Hamas victory in Palestine - Setback for US Imperialism - No Gain for Palestinian Workers

The victory of Hamas in the January election in the Palestinian territories has come as an unwelcome surprise for US imperialism and its Israeli client. It clearly has implications for the so-called “road map” to peace which the US has been sponsoring and the general position of US imperialism in the Middle East. It is, however, completely mistaken to imagine that this victory will bring any gains for the Palestinian or Israeli working class. In this text we examine the more general issues raised by the election and its relevance to the plans of imperialism and workers in the region.

The End of the Two State Solution?

In March Israel is to have its own general election which is expected to confirm the new “Kadima” party in office. This is the party which emerged in November 2005 and presents itself as the vehicle most suited for carrying forward the plans of the US. The birth of this party must mark a low point in political hypocrisy, even by the standards of the Middle East. Sharon, the founder of Likud, the main political force behind the settlements and the project for a “greater Israel”, the butcher of Palestinians, converts himself from hawk to dove, splits Likud and founds a centrist party prepared to exchange occupied territory for peace! This Damascene conversion is, of course, in response to US pressure and shows how the US is able to dictate policy to its client by virtue of the aid it provides, aid which allows Israel to exist in its present form. The fact that it was Sharon who performed this apparent “volte face” has only served to give the party credibility with Israelis. Sharon’s political demise, after a stroke in early January, is unlikely to change this.

Although Likud brands Sharon as a traitor, he was not, of course, going to implement the “roadmap.” In his view he was doing the minimum necessary to satisfy the US and allow Bush to re-baptise him from “butcher of Sabra & Shatila” to “man of peace.” As we have explained in previous texts (1) Sharon’s plan is to give up the useless parts of the occupied territories and retain all the main settlements on the West Bank, the water resources and the best agricultural land. There never was any question of returning to the 1967 borders. Instead the boundary of the West Bank is to be unilaterally set by the erection of the concrete “apartheid wall.” The fact that settlement activity was accelerated after the launch of the road map, just as it was after the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993, shows Israel has no intention of abandoning the settlements in the West Bank. There are now 246 000 settlers in the West Bank and another 200 000 in occupied East Jerusalem. If the settlers in the Syrian Golan Heights are added in, Israel has now settled almost half a million people in land occupied in the 1967 war. Only 8000 settlers were removed from Gaza and most of these have been relocated in West Bank settlements. Sharon’s idea is that after the main settlements are annexed to Israel, a demoralised and brow beaten Palestinian leadership could be induced to accept the remaining scraps of desert and baptise them as a state. It is a plan worthy of the architects of South African apartheid! The Israelis imagine, just as the apartheid leaders did, that their plans can be implemented by force of arms against all resistance.

Under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas it appeared as if progress could be made in forcing the Palestinian Authority (PA) to accept this plan with only minor modifications. It is, however, a measure of the short sightedness and political ignorance of Israeli politicians such as Sharon that they could ever seriously imagine such a scheme could succeed. The election of Hamas is now the answer they have been given.

The Rise of Hamas

The reasons for the rise of Hamas are to be found in its resistance to Israeli occupation and its opposition to the ineffectiveness and corruption of the Fatah government of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas was founded in 1987 at the start of the first intifada and was actually supported by Israel in its early years since they saw it as a means of weakening the PLO. It rose in importance after the first Gulf war in 1991 when certain Middle East states withdrew funding from the PLO, because of its support for Saddam’s annexation of Kuwait, and started to fund Hamas instead. This money was used for arms and for social programmes such as schools, hospitals and welfare. Hamas thus appeared as a social movement as well as a political and military one. By opposing the Oslo peace accords, which they correctly predicted would provide camouflage for a massive campaign of settlement in the occupied territories, they gained further credibility. At present Hamas stands for a return of all Palestinian territories, including those allotted to Israel in the UN 1947 partition proposal. Hamas is in this respect a mirror image of Likud in that both organisations lay claim to the entire territory between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Hamas’ present stance is that it will not negotiate with Israel but would conclude a truce if Israel withdrew to the 1967 boundaries. All this is, of course, quite unacceptable to the Israelis who have already started to starve the PA of funding, by halting transfers of taxes and customs dues it collects in Israel on behalf of the PA, and applying other sanctions such as restrictions on movement. A period of stalemate and continued violence appears to lie ahead.

The two state solution, supported by the US and its so called quartet partners, EU, Russia and the UN, is not possible, even in bourgeois terms, if the Palestinian state is not viable. Israeli annexations of Palestinian land have already made this the case. Peace is now only possible in a one state solution. Unless the Palestinians are expelled, as Sharon previously advocated, a one state solution would inevitably mean allowing Palestinian refugees the right of return and would radically change the demographic make up of the Israeli state to the point where the Palestinians would be in a majority. This is a possibility Israeli politicians are now becoming aware of and trying to find ways of avoiding. Hamas may itself recognise this which could be why they talk of leaving certain issues to future generations. Abdel Rantissi, a previous Hamas leader, assassinated by Israelis in 2004, put it in these words,

After liberation of Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, we can accept a truce with the Israelis and refer all (remaining) issues to future generations.

US imperialism - Democracy and the War on Terror

US imperialism is, as we have explained in previous texts (2), determined to control the oil resources of the Middle East. To make its penetration of the area more acceptable, the Bush team decided it should promote democracy throughout the region. The mantra of democracy and freedom is trotted out whenever Bush is primed and told to speak on the Middle East. In his 2005 state of the Union address Bush again affirmed that:

The US will stand with the allies of freedom to support democracy in the Middle East.

However, as soon as Hamas was democratically elected the US denounced Hamas as a terrorist organisation and cut off its funding to the PA. They even demanded that the PA return $50 million which had already been transferred before the election! Similarly in Iraq where democratic elections have brought the political forces of Islam to power the US has threatened to cut off all reconstruction funding unless it is satisfied with the government which emerges. Of course, the love of democracy, which the US now claims to have, is nothing but a camouflage for the aim of getting US puppets into power. Its failure to properly manipulate and control the elections in Palestine has caused its policy to misfire. There appears to have been significant disagreement between the US and its Israeli client of how to manage things. The Israelis did not think Hamas should be allowed to stand at all. As it was they banned them from campaigning in East Jerusalem and wanted to ban the entire election in this area, which, of course, Israel annexed in 1968. It was only after US insistence that elections were held in East Jerusalem.

The US has finally become aware that it needs to implement some solution to the Palestinian question since this problem is like a running ulcer which poisons US’ attempts to control;the rest of the area. The election of Hamas is, therefore, a setback. The US’ immediate response of cutting off funding to the PA is actually quite dangerous for Washington since its enemies could well provide funding for the PA. Already Iran and Saudi Arabia have volunteered to fund a Hamas administration. In addition US rivals in the area such as the EU and Russia could benefit from the situation. Although the EU has also suspended its grant, which is annually 500 million Euros, it could restore it if Hamas shows some “pragmatism.” Russia for its part has invited Hamas to Moscow for talks saying it has never viewed Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

The general ambition of the US in its “war on terror” is to discredit the forces of political Islam and remove them from power. However, its arrogant and predatory interventions throughout the region have provided fresh credit to all the enemies of the US. This has served to revive the fortunes of political Islam. Elections in both Palestine and Iraq have brought these forces to power and even the feeble gesture towards free elections in Egypt resulted in huge gains for the Moslem Brotherhood despite it being banned and prevented from fielding candidates in its own name. The war on terror requires these forces to be marginalised, but not destroyed, so that the war can continue indefinitely. This indefinite war is to provide the ideology which covers the predatory ambitions of US imperialism in securing its domination of the world in the present period. Instead of achieving this, the US has succeeded in bringing, what it itself describes as terrorist organisations, to power. It now faces the task of reversing the outcome of a democratic election. This will be a messy and bloody process.

Political Islam and the Working Class

Political Islam has grown as a movement as Arab nationalism has declined. While the bankruptcy of Arab nationalism is evident in its failure to free the Middle East from the domination of imperialism, the failures of political Islam are less obvious. The two countries where Islamic movements hold power, Iran and Sudan, are classed as “pariah” states by the US and are thus continually under threat. They are able to use this fact to shore up their anti-imperialist credentials and to excuse their failings. Political Islam, despite its medieval trappings such as sharia law, is a movement of the bourgeois class and aims to maintain capitalism and wage labour. It is therefore ridiculous to imagine that political Islam will somehow supersede capitalist class divisions as many of the Islamic groups claim. In Iran, for example, which has had an Islamic regime in power for the last 26 years, the situation of the working class is worse than it was under the Shah. Class divisions are as sharp as they ever were. The bourgeois class savagely exploits the working class just as occurred under the Shah. Today it is the parasites of the theocracy grow fat on this exploitation and their hired thugs beat and kill workers when they fight back. We refer readers to our article on the Iranian elections “The Hopelessness of Reform and the Capitalist Nature of the Islamic Republic” in Revolutionary Perspectives 32 for detailed evidence of this. We also refer readers to the article on the struggle by Tehran bus drivers with which we start this edition.

The fact is that political Islam is a movement of a specific section of the bourgeois class, the petit bourgeoisie. It has nothing to offer the workers. The Palestinian working class is at present suffering 50% unemployment and a desperate economic situation which is likely to deteriorate further in the bourgeois struggles which lie ahead. The Israeli working class is suffering from increased taxation and cuts in welfare payments and jobs as large sections of the state sector are privatised. In the last few years there have been very large, but brief, strikes by civil servants and many skilled workers have emigrated back to the country they started from, especially Russia. Although the current situation makes it difficult for the working class to escape nationalist and religious divisions, in the long run this is the only way to escape from the present catastrophic situation. The workers of Palestine and Israel have to raise again the workers’ banner of “class against class” and oppose it to the bourgeois banner of “nation against nation.”. Utlimately their liberation will come about in the same way as workers everywhere - in an interntional revolution which first paralyses imperialism and then goes on to destroy it. (3)


(1) See RP 37 “Israelis Pullout but Occupation Continues” and “Out of Gaza”

(2) See RP 27 “Countdown to War with Iraq”; RP 28 “War and Imperialist Occupation”; RP 29 “Iraq, Occupation and Exploitation.”

(3) For more on the perspectives facing the Palestinian working class see “The Hamas Victory in the Palestinian Elections” from Battaglia Comunista 2 (2006). An English translation will be found on the website of the CWO.

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