish state. Not surprisingly, the Zionists supported this program, while the Arabs staunchly opposed it.

A short time after the publication of the Peel report began the second stage of the revolt in the Middle East. In Palestine, the peasants’ revolt was widespread, especially in the Galilee and the present-day West Bank. As the revolt developed, it was more and more directed, not only against the British and the Zionists, but also against the exploiting classes within Arab society, but it quickly revealed its limitations when it failed to develop a national leadership and became confined to as series of local uprisings directed by more or less successful guerrilla groups – a common phenomenon in this sort of peasant wars. The British army and police cooperated with the Zionist Haganah in order to repress the uprising, including the formation of death squads that terrorized the Arab population.

The revolt continued till March 1939 and convinced the British that the proposed partition was not feasible – a position officially adopted in the so-called White Book of 1938 and reversed after the outbreak of World War II. During the Arab revolt, the Zionist movement established 55 new settlements. The Jewish general “trade-union” (Histadrut) employed every available method to break the general strike. From this period dates also the paramilitary organization of the Revisionist wing of Zionism, the so-called Etzel, which systematically terrorized Palestinian civilians.

The revolt failed because it did not have a revolutionary leadership. The Arab landowners represented in the “Supreme Council” feared an uprising of the tenants and wanted to put an end to it as soon as possible. The leaders of the Arab states were also afraid of the revolt and wanted to liquidate it. This shows that only a social revolution that expropriates the local ruling classes can bring about the national liberation from the yoke of colonialism and imperialism.

The Communist Party of Palestine, which could have played a crucial role in leading the revolt to victory, was paralyzed by Stalin’s “popular front” policy and supported the treacherous policy of the “Supreme Arab Council.” The Stalinists closed the circle of betrayal when the Soviet Union and the communist parties supported the Zionists in the 1948 war that led to the ethnic cleansing of more then 800,000 Palestinians.



The Second Intifada

1. The Outbreak of the Palestinian Uprising and Its Causes

On December 8, 1987, four Palestinian workers were killed and seven injured as a result of the collision of the truck in which they travelled with an Israeli military vehicle. The Palestinians felt that this was not an accident, but a deliberate murder. The following day a spontaneous demonstration took place in the Jabaliah refugee camp, during which the so-called IDF (Israel’s “Defence” Forces) opened fire against the unarmed crowd, killing one Palestinian youngster and wounding many others. The following day another Palestinian was shot in the town of Jenin, and during the demonstrations which took place as a result of these events, the IDF bullets injured fifty more people. On December 13 the Intifada reached East Jerusalem; six days later, the Palestinians within Israel declared a strike, demanding the end of the military occupation of the territories that had continued for more than twenty years; and on December 21 the Intifada spread to the villages. The first leaflet showing a national leadership, issued on December 18, 1987 in the Gaza Strip, called for the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to organize in order to achieve an independent state. The popular revolt continued until September 1993.

The main cause of the popular uprising was the twenty-years-long military occupation and the massive expropriation of Palestinian lands, which led to the establishment of more than 80,000 settlers till the outbreak of the revolt. The Palestinians were systematically deprived of water for agriculture and sometimes even for personal consumption, and routinely humiliated at the military posts they had to pass through every day in order to work for minimum wages. On top of that, the fall in oil prices caused a wave of dismissals among the Palestinian workers in the Arab Emirates, which were thus unable to continue sending money to their families. Any incident could therefore act as a trigger for the uprising – and the killing of the four Palestinian workers in the truck provided this trigger.


2. The Israeli Reaction

The Palestinian uprising caught the Zionist leadership off-guard. On December 12, 1987, when 23 Palestinians had already been killed, the Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir gave a speech arguing that there was nothing new in these “incidents”. The same day, the Israeli Security Minister Itzhak Rabin returned after an eleven-day-long visit to the United States - during which he argued that the uprising would be over by Christmas - emphasizing that he felt no need to return earlier because there was nothing unusual in the situation. Similar statements were made by President Haim Herzog and the Chief Commander Dan Shomron, revealing the total lack of understanding of the leadership about what was happening in the country.

It is important to remember that when the revolt broke out the PLO leadership had been forced to move to Tunis, the majors elected in the territories in the middle seventies had been killed, crippled or deported, and more than 300,000 Palestinians had passed through the Israeli military prisons. The Zionists were unable to believe that the Palestinians could revolt after the systematic suppression of their leadership: what they did not understand is that the Israeli prisons had become political schools from which a new leadership developed to direct the revolt.


3. War Crimes

In order to crush the uprising, Israel (with the support of the United States) employed methods defined as war crimes by international law – notably the indiscriminate shooting of demonstrators. As a result of this, according to the Chicago Centre for Human Rights, between 1987 and 1992 1,229 Palestinians were killed, 120,446 were wounded and had to be hospitalized, 483 were deported, 15,320 were detained by “administrative orders” (i.e. without trial), 11,151 suffered domiciliary arrest, 87,726 acres of land were expropriated, 2,065 houses destroyed, and 126,364 trees cut down. In addition, 760 Palestinians suspected of collaboration were killed.


4. Popular Organizations

The most important characteristic of the Intifada was the spontaneous appearance of independent popular organizations that operated as an embryonic dual regime against the regime of occupation. Popular committees provided food for people suffering from domiciliary detention, education for people affected by the closure of schools, immediate health care for the sick and wounded. Women participated massively in these committees through their own organizations linked to the different political movements: the bourgeois women being linked mainly with the OLP, while the working- and middle-class women were active in the left organizations (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Communist Party). As a result, an important debate took place on the role of women in the liberation movements and in society at large, in order to avoid repeating the Algerian experience, where the women were excluded from public life after the victory of the FLN.


5. The Failure of the Palestinian Left

The above-mentioned left organizations failed to capitalize the opportunity and seize the leadership of the national liberation movement because of their links with the Stalinist bureaucracy and their acceptance of the “theory of stages”. According to this theory, there must be a first stage of national liberation directed by the national bourgeoisie, and only later a second one of social revolution directed by the working class: the only problem with this scheme is that the “national” bourgeoisie is terrified by popular uprisings, and always betrays them in order to reach a compromise with imperialism. The Soviet bureaucracy, which at that time was in the last stages of its degeneration and preparing an immediate restoration of capitalism, applied massive pressure on the PLO to reach an agreement with Israel and accept partition – something which Arafat was by no means adamantly opposed to.

In this situation, the left organizations, instead of fighting for the leadership of the movement with the PLO, were paralyzed by their links with Stalinism. In an interview given on February 18, 1988, Nasser Ibrahim, the editor of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s newspaper, recognized that both his organization and Nahif Hawatme’s Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine had ignored for years the social question - i.e. the class struggle - and that as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union both were in a deep crisis (which, together with the pressure of the Syrian regime to reach an agreement with imperialism, led to their programmatic liquidation and surrender to Arafat in August 1999).

Lacking a revolutionary leadership able to combine the liberation movement of the Palestinians with the class struggle of the workers and peasants of the region (including the Jewish ones) the popular uprising had no chance to overcome the military power of Israel, the United States and the Arab regimes – hence its eventual decline.


6. The Way to Madrid and Oslo

Since 1982 the PLO leaders had been in exile in Tunis, and when the uprising broke out they played no major part in it. But when the leadership of the movement threatened to fall into the hands of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, Arafat declared on November 15, 1988, that he was ready to renounce the Palestinian charter opposing partition in order to reach an agreement with Israel, which in the given conditions (without the support of the Soviet Union and after the massive building of settlements and roads in the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli state) amounted to a virtual surrender to Zionism. After an initial period of reluctance, when the PLO proposal to reach a “two-states” agreement was supported mainly by the imperialists of the European Union, the United States gave it green light.

The Oslo agreement was, to a great extent, a result of the failure of the United States to bring down Saddam Hussein. After the brutal killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, it did not want to appear too openly pro-Israeli in order to somehow improve its image among the Arab masses and stabilize the dictatorial “friendly regimes” of the region. A “peace agreement” between Israel and the PLO, in which the last would act as a policeman against the Palestinian masses and the left organizations, offered the best possible alternative for imperialism. In an interview given to the Hebrew newspaper Yediot Aharonot on September 9, 1993, Itzhak Rabin – who as Defence Minister had given instructions to break the arms and legs of the Palestinians throwing stones - explained that the PLO could do a better job than the IDF in the territories, because it would act “without appeals to the Supreme Court and without human rights’ organizations.” For this brilliant idea, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with his “socialist” co-thinker Shimon Peres.

The pressure of American imperialism to reach an agreement with the PLO led to a political crisis in Israel, as a result of which the Zionist leadership split into a “left” wing (i.e., the main section of the bourgeoisie, which wants to preserve at all costs the economic advantages of a strategic alliance with the United States as well as to have access to the Arab markets) and a right wing linked to the settlements and representing the old Zionist hard line, dating from the time when Israel was the main American basis in the Middle East against the Soviet Union and its allied Arab regimes. Hence the instability which has characterized the Israeli governments since the signing of the Oslo agreements, which the bourgeoisie attempted to avoid by means of a semi-Bonapartist law for the direct election of Prime Minister, and has only succeeded in increasing the alienation of the electorate from its traditional Zionist leadership.



The Third Intifada

1. The Barak Government

On May 17, 1999 Ehud Barak, the former IDF general and presidential candidate of the “Labour” Party, was elected Prime Minister of Israel with 55.5% of the votes. His election was to a large extent due to the support of the Arab voters, who were convinced by their parties (especially the Communist Party, a fervent supporter of the Oslo agreements) that he was preferable to Netanyahu, the presidential candidate of the Likud. The Arab candidate Azmi Bshara retired from the contest as a result of the pressure not the harm the candidature of Barak. In this as in all major issues, the Israeli left showed itself to be the obedient tool of imperialist policies in the Middle East.

Ten days before Barak’s assumption, Netanyahu – a true disciple of US imperialism in this respect - ordered the bombing of the civilian infrastructure in Beirut, as a result of which nine Lebanese civilians were killed. Though among Barak’s supporters there were great hopes that he would reach a peace agreement with Syria and the Palestinians, the Likud Defense Minister Moshe Arens made it clear that the bombing of Lebanon had been carried out with Barak’s approval. After his assumption, Barak proposed to the Likud the creation of a “national unity” government – an offer that the Likud rejected.

The coalition formed by the new Prime Minister was from the beginning a center-right one, in spite of the decorative presence of the “left” Zionist Meretz party. Neither the Arab parties (among which the Zionist racists include the Communist party, though there are several thousand Jews among its voters) nor the “One Nation” party organized by the Histadrut leader Amir Peretz (which represents the interests of the trade union bureaucracy and the more privileged strata of the working class) were invited to enter the coalition. Among the most prominent members of the new government were chauvinist and religious parties such as Shas (the religious party of the Oriental Jews), the religious-nationalist party Mafdal (the party of the settlers), and the right-wing Russian party of Nathan Sharansky, a rabid chauvinist who was once described as a persecuted civil rights activist in the former Soviet Union. The Minister of Finance Abraham Shohat applied so-called “economically responsible” policies which included privatization, cuts in welfare spending and the maintenance of elitist tuition fees in the universities.

In October 1999 the Wye II agreement was signed. The Israeli bourgeoisie was exultant at the perspective of the opening up of the Arab markets from Morocco to the Persian Gulf states, to which would soon be added – so they hoped - the Syrian and Lebanese markets. According to the agreement, till April 2000 Israel was to retreat from another 11% of the Occupied Territories and release another 350 political prisoners. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, promised to defend the Jewish settlements more efficiently, and in order to show its good intentions it sent to prison 50 militants from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. The “final peace agreement” between Israel and the PA was to be signed in September.

The “enlightened” Israeli “peace supporters” did not see, or rather did not want to see, that the situation of most of the Palestinian population had deteriorated drastically since the signing of the Oslo agreement. Unemployment grew enormously as a result of the replacement of the Palestinian workers by foreign workers, and according to official figures stood at 20% of the economically active population in the West Bank and 60% in the Gaza Strip. The proportion of Palestinians working in Israel fell from 33% in 1993 to 21% in 1998. The World Bank estimated that the average income of the Palestinians fell in those years by 25%. It was therefore only a question of time for the accumulated anger to explode in another popular uprising.

In December 1999 about 100 Palestinians demonstrated in town of Nablus against the PA’s persecution of the signers of a petition accusing it of corruption and arbitrary detentions. The petition also remarked that, six years after the signing of the Oslo agreement, the Jewish settlements continued to grow, the Palestinian refugees were not allowed to return, East Jerusalem remained in the hands of the Israelis, and Palestinian society was increasingly polarized between a small minority which benefited from the agreement and the immense majority which suffered from it. The response of the Arafat regime, which was increasingly relying on the Mossad and the CIA in order to remain in power, was to detain eight of the signers and put the rest under house arrest. Arafat threatened to abolish the parliamentary immunity of nine members of the Legislative Council that signed the petition and some of them even suffered physical harassment.

The 1998 report of Amnesty International asserted that in the areas controlled by the PA 450 militants had been arrested for political reasons, to which should be added another 500 suffering from “administrative detention”. In October the Palestinian judges went on strike against the intervention of the PA in the judicial process. The circulation of the books of Edward Said was forbidden. Against this background, it is not difficult to realize why a major portion of the Palestinian budget was destined to the maintenance of the Palestinian police. The ratio between the number of policemen and the number of civilians in the areas under control of the PA is 1:50, one of the highest in the world!

In December 1999 the Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk HaShara announced that a peace agreement between Israel and Syria could be signed within months. The Syrian Baath regime, which relies on the Halawai minority and has embarked on a course of privatizations that hurts the Shiite majority of the country, desperately needed the political and financial support of the US in order to persuade the army to support the new policies. The US, in turn, was interested in the signing of the agreement, which would have further isolated Iraq and Iran and increased the stability of the region. Israel was interested in the opening up of the Syrian and Lebanese markets, and it further wanted the Syrian regime to assume a police role towards the Palestinian refugees in Southern Lebanon, but it was not ready to return the whole of the Golan Heights conquered in the 1967 Six Day War, which now count with 17,000 Jewish settlers (whose removal would imply paying compensations of between three and four billion dollars) and provides 12% of its water supply. The Barak government thus failed to reach an agreement with Syria and in the end retired unilaterally from Southern Lebanon in May.

After this failure, Barak promised to implement the Wye II agreement. Arafat wanted to receive the village of Abu Dis in order to move the Palestinian Legislative Council closer to Jerusalem. Barak refused, promised to return another village that was also near Jerusalem, and finally, under pressure from the Zionist right wing, refused to give back any area close to the Israeli capital. As a result of this, Arafat’s position among the Palestinians further deteriorated and the support for Hamas grew by leaps and bounds. When the French President Jospin, in a conference he gave at Bir Zeit university in the Occupied Territories, called Hamas’ sister movement in Lebanon Hezbollah a “terrorist organization”, an angry crowd threw stones at him. The PA responded to this incident by arresting about 100 students, at least one of which was tortured. Since February the teachers had been on strike demanding a rise in wages; now the students joined them to protest against the Arafat regime. The Palestinian police attacked journalists suspected of being friendly towards the teachers or the students. The editor of the Hebron Times was arrested and tortured.

The opposition to the negotiations with Israel grew daily, and with it the opposition to Arafat’s rule, who was now desperately in need of an agreement that could be shown as an achievement to the Palestinian masses. Barak was unable to supply him with one though, as his own coalition was by then falling apart.

The break up of Barak’s government coalition began as a result of his surrender to the financial demands of the religious party Shas, which demanded additional funding for its educational network. This led to the departure of the Meretz party from the coalition on June 22. The Barak government was also unpopular among the poorest strata of the Jewish population, especially in the so-called “development towns”, where unemployment rates reach 20%. As a result of the Oslo agreement, textile factories were moved to the neighbouring Arab countries, where wages levels are much lower. Thus, 30 factories employing 6,000 workers were opened in Jordan, and another four factories employing 3,000 workers were opened in Egypt. The justified anger of the lowest strata of the Israeli working class found a deformed expression in Shas, a nationalist religious party, which diverts the class struggle into fundamentalist channels. But Barak’s surrender to Shas did not give his government any stability; on the contrary, it was further threatened by the demand of Nathan Sharansky’s chauvinist party Israel VeAliyha not to return the Jordan Valley to the PA. From July 2000 on, Barak’s government became a minority one, after its religious and nationalist partners deserted it.

At the Camp David II summit, Barak proposed Arafat to give back 90% of the West Bank in exchange for the annexation to Israel of the major areas of compact Jewish settlement and the renunciation of the right of return for the vast majority of the 3.5 million Palestinian refugees. The US offered the PA 15 billion dollars if it agreed to Barak’s proposal, and another 40 billion after the signing of the agreement. The offer was very tempting, and Arafat was ready to accept it. But they could not reach an agreement over the control of the “holy sites” in East Jerusalem due to the pressure of the religious-nationalist Zionist right wing. On July 25 Clinton declared that the talks between Israel and the Palestinians had failed.

On September 13 Arafat was due to announce the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The date passed without any Palestinian declaration of independence, lest Israel, on its side, would unilaterally annex areas of compact settlement and undertake military operations against the PA. But Arafat’s inactivity could only strengthen Hamas – hence his desperate attempt to overcome the Palestinian opposition to the agreement proposed by American imperialism at Camp David II.


2. The Third Intifada Breaks Out

On September 28 Ariel Sharon, guarded by a large number of Israeli security forces, entered the Temple Mount area; a provocation destined to strengthen Sharon’s image among the right as “protector of a unified Jewish Jerusalem”. The Palestinians naturally demonstrated en masse against the man responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre. This demonstration, and the accompanying throwing of stones, was used as an excuse to open fire against the crowd and kill six demonstrators. Thus began the third Intifada.

Instead of blaming Sharon for his provocation, Barak blamed Arafat for the outbreak of violence, and sent tanks and battle helicopters against the Palestinian population. The British newspaper The Guardian described accurately the background to the uprising. Since 1993, it argued, the leaders of the Labour Party and the Likud did not hide the fact that the Oslo agreement aimed at keeping the Palestinians within areas isolated from each other, without territorial continuity and surrounded by the Israeli army, settlers and a network of circumventing roads. Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and Barak continued with the traditional Israeli policy of land expropriation, destruction of Palestinian houses and expansion of the Jewish settlements (today there are 200,000 settlers in Jerusalem and another 200,000 in the West Bank and Gaza, about 10% of whom moved there for ideological reasons). The military occupation thus continues and the Israeli government systematically blocks every step that could lead towards Palestinian independence.

A new development of the present Intifada has been the indiscriminate shooting of Palestinians, not only in the Occupied Territories, but also within Israel. The massacre has in fact obliterated the Green Line separating the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from Israel and created a new sense of solidarity between the Palestinian “citizens” of Israel and their compatriots in the Territories and the Diaspora. What is even more important, it has aroused the masses all over the Middle East against Israel and the United States. In Morocco, for instance, there were mass demonstrations of hundreds of thousands, at whose front marched the leaders of he Jewish community. Yemen, Iraq and Libya issued a call to declare war against Israel.

The protest movement terrified the Arab leaders and deeply worried the US, which feared the economic and political consequences of a war in the Middle East. The American warship USSCole suffered an attack by a guerrilla group in Yemen, as a result of which seven American seamen were killed and dozens wounded. Clinton went out of his way to re-establish order, to the extent of refusing to impose a veto on a UN resolution condemning Israel for “excessive use of force”. He forced Barak to attend a summit at Sharm with Arafat in order to achieve some sort of agreement, though in the end nothing came out of it. Israel continued to blame the PA for the uprising, as if decades of oppression, exploitation, discrimination, expropriation of lands, destruction of houses, and daily humiliation had not been sufficient causes for an uprising. The PA was left with no option but to pretend that it stood at the front of the Palestinian struggle, when in fact it used every possible means to put an end to it as soon as possible: Arafat in person issued a call to the Palestinians in Israel to stop their revolt.

The Sharm summit ended with an agreement that Arafat would issue a call for a cease-fire, while Barak would withdraw the tanks from the outskirts of the Palestinian cities. Arafat even arrested 35 Hamas militants after he was pressed to do so by the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. But Barak had no intention of putting an end to the blood-bath: he angered the Palestinians even further when he issued an ultimatum of 48 hours to end the violence and decreed the continuation of the closure of the Territories in order to bring the Palestinians to their knees by starvation. The settlers contributed to the continuation of the massacre by making a provocative visit to Rachel’s tomb in the town of Schem (two people, one Israeli and one Palestinian, were killed in this incident). On October 20 an IDF commando unit broke into the Palestinian town of Ramallah and captured 8 Palestinians suspected of having taking part in the lynching of two Israeli reserve soldiers that entered the city by mistake.

At that stage Barak offered Sharon, the man whose provocation had been the immediate reason for the outbreak of the revolt, to form a “national unity” government, but his offer was rejected unless he pledged not to give back any part of Jerusalem. Israel also employed war helicopters to fire rockets against the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, from which fire had been opened against the settlement (described in the Israeli media as “Jerusalem neighbourhood”) of Gilo. At the end of the first month of the uprising there were 130 killed, of which 122 were Palestinians. Another attempt was made to reach a cease-fire along the lines of the Sharm summit, but Hamas rejected it, leading to a new wave of arrests of its militants by Arafat. On November 2 a bomb-car exploded in the bazaar of Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem, killing two Israelis.

The Barak government now opened a policy of systematic assassination of Palestinian activists suspected of taking part in armed actions against Israel (usually by firing rockets from war helicopters) in order to appease the Zionist right wing. At the same time it tried to restore order by announcing on December 15 that 10,000 Palestinian workers could return to work in Israel (before the Intifada broke out 120,00 Palestinians worked in Israel). Till the middle of December around 300 Palestinians have been killed, the overwhelming majority of them civilians and many of them youngsters, and more than 10,000 were wounded – as against 30 Israelis killed.

After Barak announced his decision to convoke new elections for Prime Minister (a manoeuvre made with Sharon two prevent the candidatures of Netanyahu and Peres, the two most popular candidates), he knew that his electoral chances rested on reaching a new interim agreement with Arafat that would avoid the central issues such as the refugee question. In the end, as we know, the situation did not enable Arafat to go that far, and the war criminal Sharon was elected new Prime Minister of Israel.


3. The Third Intifada and the Left

The Palestinian popular uprising revealed the wretched state of the Israeli left, which supported and continues to support the Oslo agreements and the two-states “solution” to the Palestinian problem sponsored by American imperialism and the mainstream of the Israeli and Arab bourgeoisie. Not surprisingly, this “left” found itself completely paralyzed by the outbreak of the revolt.

From the beginning of the Intifada the “Peace Now” movement, which took to the streets 400,000 people after Sharon’s massacre at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, failed to act as an oppositional force, only to appear on November 4 at the Rabin Square with a force of some 50,000 demonstrators carrying Israeli flags and nationalist placards. They listened without hissing to Barak’s speech blaming Arafat for the outbreak of the uprising and to President Moshe Katzav’s speech calling for the formation of a “national unity” government. This shameful conduct stems above all from the fact that “Peace Now” is a Zionist movement that upholds the existence of the Jewish state and gives its support to the racist solution of partition (the Hebrew word hafrada can also be translated as “separation” and in practical terms means Apartheid). In addition, the conduct of “Peace Now” can also be explained by the fact that Barak was its official candidate during the elections, and that, generally speaking, “Peace Now” knows how to organize demonstrations only when the Labour Party is in the opposition.

The Meretz party, which is part of “Peace Now”, was from the beginning a coalition partner of Barak. It left the government in July in protest, not against Barak’s policy towards the Palestinians, but against the granting of funds to the religious educational system of Shas, returned to it at a time when it was killing Palestinians by the dozens, and together with the Labour Party voted against the granting of the right of return to the Palestinian refugees (a position shared by all the “left” Israeli intelligentsia, including such well-known writers as Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua).

The Communist Party (re-baptized Hadash, the initials for Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), the most enthusiastic supporters of the Oslo agreements, found itself completely paralyzed by the revolt. In May 1999 it had called the Palestinian population in Israel to vote for Barak as Prime Minister, and now its supporters were being shot by this Prime Minister which was supposedly better than Benjamin Netanyahu. The participants in the demonstration organized by the CP in Haifa in October, after the killing of 13 Palestinian “citizens” of Israel, had to hear the local mayor and (of course) ex-general Amram Mitzna calling them to support the Barak government. After Barak’s failure to reach an interim agreement with Arafat and under heavy pressure from its rank-and-file, the CP finally called its voters to put a blank ballot in the last elections, but its continued support for the Oslo agreements is an eloquent testimony of its unflagging advocacy of the policies of American imperialism and the Israeli bourgeoisie.

The smaller and more militant groups within the Israeli left (Dai LaKibush, Nashim VeShahor, Gush Shalom, etc.) also found themselves paralyzed to a greater or lesser extent by their inability to go beyond the program of imperialism and the Israeli bourgeoisie, as shown by their opportunist reluctance to fully support the granting of the right of return to the 3.5 million Palestinian refugees.




It is not casual that the Oslo agreements led to the present uprising, that the Israeli state tries to crush it through state terrorism and starvation, and that both the Israeli and the Palestinian left, which should be leading the masses, find themselves paralyzed by the present crisis. It is also not casual that all the attempts to American imperialism to establish a Pax Americana in the Middle East, based on an alliance between Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, have failed. The reason for the present impasse is not some detail of the Oslo agreement, but the situation of the major social classes in the region.

Though after the Second World War the countries of the Middle East received some kind of formal independence from the imperialist powers, they never achieved a bourgeois democratic revolution akin to the French Revolution that could liberate the productive forces from their feudal fetters and establish formal equality before the law. The local bourgeoisie, organically linked with the feudal classes and imperialism and in mortal fear of the workers and peasants, cannot undertake in the twenty-first century the same task that the American and French bourgeoisie carried out in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its dependence from and servility towards imperialism has increased enormously since the fall of the Soviet Union, thus further precluding it from playing the leading role in the national liberation movement assigned to it by Stalin’s “theory of stages”. In the present conditions, Leon Trotsky’s theory of the “permanent revolution” is the only relevant one: the working class must lead the democratic revolution to victory by combining the bourgeois program of national liberation and agrarian reform with the socialist one of nationalization of the means of production and abolition of all forms of class exploitation.


Last updated on 4.8.2001