100,000 march in Tel Aviv

Submitted by martin on 14 May, 2002 - 7:47

On Sunday 12 May a huge demonstration of Israelis filled the streets of Tel Aviv to demand that their army gets out of the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
The organisers, Peace Now, put the numbers at 100,000. The police said 60,000. Comparable numbers in Britain, relative to population, would be between 600,000 and one million.
Another demand raised at the protest was "two states for two peoples" - i.e., that the Palestinians should be able to form an independent state of their own, with the same rights as Israel.
"This turnout is on the basis that we will return to the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital of two states and the elimination of the [Jewish] settlements [sponsored by Israeli governments in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967]", said Peace Now leader Arye Arnon.
This way lies hope. This way lies the path to justice for the Palestinians and peace and security for both nations, Palestinian Arab and Israeli-Jewish. This way lie the openings for the working-class unity across national divisions which could establish a fundamental solution in the region through a free socialist federation of the Middle East.
Just before the rally, a new opinion poll showed that 67% of Israelis support Israeli army withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. The protest numbers held strong despite the killing of 16 Israeli civilians in an Islamist suicide bombing of a snooker hall only five days before the demonstration.
The same day, the Likud party of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon voted 669 to 465 to rule out fhe creation of a Palestinian state. It overruled even warmonger Sharon himself, who, though stating that for him no Palestinian state is on the agenda "for the time being", wanted to keep his options open.
There is not just one Israel. There is the Israel of Likud, Sharon, the brutal invasions of the West Bank Palestinian cities, and the long military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. And there is the other Israel, of the Tel Aviv demonstrators and the hundreds of Israeli soldiers who, defying jail sentences, have refused to serve in the Occupied Territories. There is the Israeli labour movement, not yet decisively aligned against Sharon, but with great potential.
The Palestinians, too, are not one solid block politically. There are the secular, democratic, or socialist Palestinians who support the PLO's stand for two states, Palestinian and Israeli, side by side (though they may well oppose the corruption and police repression of PLO rule in the limited autonomous Palestinian areas of the Occupied Territories). And there are the Islamists and ultra-nationalists who deny Israel's right to exist and believe that Israeli civilians are fair targets in a war whose ultimate aim is to drive "Zionists" out of the whole region.
Can the "other Israel" and the "other Palestine" link up, and isolate the Israel of Sharon and the Palestine of Hamas? They can - if labour movements, socialists and democrats internationally mobilise a loud enough voice in their support.
The Israeli government has cancelled the invasion of the Gaza Strip which it had planned in retaliation for the snooker-hall bombing. That gives us a little extra space. We must use the time to build solidarity.
It must be democratic, socialist, internationalist solidarity. "Solidarity" which denies or equivocates on Israel's right to exist; "solidarity" which rejects the clear and practical demands of the Tel Aviv demonstration and of the PLO, for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and two nations, two states; "solidarity" which instead goes for general "hate Israel" agitation - that will do no good. It will only strengthen the chauvinists on both sides.
The root of this conflict lie in two injustices. One is the plight of the Palestinian people - dispersed; denied a homeland; living as second or third class citizens in all the countries they inhabit; taunted and then disappointed by the promise of independence under the 1993 Oslo agreement; and now, in the West Bank and Gaza, pauperised and subjected to repeated and brutal Israeli army invasions, house-to-house searches, and mass arrests as Israel retaliates for the suicide bombings.
The other is the denial by the Arab states of the right to exist of the Israeli Jewish nation - a nation of refugees and children of refugees.
The second injustice is much the less painful immediately. Israel's military strength and its backing from the USA enable it to force its enemies to recognise its existence as a solid fact even if they will not recognise it as of right - whereas the Palestinians have no such military clout.
But the two injustices are linked. Justice for the Palestinians requires a majority in Israel becoming convinced that they can secure their rights to existence by agreement rather than by military exertion.
The corrupt and dictatorial character of Arab regimes in the region - from Syria through Iraq and Saudi Arabia to Egypt - has made democratic dialogue difficult. So has Israeli chauvinism. But the recent Saudi peace plan, endorsed by the Arab League, offers a way out. It proposes Arab recognition of Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and an independent Palestinian state.
An independent Palestinian state would need compensation and aid - from Israel, and from the oil-rich Arab regimes and the USA - to reconstruct. It would need fair access to water supplies. There would have to be compensation and a resettlement programme for the Palestinians still living as refugees.
And even the best "two states" agreement would remove only the immediate political injustice - the denial of self-determination to the Palestinians - not the underlying economic injustices which leave millions pauperised in a region with vast natural wealth.
The framework for a fundamental solution is a socialist federation of the Middle East, utilising that natural wealth for the common good. The only force that can create that socialist federation is a working class united across divisions of nationality. Workers can unite across national divisions only if they can develop a democratic, internationalist policy on the national conflicts which all, on all sides, can recognise as representing equal rights for all.
Recognition of both the Palestinian Arabs' right to self-determination (brutally repressed in practice, though offered much lip-service) and the Israeli Jews' similar right (denied in much agitation, though upheld in practice by brutal military force) are vital for a working-class programme.
The job of the labour movement and of the left is to add our weight to those, Israeli and Palestinian, fighting for peace, justice, and consistent democracy.

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