As you get older you tend to revisit previous writings. An old article I had forgotten about was a debate with Julia Bard of the Jewish Socialists Group in the pages of Labour Left Briefing of October 1993 re Oslo.
People may remember the Oslo Accords when everything was going to be sorted out in Palestine. All that was needed was an honest broker, the USA and an ability to reach out and ‘understand’. Drawing on the process that was underway in South Africa, without ever understanding what it was that was making Apartheid there crumble, the PLO leadership sacrificed all for the honeyed words of Rabin and Peres.
In Britain, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, at an Extraordinary General Meeting, with Uri Davies arguing strongly in support, passed by 2-1 a resolution supporting Oslo. In response many of us who were founding members walked out of PSC. Unfortunately neither PSC nor many others learnt the lessons of Oslo. These can be summed up as follows:
Arab nationalism in its historical reaction to British colonialism and the first phases of Zionism is dead. The Arab regimes today are divided between different forms of reactionary politics with a few clowns like Ghadaffi in between. The Arab world is, of course divided amongst itself and large chunks of it are now overtly in the camp of Israel. Which is not surprising since the Saudi state and the Gulf Emirates have historically relied on imperialism for survival.
But the Palestinian Question is eminently one of the international class division of labour. That means quite succinctly that there is no united national front now possible in Palestine. The enemies of the Palestinians are both their own Quislings (Abbas/Fayed) and the Arab regimes. To pretend otherwise is to engage in delusion. There can be no blockade of Gaza without Egypt. There can be no attack on Iran without Saudi Arabia. Those who steal the oil wealth from the Arab masses and spend it in the casinos of Monte Carlo and London are no less thieves than those who stole the land of the Palestinians.
And whilst they cut the hands and legs of the poor who steal a loaf of bread in Saudi Arabia and Iran, those who steal the nation’s wealth are given titles instead. Class struggle is alive and well and religion is the weapon of the rich in the Arab lands. The Shi’ite branch of Islam no less than its Sunni counterpart is equally reactionary, as Iran demonstrates. Social revolution throughout the Middle East and the toppling of the Egyptian and Saudi regimes is a sine qua non for the overthrow of Zionism.
Hindsight is, of course, a wondrous thing. Foresight is rarer. However the article I penned for National Labour Briefing in October 1993 was neither of these things. What it did do was dispense with liberal woolly thinking and an abandonment of class analysis. Questions such as what is/was the role of the Arab ruling class in the region, the balance of power, the role of different strata within Palestinian society, the international balance of class forces within Palestine and the disparity in strength between Israel and the Palestinians. All this was dispensed with in favour of hope that somehow Israel had, like the leopard, changed its spots.
I can remember attending a UN Conference in Austria around September 1989 on behalf of Return, a magazine of Jewish anti-Zionists, at which this type of atmosphere was prevalent. All the peaceniks were there in force. Mention of Zionism was strictly verboten. It was all a question of ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘mutual recognition’. Once a form of words was agreed then all was possible. Nabil Shaath, one of the key Palestinian collaborators was in full flow. We were on the brink of ‘new politics’ etc. etc.
Today, of course, Oslo is a distant dream but its corrosive effects are still present. One only has to look at the politics of the PSC Executive to see that. Even now they harbour hopes in Abbas and co, refusing to condemn them even as they encourage Israel to remove Hamas in Gaza. Class politics is still verboten. They cite South African apartheid without ever understanding the politics that lay behind its removal. Boycott played a key part but it was not the only part. Black South Africans were actors too and created organisations which helped create the climate which led to its dismantlement. The Palestinians have failed in this regard so far. There are, of course, other differences, but the debate I had with Julia Bard of the Jewish Socialists Group is instructive.
Reading back, of course, some things I got wrong, for example the fact that the settlers withdrew from Gaza but overall the article stands the test of time.