Letter from the US: How Obama's Israel support screws Palestinians

US President Barack Obama greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

United States President Barack Obama’s trip to Israel and stopover in the West Bank was designed to emphasise Washington’s approval of the status quo, and to reassure Israelis of his firm support for their policies.

His vague statements in favour of a Palestinian state were cynical in the face of ongoing Israeli actions on the ground, and his own silence on any proposals to achieve a Palestinian state.

Obama even publicly lectured the weak Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas to drop his demand that Israel stop new settlements as a condition for fresh talks. Obama humiliated the PA leader.

Obama went so far as to assert that Israel today is the continuation of 3000 years of Israeli legitimacy, obliterating 2000 years of history.

Obama also used his visit to saber-rattle against Iran and Syria.

With regard to Israel, it is US imperialism that calls the tune. Israel is important to Washington as an outpost and garrison state in the Middle East. Without US support Israel could not exist long.

Washington’s and Jerusalem’s so-called support of a two-state solution was always phony. Both have always made explicit that any future Palestinian state could not have any armed forces, and its borders and foreign policy would be controlled by Israel.

That is not a state. And that’s why the Palestinians, even the capitulationist Palestinian Authority, cannot accept these proposals.

At one point decades ago, it looked like the formation of a real Palestinian state without those crippling conditions might have been possible. But that hope has long been dashed by the steady Israeli expansion.

In the 1967 war, Israel took power in the entire West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights. (It also seized the Sinai, but returned that to Egypt, with severe restrictions on Egyptian sovereignty, as part of the “peace” agreement with Egypt's military government.)

What is the reality on the ground? The Israeli military is in charge of the whole territory from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. This includes Gaza.

The Israeli pullback from Gaza removed a few Israeli settlements, but the Israeli navy controls the Mediterranean border of Gaza as it has amply demonstrated in its attacks on the humanitarian flotillas bringing food and medicine via the sea. It restricts how far from the shore Palestinian fishermen can go.

Israel entirely controls the Israel/Gaza border.

There is the Gaza border with Egypt. So far, the Morsi government is continuing Mubarak’s policy of severely restricting trade and people’s movement across this border as Washington demands. A deepening of the Egyptian revolution may change that.

Israel even restricts how much food it allows into Gaza to the minimum number of calories needed to avoid outright starvation.

Gazans cannot trade or travel by sea, and are severely restricted on land. Gaza is a huge outdoor prison, which Israel wages terrific war on whenever it wants.

Israel doesn’t “occupy” Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. After 46 years and counting, what exists is not a temporary occupation.

Israel has annexed all of Jerusalem and is slowly forcing Arabs from the city, foreclosing any possibility that a part of it could become the capital of a hypothetical Palestinian state.

Israel continues to build settlements of Jewish Israeli citizens deep into the West Bank. They are connected by a crisscross of roads, which are forbidden to Palestinians, and which chop up the West Bank. These settlements and roads are defended by Israeli armed patrols.

The Israeli settlements steal much of the water from surrounding Palestinian areas. The armed settlers raid nearby Palestinian villages, tear down Palestinian orchards, and otherwise harass.

Also, the West Bank is covered with Israeli checkpoints restricting Palestinian movement and trade.

The bulldozers and settlements are relentlessly expanding into the West Bank. There soon won’t be any territory left to build a viable Palestinian state, assuming that threshold has not already passed.

And then there is the “separation” wall, which rivals the one the East German Stalinist built (although it is not as long as the one the US is building along its border with Mexico).

In short, there is already a single state with control of its borders from the Mediterranean to Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. Within this territory there is a single army, navy, air force and nuclear weapons launching facility. It has a single currency and government.

This state uses its control of the borders of the West Bank and Gaza to restrict people from the huge Palestinian Diaspora that resulted from its wars of displacement, from moving to the West Bank or Gaza.

This state has a name ― Israel. It rules over some Arabs who are second-class citizens by law, and over many more in the West Bank and Gaza who are not citizens at all. It is an apartheid state.

Like the South African apartheid state, which was a bourgeois democracy for white citizens only, Israel is a bourgeois democracy for Jewish citizens only.

The path Israel is on has only two possible outcomes. One, favored by Washington, is the continuation of the present situation, an apartheid state possibly with Palestinian Bantustans. But this comes up against the continued displacement of Palestinians by settlement expansion.

Unless the settlements are curtailed the other possibility looms – a “final solution” with the expulsion of a large section of the Palestinian population.

* * *

In 1968, I went on a world tour with the US Socialist Workers Party’s presidential candidate, Fred Halstead. While in Egypt, I was able to interview spokespeople for a new Palestinian liberation organisation called Fatah, which emerged from the disaster of the 1967 war.

The Fatah that existed then should not be confused with the capitulationist organisation with the same name today headed by Abbas. Back then, Fatah was a revolutionary organisation.

These comrades outlined their proposal for a solution to the conflict to me. Against reactionary Arab regimes who impotently railed about “driving the Jews into the Sea”, these comrades told me that the Jewish emigration to what became Israel was an accomplished fact.

They said the Israeli Jews and Palestinians should live together in peace and mutual support. The way to do this was to establish a secular, democratic state for both nationalities, with equal rights for all.

Such a state would be secular. Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists or any others would have equal rights and religious freedom, in contrast to the semi-theological Jewish state of Israel, and in contrast to those who wanted a state dominated by Islam.

It would be democratic, with Palestinians and Jews and any other nationalities being citizens of the single state, with equal rights in a political democracy. One person, one vote. This interview was published in the SWP's newspaper, The Militant, at the time.

I still think this is the only democratic and realistic solution. The apartheid state cannot last.

Against the single apartheid state of Israel, a single democratic secular state!
[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books. Read more of Sheppard's articles.]