Many well-informed people outside our region regard the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as insoluble. Here are two sides, they say, each claiming sovereignty over the same piece of land; even if some are ready to compromise, as long as there are others who insist on having everything, no solution is possible. Islamic fundamentalism is pitted against Jewish. Making matters worse, they say, are the leaders the conflict has produced: Ariel Sharon is a hawk, an ex-general with no political savvy; Yasser Arafat is a typical Arab despot, incapable of facing reality.
These well-informed people stand beyond the pale, looking on with a patronizing air. It is merely a regional problem, they hold, doomed to continue until both sides wear themselves down, falling from exhaustion into each other’s arms. Meanwhile, the world must go on.
Looking from inside, we see things differently. True, Sharon is a hawk. Nineteen years ago, after Sabra and Shatila é no, even five years ago é who would have thought that this man could ever get to be Prime Minister of Israel? Yet is Sharon of lower caliber than, say, George W. Bush? If America could elect an ignorant cowboy to incarnate its mediocrity, why can’t pugnacious little Israel take pride in its belligerent Negev rancher? With Bush in the Oval Office, Sharon becomes acceptable to the world.
Or consider Yasser Arafat. What right have the pundits to single him out as an impediment, when there is nothing exceptional about his despotism and corruption? Behold America’s friends in the region: Mubarak of Egypt, or the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco. For corruption, we can also look beyond to Italy (Berlusconi), Germany (Kohl) and France (Chirac). As for despotism, we note the revival of Fascist trends in Italy and Austria. We recall the behavior of Russia’s Putin in Chechnya. With people like this in power, Arafat fits right in.
Nor is our conflict the last that awaits solution in order that the world may have peace and prosperity. Have the wars in the Balkans been resolved? In the Gulf? In Kashmir? The Caucasus? Or are they not evidence that the world suffers from a scarcity in the kind of leadership that can solve them?
Fascism and war, AIDS and poverty, exploitation and unemployment form an ample part of reality today all over the globe. The conflict in the Middle East is an integral part of this reality. It exists for the same reason the other problems do: because the powerful nations insist on imposing a design that will perpetuate their strength. In our region, this design takes the form of the Oslo Agreement. (For our critique of this accord, see “Refresher Course: The Trouble With Oslo,” Challenge #64, available in our archive.) Here Israel attempted to implement the American idea of what the world ought to look like. As is the US to Mexico, so would Israel be to the West Bank and Gaza. Is Mexico truly sovereign? Can it determine its fate to the extent that, say, the United States or France can theirs? For that matter, can any Latin American, Asian or African country exercise self-determination without risking attack from the peacekeeping battalions of the US and its allies?
The system that these powers perpetuate disguises itself under various pleasing names: progress, affirmative action, normalization, globalization, privatization, growth, free trade, individual initiative, democracy, stability, western values, Christian values, family values é In fact, it is nothing but stark old-fashioned capitalism. Bill Gates and his cohorts, for all their apparent modernity, are driven by the conventional and ruthless quest for gain. The faces on the currency may change, but it’s the same old color. Money is the measure of all things é not only of GDP, but of who counts and who doesn’t. The driving forces at the heart of this system are the urge to outstrip others and the fear of being outstripped. Inequality will abide, therefore, as long as this system exists, no matter how many well-meaning conferences convene in Durban or Geneva.
It was a tragic mistake on the part of the Palestinian leaders to seek a solution to their national problem within the framework of the present system. In the early nineties, at the nadir of their fortunes, with no Soviet Union left to back them, they behaved as though history had come to a grinding halt. Having lost their faith in change, they lost a say in their destiny.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict indeed has no solution é under present conditions. The daily dose of bloodshed here is not to be blamed on any unique combination of factors, nor on anything uniquely evil in the characters of the opposing leaders, but rather on the very capitalist system that elsewhere too drives the world towards disaster. Our conflict may seem local, but its roots are global. Universal catastrophe is no longer the lunatic vision of apocalypse-mongers. If humanity is to survive, we need a revolutionary program. We need a change in leadership. We need a different economic system, providing equal opportunity. We need socialism on a global scale.
We are sure that Sharon will never win, and Bush will fail to control a world that is full of contradictions. The latter, left to themselves, will result in havoc é with the distinct possibility that Fascism will again arise to put things in order. Here not only will the Palestinians lack a future, but humanity as a whole. There remains a single alternative: prompt organization by the working class é including the downtrodden, exploited, and marginalized é in the form of revolutionary unions working for political power.
Roni Ben Efrat is the editor of Challenge magazine.