Palestine: More Imperialist Misery

The recent faction fighting between the Fatah supporters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the militias supporting the democratically elected Hamas government is a the latest manifestation of the spiral into barbarism in Gaza, the world’s largest prison camp. This represents a fragmentation of the Palestinian bourgeoisie under the pressure of ongoing Israeli military incursions, despite the so- called withdrawal of the occupation forces in 2005 and, the Israeli imposed economic blockade. The split within the Palestinian camp also opens up a new imperialist fault line between in which Fatah and Hamas serve as proxies for more powerful imperialist interests, where Fatah is receiving support from the US and even Israel whilst Hamas is being backed primarily by Iran.

This is something of a historic development in the sense that despite it’s high symbolic significance, the Israel / Palestine conflict dropped off the front line of imperialist confrontation with the collapse of the Russian bloc. Since that time it has been essentially a local dispute within the sphere of US imperialism, albeit in one of the world’s most strategically important yet politically unstable regions. This explains the reluctance of the US to push the Israelis to deal with the Palestinians; it was simply not worth the effort of antagonising America’s principle ally in the region and, the isolated struggle of the Palestinian Intifada was not something the US needed to be concerned about.

Iran and the wars in Iraq and Lebanon

All this has changed as a result of the war on Iraq, which has been a debacle for American imperialism. Apart from the disastrous local consequences for the Iraqi population, the war has seen the US take a battering in the Middle East. Arguably the only country to make any gains from the war has been Iran. By posturing as the only regional power with the courage to stand up to American imperialism, the Islamic Republic has largely managed to end the historic antipathy between Iran and the Arab world and has strengthened its reputation amongst the Arab masses. This has boosted Iran’s pretensions to become a serious regional player and in this regard there have been some important developments. The first is Iran’s covert intervention in Iraq in support of pro Iranian Shi’ite forces. Any Iranian government would be criminally negligent in its role as the executive of Iranian capitalism if it did not intervene in the Iraqi quagmire to protect its interests. But, with a new found confidence Iranian interests are now being pursued way beyond its borders. Most significantly, the Iranian backed Hizbollah were able to frustrate the efforts of the Israeli army to dislodge them from Lebanon, effectively strengthening Hizbollah’s control of southern Lebanon and securing a huge propaganda victory throughout the Arab world. Israeli dismay at the humiliation of their seemingly invincible forces has dented the credibility of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and brought about the resignation of the chief of the army Chief of Staff.

Iran has also been getting in on the act in Palestine, where the boycott of funding to the Hamas government by the US and the EU has enabled Iran to become an important financial donor to the bankrupted Palestinian Authority.

US arming Fatah

This is the current reality which throws the conflict between Fatah and Hamas ,as well as the recent flurry of activity by the US, into sharp relief. Both the US and Israel have a mutual interest in containing Iran, especially when it is extending its influence right on Israel’s borders. In order to counter Iranian support for Hamas, the US with Israel’s backing have been offering assistance to President Abbas and his Fatah supporters. The US has been backing militias loyal to Mahmoud Abbas and at the end of December Israel allowed a £6 million consignment of arms for the Presidential guard to be delivered from Egypt. Moreover the US has committed $86 million to train and equip the Presidential Guard and $43 million to promote ‘democratic’ alternatives to Hamas. Recent weeks have also seen a tour of the Middle East by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who has resurrected the so called ‘road map’ to a peaceful settlement. Not that there is anything radical about reviving this programme which envisages a two-state solution on terms generally favourable to Israel. However it is significant in that the US now realises that the Sharon strategy of unilateral withdrawal has been a complete disaster and that Israel must be pushed to agree to something more constructive which may lead to a lessening of tension in the region, rather than fuelling it. It is no co-incidence that during the course of Rice’s visit, Israel agreed to release to Mahmoud Abbas $100m of the $500m in withheld tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority.

Imperialist manoeuvres

The ramifications of the conflict go way beyond Israel / Palestine and manifest themselves in imperialist manoeuvring beyond the region. Towards the end of 2006 an EU peace initiative fronted by France, Spain and Italy was announced. The plan included an immediate ceasefire, formation of a Palestinian government of national unity, and exchange of prisoners, talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and an international mission to be sent to Gaza to monitor the ceasefire. The plan was announced without informing the British Government whose Middle East policy is seen as being virtually indistinguishable from that of Washington. Although EU’s influence in the Middle East is minimal compared to that of the US, the surprise EU initiative is an indicator of the growing tensions within the Western camp, and is a measure of some European powers’ aspirations to develop an independent European imperialism.

Whilst these imperialist machinations continue the conditions of workers in the Middle East continue to deteriorate, particularly in Gaza where two thirds of the population have no access to running water. Unemployment is at least 40% and around 80% of households are living in poverty compared to less than 12% in 1999. Approximately 830,000 or 59% of the population are reliant on UN food aid, including 100,000 who have become dependent since the freezing of funds to the Hamas government in March 2006. The figures starkly reveal the absolute material desperation of workers in this area and the necessity for workers to everywhere to organise to defend their own interests rather than those of any capitalist state.


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