Economic causes of the Intafada

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Nov 6 10:15:23 MST 2000

(Posted to PEN-L by Ali Kadri)

Notes from a lecture by Palestinian activist Mohamad Abdelrahman in
Lausanne, Switzerland on 25 /10/ 00, Title: On the not so new Intifada in
the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza

The recent events in the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza are not
a novelty on the political stage in this area. The Intifida which was
extinguished in the early nineties by successive and excessively
humiliating political deals to the Palestinians is but a case in point.
Then, why should history appear to be repeating itself?

Of course no one in his right mind would think that the Palestinians have
anything to negotiate with. The process of dismantling the Arab national
liberation movement which was spearheaded by the Palestinian liberation
movement was completed via the Palestinization of the Arab-Palestinian
question. This required a concerted effort on the part of reactionary Arab
regimes and the imperialist centre by which the right wing leadership of
the Palestinian movement represented by Mr Arafat was pushed to the
forefront, the crushing of pan-Arab movements with genuine working class
origins was undertaken, and the enactment of new international procedures
cum precedents that establishes the Palestinian question outside its Arab
context was assumed. Since its inception in 1964, the Palestinian national
liberation movement with genuine working class ties and all its allies in
the Arab world were subjected to the most brutal repression and attacks.
One must recall that Mr Arafat's Fatah movement arose in 1967 some three
years after the commencement of armed struggle by the Arab nationalist
movement which was founded by the Palestinian George Habash.

The cold war era, notwithstanding its faults, represented a gravitational
pole for national liberation movements. One needn't go into the details of
this, but the ideological strength of socialism, real or imagined, carried
some victories to the left, albeit under difficult conditions- the
Palestinian left survived in a downsized junior partner to the right in the
national liberation movement which enjoyed the support of the Gulf petro
dollar. The end of the cold war may have ended left wing opportunism but it
also further downsized the left in the national liberation movement. The
crisis of ideology could no more be hard felt than in the Arab world where
the rise of Islamic fundamentalism also meant a change in the class
composition of the rank and file of old fundamentalist movements which were
composed of petty bourgeois and merchants, and which are now swelling with
refugees , peasants, and wage working folks. But the nineties also brought
about liberalisation in economic policies, privatisation, the free market
edict and, naturally, the bread revolts as a counter response, and or the
asceticism of Islamic life as adaptation. The right everywhere, and surely
the Palestinian right, further consolidated its victory over the working
classes. For the Palestinian right loosing these gains is not an option-
the internal political balance, represents the benchmark criterion for its
external politics. This may not be necessarily true in the immediate, but
it is always true in the historical sense. In the contradiction between
class and country, the right prefers to have both, and if all else fails,
it will prefer class to country, i.e. A social class does not commit
suicide but countries have disappeared off the map.

Few left factions within the Palestinian national movements (e.g. PFLP)
were capable of maintaining a minimum structure for survival, however, and
somewhat belatedly and with clear demagogic intonations, the dominant
forces that rose to popular aspirations were the Islamist. Therefore,
although the communist have initiated the armed struggle for independence
in south Lebanon and Palestine and continue to contribute to the struggle
at this very moment, we hear only the name of Hizbollah and Hamas. A
struggle outside a clearly defined class context may yield some advantages,
however, its results can be easily turned around.

The economic conditions in occupied Palestine have deteriorated sharply
during the nineties. Massive funds to the Palestinian authorities were
embezzled or spent on the construction of a repressive police apparatus. To
bring this issue to a head, now more than the eighties local consumption is
being funded by donor aid and debt (A little over a third of consumption is
financed by external borrowing). Wages have failed to keep with soaring
prices and the economics of occupation meant that the poor are either poor
or poorer. Not far from the economic conditions, the social conditions have
also deteriorated. One observes a return to clan allegiances and divisions.
The articulation is such that class consciousness is not issue nor a
possibility. This is so in the sense that this population in the occupied
territories which is a huge army of reserve labour never questions its
historical role outside a national framework, i.e.the necessity of a
national state. It is that and worst, it does not situate itself outside of
its clan allegiance nor dares to question that because as a peripheral
formation it has conceded to the notion that it is receptor history and, as
such, it cannot make it. It is sad to say that the twentieth century has
proven without a doubt that social regress is not only possible but highly
likely and in the process of becoming as we speak. One can only hope that
the negation of negation, the pattern by which the old survives in the new
in sublated form, would work here, otherwise would-be communist and
philosophers of history would have to question the theory of culture and
history as cumulative build-up of real events. In short, the picture
economically and socially has gone from bad to worse. The population in
Palestine endured the oppression of an Arafat led-archaic police force
imported from the Arab countries and the poison of Zionism. The human
condition was so appalling that Hamas leaders would boast of thousands of
young men who were willing to act as suicide bombers. This huge reserve
army of labour called the Palestinians has nothing to loose but its suffering.

>From the early nineties to date, the Palestinians have seen a circle of
"negotiate and repress" go on indefinitely. It is wise in this to remember
what an ex-chief of the CIA said about the peace process : " let us not get
hung up on the word peace all we want to get going is a process." It is
unfortunate that the state department and the CIA are more familiar with
the word process than negotiators of the Palestinians which are former
communist themselves. The pseudo-Hegellian Fukuyama represents a good
example of State department's meaning of process. In the historical process
that took place since the nineties the Israelis were capable of expanding
the colonies, opening relations with many Arab countries, establishing a
quasi state in the occupied territories a la Arab style that kills all
forms of social development, and above all gaining historical recognition
and right in Palestine. A victory for whom is this? There you have a good
grasp of "process" and the "unity of theory and practice" that many third
world communist and Palestinian negotiator have failed to grasp. Worst in
all this is the level of psychological defeat in the Arab world, a
condition no different than slavery as a mental state that justifies the
there is no alternative logic. No people have elevated ahistoricism to the
level of dogma more than present-day Arab ruling cliques and cronies. This
is advanced by state owned popular media as the "pragmatic" way. No one
even has the faintest notion of Peirce's pragmatism yet they all use it to
mean an intelligent/sly way of doing things. The present as appearance
reigns. History, the development of the conflict in time, its origins, how
the Arab leaders and ruling classes worked their way to defeat for their
nations, the true nature of the Zionist project in Israel, the fundamental
contradictions that lie at the heart of the Arab-Israeli relations insofar
as the latter is an extension of colonial imperialist presence, these are
all non-issues. Leave alone in all this the questioning of the Jew as a
victim of capital in the past, and a potential victim of capital now or in
the future in Israel. No one of course will question how to extricate the
Jew from Zionism without allowing the Jew to become a victim of imperialism
yet another time, not even the Jew himself. The majority of Jews in Israel
boast their easy victory over the Arabs in the same ignorant vein that the
Arab ruling classes boast the pragmatism of their negotiations. These
manifestations of consciousness are telling.

What has changed between that Intifida and this Intifada is not so much the
Palestinian condition but the Arab conditions all around. Ten years of
privatisation, indebtedness, lifting of subsidies have come to maturity.
Arabs are not moved by Palestine on emotional grounds alone but more so on
the grounds of their deteriorating living conditions. There were even
demonstrations in Saudi Arabia this time around. Of course they were all
rounded up and imprisoned, but there, in Saudi D.C. it should never happen.
The usual response to uprisings that endanger stability is more repression
from Israel more money from Saudi Arabia (250million Dollars as promised in
Arab summit) to the Palestinian secret service to repress or to selectively
compensate Israeli damages. What better arrangement can be imagined:
Petro-dollars alleviating the crimes of capital. The real effects of the
Arab summit can be summarized in today's (25/10/00) Reuters's top story
which says "Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs to meet in order to
lower violence." Thus regionally the issue is volatile. What is lacking in
order to make this a fully explosive situation, however, is a genuine
working class movement in the Arab world. Years of post colonial repression
and salami tactics exercised by the Arab dictatorships combined with tacit
or overt support from many soviet type communist parties have shrunk
democratic Arab opposition to near nothing. Without co-ordination and
thorough harnessing of popular movements in a broad democratic framework
the damage to the present Arab bourgeois order can be sustained. Fatalistic
measures of rebellion may however take a more intensive frequency.

Now, on the Palestinian front. We all remember the most recent so-called
defunct Camp David talks. In that, Jerusalem, the refugees-returning, the
settlements were a sine qua non for Israel or a sort of taboo if you like.
What do the Palestinians have but the sympathy of the United States and the
good will of Israel. And, in that they have nothing. Again, "process" comes
to mind and kicks in. Another crony Arab state for the Palestinian is
needed says the US in order to ensure stability which is a metaphor for the
hold of miltary and Oil capital interests in this region. Israel, in its
turn, says: we will give only what we need to give. In Israel there is
always what appears to be as a misalignment of ideology with politics that
for mystical/biblical reasons this cleavage works best in the interest of
predatory or belligerent capital, a sort of marriage made in heaven for
imperialism. For some time now, Arafat has been threatening to declare his
Arab state (that is used by me in the pejorative sense because why would
one need another repressive state around). What better opportunity exists
for the victor. Israel knows very well that Mr. Arafat's brand of
pragmatism implies further concessions upon defeat, e.g consider the
decline in his position from Madrid to Taba. This is the key to the word
process. Then, of course to such hollow threats of state building at will,
Israel replies: Arafat may do so but only within the boundaries that Israel
imposes on him. In the actual circumstances of siege and repression, Arafat
may declare a state now, but it will be de facto without Jerusalem and
returning refugees, but with lots of settlements and in the area that
Israel chooses. The situation on the ground says it all. There are no
better chances to use the mighty Israeli army than this. This is what is
happening now: the ill-conceived state is not born nor aborted it will be
miscarried or induced into premature birth in the territory that Israel

One should not be fooled by excessive reliance on public opinion in the
West. In politics opinions shift or get shifted. This is a gelatinous
measure that sways in all directions. The Arab or Islamic opinions are
anchored in their very specific conditions of life which have evolved to be
something quite heterogeneous over time. One should also not allow oneself
to be taken by the division in the Imperialist camp: Europe is not that
different from the US. Real problems require real solutions. Adamant and
continuous struggle, the correct formations of fronts and allegiances along
class lines, are a must. Fomenting class struggle in all its
manifestations, and by all means represents the modus operandi of this
situation. This means providing the means of defense for the Palestinians,
an unarmed poupulation, which is continuously subjected to incessant
aggression. Workers, peasants, women's rights, students, and even clerics
under certain circumstances can form a likely impetus of social change.

Many instances of human history have seen failed just wars. The war of the
poor against the rich remains a just war. This highly unbalanced war in
Palestine is such a just war and it should not fail. Its failure is a
failure for the working class movement everywhere. It should not be aborted
by the formation of another crony state that contains class conflict in
national aspirations and simply redirects class antagonisms. It is true
that like the other intifafda of the late eighties, it will soon fade out
of the mass media, but in the real workings of every day life it should
take centre stage for the working class movements, especially in the
centre, where the decisions count most and where unfortunately the majority
of the working classes continued partnership with capital have relegated
humanity to the condition in which it is in. True, on the appearance of it
this Intifada looks like an Islamic uprising, however, one should not be
fooled by appearances. These are not people from the middle ages they are
working and reserve-labour of modern times, the refugees of Europe and the
immigrants of the United States. The subsistence economy in the occupied
territories of Palestine makes less than 8 percent of its GDP and about a
third of the working class are employed in Israel. In passing, it may also
be pertinent that Sorrel's emphasis on mythllogysing the class conflict
holds true here, and in this context, what better fatalistic role can be
afforded by anything other than religion. Time will tell that practice is
the father of truth. Class foundations get cemented and crystallised in
practice and so will the Palestinian national liberation movement's
struggle against the ugliest forms of the hold of capital: Zionism.

Louis Proyect
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