Jul 30, 1982
The latest Middle East war, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, is only the latest installment of a continuing and deteriorating Middle East war, which could become this century’s version of the Hundred Years’ War. The Middle East has been scarred by a process in which neither any war, nor the so-called peace that followed, resolved the harsh contradictions. It only brought these contradictions to another level. Now, once more there is warfare in the Middle East.
At the center of the Lebanese war, as in the past wars, is the state of Israel. Israel was founded with the intention of being the haven of the world’s Jewish population, so often the victims of racism in the countries in which they resided, and the victims of genocide in Europe during World War II. However, by setting up Israel as a Zionist state, that is a state which pushed out most of the Palestinians and Arab people, and denied political rights to those who remained, the Zionist leaders pitted the Jewish people of Israel against all the peoples that surround them. The expulsion of the Palestinians from their home, in order to set up the Zionist state, began an ever more vicious cycle of wars. It reinforced the opposition between the Arabs and the Israelis, and a new war burst out in 1967. The Israeli government held onto the territory it occupied in 1967, including the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza Strip. The Israeli occupation pushed a part of the Palestinian population to leave the newly occupied territories. This simply exacerbated the problem. Dispersed over several countries, the Palestinians continued to harbor hopes of returning to their home land. In the end of the 1960s, a very strong Palestinian movement emerged behind the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), a front which had been organized in 1964.
The population within the occupied territories remained in its big majority Palestinian. And they opposed the Israeli occupation. They began to protest and organize against the Israeli government. The government began a vicious crackdown on the Palestinians. This repression only gave more reason to the Palestinians to fight against the government. The Israeli government pushed the conflict up one more notch. It began to create Jewish settlements in the occupied territories in order to establish military outposts within the Palestinian areas. The government countered the Palestinians’ renewed protests with more repression. In turn this rallied the entire population of the occupied territories behind the PLO.
In November 1981, Israel set up a new and more permanent civil administration for the occupied territories. This met with unanimous opposition from the Palestinian masses. Israel then mounted a political and police offensive against the Palestinians. Starting in the spring, the Israeli government dismissed the Palestinian mayors and municipal councillors in 4 cities and villages on the West Bank. Widespread strikes by shopkeepers and students and the demonstrations and protests were answered by the Israeli army, which repeatedly fired on the protesters, injuring and killing dozens of people. But this repression has resulted only in more unrest, creating more opposition to the Israeli occupation.
Israel’s solution, the solution of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, was once more to expand the fight, this time to attack the PLO in its stronghold in Lebanon. The aim of the invasion, as stated by Sharon, was the end of the Palestinian problem, that is the end of all hopes of the Palestinians for a homeland once and for all. The invasion was a crushing blow. An estimated 15,000 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands wounded, hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless. The Israeli army did not differentiate between the PLO and the Palestinian and poor Lebanese population. So the Israeli army attacked the civilian populations indiscriminately.
Will this finally end the Palestinian movement against Israeli rule? This is not likely. Perhaps on the short-term the attack will throw the movement back, whether the Israeli army massacres the Palestinians, or whether the PLO is removed from Beirut and dispersed. But what is certain is that this war will be no different from others since Israel’s inception, in that it will not bring peace. To try to find security surrounded by a hostile people, Israel’s only solution has been to expand and become more war-like. Now Israel, in the supposed search of security, has destroyed half of Lebanon. And its army is still mired there. Will the army be able to extricate itself? Or will it be forced in the future, again in the supposed search of peace, to go to war in northern Lebanon or Syria or Jordan? For Israel, if the Zionist policy is allowed to continue, the cycle of war can only continue – and become more severe. More and more, Israel has become a garrison, and its people the occupying army of the Middle East.
It is Israel that initiated and carried out this war, but on some level, U.S. imperialism has accepted this war. How far is it willing to have Israel go is another matter.
Obviously, U.S. imperialism stands behind Israel. Israel has been able, over the years, to carry out its wars, precisely because of the massive military aid and economic support that it gets from the U.S. The guns, jets and tanks, the phosphorus shells and cluster bombs are all made in the U.S. Israel receives more military aid from the U.S. government than any other country, over 2.7 billion dollars in the last year alone. We can’t imagine if the U.S. were absolutely opposed to a policy taken by Israel, that Israel could long pursue it. On the other hand, the U.S. could accept to have Israel go further than the U.S. itself might like.
Up until now it seems that the U.S. has been willing to let Israel proceed with its war plans. Nonetheless, the U.S. seems to be looking to see if there could be another outcome. It is probably because the U.S. government intervened, that the Israeli army remained poised on the outskirts of West Beirut, still waiting to attack.
Israel has posed the problems of the Palestinians, and of the PLO, more simply than has the U.S. For Israel, the armed forces of the PLO appear as a threat to its very existence, and it seems likely now that the goal of Israel is to try to destroy the PLO.
U.S. imperialism, on the other hand, has additional problems raised for it. On the political level, a massacre in Beirut could end up being counter-productive for imperialism. It’s not out of moral nicety that U.S. imperialism holds back, and it’s not even that it won’t agree to the massacre ultimately. Nonetheless, this particular massacre holds a certain risk: it could destabilize the Middle East more than it stabilizes it. It could lead to still further unrest among the Palestinians throughout the Middle East, and also among the poor masses of other countries. And such unrest might force the leaders of countries even like Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Egypt, under the pressure of their own populations, to take a distance from imperialism.
If Israel seems to be hesitating today, it is probably because U.S. imperialism hopes to find another resolution of the situation, with fewer risks.
Certainly, the Palestinian movement and the PLO are of concern to the U.S. itself. Like all popular movements, it is a threat to the stability of a regime which is vital for U.S. imperialism. The region’s rich oil reserves and its geographic importance, in terms of both military and trade considerations, make it especially important that the PLO and the Palestinians not exacerbate the already unstable situation.
Imperialism has wider latitude in trying to settle the question than does Israel. Maybe, imperialism, once more, is only looking for a little time: by holding out the future possibility of a homeland for the Palestinians, maybe it hopes to avoid the worst difficulties for the time being, hoping that time will take care of the rest. Perhaps a homeland could even be found for the Palestinians and the PLO be recognized. The PLO, given its own state, would undoubtedly thereby take the responsibility for controlling the Palestine population, just as do all the nationalist Arab regimes today. The first difficulty posed by that, however, is where could this homeland be: if it were in the West Bank, which is the only reasonable place, it would directly confront Israel with a hostile population now established in its own frontiers. Moreover, could the U.S. find a settlement which would guarantee Israel its security – that is, Israel, which has the PLO trapped today, wants a guarantee that the PLO could not use its military forces against Israel.
U.S. imperialism seems still to be searching to see if it can achieve through negotiations what Israel probably would prefer to achieve through war, that is, to get rid of the threat of the Palestinian movement against Israel. Will imperialism find the formula that will satisfy both the PLO and Israel? It’s not clear it can. But one thing we know, the U.S. decision in no way will endanger Israel or reduce its strength. The over-riding need for imperialism is to have a cop that remains strong in such an explosive part of the world.
With Pan Arab nationalism as a reference, the PLO has claimed that the Arab states are the Palestinian people’s natural ally. But the fact was that the Arab states did not support the PLO when Israel went to war against it. Not until three long weeks after the start of the war did the Arab governments even get together to discuss what to do. They came up with no concrete conclusions. They have put themselves on the side of the fight. They have entered negotiations because they have a stake in the outcome of the war, of where the Palestinians go and of the relationship of forces that will result from the war. But they have proven that they are far from a trustworthy partner of the Palestinian people.
For several decades now, all the Arab regimes, whether the so-called radical or the moderate ones, have pretended to support the cause of the Palestinians. In fact, the Arab regimes took up the Palestinian cause primarily for domestic consumption. All of these regimes are harsh dictatorships in countries that, despite the oil income, are extremely poor. All of these regimes have to fear social unrest. The Syrian, Egyptian, and even Saudi Arabian regimes have in recent years been faced with revolts against their rule. These assorted reactionary, repressive and in some cases medieval regimes found it convenient to have Israel as an external enemy in order to divert attention of their own populations from domestic problems.
But for those regimes, as well, the Palestinian movement posed a real threat at certain times. We saw this, after the 1967 war, when Jordan received the bulk of the Palestinian refugees. The Palestinians were a threat to the Hussein regime first, because the very presence of the Palestinian refugees served as a denouncement of Hussein. Hussein, supposedly opposed to the Israeli regime, did nothing to aid his fellow Arabs, the Palestinians, to return to their homeland. And given the vision of a Pan-Arab nation, Hussein had no more legitimacy to be the head of the Jordanian state than did the PLO. Not only that, but the Palestinians organized into the PLO were an armed force inside the country who did seem ready to take action. Despite the assurances of the PLO to the Jordanian government that it would respect the government, its mere presence was an example to other layers of the poor within Jordan to do as the Palestinians, that is, to arm and fight for their goals. So King Hussein’s army moved against the Palestinians and massacred many of them and ejected the PLO from Jordan.
The PLO moved its headquarters to Lebanon. Five years later in Lebanon, the presence of the Palestinians led the Phalangists and the right-wing also to attack them. But this time, the Palestinians were joined by the left-wing of the country, who were also fighting the Phalangists. But the victories by the Palestinians and the poor masses in Lebanon did not bring Arab support. It brought the so-called Arab Peacekeeping Force, paid for by Saudi Arabia and made up of the Syrian Army. The Syrian Army in the name of most of the Arab regimes and under the guise of a neutral force entered Lebanon and did what the Phalangists could not do alone, they stopped the advance of the Palestinian-leftist alliance. The Syrian regime of Assad feared a popular victory in Lebanon could spark similar revolts in Syria. Today’s Israeli invasion in Lebanon is merely the conclusion of what the Syrians and the Phalangists began in Lebanon. The Syrians weakened the Palestinians in Lebanon, making it easier for Israel to defeat them today.
Given the interests of the Arab regimes, the nationalist policy of the PLO could not have been more disastrous. The PLO took the political stance to respect all the Arab regimes, in order to gain their support to help them fight against Israel. It did not call on the poor masses of the different countries to fight for their own order against these regimes. In not doing so, the PLO renounced the alliance of the poor and oppressed of all the Arab countries, those who could have been their most trusted and strongest allies, those whose interests really corresponded with those of the Palestinians. And this put them in the worst position because, on the one hand, masses of poor and oppressed Palestinians were mobilized and armed, a threat to those regimes, but the PLO had not reinforced their positions through allying with the other poor masses of the Middle East.
The PLO has always limited itself to a nationalist perspective. But in so doing they have turned their backs on what the history of the Middle East has shown time and time again: that the interests of the Palestinian people are linked to the interests of all the oppressed and the poor, over one hundred million of them in the Middle East. The Palestinian people who are mobilized and armed and ready to fight have the possibility to have an internationalist policy: that is, to call on all the other poor and oppressed to join them both in their fight against the Israeli state and imperialism, but also in a fight against their own oppressive states. In making a revolution, the poor masses could organize their own order and redo the Middle East, which under the imperialist order has been condemned to war after war.
The proof that such an alliance was possible could be seen during the 1975-76 Lebanese civil war. The Palestinians were attacked by the Phalangists, and in a purely defensive way they joined with the left-wing forces in Lebanon who also had been under attack.
It is equally true that the Palestinians might have found allies within Israel itself. For what stake do the workers and poor in Israel have, except to be used as the cannon fodder in war after war? To be the army that is used against all the workers and poor in the Middle East? It is the only prospect the Israeli regime can give the Israeli masses. The Palestinians have interests in common with the workers of Israel. The Palestinians could have addressed the Israeli masses and insisted that it is not they who endanger the Jewish masses, it is the Israeli regime. The Palestinians could call on the poor Jews and Arabs to unite and build a free and democratic society, democratic for all.
Although the PLO has formally made promises of a democratic regime for all, it has not insisted on addressing the Israeli poor, despite the fact that if it did, it could weaken their enemy. Beyond this, anything the PLO has addressed to Israeli masses against the Israeli regime, can easily be dismissed as wartime propaganda without any meaning, since the call to oppose their own regime is addressed only to them, and not to the poor and oppressed of the Arab countries as well.
We know that today there is an opposition in Israel to the Israeli regime’s war plans. A recent poll show that 65 percent of the population opposes storming Beirut. And on July 3 nearly 100,000 people demonstrated against the war, an enormous number in relation to the total population of 3½ million. This number is more remarkable given that the demonstration and the opposition comes at a time when the government is in the middle of conducting a war. This switch among a substantial section of the population, while still limited, shows the potential even in Israel, the stronghold of the Palestinians’ enemies, for the poor and workers to oppose their own rulers.
The war in Lebanon is not, as of this writing, yet over. Whether it is the U.S. or Israel which made the decision to stop outside of Beirut, one thing is clear: what prevented the Israelis so far from going in and wiping out the PLO and killing tens of thousands of Palestinians and poor Lebanese has been the Palestinians’ courageous fight. The Palestinians are willing to fight, no matter what the odds. This means, for the Israeli army if it does go in, it will be very costly. It could be another Warsaw ghetto. Moreover, the sheer brutality of the war could provoke struggles elsewhere, of other Palestinians and of the poor and the oppressed in other Arab countries as well. It has been their determination to fight which has given the Palestinian movement its strength, but determination in itself is not enough. In the absence of an internationalist policy, their determination and strength finds itself in a dead end.