This December 1982 article from the International Socialist Review supplement is a good case in point.
My rough-and-ready cut and paste of the pdf is below.
The evolution of the PLO and the region after 1982 is detailed here and here.
Proposals for a program to unite Arab and Jewish workers in Israel and the occupied territories can be read here.
How Marxists look at Mideast conflict and the PLO
December 1982 ISR
BY DAVID FRANKEL
For the past 15 years the Middle East has been a focal
point of the international class struggle. In that brief
period the world has witnessed the rise of an independent
mass movement for Palestinian national liberation, three
Arab-Israeli wars, civil wars in Jordan and Lebanon, the
Iranian revolution, the Iraqi invasion of Iran, and numerous
smaller uprisings and conflicts.
This same period saw Israel's consolidation as an imperialist
power in its own right. Among the factors resulting
in this were Israel's territorial expansion and the incorporation
of the Palestinians in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip as a new pool of superexploited labor for the
Israeli capitalists. Along with the escalating conflict between
imperialist Israel and its Arab neighbors, a class
polarization developed inside Israel itself between the
workers and the imperialist ruling class.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon this June and its results
have marked a turning point in this tumultuous history.
World imperialism dealt a grave blow to the Palestinian
people and the Arab masses as a whole through this
war. More casualties and greater destruction were inflicted
by the Israeli army in Lebanon than in any previous
Summarizing the cost of this military defeat in a
speech before the Arab summit conference in Fez,
Morocco, this September, Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO) chairman Yassir Arafat declared: "In this
murderous war we have suffered 49,600 Lebanese and
Palestinian civilians martyred or wounded, as well as
5,300 military personnel martyred or wounded. . . .
We still have about 6,000 combatants missing."
Arafat estimated that the war had left about one million
people homeless. In addition, the Israeli army "wiped out
on its way to Beirut 14 Palestinian camps and destroyed
32 Lebanese villages and three other cities. This happened
prior to the siege and destruction of Beirut."
Just looked at from the point of view of the human toll,
Arafat explained, "The Israeli-US invasion has opened a
wound in the body of the Arab nation that is deeper and
bigger than all its wounds and sufferings from 1948 until
Moreover, Israel has taken over nearly half of Lebanon.
The imperialists have installed a rightist government
and have begun dictating the future of the country in a
way they have not been able to do since the occupation of
Lebanon by U.S. Marines in 1958. Now, the marines
have returned, along with French and Italian imperialist
"This meeting," Arafat told the Arab rulers assembled
at Fez, "must evaluate truthfully the seriousness of this
change on the map of the Arab homeland and the Middle
East region, which seeks to establish an Israeli empire
that lies in the US orbit. . "
U.S. diplomatic offensive
"This war was essentially a US war," Arafat declared.
He pointed out that the Israeli aggression was "supported
militarily, politically, economically and diplomatically
by the United States .... "
Washington is now pressing to consolidate the political
advantage that it has gained as a result of the Israeli military
victory in Lebanon. This is the meaning of the socalled
Reagan plan announced at the beginning of September,
as PLO forces were being evacuated from Israeli-
besieged West Beirut.
The U.S. government hopes that the demobilization of
the Arab masses and blows to their morale following the
war will enable it to pressure more Arab governments -
those in Saudi Arabia and Jordan in particular- to join
Egypt in granting recognition to the Israeli state. In exchange,
the Palestinians are offered the promise that
negotiations might eventually lead to Israeli withdrawal
from some part of the West Bank and a vaguely defined
form of "autonomy" under the supervision of the Jordanian
A similar proposal was part of the Camp David ac-
cords in 1978, which only the Egyptian government went
along with at the time.
Besides angling for recognition of Israel by more Arab
governments, the U.S. diplomatic offensive has asecond,
related aim: to destroy the PLO.
To begin with, Washington is trying to isolate the PLO
and downgrade its status. Reagan is demanding that the
Arab governments rescind their recognition of the PLO
as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian
people. He has proposed that King Hussein of Jordan be
empowered instead to negotiate in the name of the
At the same time, U.S. policymakers are telling the
PLO that if it does not retreat from its intransigent struggle
for Palestinian self-determination and accept
Reagan's proposals, the Palestinians will be left with nothing
at all. Washington hopes that such blackmail will
split the PLO. False reports in the imperialist press claiming
that Arafat and other PLO leaders have already agreed
to Washington's demands are intended to help this process
But it is one thing for the imperialist rulers to launch an
offensive against the Palestinian national liberation struggle
- even an offensive that is based on big military
gains - and it is quite another thing for them to succeed
in destroying the PLO. That fight is far from over.
The PLO has successfully brought the plight of the
Palestinian people to world attention and made their
cause the central issue in the politics of the Middle East
over the past 15 years. Even the State Department officials
responsible for carrying out the drive against this revolutionary
nationalist organization have been expressing
their doubts about the prospects for Washington's
As New York Times reporter Leslie Gelb admitted October
31 in a major article on the Mideast negotiations:
"United States officials said they were not sure of
Arafat's exact position, and most doubted that he would
choose this course" of recognizing Israel.
Moreover, this entire fight is taking place in a world
situation where the overall relationship of class forces. has
never before been so favorable to the Palestinians.
It is this fact that explains the political price that the
imperialists have had to pay for their gains in the Middle
Shift in working-class consciousness
After the savage massacre in West Beirut, people
around the world - including growing numbers in Israel
itself- have been forced to look anew at the situation in
the Middle East. And the vantage point of working
people in 1982 is different from what it was even a few
The extension of the world socialist revolution in Vietnam
and Central America, and the massive revolutionary
mobilizations in Iran that brought down the shah,
have put working people around the world in a stronger
position in relation to the capitalist rulers. At the same
time, exploitation and oppression are intensifying because
of the worldwide capitalist economic crisis and the imperialist
offensive against the working class. As a result,
the working class and its allies are being drawn into
struggles and are beginning to undergo profound changes
in their consciousness.
With these experiences in mind, working people
thought about the meaning of the Israeli invasion of
Lebanon and took a fresh look at Israel's 15-year occupation
of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan
Heights. New light was shed on Israel's increasingly
murderous attacks against its Arab neighbors and its
more and more brazen alliance with the most hated and
reactionary forces in the world- from the racist rulers of
South Africa to the gorilla dictators in Central America.
The massacre in West Beirut served as the catalyst to
bring all this together. The result has been a leap in consciousness
among working people around the world
about the just and progressive character of the Arab
peoples' struggle against Israel.
The Israeli state will never regain the moral standing
that it has lost. Millions have come to realize that the
imagt< of Israel as a beleaguered underdog, repeatedly
forced to go to war by fanatical Arab Jew-haters, is a lie.
Within Israel itself, masses of people came to the realization
that their government was carrying out a war of aggression
marked by atrocities from its opening day. An
antiwar demonstration of more than 70,000 took place in
Tel Aviv on July 3, and on September 25 some 400,000
people poured into the streets to protest the massacre in
West Beirut. It was the biggest demonstration in the
These same events, which have posed big questions
for working people in general, have also presented a
challenge to the Marxist wing of the workers movement.
How do communists see the Middle East and the political
issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict? How has this analysis
stood up to the test of events? What more can be learned
from the war in Lebanon about the class lines in the Middle
East and the evolution of the various forces in the
Except for Israel, all the countrie~ in the Middle East
are oppressed and exploited nations. Their economies are
warped by imperialism and their natural resources - oil
in particular- are looted for the benefit of the superrich
in New York, London, and Paris. Their political life has
been repeatedly subjected to crude and brutal imperialist
This imperialist oppression, and the struggle of the oppressed
peoples fighting for national liberation, is central
to the politics of the Middle East, as it is to most of the
world. It is one of the most important forms of the class
struggle on a world scale.
Lenin, in this regard, insisted in his articles on The Revolutionary
Proletariat and the Right of Nations to SelfDetermination,
written in 1914, that "the focal point of
the [Marxist] programme must be that division of nations
into oppressor and oppressed which forms the essence of
imperialism .... "(Emphasis in original.)
During its first five years, the Communist International
- founded under the leadership of the Bolsheviks in
1919 - further developed the program of the revolutionary
workers movement in regard to the oppressed nations.
Introducing a document on the question to the organization's
second congress in 1920, Lenin stressed that
"the cardinal idea underlying our theses. . . . is the distinction
between oppressed and oppressor nations."
This framework was reaffirmed by the Fourth International
in its May 1940 resolution on "The Colonial World
and the Second Imperialist War." The resolution
"Colonies and subject lands cover more than half the
earth's surface. More than one billion people, yellow,
brown, and black, are subject to the insignificant minority
of supercapitalists who rule the Western world. The
striving of this great mass of dispossessed to be free represents
one of the two great progressive forces in modern
society. The other is the struggle of the proletariat in the
advanced countries for its emancipation."
The 1940 resolution explicitly pointed to the role of the
Arab peoples in the struggle for liberation from imperialism.
"The World War of the Allies against Germany,"
it said, "continued after 191& in the form of a
· world war of the Allies against the peoples they sought to
keep in subjection .... Promises of independence
freely given during the war to the Arab peoples of the
near and Middle East were redeemed in the form of iron
imperialist rule, asserted and maintained by bomb and
bayonet and gallows. Nationalist insurrections swept
Egypt and the rest of the Moslem world. The Turks alone
successfully won their independence."
Role of Israel
Although the British and French rulers were forced to
give up direct political control of their Mideastern colonies
following World War II, the imperialists continue
to control the economies and to determine, including
through direct military power, the political destiny of
these former colonies.
The coup organized by the CIA in August 1953 toreturn
the shah of Iran to his throne is one of the best known
examples of how the imperialists intervene in the political
life of the semicolonial countries. But it is by no
means an exception. In fact President Reagan publicly
vowed in October 1981 that Washington would use military
force against any attempt by the people of Saudi
Arabia to rise up against the absolute monarchy that
holds them in chains.
When push comes to shove, the system of imperialist
oppression in the Middle East rests on naked force. That
is where Israel fits in.
The Israeli state is an imperialist bastion in the
Mideast. It offers the U.S. rulers something they lie
awake at night wishing for in Central America- a coun
terrevolutionary army of more than 400,000 troops,
armed with the most advanced weapons, and backed by
its own nuclear arsenal.
Because of its particular origin as a colonial settlerstate,
Israel has always been pitted against the Arab
peoples as an ally of imperialism. Even during the 1920s
and 1930s, when Palestine was still a British colony and
Israel did not yet exist, the Zionist organizations supported
the British agai11st repeated uprisings of the Palestinian
people fighting for their independence.
An independent Arab Palestine would have put an end
to the Zionist schem~ for the establishment of a Jewish
state at the expense of the Arab majority. Therefore,
"whoever betrays Great Britain betrays Zionism," declared
David Ben-Gurion -later to become Israel's first
prime minister - in 1935. .
After World War II, the Zionist organizations came
into armed conflict with the British, who tried to hold
onto Palestine as a colony instead of supporting the
creation of the Israeli state. But in the meantime, the
Zionist forces gained the support of Washington.
Although some Zionists try to portray their conflict
with the British as an anticolonial struggle, it was really
a fight between thieves. The establishment of Israel in
1948, with the full support of Washington, was made
possible only by the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians
from their homeland and the confiscation of their land.
The Palestinians who remained became, by law, secondclass
citizens in their own country.
So hated was this illegitimate new state among the
Arab masses that no regime in the region, however reactionary
and subservient to imperialism, dared to recognize
The character of the Israeli state as an outpost of imperialism
was made crystal clear in October 1956. Responding
to the anti-imperialist measures of the Egyptian
government, capped by its nationalization of the Suez
Canal - a move that inspired the Arab world and the oppressed
peoples as a whole - Israel joined Britain and
France in an invasion of Egypt.
Rise of Palestinian struggle
Israel's aggression against Egypt, Syria and Jordan in
June 1967 was motivated by the same aims as the 1956
invasion of Egypt. The Israeli ruling class hoped to be
able to hold onto any territory it grabbed. In addition, it
sought to bring down the nationalist tegimes in Egypt and
Syria and replace them with governments that would be
more amenable to imperialist pressure- especially pressure
for the recognition of Israel.
The June 1967 war proved to be a turning point for Is-
. rael and the Middle East as a whole. Before the 1967
war, Israel's capitalist economy had been heavily subsidized
by aid from the United States and West Germany.
This imperialist aid, which continued and increased after
1967, combined with Israel's territorial expansion in the
war, laid the basis for Israel's transformation into an imperialist
country in its own right.
A second outcome of the June 1967 war, however,
was the rise for the first time of an independent mass
movement among the Palestinian people fighting for their
national liberation. Various Palestinian guerrilla organizations,
such as Fatah, had existed previously. But until
the 1967 war, the masses of Palestinian refugees looked
to the Arab governments. They relied in particular on
Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser to win their demands
for the restoration of their homeland.
The PLO was originally set up in 1964 at Nasser's initiative,
but with the agreement of the other Arab governments.
At first it operated under Egyptian control, with a
staff of paid functionaries, who issued declarations in the
name of the Palestinian people. Statements by the PLO's
first chairman, Ahmed Shukairy, who declared that the
Arab armies wou~d drive the Jews into the sea, are still
quoted by supporters of Israel to back up their claim that
the Palestinian liberation struggle is anti-Semitic.
With the defeat of the Arab armies in June 1967, however,
broad layers of the Palestinian people began to look
for an alternative to Nasserism. Independent organizations
such as Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine (PFLP) began to grow.
On March 21, 1968, Fatah commandos held their
ground against a major attack by Israeli forces on the
Palestinian refugee camp of Karameh, in Jordan. The
battle of Karameh had an electrifying impact throughout
the Arab world. As a report from a refugee camp in
Amman, Jordan, in the Dec. 27, 1968, New York Times
"The heroes now are the commandos, especially those
of AI Fatah, the largest and most active group. Posters of
guerrillas carrying automatic weapons are displayed in
every prominent place ....
"After Karameh, President Nasser, who had been
lukewarm to the movement, recognized the commandos
and gave Fatah an hour's daily radio time. That program
is today probably the most popular in the Arab
world .... "
By November 1968, after major clashes between
Palestinian fighters and King Hussein's army in Amman,
the guerrillas had established their right to operate openly
in Jordan. The guerrillas were also able to establish their
control over the PLO, with Fatah leader Yassir Arafat
being elected PLO chairman in February 1969.
A revolutionary nationalist movement
In the meantime, the PLO had been transformed from
an office in Cairo functioning under the direction of a
capitalist government, to a mass organization based in
the Palestinian refugee camps. The various guerrilla organizations
functioning under the umbrella of the PLO
organized educational programs, newspapers, political
discussion groups, health care, and other aspects of life
in the refugee camps.
This transformation was a fundamental one. There was
a class difference between the PLO as a mass movement
of the oppressed Palestinian people and the creature of
the Egyptian government that had existed previously.
This development was not something peculiar to the
Palestinian struggle, but an example of a more general
· phenomenon in the oppressed nations - one that Lenin
pointed to in his report on the national and colonial questions
at the Second Congress of the Communist International,
held in 1920. He noted that it was necessary to
distinguish between bourgeois and revolutionary
nationalist movements in the oppressed countries. Experience
had shown, Lenin said, that the bourgeoisie in
these countries would generally j~in forces with the imperialists
against "all revolutionary movements and revolutionary
What was decisive, in Lenin's view, was the attitude
of the natiqnal movements in the oppressed countries toward
the organization and mobilization of the masses. An
effective struggle for the rights of the oppressed nation
can only be carried out by relying on the toiling masses.
Lenin proposed that national movements that do not
stand in the way "of educating and organising in a revolutionary
spirit the peasantry and the masses of the
exploited" be called "national revolutionary."
Such revolutionary nationalist movements, Lenin
explained, are not communist, but they deserve the support
of communists because they help to mobilize the
toilers of the oppressed nations against imperialism.
Since World War II and the huge upsurge of anticolonial
struggle that followed it, there has been a mushrooming
of revolutionary nationalist organizations, such as
those that led the independence struggles in Angola,
Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. Others that are familiar
today include the Polisario Front in the Western Sahara
and the South West Africa People's Organisation in
The July 26 organization in Cuba originated as a revolutionary
nationalist organization that Wl\S based largely
on petty-bourgeois, and even some bourgeois, forces. In
the course of the struggle that led to the 1959 victory and
under the impact of the subsequent revolutionary mobilizations
of the Cuban workers and peasants which it encouraged,
the July 26 Movement went through an evolution.
It became clear that the struggle for national liberation
could only be carried out consistently and to the end
under the leadership of the working class, and as part of
an anticapitalist social revolution. The central leadership
of the July 26 Movement maintained its commitment to
the democratic demands it had started out fighting for,
and in the process became the nucleus of Cuba's revolutionary
Marxist vanguard, the Communist Party.
The experience of the Cuban revolution and the internationalism
of the Cuban CP leadership won a broad
layer of national liberation fighters in Latin America to a
communist perspective. In Nicaragua and Grenada
today, the Sandinista National Liberation Fron( and the
New Jewel Movement, while in the forefront of the
struggle for national liberation, are not revolutionary
nationalist movements. They are Marxist proletarian parties.
In the case of the PLO, the group's parliament in exile,
the Palestine National Council, includes many prominent
Palestinians from around the world, including some individual
capitalists. But it is the guerrilla organizations,
based on the masses in the refugee camps, that have the
decisive say in the PLO's leadership councils.
Guerrilla organizations such as the Popular Front for
the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine declare their support
for socialism. AI Saiqa and the Arab Liberation Front follow
the lead of the Syrian and Iraqi regimes, respectively.
Fatah, by far the largest group, describes itself as
a national liberation movement.
Arafat described the approach taken by Fatah in an interview
with New York Times correspondent Dana
Adams Schmidt that appeared Dec. 3, 1968.
"Our ideological theory is very simple," Arafat said.
"Our country has been occupied. The majority of our
people have been kicked out by Zionism and imperialism
from their homes. ·
"We have waited and waited and waited for the justice
of the United Nations, for the justice of the world and the
governments gathering in the United Nations while our
people were suffering in tents and caves. But nothing of
this was realized. None of our hopes. But our dispersion
"We have believed that the only way to return to our
homes and land is the armed struggle. We believe in this
theory without any complications and with complete clarity,
and this is our aim and our hope. . . .
"We believe that resistance is a legal right of all oppressed
Responding to another question from Schmidt, Arafat
replied: "We are not against the Jews ....
"We welcome with sincerity all the Jews who would
like to live with us in sincerity in an Arab state as citizens
having equal rights before the law and constitution."
These basic positions - the right of the Palestinian
people tp return to their homeland, the establishment of a
democratic, secular Palestine where both Arabs and Jews
could live, and the need to carry out an independent
armed struggle for these goals - have been upheld by the
PLO to this day.
SWP's view of PLO
The political approach of the Socialist Workers Party
is not to single out those in the PLO who call themselves
socialist and counterpose them to those who don't. The
PLO as a whole is a revolutionary natimialist movement
and it should be supported on that basis. '
This approach by communists to movements of oppressed
nations was spelled out in the 1940 resolution of
the Fourth International referred to earlier in this article.
The resolution explained:
"Nationalism in the West is a tool of capitalist power,
a weapon used to pit exploited peoples against each other
in wars fought by military and economic means for exclusively
capitalist interests. But in the backward, subject
countries of the East, the nationalist movements form an
integral part of the struggle against world imperialism.
As such they must be supported to the fullest possible extent
by the working class of the entire Western world."
In keeping with this approach, the Socialist Workers
Party adopted a resolution on "Israel and the Arab Revolution"
at its August 1971 convention. The resolution
"The Socialist Workers Party gives unconditional support
to the national liberation struggles of the Arab
peoples against imperialism, that is, we support all these
struggles regardless of their current leaderships."
Israel, the resolution noted, "could be set up in the
Arab East only at the expense of the indigenous peoples
of the area. Such a state could come into existence and
maintain itself only by relying upon imperialism. Israel is
a settler-colonialist and expansionist capitalist state
maintained principally by American imperialism. . . .
It is an imperialist beachhead in the Arab world that
serves as the spearhead of imperialism's fight against the
Arab revolution. We unconditionally support the struggles
of the Arab peoples against the state of Israel."
As the principal victims of the creation of Israel, the
Palestinians have borne the brunt of the battle against the
Zionist state. "The struggle of the Palestinian people
against their oppression and for self-determination," the
resolution said, "has taken the form of a struggle to destroy
the state of Israel. The currently expressed goal of
this struggle is the establishment of a democratic, secular
Palestine. We give unconditional support to this struggle
of the Palestinians for self-determination."
A democratic, secular Palestine
Usually, struggles for self-determination take the form
of the oppressed nationality demanding the right to separate
from the oppressor nation and form its own independent
state, as today in Puerto Rico, Quebec, or Britishoccupied
Ireland. In South Africa, the struggle for selfdetermination
takes the form of the struggle for the rule
of the Black majority.
Palestine presents still another variant. There, national
oppression was carried out by the establishment of a colonial
settler-state through the forcible partition of the
country and the expulsion of much of its native population.
As Yassir Arafat noted when he spoke before the UN
General Assembly in 197 4: ''This General Assembly,
early in its history [ 194 7], approved a recommendation to
partition our Palestinian homeland. . . . The General
Assembly partitioned that which it had no right to divide
- an indivisible homeland. . . .
"Furthermore, even though the partition resolution
granted the colonial settlers 54 percent of the land of
Palestine, their dissatisfaction with the decision prompted
them to wage a war of terror against the civilian Arab
population. They occupied 81 percent of the total area of
Palestine, uprooting a million Arabs."
The demand for a democratic, secular Palestine arose
out of this specific history. It flows from the reality that
the Israeli state is antidemocratic, since it denies the
rights ofthe majority of the country's original inhabitants
and prevents them from determining or even participating
in its future.
The PLO calls for a secular state in opposition to the
state oflsrael, where Jews, by virtue of their religion, are
granted rights that are denied to Christians and Muslims.
Jewish religious law bears down heavily on Israeli life,
regulating everything from marriage to public transporta-
part of the program of democratic revolutions for more
than 200 years.
Finally, the demand for a unitary Palestinian state addresses
the forcible partition of "an indivisible homeland."
The class character of the social system that would be
established is left open by the slogan of a democratic,
secular Palestine. There are forces inside the PLO that
favor the establishment of a capitalist Palestine, others
that favor a socialist Palestine, and still others that are unclear
on the question. But it would be the height of ultraleft
sectarianism to oppose the demand for a democratic,
secular Palestine for this reason.
At the same time, Marxists do not advocate the establishment
of a capitalist state. For revolutionary socialists,
the demand for a democratic, secular Palestine is a key
demand for the mobilization of the toiling masses on the
road to the establishment of a workers and farmers government
in Palestine- a government that would lead the
workers and peasants in the expropriation of the
capitalists and landlords and the establishment of a workers
The struggle of the Palestinians for the democratic
·right to self-determination is thus an essential part of the
program for social revolution in the Middle East.
What is self-determination?
The principle of self-determination means that an oppressed
people has the right to choose whatever state
forms it decides are necessary to end its oppression. To
reverse their oppression, the Palestinians demand the dismantling
of the colonial settler-state that took over their
land, the right of the refugees to return, and the establishment
of a united Palestine.
Any demand that the oppressor nationality have vetopower
over the choice of the oppressed guts the demand
for self-determination. This is the unilateral and unconditional
right of an oppressed people.
Most political tendencies in the workers movement
that claim to stand for the rights of oppressed peoples are
opposed to the demand for a democratic, secular Palestine.
Instead, they support the partition of Palestine between
the two peoples living there.
Former Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, for example,
put forward a six-point proposal for a Middle East
settlement this September. The proposal argued that .
"peace must be established between the Arab states and
Israel. And this means that all sides in the conflict, including
Israel and the Palestinian state, must commit
themselves to mutually respecting each other's
sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity
In keeping with this position, the Communist Party of
Israel supports the maintenance of the Israeli state, as
does the U.S. Communist Party, which has actively
polemicized against the demand for a democratic, secular
A similar stance is taken by the Socialist International
which numbers the Israeli Labor Party - the capitalist
party that governed Israel until 1977 - among its members.
Shortly after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the
Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) passed a resolution
"We continue to call for negotiations based on the right
?f self-determination for the Palestinian people through
Its own elected representatives and on the right of the
state of Israel to a secure existence." ·
But self-determination for the Palestinians means the
dismantling of the Israeli state and its racist institutions.
How can the Palestinians exercise their right to self-determination
if they are not allowed to return to their land?
Yet if the Palestinians do return, and are accorded their
full rights, then, as the Israelis themselves point out, it
would mean the end of Israel as a separate Jewish state.
The real political position of the U.S. social democrats
was made clear in the last point of their resolution. There
they rejected participation in protests against the Israeli
invasion of Lebanon and the murder of Palestinian protesters
in the occupied territories except "under circumstances
where our support for both Palestinian selfdetermination
and the right of Israel to a secure existence
is made clear." (Emphasis in original.)
Thus, for the DSA, support to the maintenance of the
Israeli state is fundamental, taking precedence over the
struggle of the Palestinians. This was shown in practice
by the fact that the DSA refused to support the teach-ins
and demonstrations against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
The 'Israel exists' argument
Defenders of the Israeli state use three key arguments
in rejecting the demands of the Palestinians. First and
most important is the argument of brute force.
Israel, we are told, exists. The big majority of Israeli
Jews support its existence, as does the U.S. government.
And the Israeli rulers have the military power to overcome
any challenge from the Arab peoples. If the Arabs
are smart, they had better recognize reality and negotiate
with Israel for the best deal they can get.
This is the essence of Reagan's Mideast "peace" plan,
which rests on the foundation of the Israeli invasion of
A good example of how this approach is presented in
practice was an article by liberal columnist Anthony
Lewis in the November 1 issue of the New York Times.
Lewis described how the Israeli regime is moving
rapidly ahead with its de facto annexation of the West
Bank. He put part of the blame for the Israeli land-grab
on Arab leaders who, he claimed, "have maneuvered for
years, avoiding negotiation. But unless they move now
- unless they accept the fact of Israel and talk about
ways to secure the rights of Palestinians in accommodation
with that fact - there will be nothing left to
Lewis talks about "facts"- above all, "the fact of Israel."
But the simple truth is that the national oppression
of the Palestinian people cannot be ended as long as the
Israeli state is maintained. Just as there will be no peace
in southern Africa as long as a racist, white-minority regime
rules there, the Middle East will have no peace so
long as the Israeli colonial settler-state continues to exist.
That, too, is a fact.
The real alternatives were revealed by the war in Lebanon.
Nothing short of actual genocide will stop the struggle
of the Palestinian people for self-determination.
When does self-determination apply?
Since the "Israel exists" argument is, at bottom,
merely an appeal to force, a waving of the big stick, it is
generally mixed together with two ideological justifications
for support to Israel. First is an appeal to the right
of self-determination in the abstract.
According to this line of argument, the Jewish people,
after being oppressed throughout the world, have a right
to self-determination. The establishment of the Israeli
state was the realization of that right. Because of the historical
oppression of the Jews, their right to maintain the
Israeli state supersedes the national rights of the Palestinian
Another, more left-sounding version of this argument
asserts that the national demands of both the Palestinians
and the Israeli Jews are legitimate, or even that the demands
of the Palestinians should take precedence, since
they are oppressed by the Israeli state. Nonetheless, the argument
continues, isn't it necessary to guarantee the
Jews self-determination within the framework of a future
democratic and secular Palestine? Isn't that the only way
that Jewish workers inside Israel can be won to the fight
for Palestinian national rights and social justice?
All variants of this argument mix together the plight of
the Jews elsewhere in the world, who do face discrimination
and oppression, and the situation of Jews in Israel,
who are the dominant nationality in a state that oppresses
the Palestinians. As we've seen, the right to self-determi-
nation means the right to form a separate state. The Israeli
Jews already have a separate state - one constructed
on the homeland of an expelled people, the
Palestinians. That's the source of the problem, not one
To demand self-determination for an oppressor nationality
robs the concept of its democratic content. There is
nothing progressive about the demand for self-determination
in the abstract. It is a progressive demand insofar as
it helps to mobilize an oppressed people against its oppression
and the workers of the oppressor nationality
against their own ruling class. Support by the toilers of an
oppressor nationality for the right to self-determination of
the oppressed lays the basis for an internationalist al~
liance between the working people of both nations.
Thus, self-determination for South African Blacks is
progressive. The demand for self-determination of. South
African whites is reactionary. White working people in
South Africa can fight effectively for progress and the interests
of their class only if they unconditionally support
the struggle of the Black majority for self-determination.
Similarly, in the United States the Socialist Workers
Party stands for the right of the oppressed Black and
Chicano nationalities to self-determination. This includes
the right to set up their own separate states, if they so
choose. But proletarian revolutionists are against whites
having the right to set up a "white state" in North
America. There could be only one political content to
such a state. Like the demand for "white power" or
"white rights" today, its purpose would be to perpetuate
the oppression of Black, brown, yellow, and non-English
speaking peoples, not to liberate whites.
In the case of Israel, the demagogic claim that Zionism
is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people
cannot hide its reactionary political content. A political
movement that fights as part of the world imperialist system,
and whose aim is to perpetuate the oppression of
another people, is the opposite of a national liberation
struggle. It is also an obstacle to the fight against antiSemitism,
which can only be waged and won in alliance
with the workers and toilers of the world in their struggle
against imperialist oppression and capitalist exploitation.
Specter of future oppression
A third argument raised in behalf of the Israeli state is
that however much one may disagree with its present
policies or the manner of its creation, Israel must be supported
against the Arabs because its destruction would result
in genocide, mass expulsion, or the oppression of the
Jews currently living there.
At bottom, this is the same argument that was used
against the Vietnamese revolution when Richard Nixon
warned that there would be a "bloodbath" if the revolutionary
Similar dire warnings about the fate of European
settlers if the "natives" took over were raised by the
French during the Algerian revolution and by the whiteminority
regime in Rhodesia. The same line is used today
by the racist rulers in South Africa.
In every case it 'bas been the imperialists and the imperialist-
backed colonial settlers who have been responsible
for the ·vast bulk of bloodshed and killing in these
struggles. The criminals then tum around and accuse
their victims. Psychologists call this process projection
- the attribution of one's own motives and actions to
There is no reason whatsoever to suppose that the
Palestinian people will institute a system of national oppression
against the Jews. This would be contrary to everything
that their leaders and organizations have stood
for for the past 15 years, and contrary to the experience
of national liberation struggles everywhere else in the
world. There is a very simple reason for this - it is not
in the interests of the oppressed to impose a system of national
Under the excuse of opposing a fake and nonexistent
national oppression, the defenders of the Israeli state support
the actual oppression of the Palestinian people taking
place right now. This oppression is not reflected just in
the refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan, but inside Israel
Per capita income of Palestinians inside Israel's pre-
1967 borders averages less than half that of Jews. In
1973, while 25 percent of the Arab population in Israel
lived in housing with four or more persons in one room,
the corresponding figure for the Jewish population was
Infant mortality for Jews in Israel was 13.9 per
thousand in 1977, compared to 31.1 per thousand for
Palestinians. This is a far greater gap than exists even be-tween
whites and Blacks in the United States.
Similar figures could be provided in every other field,
,from education to employment.
Experience shows that historical patterns of oppression
do not go away merely by the declaration, or even enforcement,
of formal equality, even after a victoriousrevolution.
A conscious policy of preferential treatment
for oppressed nationalities - affirmative action - must
be followed if the legacy of national oppression is to be
Lenin explained this in his 1922 notes on ''The Question
of Nationalities or 'Autonomisation.' " "Internationalism
on the part of oppressors . . . must consist
not only in the observance of formal equality of nations,"
he said, "but even in an inequality of the oppressor nation,
the great nation, that must make up for the inequality
which obtains in actual practice. Anybody who does
·not understand this has not grasped the real proletarian attitude
to the national question, he is still essentially petty
bourgeois in his point of view and is, therefore, sure to
descend to the bourgeois point of view."
·This also applies to Israel. Abolition of the racist institutions
that make up the Zionist state would not, by itself,
eliminate the inferior position of the Palestinian
people in housing, education, health care, employment,
etc. Guarantees for the oppressed rlationality, including
preferential treatment to eliminate the vestiges of inequality,
would be necessary. That is the revolutionary
worldng-class program on the national question in Israel.
Any idea that the Israeli Jews - the oppressor nationality
- need to be guaranteed self-determination, as
Lenin explained, can only lead to the bourgeois point of
view, in this case, support for the Zionist state.
Although there is nothing in the program and actions
of the Palestinian liberation organizations to support the
idea that they want to annihilate or oppress the Jewish
people, that doesn't stop those who oppose the Palestinian
struggle from leveling this slander. Take the example
of a September 29 speech given by DSA National Executive
Committee member Irving Howe.
According to the account of Howe's speech in the October
1982 issue of the New York DSA publication
Democratic Socialist, "The conflict in the Middle East
involves two rights, Howe argued, but those on one side
have pledged annihilation of the other side consistently."
Furthermore, the report said, "All the efforts to compromise
were rejected and Arab leaders from 1948 onward
clung to the aim proclaimed by Nasser 'to drive the
Israelis into the sea.'"
By attributing the "drive the Israelis into the sea" slogan
to Nasser, Howe tries to justify Israel's 1967 war of
aggression against Egypt. But leaving that question
aside, the fact is that the leadership of the Palestinian liberation
movement not only rejected calls for the annihilation
of the Israeli Jews, but also carried out a public polit-
- ical fight within the Arab world on precisely this issue.
Palestinian youth in the refugee camps are educated by
the PLO to understand that imperialism and Zionism, not
Jews, are their enemy.
Real position ot' Palestinians
This position has been explained clearly ·by the major
guerrilla organizations in the PLO. The Popular Front for
the Liberation of Palestine, for example, said in a document
prepared for its Second Congress in February 1969:
''The Palestinian liberation movement is not a racial
movement with aggressive intentions against the Jews. It
is not directed against the Jews. Its object is to destroy the
state of Israel as a military, political, and economic establishment
which rests on aggression, expansion and
organic connection with imperialist interests in our
homeland. . . . The aim of the Palestinian liberation
movement is to establish a democratic national state in
Palestine in which both Arabs and Jews will live as citizens
with equal rights and obligations ....
In an official statement published in Beirut in 1969,
the Democratic Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
put forward its theses for "A Democratic Solution to
the Palestine Question." It called for:
"Rejection of the chauvinistic solutions of some Palestinians
and Arabs, which were put forward before and after
June 1967, and based on slaughtering the Jews and
throwing them into the sea ....
"The establishment of a people's democratic Palestinian
state in which the Arabs and (Israeli) Jews will live
without any discrimination whatsoever . . . and which
gives both Arabs and (Israeli) Jews the right to develop
their national culture."
Similarly, in an interview in the January 1969 issue of
Tricontinental magazine (which is also published in
Arabic), Fatah leader Yassir Arafat stressed:
"We have not taken up arms to force two million Jews
into the sea or to wage a religious or racial war. . . .
We are a national liberation movement which is struggling
just like the fighters of Vietnam, Bolivia, or any
other people of the world. . . . "
If Howe had taken the trouble to read Arafat's speech
to the United Nations General Assembly in November
1974- a speech that was published in the New York
Times and broadcast live throughout the Arab world -
he would have heard this position reiterated.
In that speech, Arafat said that "if the immigration of
Jews to Palestine had had as its objective the goal of enabling
them to live side by side with us, enjoying the
same rights and assuming the same duties, we would
have opened our doors to them as far as our homeland's
capacity for absorption permitted. . . .
"But that the goal of this immigration should be to
usurp our homeland, disperse our people and tum us into
second-class citizens - this is what no one can conceivably
demand that we acquiesce in or submit to."
Arafat further declared that "we deplore all those
crimes committed against the Jews; we also deplore all
the real discrimination suffered by them because of their
faith. . . .
"In my formal capacity as chairman of the Palestine
Liberation Organization and as leader of the Palestinian
revolution, I proclaim before you that when we speak of
our common hopes for the Palestine of tomorrow we include
in our perspective all Jews now living in Palestine
who choose to live with us there in peace and without discrimination.
" . . . I call upon Jews one by one to tum away from
the illusory promises made to them by Zionist ideology
and Israeli leadership. Those offer Jews perpetual
bloodshed, endless war and continuous thralldom ....
"We offer them the most generous solution that we
might live together in a framework of just peace in our
Real interests of Jewish people
As Arafat and other PLO leaders have repeatedly explained,
the real issue in the Middle East is not whether
or not the Israeli Jews can live there, but whether they
have the right to dispossess and oppress another people.
And as Ara(at also explained, the oppression of the
Palestinians is not in the real interests of the Jewish people.
This point was also taken up by the SWP' s 1971 resolution
on the Middle East. Like the PLO, the SWP advocates
full civil, cultural, and religious rights for Israeli
Jews within the framework of a democratic Palestine.
"The source of the oppression of the Jewish people in
this era is the capitalist system, which in its period of decay
carries all forms of racist oppression to the most barbarous
extremes," the SWP's 1971 resolution said.
Moreover, "The struggle against anti-Semitism and
the oppression of Jews is part of the struggle to abolish
all forms of racism and national oppression. This
struggle can be fully and finally won only in alliance with
all the oppressed of the world. . . .
"The imperialists and Zionists to -the contrary, the
basic interests of the Jewish masses of Israel reside in alliance
with the Palestinian liberation struggle and support
of the goal of a democratic Palestine. We have incessantly
warned Jews throughout the world: Zionism leads
you into conflict with your potential allies - the oppressed
of the world - and has led you to ally with your
worst enemy, imperialism. Imperialism in its death
agony has already led to one holocaust against European
Jewry; it can inflict similar catastrophes again unless it is
overthrown in time by the mass force of the socialist revolution."
Not just an end to anti-Semitism, but also the national
liberation of the Palestinian people, the SWP resolution
explained, cannot be attained under the political leadership
of the capitalist class. The capitalist rulers in the
Arab countries fear that the mobilization of the masses
around democratic demands such as self-determination
for the Palestinians will spill over to other social questions
in the region and within their own borders. Therefore,
they seek to limit, suppress, and divert such democratic
Only the working class, at the head of all the toiling
masses, especially the peasantry, can fight effectively for
democratic tasks such as an end to national oppression.
That is why a consistent struggle for national liberation in
the Middle East points toward the establishment of workers
and peasants governments through revolutions
against the imperialists - in particular the Israeli imperialists-
and the Arab capitalists.
At the same time, democratic and anti-imperialist demands
are central to the struggle of the workers and peasants
for political power in these countries. The Palestinian
struggle confirms this lesson from the history of revolutions
in the colonial world in this century.
Pressures on the Egyptian regime
From the point of view of the capitalist rulers in the
Arab countries, the Palestinian liberation movement represented
a deadly threat because it pushed them into confrontation
with the Israeli state, and thus with imperialism.
Such confrontations caused the masses of
these countries to demand effective military mobilization,
the distribution of arms and military training,
stronger steps against imperialist economic interests, the
dismissal of corrupt and incompetent officials, and other
measures. As the capitalist rulers demonstrated their inability
to carry out an effective fight against imperialist
domination, the struggle of the Palestinians began to destabilize
There was even pressure on the government in Egypt,
where Nasser's anti-imperialist credentials were far
stronger than those of King Hussein or the Lebanese rulers,
and where the direct presence of the Palestinian refugee
population was much smaller than in any of the
other countries bordering Israel.
Thus, in February 1968, students and workers staged
six days of demonstrations in Helwan, Cairo, Alexandria,
Assiut, Tantah, and other major Egyptian cities.
They were protesting light sentences meted out to air
force commanders accused of negligence in the June
"The Israelis are practically at the gates of our main
cities," one student declared, according to a report in the
March 2, 1968, Christian Science Monitor, "and yet one
group of overfed military men tries another group when
they should all be on trial. What a mockery."
Beginning in October 1968, the Israeli regime initiated
a policy of air raids, commando attacks, and artillery
bombardment against Egyptian cities, which continued
In March 1969, hundreds of thousands of people
turned out in a spontaneous demonstration in Cairo on the
occasion of the funeral of the Egyptian chief of staff, who
was killed in an Israeli artillery barrage. "Give us guns!"
they cried, and "Revenge, Revenge, 0 Gamal [Nasser]!"
Hundreds of thousands demonstrated once again in
February 1970 after Israeli warplanes dropped napalm
and fragmentation bombs on a factory outside of Cairo,
killing 70 workers and wounding 90 more.
Radicalization in Lebanon
But it was in Lebanon and Jordan that the rise of the
Palestinian resistance and Israel's brutal response had the
greatest impact. In December 1968 Israeli commandos
began the raids on Lebanon that have lasted up until this
day with an attack on Beirut International Airport and the
destruction of 13 aircraft.
Mindful of the anger among Lebanese citizens over the
lack of resistance to the Israeli assault, the government
banned all demonstrations and threatened to use the army
against any that might be attempted. Nevertheless, on
Jan. 4, 1969, some 25,000 students began a strike in
Beirut. They demanded the introduction of universal conscription
and the arming of frontier villages against Israel,
punishment of those responsible for the lack of
military defense against the Israelis, and the removal of
restrictions against Palestinian organizations operating
The uproar over the Israeli raid resulted in the resignation
of the Lebanese cabinet.
Clashes between Palestinian forces and Lebanese
troops in March and April 1969, after the army attempted
to prevent the guerrillas from operating in southern Lebanon,
led to a new crisis. Big demonstrations in support of
the Palestinian fighters took place in Beirut, Saida, Tyre,
Tripoli, Baalbek and Nabatiye. At least a dozen people
were killed when police opened fire on demonstrators,
and the gove~ment declared a state of emergency.
An editorial in the April 26, 1969, New York Times
complained: "The resignation of Lebanon's Premier after
clashes between Palestinian refugees and Lebanese
troops constitutes another ominous manifestation of the
emergence of the Palestinians as a militant, radical force
in Middle East politics. . . .
"Although they total only about 10 per cent of the
Lebanese population, the Palestinians have gained widespread
support for their cause among the Lebanese
"Jordan's King Hussein is at least equally threatened
by Palestinians who make up nearly half [actually a
majority- D.F.] of his subjects. Hussein has managed
to coexist with his Palestinians by giving their guerrilla
forces practically free rein in his country."
The Times editors concluded by warning against a
"grim development": "The Palestinian militants are bent
on converting the entire Arab world into one big guerrilla
camp dedicated to uncompromising struggle with Israel."
October 1969 confrontation
Further attacks by Lebanese government forces against
the Palestinians took place in May, and reached a climax
in October 1969 when two weeks of fighting brought
Lebanon to the brink of civil war. Fatah passed out arms
to the population in the Muslim quarter of West Beirut.
In Tripoli, according to an Oct. 26, 1969, dispatch
by New York TimesA:orrespondent Eric Pace, "the authorities
today let arilied leftist dissidents hold sway over
neighborhoods containing 100,000 people- a third of
the city's population."
At the same time, the guerrilla organizations were able
to take control of the Palestinian refugee camps. An
agreement signed in Cairo on Nov. 3, 1969, recognized
the right of the refugee camps to administer their own affairs,
and also the right of the PLO to maintain bases in
southern Lebanon and carry out attacks against Israel
From the beginning, the struggle waged by the PLO in
Lebanon was closely tied to the social conflict between
the workers and poor peasantry there and the country's
ruling landlords and capitalists. The Palestinian movement
was seen as the ally of all the progressive forces in
Lebanese society, and its struggle changed_ the relationship
of forces in Lebanon as a whole to the advantage of
the working class.
An indication of this new relationship of forces came
in August 1970, when the Lebanese government legalized
the Communist Party and the Baath Socialist Party,
along with the Arab Nationalist Movement, the parent-organization
of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
U.S. pressure in Jordan
But after the big battles of 1969, 1970 was relatively
quiet in Lebanon. The focus shifted to Jordan, where in
February 1970, one day after meeting with the U.S. ambassador
in Amman, King Hussein put his forces on
Following a royal ultimatum to the guerrillas, Hussein's
troops began erecting roadblocks around Amman.
Two days of fighting followed. Although Hussein backed
off, it was clear to all that tensions were reaching the
boiling point, and the standoff was only temporary.
A new round of fighting broke out in June, after the
Jordanian army attacked a unit of guerrillas from the Democratic
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Hussein had -apparently hoped that an attack on one of the
smaller guerrilla organizations would not be answered in
a united way, but he was proved wrong. The king was
forced to retreat once again after five days of fighting.
In the meantime, however, pressure was coming from
another direction. U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers
had announced a plan for a Mideast settlement in December
1_969. Like the Reagan proposal today, it held out
the bait of Israeli withdrawal from some of the occupied
territories in return for Arab recognition of the Israeli
When King Hussein announced his support for the
Rogers Plan on July 26, 1970, U.S. officials responded
that his first step must be to assert control over the Palestinian
Nasser had already accepted the Rogers Plan and
closed down the PLO's broadcasting center in Cairo. The
PLO's refusal to back the U.S.-proposed plan set the
stage for a decisive confrontation in Jordan.
Imperialist press campaign
Part of the pressure against the PLO in this period wa~
an imperialist press campaign aimed at splitting the Palestinian
national liberation movement. Then, as now, articles
appeared in the imperialist press that were calculated
to fan suspicions within the PLO and among its supporters
worldwide. In particular, the campaign sought tr'
play off the "moderate" Arafat against other sectors 01
the Palestinian movement.
For example, Dana Adams Schmidt wrote in the Jun.:
14,1970, NewYorkTimesthat"ifMr. Arafatdecidestc
cooperate with the King, as he seems personally to desire,
an alliance of the Army and Fatah could suppres~
P.F.L.P. and guarantee the King's future, at least for a
while. Lacking the P.F.L.P. 's ideological hangups, Mr.
Arafat is understood to favor the monarchy as a compliant
framework within which the commandos can carry
out their campaign against Israel."
Of course, the idea that Arafat or any other PLO leader
viewed the Jordanian monarchy as "a compliant framework"
for the activity of the Palestinian movement is
laughable. When Fatah guerrillas began carrying out
their attacks against Israel in 1965, they had to contend
with Jordanian border guards as well as the Israeli army.
Prior to the 1967 war there were 408 Palestinian guerrillas
in Hussein's prisons. After the 1967 war, the PLO had
to fight pitched battles against the Jordanian army to win
its right to operate openly in Jordan, and at the time of
Schmidt's article it had just come through another such
But Schmidt's drivel is no different from the kind of
stuff being written today about how Arafat has already
decided to accept the Reagan plan and is just trying to figure
out how to sell it.
PLO maneuvers for time
The stance of the PLO leadership in Jordan and Lebanon-
and it was a prudent one- was to avoid confrontac
tion with the government, while continuing to build up
the strength of the independent Palestinian mass movement
and its ties with the working people in these countries.
Arafat, in a June 1968 interview with the magazine
Jeune Afrique, declared: "Since there is no interference
on our part in the· internal affairs of the Arab countries,
where we have no ambitions; since we have a common
objective with the Arab states and peoples, which is principally
ending the Israeli occupation; we do not see why
there should be any conflict between us."
Similarly, Fatah leader Abu Omar explained in an interview
that appeared in the June 14, 1970, New York
Times: "Our policy is not to interfere in the affairs of Jordan.
The only condition is that the Government should
not interfere in our affairs to organize and arm ourselves.
The only government we aspire to is the government of
While insisting, "We do not welcome clashes with the
Government," Abu Omar added: "But the Palestinians,
who are now a majority of what's left of Jordan, insist on
their right to organize, to meet publicly, and to carry arms
for the liberation struggle against Israel."
Nobody had any doubt about the implications for Hussein's
dictatorship if the Palestinians continued to exercise
their democratic rights. Eric Pace described Hussein's
capital in mid-1970, saying:
"Once a quiet desert town, Amman is now drenched in
fedayeen prose. Commando broadcasts resound from radios
everywhere. The strident new newspaper published
by AI Fatah; the largest fedayeen group, is eagerly read.
Commlmdo leaflets are legion and commando handbills
shout silently from hundreds of walls."
At its meeting ending on June 4, 1970, the Palestine
National Council had refused to seat the official Jordanian
delegation and had recognized an opposition group,
the Jordanian National Union. The council also called for
the formation of joint committees by the Palestinian and
Danger of adverturism
But a frontal attack on the Arab governments by the
PLO would have been an irresponsible, ultraleft adventure.
In Lebanon, and even more in most other Arab
countries, the Palestinians were a small minority. Any attempt
to substitute the Palestinian national liberation
movement for the whole of the working class and its allies
would have been a bloody fiasco that could only have
ended with the destruction of the PLO.
In the case of Jordan, although the Palestinians were a
majority and the PLO was in the leadership of a mass
movement, the Palestinian population was by no means
unanimous, and the massive Bedouin minority was still
:ied to the monarchy. Meanwhile, Hussein's army, which
;·emained loyal to the kirig, outnumbered the PLO's for..:
es by nearly 3-to-1, with some 700 tanks and armored
.:ars, compared to none for the guerrillas.
Therefore, the PLO sought to gain time. By declaring
ts adherence to the principle of nonintervention in the in:
ernal affairs of the Arab countries, and by challenging
:he Arab governments to live up to their verbal support
for the Palestinian struggle against Israel, the PLO exposed
the unwillingness of these regimes to confront imperialism.
At the same time, the PLO made it as difficult
as possible for the Arab governments to take action
against the Palestinian movement. ·
Time finally ran out for the Palestinian fighters in Jordan
in September 1970. On September 16 Hussein proclaimed
martial law and demanded that the guerrillas turn
in their arms. The next day his army opened up full-scale
assaults on Palestinian refugee camps and commando offices
throughout the country.
People's committees in Irbid
Hussein's assault did not take the Palestinians by surprise.
It had been expected for months, and on September
14 Arafat told a group of Arab ambassadors in Amman:
"Gentlemen, please inform your governments that
King Hussein has deliberately prepared a detailed plan
which must culminate in a blood bath. I have irrefutable
evidence that he intends to liquidate the Palestinian resistance
fighters. I presume that your governments cannot
or will not wish to do anything for us. But I insist on informing
you of this matter so that you cannot one day
wash your hands of all responsiblity." (Le Monde, Sept.
The PLO leadership called for a general strike and other
forms of mass opposition to the government. In Irbid,
Jordan's third-largest city, the PLO organized popular
committees and began fortifying the city a few days before
Hussein's declaration of martial law.
According to a report by Loren Jenkins in the Sept. 28,
1970, issue of Newsweek, "To replace the city administration,
the commandos set up on every street 'people's
committees,' which in turn elected members to larger
district committees. These groups, composed of commando
commissars as well as leading residents of Irbid
who support the Palestinian cause, held evening meetings
to discuss such matters as the future organization of the
city and preparations for its defense."
Some of the work that had preceded the establishment
of what Newsweek called the "Irbid Soviet" was described
by A. Yoldachs in the Sept. 28, 1970, issue of the
French revolutionary socialist weekly Rouge. According
"There was a campaign for building shelters to defend
the population against the daily bombings to which the
Israeli army subjected the city for a long period. There
was a literacy campaign. Palestinian militants worked in
the union federations: There was a training program involving
the creation of craft workshops (the craft sector
absorbs essentially women and young high school students)."
Defeat in Jordan
But the decisive battle was fought in Amman, and
there the Palestinians were unable to carry the day against
the heavy weapons of Hussein's army. As AP correspondent
Alex Efty described in the Sept. 25, 1970, issue
"After six days of fighting, it is rare to find an undamaged
house; certain neighborhoods have been pulverized
by artillery, especially the vast refugee camps in the outlying
districts where thousands of Palestinians live
cramped up as many as a dozen to a room."
Arthur Chesworth reported in the Sept. 24, 1970,
Washington Post: "Two-thirds of a once proud royal capital
of 600,000 has been utterly destroyed. . . .
"The commandos say that at least 8000 Palestinians
have died and that their total casualties number tens of
Although the Palestinian forces still controlled sections
of Amman, as well as the cities of Irbid, Ramtha,
and Jerash when a cease-fire was agreed to 10 days after
the eruption of the civil war, Hussein had proved that his
forces held the balance of power. The Jordanian army
was able to move step by step, driving the Palestinian
guerrillas out of one position after another, until another
all-out attack forced the PJ..O out of Jordan altogether in
Abu Omar, in an interview with Intercontinental Press
that appeared in its Nov. 22, 1971, issue, commented on
some of the conclusions drawn by the PLO leadership
following the defeat in Jordan.
"We have learned some lessons from our experience in
Jordan and have not adopted too defiant a stance vis-a-vis
the Lebanese government that might lead to confrontations
that we might not be able to handle," Abu Omar explained.
In regard to Syria, where President Hafez al-Assad had
come to power in November 1970, right after the defeat
in Jordan, the PLO leader said, "The present regime is
not as enthusiastic about the people's war slogan as the
previous one ....
"I think it is quite natural given the type of regime,
which is based mostly on the bureaucracy and the military,
with a very weak mass party.
"Most of our forces are in Syria at the present time, not
secretly but at open bases. This means that we cannot but
take Syrian attitudes and policy into account. We are
quite vulnerable in our presence in Syria."
Attitude to Jordanian regime
Speaking of the need to engage in diplomatic activity
involving the various Arab regimes, Abu Omar noted,
"There are powers that exist around us, influence us. We
cannot define them out of existence. We have to take
them into account, even though our main dependence is
on our internal resources and the mass support that we
When asked about the stance of the PLO toward the
Jordanian regime, Abu Omar explained:
"I think there is really no disagreement in the resistance
movement about the nature of the Jordanian regime.
There is disagreement about how things are put
forth - the kind of slogans."
In this regard, Abu Omar added, "The question is not
whether one wants [Hussein] or not, but what slogans to
use; what public pronouncements do you make - the
PLO and Fatah, for example, have tended to emphasize
moderate slogans, rather than big slogans.
"We want freedom of action. We know very well we
cannot have freedom of action, except if we get a democratic
"The problem is the level of activity that we need to
bring down the regime and to create a political organization
among the Jordanian masses and establish some sort
of Jordanian-Palestinian framework or a national front."
In general, Abu Omar commented, "The more the
movement of the masses is weakened around us, the
move vulnerable we are."
Polarization in Lebanon
The defeat in Jordan had a big impact throughout the
rest of the Arab countries. Nevertheless, despite regular
Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon and frequent clashes
with the Lebanese army and police, the PLO was able to
maintain its presence in Lebanon.
A major attempt to wipe out the PLO was carried out
by the Lebanese army in May 1973. It followed an Israeli
terror raid on Beirut in which scores of people, including
three PLO leaders, were killed. As in the December 1968
raid on the Beirut airport, the lack of government response
to the Israeli outrage brought big protests. On
April 12, the funeral for the slain PLO leaders drew as
many as 300,000 people into the streets of Beirut in what
became probably the largest antigovernment demonstration
in Lebanon's recent history.
Continuing protests against the government were answered
with an attack by the Lebanese army against Pal
·estinian refugee camps. Although the army used heavy
artillery, and called in the air force as well, it was unable
to repeat King Hussein's defeat of the PLO.
For a while, events in Lebanon were overshadowed by
the October 1973 Mideast war. But there was no let-up
either in the Israeli attacks or in the mounting anger of the
population over the government's refusal to take action
against the murderous raids.
According to a dispatch by John Cooley in the May 17,
1974, Christian Science Monitor, "Lebanon's Council of
the South, which tries to help Lebanese refugees from the
border area, estimates that nearly half of this region's
people have fled their homes in the past year."
Le Monde correspondent Edouard Saab reported from
Beirut on May 19, 197 4, that "a wave of hatred for Israelis
has spread across the country. At the same time, fraternization
between the Lebanese and Palestinians has
never been more sincere, more spontaneous."
During the latter half of 1974 there were almost daily
Israeli attacks. on southern Lebanon. Meanwhile, social
tensions were intensifying within Lebanon. Christian
rightist forces were opposed by a largely Muslim coalition
grouping together the PLO, the traditional leadership
of the Druse community, the Communist Party, various
Arab nationalist parties (Baathists, Nasserists, etc.), and
many smaller groups. A majority of the Lebanese people
were united in their support for the Palestinian struggle,
their desire to eliminate Lebanon's discriminatory political
system, and their anger over social inequality and exploitation.
Civil war breaks out
In February 1975, demonstrations broke out in Saida
against the government's decision to grant a monopoly
on fishing rights to a newly formed company - one that
happened to be headed by Tony Franjieh, the president's
son, and Camille Chamoun, a former Lebanese president
who was at that time minister of the interior .
Eleven demonstrators were gunned down by the army,
provoking an uprising by the Lebanese and Palestinian
population, who seized control of the city.
The right-wing Phalangist militia responded to this action
on April 13, 1975, by machine-gunning a busload of
Palestinians returning from a rally. These proved to be
the opening shots in the Lebanese civil war.
If the civil war in Lebanon had been decided according
to just the relationship of forces within that country, there
seems to be little doubt that the Palestinian-Muslim-leftist
coalition would have won the war. As these forces
gained ground in the conflict, however, they were opposed
by an increasingly active Syrian intervention - a
military intervention that had the blessing of Washington,
and the tacit agreement oflsrael.
The Syrian armed forces were far stronger than those
of King Hussein, which had defeated the PLO in Jordan.
Acting in conjunction with the rightist forces in the civil
war, they had little difficulty in turning the tide of battle.
Faced with this ·unfavorable relationship of forces, the
PLO negotiated to try to get the best deal that it could out
of the situation.
The result was that the PLO was able to preserve its
freedom of action in the south and its autonomy within
the major refugee camps. The cities of Tyre, Saida, and
large parts of southern and western Lebanon were left in
the hands of the Muslim-Palestinian-leftist coalition. The
Syrians occupied West Beirut and eastern Lebanon
above the Litani River, while the rightist forces were left
in control of East Beirut and the traditional Christian
strongholds in north-central Lebanon. This de facto partition
of the country remained in force until the Israeli invasion
in June 1982 rearranged the map.
PLO's activity in Lebanon
The PLO did much more in Lebanon than just fight. It
was a social movement that ran schools, vocational training
facilities, clinics, and other services for the Palestinian
population. It helped organize popular committees,
political education, and other activities. Many of these
involved sectors of Lebanon's toiling population, as
A revealing indication of the PLO's activity in Lebanon
during the years leading up to the latest Israeli invasion
was given by David Shipler in the July 25, 1982,
New York Times. Shipler's article, an attack on the Palestinian
movement, was titled, ''Lebanese Tell of Anguish
Of Living Under the P.L.O."
Among the anguished victims interviewed by Shipler
was Dr. Ramsey Shabb, whose country estate was· occupied
by the PLO. Shabb "stopped taking his family there
for weekends, staying instead in an apartment he kept in
the private hospital he owned in Sidon."
Dolly Raad, an executive for Middle East Airlines,
was reduced to keeping her "well-kept Mercedes Benz"
locked up in the garage and driving "an old, beat-up Mercedes."
Another heart-wrenching story was told by the wife of
a wealthy importer who said that "she protected her luxurious
house in the hills outside Nabatiye by never leaving
it empty, by never going away on trips, by staying
alert to any sign of P. L. 0. encroachment."
However, Shipler admitted, "Some in the crowded
camps recall the pitifully low wages the citrus-pickers
once received in the south, and they credit the P.L.O.
with forcing employers to improve the pay. The results
were reflected in rising living standards.
" 'Conditions improved,' said Sami Masri as he stood
amid the rubble of the Rashidiye camp on the outskirts of
" 'There used to be no electricity here. In all of Rashidiye
there were no refrigerators, no automatic washers.'
The P.L.O., he said, organized not only military training
for the youngsters of the camp, but also soccer teams,
chess clubs, Ping-Pong tournaments. A youth recreation
center was set up in a concrete building that now lies
crushed under the weight of war."
One government official complained to Shipler, "Men
repairing roads were supposed to work eight hours a day,
but they worked five or six. They would come at 10 and
be gone by 4."
"The rank and file of the guerrillas seemed to come
from the lowest strata.," according to Shipler, who made
clear his class bias by accusing "the P.L.O. 's armed muscle"
of "a bitter material greed."
Clearly, Shipler doesn't think these people are worthy
of sympathy - not like the hospital owner trying to hold
onto his country estate, or the airline executive defending
During the years that the PLO was fighting arms in hand
to defend its existence and to advance the Palestinian
struggle, it was also fighting a political battle to win
world public opinion.
Fighting in the diplomatic arena
In 1974, intensive diplomatic activity was in progress,
and the possibility of a Geneva conference on the Middle
East was being raised. The PLO correctly insisted on its
right to speak for the Palestinian people in any Mideast
At the same time, the PLO took a step forward by placing
more emphasis on the transitional step of an Israeli
withdrawal from the occupied territories. Moreover, it
asserted the PLO's right to govern those territories, as
opposed to the Jordanian or Egyptian government, or to
some kind of puppet authority set up by Israel.
Meeting in Cairo June 1-9, 1974, the Palestine National
Council declared, "The PLO will fight by all
means at its disposal, by armed struggle in particular, to
liberate the territory of Palestine and construct an independent
and fighting people's national authority on any
part of Palestinian territory that is liberated."
Liberation of the occupied territories was seen as a step
in the fight for a democratic, secular Palestine. Points
three and four of the 10-point program adopted at the Cairo
meeting said in this regard:
"The PLO will fight against any plan or Palestinian entity
that would entail recognition of the enemy, conclusion
of a peace with it, and the renunciation of our people's
historic right to return to their homeland and decide
their own future.
"The PLO holds that any measure of liberation is only
a step toward the realization of its strategic objective,
- namely the construction of a democratic Palestinian state
in conformity with the resolutions of previous sessions of
the Palestine National Council."
Other points in the 1974 program called for continuing
the PLO's underground work in Jordan and asserted that
the organization would "fight to strengthen its links with
the socialist countries and the liberation movements
around the world. . . . "
Just how successful the PLO was in bringing the cause
of the Palestinian people to world attention was shown
when Yassir Arafat addressed the UN General Assembly
in November 1974. Arafat presented a powerful state~
ment of what the Palestinians are fighting for. The General
Assembly had voted by 105 to 4 in October 1974 to
recognize the PLO as the "representative of the Palestinian
people." Following Arafat's speech, the PLO, against
Washington's opposition, won .permanent UN observer
status. The General Assembly also voted to' recognize the
right of the Palestinians to independence and sovereignty
PLO's 1981 program
As indicated earlier in this article, the PLO has maintained
its basic program for the national liberation of Palestine
since the rise of the guerrilla organizations as a
mass movement following the June 1967 war. This was
clearly reflected in the resolution approved at the April
1981 meeting of the Palestine National Council. At the
same time, the PLO has gone through big experiences,
broadened its political vision, and responded to new
developments around the world.
Thus, the final political statement of the April 1981
national council meeting warned of Washington's "attempts
to impose its control and domination on the Arab
homeland and the neighbouring areas by various means,
in particular the establishment of military bases and the
call for the establishment of pacts on the pretext of an alleged
The meeting "stressed the importance of close alliance
between the forces of revolu~ion throughout the world,"
and in particular "expressed its concern for the unity of
the Non-aligned Movement on the basis of its hostility to
imperialism, Zionism and racism." It also "affirmed its
resolute support for the struggles of the peoples of Latin
America and the Caribbean area, and condemned the aggressive
moves of the American government in that
The council's emphasis on mass organization and
struggle was also evident in the statement, which "expressed
its great pride in the level of struggle attained by
the uprising of our people in the occupied homeland." It
pointed out in particular:
"The Council laid emphasis on the importance of support
for trade unions, students' and women's organizations
and all professional associations and municipalities,
to enable them to perform their role in consolidating the
steadfastness of our people in their land. . . . "
In reaffirming its call for "the development and escalation
of armed struggle against Zionist occupation," the
council also "reaffirmed the necessity for all Arab fronts
to be opened up to the valiant fighters of our revolution."
It singled out "the importance of firm relations in
struggle between the Palestinian and Jordanian peoples
and affirmed its support for the Jordanian nationalist
movement in all fields." It also declared that "the oil
wealth of the Arab homeland should be utilized in the interests
of the welfare and progress of the Arab nation and
of its current issues, headed by the cause of Palestine."
Finally, "The Council expressed the view that no initiative
can be valid if it regards the Camp David agreements
and methods as the basis for a solution, and does not recognize
the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of
the Palestinian people and the right of our people to return,
to self-determination and to establish an indepen-
-dent state on the soil of our homeland."
Fifteen years of struggle
Over the past 15 years, the PLO has remained true to
its original goal of building a mass, independent struggle
of the Palestinian people for their national rights. As an
organization, the PLO is based firmly on the masses of
the Palestinian people. No Arab government has been
able to take over the PLO and tum it into a puppet organization.
To defend its independence, the PLO has demonstrated
its readiness, when forced to, to fight not only Israel,
but also the regimes in Lebanon and Jordan, arms in hand.
Its political activity has served to advance the class struggle
throughout the Middle East. And when the Israeli
army invaded Lebanon, it found the Palestinian refugees
there armed and organized, and ready to resist Israel's
vastly superior firepower, thanks to the PLO.
While continuing to call on the Arab governments to
unite in support of the Palestinian struggle, the PLO has
also been quite critical in pointing out their failures. For
example, an editorial in the Aug. 8, 1982, issue of the official
PLO newspaper Filistin al-Thawra, written during
the seige of West Beirut, declared: "We have expected
the confrontation and steadfastness front, but no one
came, we have expected the Arabs, but no one came. We
have expected our friends in the world, but no one
Arafat himself, speaking to the Arab heads of state at
the Fez conference, described the "world's ineffectual
reaction to the events in southern Lebanon." He told the
assembled rulers, "You control the Arab decision. You
are all responsible, initially and ultimately, for the fate of
this nation." He added, "At this point, the feeling of guilt
will not help," and safd:
"Let our Arah nation unite and wake up from its deep
sleep in order to face facts and events and in order to confront
the challenges to our destiny and civilization
Although the Arab rulers declined to live up to Arafat's
challenge, the point has not been lost on the Arab
masses.- "The man in the street had more intense feelings
about this war than any other war in the Arab-Israeli history,"
a professor at Kuwait University told New York
Times reporter Thomas Friedman.
"For the first time, an Arab capital was being besieged
and the resistance was being mounted not by an Arab
army, but a popular movement. People tried to volunteer,
they tried to demonstrate, but in almost every case they
were prevented from doing so by their governments."
Finally, the PLO has won through struggle the allegiance
of the Palestinian people as a whole, as well as the
respect of the toilers of the world. The PLO is in fact the
sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
This fact has been clear in Lebanon for a long time.
In the West Bank, in addition to the hundreds of demonstrations
where the PLO flag has been flown, and the
election of mayors throughout the area who solidarize
with the PLO, two polls were conducted shortly before
the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. One, conducted for Time
magazine by the Israeli Public Opinion Research Institute
(PORI), found that 88 percent of those on the West Bank
considered the PLO to be their sole legitimate representative.
Eighty-six percent wanted a Palestinian state under
A second poll, taken by Najah University in the West
Bank city of Nablus, found that 66 percent viewed the
PLO as their sole legitimate representative. Seventy-six
percent favored an independent state under its leadership.
The Time poll also found that 56 percent favored ademocratic,
secular Palestine (35 percent favored an Islamic
government), and 57 percent favored a socialist economic
Since the PLO's heroic resistance against the Israeli invasion
of Lebanon, its standing and support in the occupied
territories, among Palestinians inside Israel, and
among working people around the world have risen
dramatically. But there is no denying that with the outcome
of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the Palestinian
struggle for self-determination and the anti-imperialist
movement in the Middle East as a whole have suffered a
Retreat from West Beirut
While exacting the biggest political price that it could
from the Israeli rulers for their aggression in Lebanon,
the PLO was ultimately forced to lead a retreat from West
West Beirut was surrounded by a military force whose
central political aim was to destroy the PLO. The Israeli
army, which as Leslie Gelb noted in the October 31 New
York Times, is now "the equal of West Germany's in
numbers of front-line weapons," faced a numerically
smaller force that had no tanks, no aircraft, and no open
line of supply.
After holding off the Israeli army for 88 days, the Palestinian
fighters marched out of West Beirut with their
The alternative to the course taken by the PLO leadership
would have been a futile last stand in West Beirut.
Such a decision would have resulted in far more civilian
casualties. Nor would such a fight to the finish have accomplished
anything, beyond helping the Israelis in their
aim of wiping out the PLO. It would not have prevented
the consolidation of a rightist government in Lebanon,
ended the occupation of Lebanon by Israeli forces, or
prevented massacres of Palestinians such as those at'the
Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.
Surrounded as it was in West Beirut, the PLO leadership
had to make the best of a bad situation. To facilitate
the withdrawal of the Palestinian fighters under conditions
less likely to expose them to Israeli army attacks,
the PLO leadership agreed to the deployment of U.S.,
French, and Italian troops in the city as part of the disengagement
What Washington wants
To understand the lessons of the events in Lebanon and
the prospects for the Palestinian struggle in the wake of
this defeat, it is necessary to look at the latest war in the
context of what has been happening in the Middle East as
a whole over the past dozen years.
Many things have changed in the Middle East since
1970. From Washington's point of view, however, one
fundamental problem has remained the same. The existence
of the PLO and its continued authority among the
Arab masses have prevented the consolidation of a stable
political relationship between Israel and the Arab countries.
Failure of the Israeli state to gain recognition from
the Arab regimes closes the Israeli ruling class off from
the markets and arenas of investment that it needs.
Within the Arab countries, the ongoing conflict with Israel
destabilizes the most proimperialist governments.
But the U.S. ruling class does not want stability in the
abstract in the Middle East. It wants to stabilize its own
domination. It cannot do this through concessions to the
anti-imperialist aspirations of the workers and peasants,
who would only be encouraged by such measures to advance
Nor can Washington strengthen its position by weakening
Israel, which is the main imperialist bulwark in the
Thus, when the U.S. government put forward the Rogers
Plan in 1969, its purpose, despite what Rogers said,
was not to pressure Israel to withdraw from the occupied
territories. Rather, it was to pressure the Arab regimes to
recognize Israel, and in the process to join in the effort to
crush the PLO.
Imperialism and the Arab regimes
Precisely the same thing is involved in the Reagan Plan
today. U.S. policymakers issue public declarations about
the need for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories,
just as they talk about the importance of human
rights and land reform in El Salvador. Washington's real
policy, however, is to support the Israeli occupation.
The U.S. ruling class is well aware of the crucial role
that the West Bank now plays in the Israeli economy and
Continued from preceding page
in the ability of the Israeli rulers to project their military
power throughout the Middle East.
Nor is Washington about to give up on imperialist Israel,
with its massive military machine, and switch to the
governments of semi colonial Egypt or Saudi Arabia as its
main ally in the Middle East.
Because the Arab countries are oppressed by imperialism,
their governments cannot be relied upon by
Washington in the same way that it can rely on any government
in Israel. No State Department official or brass
hat in the Pentagon can say what kind of government will
be in power in Egypt, Syria, or Saudi Arabia a few years
from now - a fact they were reminded of once again
when the Iranian masses tossed out the shah.
The unreliability of the Arab rulers from the point of
view of the imperialists has nothing to do with the intentions
or desires of the capitalists in the Arab countries. It
stems from the objective workings of the imperialist system.
Foreign domination and exploitation have given rise to
deep nationalist sentiment and periodic mass movements
in the oppressed Arab countries. At the same time, such
domination has kept the Arab ruling classes weak, making
it more difficult for them to stand up to mass anti-imperialist
movements that develop in their countries.
Moreover, the Arab capitalists themselves come into
conflict with imperialism. They chafe under their subordinate
political status, and seek a better price for their oil
and other exports on the world market.
Insofar as the capitalist governments in the Arab countries
stand up to imperialism and to the Israeli dispossession
of the Palestinians, the working people of those
countries and of the whole world have an interest in fighting
alongside them. Marxists support such struggles by
an oppressed nation unconditionally, that is, regardless
of the leadership involved.
Insofar as these regimes retard the fight against national
oppression, ally more and more openly with imperialism,
and exploit and oppress the workers and peasants
of the Arab countries, they are subject to internal turmoil
and revolutionary change at the hands of the toilers.
Clearly these governments are not as reliable allies for
Washington as the Israeli imperialist state. The rise of the
Palestinian movement, Arab nationalism in general, and
the Iranian revolution have all driven this point home to
Washington time and again.
The October 1973 war
All of this bears directly on the October 1973 Middle
Once the PLO had been defeated in Jordan,
Washington dropped the Rogers Plan. It gave every indication
of being willing to live indefinitely with the Israeli
occupation of the West Bank, and even of Egypt's Sinai
Peninsula. This, by the way, is further proof of what
Washington was really after in the first place when it
proposed the plan.
What was acceptable for U.S. imperialism, however,
threatened to prove deadly for the Arab rulers, especially
in Egypt. By 1973, the pressure that had already been
building up in Egypt prior to Nasser's death in September
1970 had become explosive.
President Anwar el-Sadat had promised that 1971
would be the "year of decision" in the conflict with Israel.
Then he announced that 1972 would be the "year of
But no confrontation came. -
In September 1972, in an indication of what Jay in
store, a battalion of the Egyptian army on the Suez front
mutinied over Sadat's inactivity in the face of the murderous
Israeli raids on Lebanon.
Ultimately, the mass pressure on Sadat became so
great that he was forced to go to war with Israel. Sadat' s
purpose in going to war was quite clear at the time. He
wanted to force Washington to stop ignoring Egyptian
demands and to put pressure on Israel for a negotiated
settlement. Thus, Sadat attacked the imperialist bastion
of Israel in hopes of ultimately strengthening his collaboration
What was decisive, however, was not Sadat's plans
and intentions, but the objective fact that Egypt was an
oppressed 'nation fighting to improve its position against
imperialism. As the Fourth International explained in its
October 1973 statement, the war marked "a new phase in
the armed resistance of the Arab peoples to the counterrevolutionary
policy of aggression systematically practiced
by the Zionist state .. Even though this war pits the armies
of bourgeois Arab regimes against the Zionist armies,
its character is that of a struggle against Israeli colonialism
and expansionism. It follows that revolutionary
Marxists affirm the legitimate character of the struggle of
the Arab states against Zionism and call for their victory."
And the showing of the Arab armies in the October
1973 war did put the Palestinians and the other peoples of
the Middle East in a stronger position against imperialism.
This was reflected in the dramatic diplomatic
gains made by the PLO in the year following the war, and
in an unprecedented mass upsurge by the Palestinian
population in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The 1973 war did not end in a decisive victory for the
Arab side, however. Because of this, Sadat was able to
move step-by-step toward realizing his plan for a deal
While U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
negotiated in Cairo and Tel Aviv, Sadat began denationalizing
various state enterprises and passing Jaws to
reduce restrictions on foreign capital. When President
Richard Nixon visited Cairo in June 1974, he was met by
a forest of American flags and signs saying, "We Trust
Nixon." In March 1976, Sadat repudiated his treaty of
friendship with the Soviet Union.
It was in this international political context that the Syrian
regime collaborated with Washington in moving to
prevent a victory by the Muslim-Palestinian-leftist
coalition in the 1976 Lebanese civil war. Like Sadat,
Syrian President Assad was hoping for some kind of agreement
that would enable him to regain the Golan
Heights in return for recognition of Israel.
An essential part of U.S. diplomacy, however, was to
insist on recognition of Israel as the precondition for any
deal with the Arab regimes. In the meantime, Sadat was
left hanging. Soviet arms supplies to Egypt had been cut
off, but Washington refused to give substantial military
aid. The Egyptian economy was in drastic straits, but the
hoped-for imperialist investment and aid failed to
The pressure finally forced Sadat to capitulate and
make his trip to Jerusalem in November 1977.
As the Fourth International explained at the time,
Sadat's decision to go ahead with a separate deal at the
expense of the Palestinians and the Arab peoples as a
whole could only result in strengthening Israel's hand
against Lebanon and Syria, and new military attacks by
the Israelis against these countries. This was borne out by
the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in March 1978, which devastated
the southern part of the country and created
some 300,000 refugees. The Camp David accords also
set the stage for the current Israeli invasion and the blow
that has been dealt to the PLO.
Role of the Iranian revolution
Sadat's trip to Jerusalem and the signing of the Camp
David agreement were among the biggest political victories
for imperialism in the Middle East since the establishment
of the Israeli state. What requires explanation is
not that five years later the Israelis were finally able to
deal such a heavy blow to the Palestinians in Lebanon;
that was the function of the Camp David accords. What
needs explanation is why the Israelis had to wait so long
to strike this blow and why they have been forced to pay
such a high price for their victory.
What forced the Israelis to delay so long was above all
the impact of the Iranian revolution, which reached its
climax as the final negotiations over Camp David were
taking place. The triumph of that revolution in 1979 left
Sadat holding the bag. Neither King Hussein of Jordan nor
the Saudi rulers were about to step into the Camp David
framework just as the Iranian masses in their millions
were shouting "death to America!" and getting a sympathetic
response throughout the Middle East.
Washington, Tel Aviv, and the Arab governments all
feared that revolutionary uprisings elsewhere in the region
would be sparked by the Iranian revolution, and
they gauged their moves accordingly. The drive against
the PLO in Lebanon was slowed down, while President
Carter initiated the development of the Rapid Deployment
Force and the Pentagon began acquiring new bases
throughout the Middle East.
Changing consciousness of working class
As for the political price that the imperialists paid for
their invasion of Lebanon, the biggest credit must of
course go to the PLO fighters and their allies among the
Lebanese workers and farmers. The worldwide sympathy
and support that their fight won, and the kind of shift it
sparked in the way Israel is viewed, is an indication of
how the world has changed over the past few years.
Not only did the struggle of the Palestinians in Lebanon
highlight changes in working-class consciousness
on a world scale, it also contributed to further advancing
The Israeli invasion was an indication of what imperialism
has in store for the oppressed peoples of the
world. The massacre in West Beirut was no fluke- it fit
in completely with the kind of devastation that Washington
carried out in Indochina, is sponsoring in Central
America today, and will sponsor elsewhere tomorrow.
Moreover, the agreement between Washington and Tel
Aviv on the basic aims of the invasion, and their close
military and political coordination in carrying it out, was
a further step in Israel's integration as an essential partner
in the international imperialist mafia.
Finally, the massive antiwar protests inside Israel itself
were dramatic testimony to the fact that the Jewish
workers there are undergoing the same changes in work
working-class consciousness that are being manifested in other
When was the last time in history that a victorious
army came slinking home, not to victory parades and
cheers, but to protests and recrimination?
Massive pressure inside Israel forced Prime Minister
Menachem Begin to reverse his original position and establish
a commission of inquiry into the massacre in West
Beirut. Public testimony by Begin, Defense Minister
Ariel Sharon, and other Israeli leaders has laid bare many
of the government's lies to Israeli working people.
Commenting on the impact of the war within Israel,
New York Times reporter David Shipler pointed out November
14: "The morality of the Government, the ethics
of the army and the use of military power for political
ends have been questioned so profoundly that some feel
the country's future maneuverability may be diminished."
Disillusionment with the Israeli government's war
policies, widespread realization that what was involved
was a war of aggression, and exposure of the government's
lies have all come in the context of a deep
economic crisis. Inflation in Israel has been running at
the rate of 130 percent. Widespread cutbacks in social
programs, such as government subsidies to basic foods,
are being implemented. Even as the war in Lebanon was
in progress, workers of the El AI airline were fighting
against a government attack on jobs, wages, and working
All this is the background to the wave of antiwar protests
inside Israel. Imperialist Israel, at the moment of its
greatest victory, has never been so divided.
As a result of the colonialist adventure in Lebanon, an
increasingly large layer of Jewish workers have begun to
realize that the Israeli ruling class is taking them on a
road to new wars, new attacks on the living standards and
democratic rights of the working class at home, and into
an alliance with the most hated forces on our planet.
'Our nation has remained'
For the imperialists, the central question in the wake of
the war in Lebanon is whether or not they can now use
the military victory they have scored to force the PLO
into a political retreat, above all by getting it to recognize
Washington failed to get the PLO to abandon its struggle
for Palestinian self-determination with the Rogers
Plan in 1970-71 , with Kissinger's years of diplomacy following
the 1973 war, or with the Camp David proposals
for a phony Palestinian autonomy. Now, based on the
bloody imperialist onslaught in Lebanon this year, a new
chapter in this long political fight has opened up.
An indication of how the prospects in this fight are
viewed inside Israel was a poll released October 4 by the Israeli
daily Ha'aretz. It found that 32.3 percent oflsraelis
believed that the PLO's political influence had been
strengthened by the war, while 37.5 percent felt that it
On November 25 the PLO's Central Council, the
broadest leadership body to convene since the defeat in
Lebanon, met in Damascus and denounced the Reagan
Plan. "The Reagan Plan," the council said, "ignores the
right of our people to self-determination and to establish
its own independent state under the leadership of the
P.L.O., without which there can be no just and lasting
peace in the Middle East."
Barely able to conceal their anger and dismay, the
editors of the New York Times complained November 28
that "the P.L.O. 's Central Council still refuses to recognize
the reality of Israel and lays claim to all its land for
a state that the P.L.O. alone would run."
Resorting to new threats of force- imperialism's only
answer to the just demands of the Palestinian people -
the Times editors declared: "If defeat in Lebanon, the
futility of Soviet and Arab support and the dispersal of its
guerrilla forces cannot rouse the P.L.O. from its fantasies
and shake its commitment to violence, there is, sad to
say, only one remaining source of pressure: the relentless
absorption by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza, where
1. 3 million Palestinians can still make a plausible territorial
But underneath the complaint of the Times that "those
who make a bad war cannot make a good peace" is fear
of the deepening polarization in the Middle East. The
U.S. rulers are well aware that short of breaking the
PLO, their victory in Lebanon may tum out to be hollow.
As one U.S. official remarked to Times reporter Thomas
Friedman, the impact of the war in Lebanon is likely to
be "wider in its revolutionary potential than the war of
1948, which led to the downfall of almost every important
Arafat himself, speaking to the current Arab rulers at
the Fez conference, reminded them that the PLO has no
intention of giving up its struggle.
"I have great confidence and faith that our nation is
capable of facing the challenges and ordeals," Arafat declared.
'This nation has faced many, many invaders and
tyrants, all of whom have moved on. They tried to
humiliate, defeat and harm this nation. All of them have
gone and our nation has remained on this good earth."
International Socialist Review Supplement
The Militant Vol. 46/No. 47
December 17, 1982