2000s >> 2000 >> no-1155-november-2000

World View

Crisis in the Middle East

Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to Temple Mount on 28 September, with his entourage of one thousand soldiers, was perhaps the final slap in the face for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers who had suffered decades of poverty, degradation and discrimination since Israel annexed the West Bank and Gaza in the wake of a failed Arab invasion in 1967

Like the black South African resistance movement, engaged in a long struggle against white minority rule, the stone-throwing youth of Palestine can perhaps be forgiven for perceiving their struggle to be one against a Middle Eastern form of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

The statistical injustices which are very much part of the present unrest speak for themselves. Since the start of the Oslo peace process seven years ago, unemployment in some areas stands at 40 percent and the average income per head of the population living in Gaza and the West Bank is $1,500 (compared to $17,000 per head in Israel proper). The Israel/Palestine disparity is also echoed in access to land and water. Whilst Israel has 2.1 million hectares of land, with access to 2 billion cubic feet of water, the West Bank and Gaza share only 0.6 hectares of land and have access to a miserly 232 cubic metres of water. When it comes to other serious issues such as health housing and education, it is evident that Palestinian workers are very much second-class citizens.

Stones versus tanks in Palestine

Moreover, since the Oslo round of talks, Israel has continued with a closure policy which has restricted movement from one part of Palestine to another—a freedom of movement guaranteed under the Oslo and Wye Valley agreements—and has isolated towns and cities in pursuance of their policy of trying to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.

There is nothing exceptional or unique about the present crisis in the Middle East. For the Palestinian state-in-waiting, it is a familiar tale about conflict over land and resources between an “occupier” and a “subject people”, an occupation deemed illegal by the United Nations under resolutions 242 and 338 which call upon Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories but sanctioned by the world’s only superpower—regardless of the hypocritical cant mouthed by US peace brokers at the negotiation table. As Tim Llewellyn commented in the Observer (15 October):

    “The US of Bill Clinton and any foreseeable US of George W. Bush is the friend, mentor, armourer and financier of Israel, advocate, judge, progenitor and saviour of unilateral Israel’s rights and executioner of Palestinian aspirations.”

This is the US which allegedly plays an objective role at the negotiating table, whilst propping up the Israel state to the tune of $4 billion per year—money which is dressed up as aid, which is never accounted for and in breach of US legislation which outlaws the financing of a state with a covert nuclear weapons programme. Hence Senator Pat Buchanan’s remark that “Congress is Israeli occupied territory.”

Increasing lebanisation
The US has invariably steered peace negotiations away from the UN. Throughout his term in office, like his predecessors, Clinton and team have overtly and covertly worked the Middle East peace process to advance US-Israeli interests only.

At the UN, the US has consistently sided with Israel, the two countries almost alone in opposing resolutions censorious of Israeli policy; the two countries siding, in fact, as sole opponents of a myriad pro-human rights resolutions. Little wonder, with so much US support, Israel feels vindicated in invading Lebanon, bombing who and wherever it chooses, restricting the movement of Palestinians, annexing East Jerusalem and building settlements in areas that could only ever frustrate the peace process. In the seven years since Oslo, Israel’s “illegal” settler population in Gaza and the West Bank has increased from 110,000 to 195,000—60 percent of this increase in the West Bank.

Neither would it seem that Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO and heading the Palestine Authority, can deliver the much hankered-after peace. Arafat was the Great Leader that so many Palestinians invested their hopes in, but like all leaders he is at the mercy of those with even more power. In recent years there has been a growing image of Arafat as a puppet of Mossad and the CIA, whose reputation for corruption is not concealed by his life-long struggle against Israeli-perpetrated injustice. Only three years ago, his own accountants were forced to admit that $400 million had gone astray. Out of his current budget, some 60 percent is disbursed by Arafat to his bureaucracy and security forces. Of the remainder only 2 percent goes to infrastructure. While he surrounds himself with a police force of 40,000 (a 33,000 increase since Oslo), prepared to arrest and detain anyone perceived as a threat—union leaders, human rights activists, those militants Israel deems a serious threat to their interests—his régime censoring a press critical of his ideas, and with the Fatah faction and the tanzim militia bent on a pro-Hamas line that Arafat seems reluctant to follow, Palestine is looking increasingly like a dictatorial régime inside a more repressive state in which those with the most to lose are those with the least.

In recent weeks we have witnessed a painful fractioning across the whole Palestine/Israel area. In an increasing “lebanonisation” of the region, both sides of the religious/nationalist divide have organised into militias. Fatah commanders pursue a 1970s agenda of all-out war against Israel, whilst right-wing Jewish extremists refuse to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians in defiance of previous Israeli commitments. Despite the hastily cobbled-together Sharm el-Sheikh deal, seven years after the Oslo round of negotiations and two years after the agreement at Wye Valley that saw the PLO detach itself from its promise to destroy the state of Israel, the prospects of peace seem as distant as ever.

Where socialists stand
So where do socialists stand in all of this? When it comes to the nationalistic zeal and religious fervour of recent weeks, there is nothing at all with which we can identify, for both are abstractions that have imbued the workers of the region with a false consciousness that prevents them identifying their real interests. The labels Jew or Moslem, Palestinian or Israeli do not camouflage the bigger and more permanent label of “working class”, a label most caught up in the present crisis could, if challenged, identify with.

Though we have focused here on the Palestinian grievances against oppression, it is fair to add that the majority of Israel’s Jews are also exploited and degraded and live lives of relative poverty, and within a system that depends on the exploitation of a global majority and their division for its continued survival. As the warring camps in the Middle East continue to vent their hatreds we can only maintain that there is more that unites them as members of that exploited majority, with the same basic needs and desires than can ever divide them along religious or national lines. For the real conflict is yet to be waged—that between ourselves, the exploited, and the master class—though with ideas, not rifles and catapults.


Euro or Krone?

On 29 September Denmark awoke to a crisp, sunny day. Various people were nursing hangovers because the result of the previous day’s Euro referendum had been a “no” (53.1 percent—no, 46.9 percent—yes; 85 percent of 4 million eligible voters—turnout).

The Ministry of Finance distributed a (lengthy) booklet to households discussing the euro. TV had live, lengthy debates (where the audience could put questions to the panel) almost every day. There were even TV phone-ins where “Joe Bloggs” could question, e.g. the PM and leader of the Social Democratic Party, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. Of course the real alternative to the euro didn’t get aired.

The summer months saw the hive of various parties’ activity grow nigh-on exponentially. (The Minority Party turned down a debate with the World Socialist Movement because they were too busy on their anti-euro campaign.) It was intriguing to see how parties, who are opposed to each other, took the same side and often put the same arguments. The most humorous propaganda of the whole campaign, has Holger Nielsen (leader of the Socialist Peoples’ Party) and Pia Kjaersgaard (leader of the ultra-nationalist Danish Peoples’ Party) in a stance parodying the film poster to Basic Instinct. The poster was produced by the (Young) Social Democrats, who urged for a “yes”, just like the Liberal Party (who are more conservative than the Danish Conservative Party, who are like the British Liberal Democrats—confused?). And our old “friends”, the Leninists, were urging for a “no”.

One of the major talking points prior to the referendum was Denmark’s sanctions, now lifted, towards Austria. The Liberals claimed this policy made voters, who were undecided, more inclined to vote “no”. the sanctions were a part of EU policy in the light of Jörg Haider and the Austrian Freedom Party’s electoral successes, where they form part of that country’s government now. As it was, 60 percent of Danes opposed those sanctions (57 percent in Nyrup’s party were against). The Liberals’ argument was fallacious because all sides had people against the sanctions. Political analysts (various sources) noted that the “no” camp was swelling because people found the government untrustworthy, and not because of its sanctions policy.

Statistics from the “Institutet for Konjuktur—Analyse” showed that 61.4 percent said the euro would be good for business, 52.1 percent said a nay would increase unemployment, 45.5 percent said a “ja” would make an independent fiscal policy difficult—33 percent took the opposite view, 73 percent thought a “yes” would lead to a “United States of Europe”, 57.1 percent said the euro was a threat to “Danishness”. And so on.

The statistics are of interest since they give some indication of the views held by Danish workers and Party leaders. (It would be wrong to say that the parties were unified around a “yes” or a “no”.) A few other arguments are worthy of note. The SDP leader Holger Nielsen said a “no” would make it easier for the Baltic states to join the EU. A fringe group, consisting of refugees and immigrants entitled to vote, urged a “yes”; they argued that a “no” would lead to a deterioration in the Welfare State and give fuel to Denmark’s already growing far-right parties. And then there was the notorious argument put forward a few days before the referendum by PM Nyrup: a “no” would force up interest rates and thus cost 20,000 jobs. (In fact the, unaccountable, National Bank director put up the interest rate by 0.5 percent the following day.)

In the statistics above, people argued that an independent fiscal policy would be made difficult by a euro. This is true. A central European Bank would have the control over the issue of euro notes and coin. But for how long? Countries can make agreements but history has shown that each country can and does break agreements or push for amendments, since each country’s government is the executive committee of the collective capitalist class. A European Bank would still have an inconvertible currency (the euro) and could still influence price levels via inflation. A Central Bank could never avert economic crises, which are an inherent part of capitalism, because it is a system of anarchic production.

Control of currency issue and interest rates, high or low exchange rates, etc and what monetary policies are carried out depend on which section of the capitalist class has enough lobbying power. Each party stood for a policy of running capitalism. Capitalism cannot work in the workers’ interests. It’s creed is profit.

The working class should not side with any of our class enemies. It should stand for its own interests—freedom from wage slavery and exploitation; socialism: a society of production for use and free access, where all will contribute according to their abilities.

Despite all the debating and statements and what not through the weeks and months, one thing was patently clear: the basic previous which the politicians based their specious arguments.on were not examined. Thus anybody could say anything without being asked any awkward questions, like “What is money anyway?”, “Why does money exist?” and “I don’t have enough euros, does that mean I’ll have to go without food still?”

As this article has hinted, a certain viewpoint was not addressed at all: socialism. Socialists are against capitalism. This means socialists are for a global union, and not nation states, federal unions or global capitalism. socialists are also not interested in what the name of a currency is, as we are for abolishing money.

The question of “euro or Krone?” was of complete irrelevance, as will be “euro or Pound?” when Britain holds its referendum, to the workers. The real issue is “Capitalism or Socialism?” That is why your humble scribe wrote “World Socialism—Abolition of the Wages System!” on his voting paper.


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