Socialist Worker

Arab leaders and Palestine

Issue No. 1721

What do socialists say?

Arab leaders and Palestine

By Charlie Kimber

BETWEEN 29 September and 26 October 138 people died violently in Israel and the Occupied Territories. One hundred and thirty of those victims were Palestinians. Just eight were Israeli Jews.

Such statistics throw Iight on the murderous violence carried out by Israel's security forces and the settler militias they work alongside. Politicians and commentators who support Israel often claim that it has to use force to defend itself because behind the Palestinians stands the overwhelming power of the surrounding Arab states.

In fact the Arab states have never delivered anything for the Palestinian people. They have veered between empty rhetorical support and outright opposition. The leaders of the Arab states may talk of liberation for Palestine. But they put their relations with the world's great powers, particularly the US, and the multinationals first.

The record of failure by Arab leaders goes back over 50 years. When the Israeli state was formed in 1948 the Arab states "declared war" in support of the Palestinians. But it was a wholly empty exercise. Key Arab governments were already in negotiation with the Israelis. King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan received Israeli leader Golda Meir as soon as the "war" began.

As the Israeli Zionists grabbed swathes of territory Abdullah used the crisis to seize the West Bank of the Jordan. Hatred for the puppet Arab leaders who had collaborated with Israel grew as their true role in 1948 was exposed. In 1951 there were demonstrations in Jordan against Abdullah, and in the same year a Palestinian shot and killed him.

During the 1950s the Palestinians gained new hope from the emergence of radical Arab leaders such as Nasser in Egypt. Nasser became the symbol of anti-imperialism in the region when he nationalised the Suez Canal and made fierce speeches against Israel.

But Nasser's calls for struggle against Israel began to sound very hollow as he did nothing to turn his words into reality. The Palestinians began increasingly to rely on their own initiatives rather than expecting the Arab leaders to fight for them.

After the catastrophic defeat of Arab countries by Israel in the war of 1967, the Palestinian guerrilla organisations began to attract mass support. As they confronted the Israeli army even the most conservative Arab leaders, such as King Hussein of Jordan, had to declare their backing for the struggle. But Hussein became alarmed that the radical Palestinians who had settled in Jordan would threaten his own rule.

In September1970 he launched an all-out attack. Hussain's troops killed thousands of Palestinians using weapons such as napalm, manufactured by the US. There was a tragically similar story in Lebanon. An alliance of the Lebanese left and the Palestinians confronted right wing forces in a civil war. They were so successful that they seemed capable of taking over the country. Then in June 1976 President Assad of Syria intervened. Syrian troops and tanks poured across the border.

For 53 days the Syrians and the Christian Right jointly laid siege to the Palestinian camp at Tal al Zataar. Thousands of Palestinians were murdered. A few years later, when Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to smash Palestinian resistance, no Arab state provided military assistance to the PLO. By the late 1970s many of the Arab states were ready to openly make deals with Israel.

With US support, Egypt's Sadat signed the historic Camp David agreement with Israel in 1979. Egypt then became one of the main beneficiaries of US military aid. Almost all the Arab leaders backed the US-led coalition's oil war against Iraq in 1991. The Arab leaders used the PLO's support for Iraq as an excuse to cut off funding.

The record of betrayal has continued during the present crisis. The Arab Summit meeting held in Cairo on 22 October brought together all the Arab leaders to coordinate a response to Israel's aggression. It resolved to do virtually nothing. It stopped short of meeting the most modest of demands-the closure of diplomatic missions. The Arab leaders have at times clashed with the demands of the Israeli state. But this has never meant effective support for the Palestinians. The Arab leaders are part of the ruling classes' grip on the Middle East. Far from being the Palestinians' friends, the Arab leaders are terrified by the prospect of revolt.

We must hope that the huge demonstrations in support of the Palestinians which have swept the Arab world recently will develop into movements that can bring down these corrupt governments and open the way for freedom for all workers and peasants in the region.

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Sat 4 Nov 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1721
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