Middle East - The new Intifada

Nov-Dec 2000

It took just another provocation - a visit on the 28 September to Harem al-Sharif, one of Jerusalem's main Islamic sanctuaries, by Ariel Sharon, a former Israeli minister who is well-known for his far-right positions - to set alight the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. However, this time, the bogus agreement signed by the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority was not enough to stop the uprising.

Since the beginning of this uprising, the Israeli government and many others have blamed the Palestinians' violence, declaring that it had to be stopped. But those who are so quick to blame the violence of the oppressed "forget" to blame violence of the oppressors - in this case that of the Israeli state. As if, for decades, the Israeli state had not deprived the Palestinians of all their best land in order to accommodate its own settlers and humiliated the whole population with innumerable provocations. As if the Israeli army had not blown up Palestinian houses, time and time again, under the pretext that they might shelter "terrorists". Besides is there no difference between the violence of youth throwing stones and that of trained service men manning a tank or a helicopter gunship? In fact, the Palestinians' violence merely expresses the revolt of a people who have had enough of being constantly harassed and humiliated and have risen to bring this to an end. And this is the reason why Western governments are so frightened by their violence.

The explosion of the Occupied Territories brings back the memory of the Intifada - "rebellion" in Arabic. Like the present uprising, the Intifada was suddenly triggered by one incident, a road accident in which four Palestinians had been run over by an Israeli lorry. It is impossible to say whether today's uprising will last as long as the Intifada did - from the beginning of 1987 to 1993. Even for the most powerful army of the Middle East, it was hard to deal with such a long rebellion. However, if the memory of the Intifada still fuels fears among those in government, it is not only because of its length, but primarily because it forced the Israeli leaders to make their first ever concessions. Despite having defeated the coalition of the neighbouring Arab states three times - in 1948, 1967 and 1973 - the Israeli military proved impotent against the Intifada - that is against women, men and youths who had decided that they were no longer prepared to tolerate the presence of Israeli soldiers and threw stones at every Israeli patrol they came across. The endless, and largely useless, repressive tasks which had to be carried out day in and day out demoralised Israel's army and a whole section of its youth. In the end, after many refusals and hesitations, the Israeli politicians were forced to negotiate with the PLO, that is with the very same people they had always described as "terrorists". A "peace process" took off, but with endless difficulties. Today this process is said to be suspended or even dead. But did it ever have any life in the first place? Did it ever bring the beginnings of a solution to the problems faced by the Palestinian and Israeli populations?

When the Palestinians were denied the right to exist

When the state of Israel was declared, in 1948, the majority of the Palestinian population who lived on its territory were brutally expelled and dispersed into refugee camps hosted by neighbouring Arab states. After the 1967 Six-Day War, the Israeli troops occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Sinai. In Gaza and on the West Bank, they were faced with a large Palestinian population which had already settled there in 1948.

The Israeli government - then dominated by the Labour party - embarked on a policy aimed at colonising the Occupied Territories, with the result that the population was subjected to displacement, forced expropriation and untold hardship.

In Israel, those who opposed the policy implemented in the Occupied Territories were too few and far apart. When some of them warned that this policy could become a catastrophic trap for the Israeli population, no-one listened. They were even branded as traitors when, like one former general secretary of the union confederation Histadrut, they demanded that the Occupied Territories should be returned "even unilaterally and without a peace agreement."

Not only did both the Israeli left and right parties ignore the Palestinians' national rights but they joined ranks to hail the massacre of Palestinians by neighbouring states - in Jordan in 1970 and in Lebanon in the second half of the 1970s. For Israel, there were no Palestinians, just Arabs who dared to live in territories claimed by Israel. Therefore Israel's "solution" was simple: the Palestinians just had to resettle in other Arab countries. It is true that there had never been a national state in Palestine. The Palestinians had been merely been transferred from one oppressor to another - from the domination of the Ottoman Empire to the British and then, in 1948, to the King of Jordan. Nevertheless, the Palestinian people did exist on this land and were deprived of it by the setting up of the Israeli state.

In fact, Israel's attitude was not original. British imperialism, whose contempt for the populations was blatant, had declared in its 1917 Balfour declaration that it "considered favourably the establishment of a National Jewish homeland in Palestine". But as to the inhabitants of Palestine, this declaration only alluded to them as "non-Jewish communities" whose religious and civic rights should be respected. In other words they had no national rights.

Two of the main figures of the Israeli state when it was set up, Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, both leaders of the Labour party who called themselves socialists, subscribed to the same reasoning. For instance, Golda Meir once declared from the rostrum of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, "A Palestinian people? There is no such thing." As to Ben Gurion, he simply dismissed all Arabs. One of his biographers, who cannot be suspected of being hostile to Ben Gurion, wrote for instance: "His relationship with the Arabs is rather extraordinary, in that for him they are non-existent (..) In Ben Gurion's world, in his state, there is no space for Arabs. He has never known any of them and does not want otherwise. If the thinking of this Zionist leader had to be summed up in one sentence, it would be as follows: For a Palestine as Jewish as Britain is English'."

The Israeli right and left - identical policies

For years, therefore, the Israeli leaders just pretended that the Palestinians did not exist, despite the fact that, as early as 1974, even the United Nations recognised the PLO as the official representative of the Palestinian people and allowed it to appoint a permanent observer. By pushing Arafat to the fore and allowing the PLO to develop various structures - political, military, diplomatic and cultural - which provided the skeleton of a future Palestinian state, the Arab leaders and imperialism took an insurance policy against the dangers resulting from the explosive nature of the Palestinian national question.

Indeed, they all feared that the fighting spirit, militancy and commitment of the Palestinians might spread further afield. Not only were the Palestinians full of determination, but they were scattered in exile across the Middle East. And this was a major concern for all the regions' strong men and oil monarchs. The Palestinians' fight and independent organisations could have become a model for others. The Arab and imperialist leaders knew very well that should the populations of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc.., start fighting with the same determination as the Palestinians, this would be the end of all the dictatorships of the region. To that extent the Palestinian movement could have really destabilised the Middle East. It could have crystallised hopes far beyond the limits of Palestine, for all the populations of the regions who are subjected to the same exploitation and oppression. But while these populations have often identified with the Palestinians' fight, the Palestinian leaders - particularly Arafat - have always refused to encourage their aspiration to a united fight for a wider objective, much wider than that of Palestinian nationalism.

The Arab regimes repressed the PLO militias, particularly in the refugee camps, as long as they were the expression of a mass mobilisation which could inspire others in the Arab countries. But once the PLO was cut off from the masses, it won the full support of the Arab regimes, allowing it to have its own functionaries and, of course, its military wing - in short, a kind of state machinery in waiting.

However, it was one thing for the PLO to be recognised by a number of Arab states and even by imperialism, but it was quite another to win the right to exercise real power, even in a reduced Palestine. The American leaders saw the point of allowing a moderate nationalist machinery to exist without being prepared to force the Israeli state to adopt the same line. So the Israeli leaders stuck to their guns and ignored the PLO regardless of the attitude of their American mentors.

This attitude on the part of the Israeli leaders was not due to blindness, but to a relationship of forces which was heavily tilted to their advantage. As long as this remained the case, there was no change in Israel's attitude towards the Palestinian organisations, whoever was in government, Labour or Likud. Indeed there was little difference between the Israeli right and left as far the Palestinians' national rights were concerned. While being less keen on biblical references, the Labour party always refused to recognise any rights of the Palestinian people. And while in power - between 1948 and 1977 - this party was just as uncompromising as the right in this respect. In fact it was even more intransigent than the right on issues such as the return of the Sinai desert to Egypt. It was a right-wing government led by Begin which did what the Labour party had never dared, by signing a peace agreement with Egypt, in 1979, in return for Israel's withdrawal from Sinai.

This agreement was signed under the auspices of the then US president. It included a vague plan for granting administrative autonomy to the Occupied Territories - a plan which was soon forgotten. However, immediately after this agreement was signed, the Israeli government moved to avoid the slightest ambiguity. They got the US to endorse a number of unilateral "clarifications" concerning some clauses included in the agreement. Thus the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians" mentioned by the agreement were said to mean "the legitimate rights of the Arabs living on Israeli land". Likewise the "West Bank" referred to in the agreement had to be taken as meaning "Judea and Samaria", using the biblical terms which had always been the basis for Israel's territorial claims.

On the ground, however, the Israeli authorities kept showing how afraid they were that the Palestinians might gain some administrative autonomy. So, for instance, the Palestinian municipalities which had been elected in 1976, were disbanded as soon as they were recognised by the PLO as representative of the local Palestinians. One after the other the elected mayors were dismissed, arrested, expelled or became the targets of terrorist attacks. Finally after Likud's second election victory, in 1981, these municipalities were simply replaced by an appointed administration, which was described as "civilian" even though it was controlled and managed by the army. And during all this time the building of new settlements was given a boost under what came to be known as the Sharon plan.

Once again it was the Intifada which was to force the Israeli leaders to alter their policy, to a certain extent at least. And indeed only such a mass mobilisation could have achieved this, given the leniency and patience displayed by the US towards their Israeli protege. Of course the US government would have liked to see a normalisation of the relationship between Israel, the Arab states and the Palestinian leaders. At times they were irritated by the attitude of the Israeli leaders. President Carter was quoted as telling Moshe Dayan, then Israel's foreign minister, during a visit to Washington in 1977: "You are more stubborn than the Arabs and you are an obstacle to peace." But only on very few occasions did the American leaders put any real pressure on the Israeli government to change their attitude towards the Palestinian leaders. Thus Bush's foreign secretary, James Baker, did declare at one point, in front of representatives of the US Jewish institutions, that "it is time for Israel to shelve once and for all the unrealistic vision of a Greater Israel" and then proceeded to invite the Israeli government to "renounce annexation; stop all colonisation; allow the schools to reopen; extend its hand to the Palestinians as neighbours who deserve political rights." But his statement was only met with acid contempt by the then right-wing Israeli prime minister, Shamir; who stated that the US foreign secretary was "a threat for the very existence of the Jewish people".

And yet, it was the same Shamir who, two years after the beginning of the Intifada, was forced to offer a plan, to be negotiated with representatives of the West Bank and Gaza Strip populations, in exchange for stopping the "war of stones". It was the first time ever that an Israeli prime minister considered the possibility of direct discussions with Palestinians, even though he still called them "Arab inhabitants of Judea, Samaria and Gaza". In vain, however, since Shamir failed to find partners to talk to, due to his precondition that the Palestinian delegation should not include representatives of the PLO. But in fact, his plan was in many respects similar to the one which was to be discussed later in Oslo.

From Madrid to Oslo

At the end of 1991, the Madrid conference - which the US leaders had wanted - opened under Shamir's presidency. At the time, Israel was hardly in a position to turn it down. Following the Gulf War, Israel could rightly fear the loss of its position as the USA's privileged partner in the region. Indeed Syria had joined the camp of the US in the Gulf intervention while the Israeli army had been unable to intervene in the conflict itself. Besides, Israel's economic position was weakened: the task of accommodating the flow of immigrants from the Soviet Union (100,000 a year since 1990) was huge for a small economy; it was starved of foreign investment by the on-going Intifada; and to top it all, for once, in retaliation against Israel's increased colonisation of the Occupied Territories, the USA had withdrawn the guarantee it had provided so far for Israel's foreign borrowing. Given this context, US diplomats had managed to lure Israel into participating in the Madrid conference with the hope that this might allow the Israeli economy a breathing space by getting the Arab countries to loosen the embargo they had enforced against Israel since 1948.

Shamir did come to the conference, but he dragged his feet. At the very beginning, he declared that "it would be regrettable if the first and only objective of the conference was the territorial issue. This would be the quickest way to a dead- end." But this amounted effectively to ending the conference before it had even started - which was exactly what Shamir wanted and, in fact, he left the conference the next day under the pretext that it was the Sabbath. However the policy of the Israeli leaders was even more blatant in Israel than in the luxurious halls of Madrid's royal palace. On the very first day of the conference, the Israeli minister of energy declared that "the only concession that could lead to peace" was for the Arabs to renounce the territories they had lost in the wars from 1967-1973, just as the Germans had done! On the day following the end of the conference, Ariel Sharon, then housing minister, opened a new Jewish settlement on the Golan Heights. Nine days later, the Israeli parliament passed a motion saying that there could be no negotiation with Syria over the Golan, since the latter was vital to Israel's security. Significantly, this motion, which also invited more settlement on the Golan Heights, had been tabled by two Labour MPs. However neither these events, nor those that had taken place in Lebanon earlier that year, altered the belief, at least in the West, that a "peace process" was emerging which would resolve at last the Israeli-Arab conflict - the longest conflict of the 20th century.

After Madrid, there were many more conferences. Washington, Vienna, Ottawa, Tokyo, Lisbon, etc.. - many capitals hosted the same protagonists - always without the PLO, since this was a precondition imposed by Israel - with the same lack of results.

But in fact, all these so-called negotiations were a thin cover for the fact that, on the ground, the confrontation was just as violent as before - particularly the Intifada which an increasingly worn out Israeli army was less and less able to contain.

Labour back in government

In June 1992, the Labour party came back into office and it seemed that things were going to change. By contrast with Shamir's ultra-nationalist language, the new prime minister Rabin no longer excluded - at least in his statements - the possibility of Palestinian autonomy nor a territorial compromise over the Syrian Golan occupied by Israel. With regard to the constant provocation represented by the opening of new settlements in the Occupied Territories, Rabin insisted that a difference should be made between the "security settlements" - which had to be left untouched - and the "ideological settlements" inspired by Likud. However, Rabin was always careful not to state where the line should be drawn.

For the first time secret negotiations began between the Israeli government and the PLO. They took place in Norway. Many things were discussed in the course of these meetings: the mutual recognition of the PLO and the state of Israel, but also grandiose economic projects which involved turning the Gaza Strip into a free-trade zone, building cement factories and a high- technology park, launching a development bank, improving water drainage, developing the Dead Sea, etc..

From this point onwards, things started moving fast. And on 13 September 1993, during a ceremony in Washington, Arafat shook the hand of a reluctant Rabin, then Peres' hand, under Clinton's supervision. The media coverage of the event was a success. The real question was whether the "peace process" launched on the grass of the White House would reach the Occupied Territories at some point.

In the exchange of letters that preceded the signing of the Oslo accord, Arafat made several commitments: he recognised the right of Israel to live safely in peace, he renounced terrorism and made the commitment to discipline those who would not. The PLO leader also state that: "from now on, the articles and items in the Palestinian Charter which deny Israel the right to exist are invalidated, together with all articles which contradict the commitments made in this letter." Above all Arafat committed himself to call on all Palestinians to cooperate in "normalising" the situation in the Occupied Territories. In other words, he called for an end to the Intifada. In exchange the Israeli prime minister made no promises, except to recognise the PLO as "the representative of the Palestinian people and to engage negotiation with the PLO within the framework of the Middle East peace process."

Shimon Peres made a lyrical statement from the platform of the United Nations a few days after the Oslo accord was signed: "One could almost hear the noise of boots leaving the scene after a hundred years of conflict. And by listening more carefully, one could even have heard a new era arriving on the tip of its toes to emerge in the new peaceful world which is waiting for us." But in fact, despite Arafat's commitments, the Israeli government did not reciprocate, and promise an end to the harassment and humiliation targeted on Palestinians. "Peace process" or not, everything went on as before: Palestinians kept being arbitrarily arrested or expelled, their houses blown up, their land expropriated and the curfews remained in place as well as the military occupation of the Occupied Territories.

As to the future, the accord stated carefully that "the two sides agree that the agreement made concerning the interim period should not anticipate or prejudge the outcome of the negotiations concerning the future permanent status (of the Palestinian state)." Which was exactly the condition that Shamir's plan had included back in 1989.

As a result of the Oslo accord, the Gaza Strip and Jericho were granted autonomy as a first step towards the setting up of more autonomous enclaves. Given the previous seven years of bitter struggle, this was unquestionably a ridiculously small achievement, but it was the first time that the state of Israel was forced into making concessions. What was more, Israel had been forced to retreat not by a fully-equipped army but by the uprising of an entire population which years of repression had failed to defeat.

Given its weakness against the Intifada, the state of Israel needed an auxiliary force to control and stem the rebellion of the Palestinian masses. The PLO provided this force. As a result, it was the machinery of the PLO - its functionaries, the army it had formed abroad and its police - and, above all, the Palestinian bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, who really benefited from the accord. In the end, the "peace process" was merely an attempt to end the rebellion of the masses with the complicity of Arafat, who was invited to use his authority among the Palestinians, and if necessary his police - and all this in exchange for a very limited measure of state power, under the constant surveillance of the Israeli army. So that the implementation of this accord, through a series of deals like those done at Taba and Wye Plantation, looked much more like the setting up of Palestinian homelands, similar to those which used to exist in South Africa under apartheid, rather than the independence that the Palestinian population had hoped for.

The second Intifada

Today, after more than seven years of a so-called "peace process", the situation of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is as bad as before, if not worse.

In 1967, when the Israeli army entered what was to become the Occupied Territories, people could travel without significant restrictions inside and between the Occupied Territories, and even between them and Israel. It was relatively easy to visit one's relatives, go to work or to a hospital. But the "peace process" changed all this. The Gaza Strip, for instance, has been turned into an internment camp, surrounded by a continuous wall, with only one exit point towards Israel or the West Bank, at Erez. And whenever the Israeli chooses, the Erez checkpoint can be closed, sometimes for days.

The West Bank's lot is no better. It is nicknamed the "leopard skin" because of the way the Jewish settlement and the handful of enclaves under the control of the Palestinian Authority are arranged like isolated dots across the territory. It took four years until the number of enclaves under Palestinian control increased to eight: after Jericho in 1994, six others were agreed at the end of 1995 and finally Hebron in 1997. And even then, in the case of Hebron, the withdrawal of the Israeli army, initially agreed, was never implemented because of a few hundred Jewish fundamentalists who cling to a settlement right in the middle of a town which has a population of over 100,000 Palestinians. Neither Rabin, nor Peres, nor Barak, not to mention Netanyahu of course, were able or prepared to resolve the problem.

The building of new settlements or the development of existing ones are just annexations by another name. They were imposed by robbing the Palestinians of their land, not only to build the settlers' houses, but also to build the private (and protected) roads which link the settlements, avoiding Palestinian villages. The fact that the Palestinian-controlled territories are split up in such a way also means that the Israeli army can incarcerate the population in their villages and towns whenever it chooses. Before the "peace process" when the Israeli army blocked the West Bank, they did so by closing down the checkpoints on the border between the West Bank and Israel, whereas today it is usually the Palestinian enclaves only which are closed off. It is not hard to imagine the dire consequences, especially when this means being unable to obtain urgent treatment in hospital.

This policy of systematically encircling the Palestinian population in its enclaves has escalated everywhere. Just over this year alone, the number of new settlement houses has doubled compared with the previous year: 1067 against 545. Overall, more settlers' houses have been built under Barak's Labour government than during the three year when Netanyahu was in power. And today the Palestinian localities are so isolated one from the other that for many Palestinians simply organising a family gathering requires multiple authorisations from the various Israeli authorities.

But in addition to this constant humiliation, there is a severe shortage of water, generalised poverty and up to 50% of the population is unemployed. Against such a backdrop, and given the fact that the Israeli settlers can move freely and get the best land, is it any wonder that the Palestinians' anger should have risen again to the point where the present events are often referred to as the second Intifada? And judging from the "unilateral separation plan" currently envisaged by the Israeli government, which involves preventing any contact between the Palestinian and Israeli populations, the Israeli leaders seem to think that the present rebellion will not recede in the near future. If this plan is confirmed it would amount to the annexation by Israel of a large number of settlements in the Occupied Territories - those closest to the Israeli border - while they withdrew from a few others. In that case, Zionism would have led eventually to a sort of apartheid combined with a policy of ethnic cleansing - with all governments, Labour and Likud, sharing the responsibility for this.

The dead-end of nationalism

What solution is there, then, for this small area of the Middle East whose surface represents less than one-tenth of Britain's, but where two populations live - Palestinian and Israeli - which both have the right to be in control of their own lives?

Today there is such a wall of hatred between these two populations that it seems pointless to even imagine that there can be a future different from this situation of semi-open war, which has already lasted for decades. And yet, in the common past of the two populations, there were periods which indicate that history could have taken a different course - when it was conceivable that together the two populations could have built a common future.

There was no reason, for instance, for the Jewish immigration which occurred between the two world wars and after World War II, to take place at the expense of the Palestinians. The hundreds of thousands of Jews who escaped from Nazi barbarism, those who were lucky enough to survive the genocide and hoped to find peace in Palestine, could have created something other than this colonial, racist state, under which religion became a fundamental reference while the rabbis were able to impose their reactionary ideas which belonged to a previous age.

The men and women who landed in Palestine came from developed countries with the culture and knowledge this implied. Many among them were activists or supporters of Jewish organisations with a socialist orientation and they brought with them the experience of European working class movement. The differences that existed between the Palestinian and Jewish populations in terms of culture, education and political traditions were not, in and of themselves, an obstacle. On the contrary, these differences could have provided the basis for a rich mixture. The emergence of a really democratic Judeo-Arab Palestine - that is democratic for both populations - would have been a formidable example for the entire Middle-East. For this to happen, the Jewish settlers would have had to be concerned not only with their own interests, but also with those of the populations which surrounded them. Then this common history - which Zionism refused to acknowledge - could have been forged, in a common struggle against the archaic social structures which allowed oppressive regimes to submit to their rule the neighbouring Arab populations. Together the two peoples could have opposed the looting of the region by the imperialist powers.

But nothing like this happened. Instead, the policy of the Zionist organisations erected a wall of ignorance between these two populations, which soon became a wall of hatred. The Israeli state proved dedicated enough to make miracles - by cultivating deserts, and creating a modern country - but they were not conscious enough to understand that their nationalism - albeit tinted with a pinch of socialism - could only create the state of Israel as we know it today. That is a state which wants to be a small corner of the Western world inserted into a Third World region, but which has allowed religion to take a disproportionate importance and reactionary rabbis to help with the development of religious parties, whose support has become pivotal today in the formation of government coalitions. A state, also, in which racist prejudices blossom, not just against the Palestinians, but against sections of the Israeli population as well. Today's Israel has certainly little in common with the society that most of yesterday's Jewish immigrants had dreamt of. Instead, it looks increasingly like the reactionary societies from which they were trying to escape. This is why recognising the right of the Israeli Jews to an independent existence cannot justify any support for Zionist policies.

On the Palestinian side also, nationalism turned out to be a dead end. Of course, one cannot equate Palestinian nationalism and Israeli nationalism. Israeli nationalism is the instrument of a relatively rich bourgeoisie whose policy contributes to maintaining the yoke of imperialism over the region. Whereas Palestinian nationalism reflects the aspirations of an oppressed people to get rid of this yoke. But while reflecting these aspirations, nationalist organisations such as the PLO, Hamas, etc.., channel them in a direction which is acceptable for imperialism. And yet the Palestinians' struggle could still crystallise the hopes of a large part of the region's population - and the fears of the reactionary Arab rulers.

The summit of the Arab League which has just taken place in Cairo was not organised in solidarity with the Palestinian people, of course. The Arab leaders have no such feelings of solidarity. Just like Clinton, who rushed to try to broker a deal between Barak and Arafat a few days before, the Arab leaders fear the rising militancy of the Palestinians and they are worried that the PLO may now be too discredited to control future developments.

There again, history could have been written in a different way on the Palestinian side. Had the Palestinian leaders wanted to address themselves to the other Arab populations, seek an alliance with them rather than with their leaders, they might have been able to bring down the dictatorial machinery on which the imperialist domination of the Middle East is based - a machinery in which Israel is only a cog. But neither Arafat nor the other Palestinian leaders wanted such an outcome. Their nationalism was limited to the boundaries of Palestine. They were respectful of the absurd borders drawn by imperialism in the Middle East and of the ruling regimes, no matter how reactionary. Because of this narrow nationalism, respectful of the existing order, they led the Palestinian people into a deadly trap.

Being a consistent nationalist, Arafat proved capable of using the rebellion of a whole population. But because he represented the interests of a Palestinian bourgeoisie which aspired to have its own place in the sun and its own small share of the capitalist cake, Arafat's aim in using the Palestinians' militancy was, above all, to channel it in order to defuse the revolutionary element it contained. It is by doing so that Arafat proved himself to imperialism and to Israel, by showing that if he was allowed a slice of state power, even a small one, he could be a factor for stability.

Today, the concessions made by Arafat have failed to achieve anything for the Palestinian population. His corrupted and dictatorial power is rejected by many Palestinians who, unfortunately, are looking towards Islamic fundamentalist organisations. But the apparent radicalism of these organisations cannot conceal their reactionary social nature for very long. For this is the real issue, above and beyond the size of the territory which is conceded to the Palestinians. That is, the social nature of the Palestinian state - should it be a state for the petty- bourgeoisie, or should it be a state for the poor masses, for this proletariat which provided the troops for the first Intifada and is still providing the fighters in the present struggle.

And on this fundamental issue there is no difference between the various leaders involved, whether in the PLO or the fundamentalist groups. On the contrary, they all have the same nationalism in common, which makes them deeply hostile to the working class and the poor.

If tomorrow an Islamic fundamentalist regime in Palestine was to confront a Jewish fundamentalist regime in Israel, the cost for the two populations would be exorbitant.

There is no future in such a direction. The Jewish and Palestinian people deserve something better than a policy of mutual exclusion. More than ever, what the fighting masses of Palestine need, but also the poor masses of all the states in the region, including Israel, is a revolutionary policy, a policy which aims at uniting all the exploited and oppressed in the region, on the basis of their class interests - in other words, a policy that cannot be diverted towards a nationalist dead end.

4 November 2000