The propositions made by Israel during the peace process, up to and including the failed Camp David negotiations of last summer, aim to perpetuate most if not all of the settlements. Over the years, Israel has had a consistent policy in the Occupied Territories of "creating facts" that is building settlements which then become bargaining counters in future negotiations. When Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 the Jewish population was zero.
Ten years later it was 30,000. By 1993 it was well over 100,000 and today it is 200,000. That does not count the 200,000 in East Jerusalem, whose municipal boundaries have been vastly expanded into the West Bank and annexed to Israel. The policy of colonisation has been pursued under successive governments. When Netanyahu was replaced by Barak in 1999 there was no halt or even slowing-down of settlement-building.
While talking peace and negotiating for a definitive agreement with the PA Barak was actually speeding up the construction of settlements and increasing the number of colonists.
Who are the settlers? The longest established group, about five per cent of the total, is composed of Labour Party supporters who went there in the 70s, sent by their party to the areas envisaged for annexation by the Allon Plan and also to the Syrian territory of the Golan plateau occupied in 1967 and annexed by Israel in 1980.
About 40 per cent of the colonists are ideologicallymotivated partisans of Greater Israel, mostly religious zealots and violently anti-Arab. This section is behind most of the increasingly frequent attacks on Arabs and their property. Believing that God gave the whole of the land of Israel to the Jews they are ready and eager to settle anywhere. The most extreme example is the 350 who live in a fortified area in the centre of the Arab city of Hebron, protected by 2,000 Israeli troops and constantly provoking the Arab population. In Gaza too, 6,000 settlers occupy 30 per cent of the land (leaving 70 per cent for a million Palestinians), protected by the Israeli army and effectively cutting the territory in two. The remaining 55 per cent of the settlers are "economic immigrants" attracted by a better quality of life, government grants, cheap housing, etc.
Most of them live close to the "green line" which separates the West Bank from Israel and would go back to Israel if the government concluded a settlement with the Palestinians that required them to. And in fact, they have been the first to leave under the pressure of the Intifada.
WHAT CAN THE INTIFADA DO?
The Palestinians are not as weak as they seem. Israel has of course overwhelming military superiority, as witnessed by the use of tanks, rockets, helicopter gunships and even warships to shell Gaza. But military force is not everything. Israel is confronted with a mass popular uprising including forms of armed struggle.
The only way to crush this movement would be to reoccupy the populated Palestinian areas. This could only be done with enormous loss of life on the Palestinian side and significant Israeli casualties. The price would be unacceptably high in terms of its impact on Israeli society, the reaction it would provoke in the Arab world and its effect on Western public opinion. And once Israel had gone in again, it would not be easy to get out.
The first Intifada forced the Israelis to the negotiating table, even if they subsequently outmanoeuvred the PLO in the negotiations. The second can eventually force them to seek a political solution. Of course they are ready now for a "solution" on their own terms. What the Intifada is capable of doing is to force them to take account of the basic Palestinian demands. The struggle may be prolonged. The search for a political solution can be delayed, for example, if Sharon becomes Prime Minister.
But the costs of living with a permanent insurgency are too high.
What are they? The first reasons why Israel has to find a solution to the Palestinian problem are to be found in its effect on Israeli society and on Israeli relations with the wider Arab world. Israel began its existence as a colonial-settler state protected in its period of formation by British imperialism and then protected and heavily subsidised by American imperialism. It was an outpost of the West in the Arab world and a useful ally during the Cold War. But in the epoch of globalisation, Israel has to find its place in the world market. It is now an advanced capitalist country with a domestic economy dominated by high technology and with capital to export. In capitalist logic it should be exploiting the Middle East region by exporting capital and by unequal trade, selling high technology products in exchange for cheap agricultural and consumer goods and oil.
But there is a political obstacle to that. As American economist Lester Thurow put it in a book written just before the Oslo agreement: \0xD2Those not producing oil in the region should be making goods and services for those who sell oil. Israel should bring technology, middle-waged industries and organisational abilities to the table. But none of that can happen unless and until the political and military disputes between Israel and the Arab world are settled.
Israel has had a consistent policy in the occupied territories of building settlements which then become bargaining counters in future negotiations. When Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 the Jewish population was zero. Ten years later it was 30,000. By 1993 it was well over 100,000 and today it is 200,000.THE "NEW MIDDLE EAST"
The aim of Oslo was to defuse the Palestinian conflict, end the Arab boycott of trade with Israel and open up the way to a normalisation of relations with the Arab world via peace treaties and diplomatic and commercial relations. This was to be the realisation of Shimon Peres' vision of a New Middle East, with Israel as the dominant economic power rather than a pariah dependent on American aid.
The strategy worked to a certain extent. A year after Oslo, Jordan became the second of Israel's neighbours to sign a peace treaty (Egypt had already done so). Shortly after, an economic conference in Casablanca brought together a large Israeli delegation with representatives from fifteen Arab countries.
Full diplomatic relations were opened with Morocco, while Tunisia and some of the Gulf states opened up commercial relations with Israel. The "New Middle East" seemed on the way to becoming a reality. But as time went by and there was no final agreement with the Palestinians nor a peace treaty with Syria, the process marked time.
Since the Intifada broke out it has stalled and gone into reverse. The unresolved Palestinian question is blocking the expansion of big Israeli capital into its natural hinterland. And even the most pro-Western Arab regimes have very little room for manoeuvre. The degree of popular support for the Palestinians should not be underestimated. The demonstrations in solidarity with the Intifada throughout the Arab and Muslim world have been absolutely massive.
The Palestinian question has in the past acted as a catalyst for social movements in other countries, especially those with large refugee populations. This has led to brutal repression of the Palestinians, as in Jordan in 1970 and in Lebanon during the civil war from 1975-85. Jordan, where 60 per cent of the population is of Palestinian origin, is particularly prone to destabilisation from a spilling over of the Palestinian conflict, for example by a new influx of refugees. And a new war between Israel and the Arabs is not to be excluded.
ISRAEL IS NOT IMMUNE
The effects of the Intifada will also be felt in Israel itself. Israeli society is far from monolithic: it is riven by class and political divisions. These are of several kinds. There is the conflict between the secular and religious wings of Israeli society. There is the conflict between the majority who want peace with the Arabs and the minority who seek a Greater Israel. Above all there is the fundamental contradiction between the capitalist ruling class and the working class, overlaid by the conflict between the Ashkenazim or Jews of European and North American origin, who occupy the upper reaches of the social scale and the Mizrahim or Sephardic Jews of Asian and North African origin who make up the majority of the working class.
And there is of course the question of the more than one million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel and make up 20 per cent of its population. From its origins Israeli society was characterised by great social cohesion.
The Zionist founders built a state on land expropriated from the Arabs. The Jewish working class, not entirely without reason, identified its own survival with the continued existence of this state.
This identification was reinforced by a generous welfare state that guaranteed basic services such as health, education and housing. The (Jewish only) trade union confederation, the Histadrut, also owned large parts of the economy. All of this started to come apart with the impact of globalisation on Israeli society.
This began in the 1980s when Shimon Peres introduced an austerity programme and embarked on the first privatisations. But there was a qualitative acceleration in the 90s. Now the previous cohesion of Israeli society is being torn apart with the development of unemployment, homelessness, and a growing gap between rich and poor. There have been bitter social conflicts. Of course all these divisions in Israeli society do not dovetail neatly. That would be too good to be true.
It is not the case that the Sephardic majority of the working class coincides with the secular wing of Israeli society and the partisans of peace. But all the fault lines will be deepened by the Palestinian uprising.
The economy will suffer from the hostility in the Arab world. And whatever the initial reaction of the Israeli population, which appears for the moment to be support for a more repressive policy against the Palestinians, the pursuit of the uprising is having its effect in increasing the feeling of insecurity.
This will increase as conscripts are killed, and especially if reservists have to be called up. Not to mention the impact that a wider conflict would have. Already the lowlevel guerrilla war is costing the lives of two or three soldiers and settlers a week.
That does not seem like much, but 25 soldiers killed every year was enough to convince Israeli public opinion that it was time to get out of Lebanon. In the past, starting with the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and during the Intifada there were significant peace movements in Israel. That stopped in 1993. There are relatively small forces in Israeli society, but worth their weight in gold, for whom a lasting peace means recognition of the rights of the Palestinians.
There is a much bigger layer, indeed the majority, for whom peace simply means the absence of war, no more attacks, no more dead soldiers. From this point of view Israeli society is not so different from American society in relation to the Vietnam War or French society in relation to the colonial wars. There is always a minority which is opposed to the causes of the war and a much bigger layer which reacts gradually to the consequences, perhaps going on later to question the causes.
Whatever the present state of public opinion, the pursuit of the Intifada will lead to a growing anti-war attitude. And the social situation, the fact that the previously strong social cohesion has been weakened can make the situation more explosive.
The identification of the Palestinian citizens of Israel with the Intifada and the brutal repression they have suffered from their "own" state will be a further factor of destabilisation of Israeli society. Already there are the first signs. The Four Mothers who led the campaign for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon have launched a new initiative under the slogan "We didn't bring our sons home from Lebanon so that they could get themselves killed for the settlers"
The question of the settlers is an Achilles heel for the Zionist establishment. Even as Sharon races ahead of Barak in the polls, 52 per cent of Israelis still think that the majority of the settlements should be dismantled. A group of intellectuals who had been denouncing Arafat as unreasonable only months ago took out a half page advert in the daily Haaretz to call for the dismantling of the big majority of the settlements.
The aim of Oslo was to defuse the Palestinian conflict, end the Arab boycott of trade with Israel and open up ways to a normalisation of relations with the Arab world via peace treaties and diplomatic and commercial relations.
There are relatively small forces in Israeli society, but worth their weight in gold, for whom lasting peace means recognition of the rights of the Palestinians.
The observation by Marx that a nation which oppresses another can never itself be free applies fully to Israel. So long as Israeli workers make common cause with their own ruling class against the Palestinian people they will never take their own struggles to the point of overthrowing that class.
But the loyalty of the Israeli working class to its rulers has brought it decades of insecurity and war, and now even its basic rights are under attack. That can create a more favourable framework for Israeli workers to understand that their future lies in cooperation with the Arab workers and peasants of the region, and that the first step towards that is to recognise the rights of the Palestinians.
Pressure from America and Europe will also militate in favour of a settlement. It is true that Israel is America's number one ally in the region and the recipient of most American aid. It is also true that there is a powerful pro-Israeli lobby in the US.
But Israel cannot be America's only ally in the Middle East if the price is permanent conflict with the Arab world where America also has important allies such as Egypt (the second biggest recipient of American aid), Jordan,Morocco, the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, and where even almost all of the formerly radical nationalist regimes are ready to adapt to the New World Order and the Pax Americana.
On at least two occasions in the past, under Carter and Bush senior, American patience with Israel has worn extremely thin. America has an interest in a strong pro-western Israel at peace with its neighbours. It has no fundamental interest in the further extension of Israeli settlements at the expense of the Palestinians. That is even more true for Europe.
Barak may have thought that having already conceded so much, Arafat would accept the Israeli propositions at Camp David. He didn't, nor did he accept the Clinton plan which was only a very slightly watered down version of it. Arafat chose not to commit political suicide.
It is of course possible that he will sign some kind of agreement. But if it does not satisfy the fundamental demands of his own people it will not be accepted by them. And unless it is, Arafat will not have the authority to play the repressive role that he has been attributed by Israel.
CO-EXISTENCE UNDER CAPITALISM?
The struggle of the Palestinians for their right to an independent state should be supported by all socialists. Their victory would be the first step towards a solution based on co-existence. But only the first step. The problem of the nature of the Israeli state would remain. A million Palestinians are second-class citizens in Israel.
All forms of discrimination against them will have to be removed. Nor is it possible to maintain a state based on racist immigration laws, which stipulate that any Jew from wherever in the world can come and live in Israel and have full citizenship rights and aid to settle, but Palestinians who were born there or their descendants have no such right.
At the present time pre-1948 Palestine is inhabited by approximately five million Jews and four million Arabs. Three of the four million Arabs live on 20 per cent of the territory. Even leaving aside the question of the refugees, there is a demographic time bomb ticking away.
The influx from the former Soviet Union in the early 90s was probably the last big wave of Jewish immigration into Israel. The rate of natural growth of the Arab population, both in Israel and in the present occupied territories, will create tensions that cannot be resolved by a simple division into two completely separate states.
Furthermore all borders are to some extent artificial, but some are much more artificial than others. The green line between Israel and the West Bank is just a line in the sand where two armies stopped fighting in 1949. After Oslo, Shimon Peres boasted that Israel controlled 80 per cent of the water in the West Bank. That is unacceptable.
Any policy of harmonious development of the region will require the economic integration of Israel-Palestine. In the medium term a solution will have to involve a federation which recognises the rights of each community. It is difficult to see how any such solution could be arrived at on a capitalist basis.
Only the victory of socialism in the region can guarantee a lasting peace. That in turn requires the growth of democratic, secular and socialist forces. The more the international socialist movement supports the Palestinian national struggle the more such forces can develop at the expense of the reactionary fundamentalists and pro-capitalist political forces in both Israel and the Arab world. Israel cannot be America's only ally in the Middle East if the price is permanent conflict with the Arab world. America has an interest in a strong, pro-western Israel at peace with its neighbours.
The slaughter will only continue without the development of democratic, secular and socialist forces.