Workers Vanguard No. 864
17 February 2006
Reactionary Hamas and Bankruptcy of PLO Nationalism
U.S./Israel Tighten Screws on Palestinians
Israel Out of the Occupied Territories! For a Socialist Federation of the Near East!
U.S. imperialism, Israel and the European powers are threatening to throttle the Palestinians in the wake of the victory of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas in last months legislative elections. George Bush prattles on about bringing democracy to the Near East under the jackboot of the savage U.S. military occupation of Iraq. Meanwhile, the New York Times (14 February) reports that the U.S. and Israel plan to destabilize the Palestinian government.... The intention is to starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international connections to the point where, some months from now, its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new election. Israel threatens to withhold the customs duties and other taxes it collects for the Palestinian Authority (PA) if Hamas forms a government, a policy of outright theft. Israeli air strikes continue to slam civilian areas, homes are bulldozed, Palestinian men and boys are rounded up and thrown into prison, and Israeli settlements and bypass roads continue to carve up and disenfranchise Palestinians in their own land.
Hamas victory was a black eye for the Bush administration, which backs Israel to the hilt and has labeled Hamas a terrorist organization. This is rich coming from the U.S. imperialists, who for decades fostered the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the Near East as a bulwark against Communist influence. And despite the Zionists hue and cry, for years they promoted Hamas as a counterweight to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) nationalists. For its part, while stating that it will not accede to the demand that it recognize the state of Israel, Hamas has made clear its willingness to work with Israel and the West. According to Al Jazeera (1 February): Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy head of Hamass political bureau, said: We understand that [the Western states] need a quiet region, without conflicts, and we know that its possible to attain this goal.
The victory of Hamas (an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement) is ominous for all Palestinians—historically among the most cosmopolitan people of the Near East—especially women and secular and Christian Palestinians. The circumstances that gave rise to the Hamas win are the increasingly desperate conditions of the Palestinian masses in the Occupied Territories. The vote was more a rejection of the scandalous corruption and proven political bankruptcy of the PLO—whose leadership delivered the Palestinians nothing but defeat and immiseration—than an endorsement of the reactionary religious program of Hamas.
The Palestinians today have no basis for a viable national economy and are subject to unrelenting Zionist terror. Over half of the population in the Occupied Territories lives on less than $2 a day, with at least one-third unemployed. Israels apartheid wall in the West Bank has sealed off entire villages and towns, cutting Palestinians off from access to their land, subsistence agriculture and water. Curfews, blockades and military checkpoints impede movement to jobs, hospitals, schools and crucial social services. A year ago, U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan observed that Palestinian women are suffering massively from malnutrition. Nearly 70 percent of pregnant women and nursing mothers are anemic.
It is under these conditions that Hamas, which has hitherto rejected peace talks with Israel, emerged as the only perceived alternative to the nationalist Fatah movement. A 30 January posting on Al Jazeeras Web site noted: While Hamass international reputation is based on its campaign of attacks against Israel, its popularity in the West Bank and Gaza stems in part from its providing a safety net for some of the poorest Palestinians. Isolated and under international pressure, Palestinians seek first of all simple relief from Zionist terror.
The imperialists hostility to Hamas has little to do with opposition to terror—U.S. imperialism is the biggest terrorist on the planet, and the Israeli state was founded on terror and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians. U.S. threats against the Palestinians must be put in the broader context of imperialist machinations in the region. As it maintains its bloody occupation of Iraq, the U.S. threatens Iran with sanctions and military attack if it proceeds with its nuclear program, while it annually gives Israel, armed with over 200 nuclear weapons, billions in armaments and other financial assistance. Down with U.S. aid to Israel! Defend the Palestinians! Israeli troops, settlers out of all the Occupied Territories! U.S. out of Iraq!
The Bankruptcy of
Hamas electoral victory was a major political defeat for the PLO, though Fatah at this point retains its control of the PA security forces. Founded in 1964 in the era of Arab Revolution, the PLO looked first to the Arab bourgeoisies in the region as its allies against Israel. By the early 1990s, reliance on the Arab regimes was supplanted by direct appeals to the imperialists, particularly the United States. After capitalist counterrevolution destroyed the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, removing the main military and political counterweight to U.S. imperialism, the PLO was deprived of crucial diplomatic and financial support. In 1993, the PLO signed the Oslo Accords with Israel.
Brokered by Washington, the Oslo Accords established Palestinian-controlled ghettos in Gaza and the West Bank. As noted by Columbia University professor Joseph Massad (Al-Ahram Weekly, 11 February), the U.S./Israeli terms of the agreement did not only include the Oslo capitulation but also that the newly created and Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority be indeed armed and that its weapons should have a new target: the Palestinian people themselves. We warned at the time of the accords:
Whatever happens, this grotesque bargain over the subjugated Palestinian people marks a watershed in the Near East. By its act, the PLO has invited fundamentalist reactionaries like Hamas to pose as the only fighters against the Zionist occupation. Petty-bourgeois Arab nationalism has been shown to be the bankrupt and impotent dead end that it always was.
—Israel-PLO Deal for Palestinian Ghetto, WV No. 583, 10 September 1993
Since the Oslo Accords, Israel has created 102 new settlements and doubled the population in existing settlements. There are now some 450,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Over 700 military checkpoints were built to control the movement of Palestinians from town to town and in and out of Jerusalem and Gaza. In 1994, an electric fence was built around the Gaza ghetto. Some 34 percent of the budget of the Palestinian Authority is spent on policing, compared to 8 percent on health and 2 percent on agriculture. In 2001, the government of Ariel Sharon effectively tore up Oslo, launching a series of attacks on the Occupied Territories that devastated the Palestinian Authority infrastructure, and imprisoned Yassir Arafat in his shelled-out compound in Ramallah until he died.
Desperate to hold on to their jobs as overseers in the Occupied Territories, PA cops, hired by Fatah, rioted against Hamas recent victory. In turn, Hamas has backed off earlier threats to reorganize the security forces and pledged to support the PA cops. Policing the Palestinians in autonomous shreds of territory is the right the PLO wrested from Israel. As Israeli journalist Amira Hass noted, Arafat measured the accomplishment by the number of Palestinians he controlled and were subject to his security branches, rather than by the extent of their freedom—for there is no freedom in enclaves surrounded by an occupying army (CounterPunch, 2 February).
In 1974, the Arab League declared the PLO to be the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Four years later, Menachem Begins right-wing government approved an application from Sheik Ahmed Yassin to license the Islamic Association, a front group of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the predecessor of Hamas. As an official charity organization, Yassins group received funding from Israel. In 1986, the former military governor of Gaza, Yitzhak Segev, said: We extend some financial aid to Islamic groups via mosques and religious schools, in order to help create a force that would stand against the leftist forces which support the PLO. Carrying out attacks on secularists and Communists, the Islamists engaged in neither political nor military struggle against Israel.
In the 1980s the Shamir government set up conservative, tribal-based Village Leagues in the Occupied Territories. The Islamists became a force in these organs of collaboration. Israels rulers helped the Islamic Association gain control of the Islamic University of Gaza and a base among the intelligentsia, while funding welfare programs to help the fundamentalists win a base among the poor.
With the beginning of the first Intifada in 1987, the Islamists feared that if they stood aside they would lose their following. Hamas was founded in the spring of 1988 as an Islamist political movement with an armed wing. Hamas sought to fuse the national struggle, previously a secular movement containing a leftist component, with reactionary Islamic fundamentalism. Notwithstanding Hamas rabidly anti-Semitic charter, Israels rulers promoted Hamas as a counterweight to the PLO and broke relations only in the fall of 1989 after discovering that Hamas had killed two Israeli soldiers.
The Zionists have used the rise of Hamas and rival fundamentalist Islamic Jihad—both of which increasingly responded to Israel state terror by carrying out criminal suicide bombings against Israeli civilians—to justify scuttling peace talks and intensifying the oppression of the Palestinian people. Israels intensification of bloody repression and terror has included targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders, such as that of Sheik Yassin in 2004.
Anti-Palestinian repression is not just the policy of hard-line right-wing Zionism. The Kadima party was founded by now comatose ex-prime minister Sharon
—the man responsible for the slaughter of some 2,000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982—working in collaboration with Zionist dove Shimon Peres. Kadima has adopted the liberal Zionist, and racist, line that the central reason for withdrawing from some lands in the West Bank is to preserve a Jewish majority in Israel. This is echoed by Amir Peretz, current leader of the thoroughly bourgeois Labor Party, who states that if he wins the upcoming Israeli elections, Any concession I make—any agreement I reach—is based on retaining a Jewish state
. So the [Palestinian] right of return is not even a question for the negotiating table.
Under the Gun
A 3 February New York Times article, Women, Secret Hamas Strength, Win Votes at Polls and New Role, points to the growth of support for Hamas among Palestinian women. While promoting the segregation of women, Hamas has been able to gain a base among them by instituting needed social services and giving women a more prominent role in its activities. This itself is a damning indictment of the political bankruptcy of the Palestinian nationalists. As a young woman in Fatah put it, Fatah took women for granted, and this is one reason it lost.
Hamas is descended from the clerical-fascistic Muslim Brotherhood, which became particularly prominent in Egypt in the late 1940s. Under the slogan communism = atheism = liberation of women, the Muslim Brotherhood mobilized a terror campaign against Communists and other secular forces. Hamas preaches the social segregation of women, the wearing of the hijab (Islamic headscarf), and anti-woman sharia law. With the growth of Hamas especially in Gaza, there has been a rise in honor killings of women who shame their families by having sex outside marriage, defying arranged marriages, donning Western jezebel dress or other transgressions of Islamic law.
When women stepped forward to play a leading and courageous role in the resistance against Israeli occupation forces during the first Intifada, Hamas stepped up its activity against un-Islamic behavior. During the first year of the Intifada, what distinguished Hamas was its attacks on unveiled women. In May 1988, religious youths broke into classrooms demanding that schoolgirls wear the hijab. In summer 1989, unveiled women were stoned in Gaza. The campaign to force women back into the veil was acquiesced to by the PLOs Fatah and the leftists who tail the PLO. A symbol of womens segregation from society, these stifling yards of black cloth, meant to symbolize female modesty and subservience, were promoted as a symbol of national resistance.
The PLO was not merely trying to bolster its waning support by tailing the Islamic fundamentalists. As petty-bourgeois nationalists, the PLO is incapable of fighting for womens emancipation. As we wrote in Palestinian Women and the Intifada:
The PLO aims to create its own bourgeois regime which would be in the image of the neighboring states. At bottom, these bourgeois nationalists are hostile to womens emancipation because it can only be achieved through a thoroughgoing working-class revolution, shattering bourgeois property relations and all associated social institutions. The victory of the proletariat fighting for its own class interests will break the old bonds of oppression and lay the basis to revolutionize daily life. This is flatly counterposed to the program of national unity.
—Women and Revolution No. 39 (Summer 1991)
The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is one of interpenetrated peoples: two peoples fighting for control of the same piece of land. With some 50 percent of the Palestinian population living outside the Occupied Territories—in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel—the national liberation of the Palestinians demands a perspective of socialist revolution throughout the Near East, including within Israel, the most powerful and economically advanced country in the region. This means recognizing the right of the Hebrew-speaking people to national self-determination. In turn, breaking the Hebrew proletariat from their Zionist rulers requires that they champion the national rights of the Palestinians. We have no illusions that winning the Hebrew proletariat to this perspective will be an easy task. Indeed, it will likely require the victory of socialist revolution in one of the other Near Eastern states to break the Hebrew proletariat from Zionist chauvinism.
The Zionist state is not only a catastrophe for Palestinians—it is also a deathtrap for Jews. As long as Zionist oppression of Palestinians continues, Israeli Jews will continue to be a target of hatred and outrage by the more than 100 million Arabs who surround them. In Israel, 25 percent of citizens live in poverty and income disparities are higher than in Egypt and Jordan. The false consciousness of religion and nationalism—in the face of pervasive anti-Semitism—is the glue holding this multiply fissured society together.
The Arab working masses must be broken from fundamentalism and Arab nationalism and won to a perspective of proletarian revolution. This requires the forging of revolutionary Marxist parties throughout the Near East to unite the proletariat—Arab, Persian, Kurdish and Hebrew, Sunni and Shiite, Muslim and Christian—in struggle against imperialism and against the Zionists, mullahs, colonels, sheiks and all the other capitalist rulers. There is no other way.