This article was written on August 8, 1976. It was published in Matzpen 80, February 1977. Explanatory remarks in brackets have been inserted in translation.
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The aim of these theses is to analyze the turn in Middle Eastern dynamics (particularly in regard to the Palestinian question) due to the [civil] war in Lebanon and the Syrian challenge and to characterize the struggle for the rights of the Palestinian people in the coming historical period.
A. The Turn
1. The main characteristics of the line of developments in the region since the October 1973 war have been: intense acceleration of the Arab East’s integration in the global capitalist order under direct US political hegemony, and a gradual drive toward “settlement” of the Israeli-Arab conflict. The continuity of this line has not been broken, but it is nevertheless taking an important turn due to the war in Lebanon.
2. The war in Lebanon is driven primarily by two motive forces. First, the internal antagonisms that existed in the Lebanese society and state irrespective of the Palestinian problem, but have been further complicated by the active presence of the Palestinian movement in Lebanon. Second,
Syria’s interests, which drove it to an active military intervention and turned the civil war into a war of intervention.
In the present document we will not go into an analysis of the former factor (the internal antagonisms in Lebanon) but address only the latter.
B. The Syrian Challenge
1. The Syrian Ba’ath regime does not differ in its fundamental essence from the Egyptian regime, just as in the 1950s and ’60s there was no essential difference between Ba’athism and Nasserism. In both cases we have a current originating in the petite bourgeoisie, that while holding state power underwent a process of bourgeoisification and helped to create a new bourgeois class.
The fact that the Syrian regime still relies to some extent on Soviet diplomatic and military assistance does not disprove its basic similarity to the Egyptian regime.
2. The antagonisms between Syria and Egypt are neither ones between two regimes having different class characters nor between two fundamentally different political lines, but ones of rivalry between two similar and parallel models of the regime of the new Arab bourgeoisie. Their rivalry is mainly about predominance in the Arab East.
3. This predominance has a double implication. First, the predominant Arab state can influence the internal Arab market, and in particular the movement of Arab capital; and is able to direct the political steps of the other Arab regimes. Second, the predominant Arab state serves as the main link between the local regimes and global capitalism. As the main Arab agent of American policy, Egypt has so far been predominant; but now Syria is trying to gain, or at least share, this position. This also fits into the long-term plans for establishing a “Greater Syria” — a state or federation that would include Syria, Lebanon, the East Bank of the Jordan [the Kingdom of Jordan], and areas west of the Jordan River, under the leadership of the Syrian bourgeoisie.
4. The price paid by Egypt to the Americans for its present position has included, among other things: first, giving up its freedom of maneuver in the international arena (a freeze in relations with the Soviet Union) and, second, giving up the military option against Israel, at least for the foreseeable future. The price that Syria will pay for sharing the position of predominance cannot be a loss of the military option, because Syria in any case has no credible military option separately from Egypt. However, Syria can serve American interests (while also advancing its own long-term plans) by seizing total control of the Palestinian movement, turning it from a protégé into a hostage, from a popular movement with a considerable measure of independence into an abject handmaiden of the Syrian master.
C. The Settlement and the Palestinian State
1. Liquidation of the Palestinian national movement as an independent actor is desirable to the Americans, because their basic policy in the region is incompatible with a compromise that would satisfy even the most moderate current in the independent Palestinian movement.
2. The minimal demand, which even the most moderate current in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) cannot give up (so long as it
exists as an independent actor), is the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories, which would exist for an entire historical period alongside the Zionist State of Israel.
3. The Americans for their own part could accept this demand in order to tranquilize the national ferment. From a purely American viewpoint, as from that of the moderate current in the PLO, a compromise that includes the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state under US protection would be acceptable. But in practice such a compromise is precluded by the resolute Zionist position and the special position of Israel in the American setup in the region.
4. The decisive majority of the Zionist leadership, both in the government and in the right-wing opposition, is resolutely opposed, as a matter of fundamental principle, to the establishment of any kind of independent Palestinian state.
First, the Zionist legitimation for the existence of the State of Israel as an exclusive Jewish state has always been entirely based not on the right to self-determination of the Jews who live in this country but on the alleged “historical right” of all Jews around the world over the whole of the “Land of Israel”. From this viewpoint, recognition of the existence in Palestine of another people, the Palestinian Arab people, which has a legitimate claim in it would undermine Zionism’s legitimation and self-justification.
Second, the Zionist leadership indeed takes into account the eventuality that within the framework of a settlement Israel would be obliged to withdraw also from parts of its conquests west of the Jordan River. But from a Zionist viewpoint any withdrawal from any part whatsoever of “the historical Land of Israel”, especially west of the Jordan, is — in principle — temporary and contingent on transient conditions. From this viewpoint, Israel must reserve the ability and right to reconquer these territories, if that becomes politically possible or militarily necessary. But in international politics there is a huge difference between conquering part of another state and conquering the whole of a “third state” [i.e., a Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan]. The world would be much more likely to accept, under certain conditions, an Israeli re-conquest of part of Jordan (or of Greater Syria), than the total erasure of a sovereign Palestinian state. The establishment of such a state would therefore impose a severe constraint on Israel’s political and military strategy.
Third, the Zionist leadership is worried that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, however small, may be the starting point of a historical process whereby that state would expand step-by-step at Israel’s expense. The Zionists in fact know from their own experience all about a process of this kind: at first they agreed to the establishment of a small Jewish state within the borders recommended [in 1937] by the Peel Commission, and later within the borders of the [UN] Partition Plan of 1947, but they expanded the borders further and further, step by step.
In this context it is worth quoting Moshe Dayan (Ha’aretz, December 12, 1975):
“Fundamentally a Palestinian state is an antithesis of the State of Israel. … The basic and naked truth is that there is no fundamental difference between the relation of the Arabs of Nablus to Nablus and that of the Arabs of Jaffa to Jaffa… And if today we set out on this road and say that the Palestinians are entitled to their own state because they are natives of the same country and have the same rights, then it will not end with the West Bank. The West Bank together with the Gaza Strip do not amount to a state. … The establishment of such a Palestinian state would lay a cornerstone to something else. … Either the State of Israel — or a Palestinian state”.
5. Since the October 1973 war, Israel is no longer the exclusive ally of the United States in the region; but it is still the surest and closest ally. Now the United States has other allies, namely the regimes of the Arab countries, but the relations between the United States and the Arab countries are always fundamentally exploitative. Therefore, even if the regime of a given Arab country is ready to collaborate with the United States, there exist important social forces, historical forces, that threaten to change the policy of that country in an anti-imperialist direction. Besides, there is always the possibility of a conflict between the American senior partner and the junior partner, the local ruling class, over division of the spoils of the exploitation of the Arab workers. In conflicts of this kind the Americans have no real substitute for the Israeli watchdog.
Israel is not economically exploited by imperialism but is subsidized by it. So long as imperialism dominates the region and is capable of keeping Israel, the latter is its sure and vital ally. (This truth is adverted to in Joseph Alsop’s “open letter” to Amos Eran — which is in reality a letter from Kissinger to Rabin — whose Hebrew translation appeared in Ha’aretz on December 19, 1975. ]Joseph Alsop was close to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Amos Eran was from 1975 to 1977 senior political adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He took active part in negotiations with Kissinger on Israel’s interim agreements with Egypt and Syria following the 1973 war. Alsop’s “Open Letter to an Israeli Friend” was originally published in the New York Times Magazine on December 14, 1975.] Although the letter was written when US-Israel relations were very tense, and its main purpose was to warn the Rabin government that Israel cannot dictate detailed conditions to the US, just as the tail cannot wag the dog, it ends with the words: “[N]othing that I’ve said alters my belief, already noted, that Israel’s ruin may well bring our own ruin in its train”.) Therefore, even if the United States is prepared to apply pressure to Israel’s government and impose on it concessions here and there, this pressure cannot be expected to reach the point of forcing a concession over what is considered to be an existential interest of the Zionist State of Israel. Preventing the establishment of a sovereign “third state” [between Israel and Jordan] is one such “existential interest”.
D. Other Parties Stirring the Lebanese Cauldron
1. The United States is coordinating the offensive against the Lebanese left and the Palestinians, and dictates how far the Syrian intervention army is allowed to go.
2. The Soviet Union has lost almost all remnants of its influence in the region. It grasps at the Syrian straw, but its position is so weak that it has no means of applying pressure on Syria. Soviet arms continue to flow to Syria while the Syrian army is fighting against the Palestinian movement and the Lebanese left front, which includes the Lebanese Communist Party: in this war the arms supplied by the Soviet Union are deployed on the same side of the barricade as the arms supplied by the United States and Israel.
3. The Arab countries are exploiting the Syrian intervention to advance their own interests in the inter-Arab struggles. Libya and Iraq are trying to replace Syria in its former role as supposed defender of the Palestinians, but since their policies and regimes are not essentially different from those of Syria, it can be predicted with certainty that they too will turn out to be like the proverbial “staff of broken reed, whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it”. The other Arab countries do not even pretend to be defenders of the Palestinians. The true role of the inter-Arab force is to serve as cover for the Syrian intervention.
4. Israel is serving as a whip in the hands of the United States. By cracking this whip, the US draws the “red line”, the permitted limit of the Syrian intervention; this line varies according to current needs, and by this means the US is able to regulate the rate and scope of the Syrian intervention. Along with Syria, Israel participates in the naval blockade preventing shipment of arms to the Palestinians and the forces of the left.
Meanwhile Israel is preparing the ground for seizing the south of Lebanon up to the Litani River, in case suitable conditions arise (such as a terminal disintegration and division of Lebanon). The fairground show of the “good fence” [between Israel and Lebanon] is part of these preparations. [Israel in fact invaded Lebanon up to the Litani River for seven days in March 1978. It reinvaded Lebanon in 1982 and remained in occupation of the south up to the Litani River until 2000, when it was forced by local resistance to withdraw.]
E. Lessons Regarding the Palestinian Struggle
1. The Syrian intervention vindicates once again the assertion of the Israeli Socialist Organization (Matzpen) that liberation of the Palestinian people requires struggle not only against Zionism, or Zionism and imperialism, but also against the ruling classes in all the Arab states. Liberation of the Palestinian people can only be achieved as part of a socialist revolution in the entire region, led by the working classes.
2. Already in the  Palestinian National Covenant, the PLO asserted the principle of non-intervention in the internal struggles in the Arab countries. Ever since then, the Palestinian movement tried to abide by this principle — unsuccessfully, because events kept hitting it in the face and proving again and again that it is impossible to separate the Palestinian struggle and the class struggles in the Arab countries. In practice, the principle of non-intervention has meant that all sections of the Palestinian movement, without exception, allied themselves with one Arab regime or another and accepted its patronage.
3. In consequence of the alliance that existed between the PLO and Syria, Al-Sa’iqa — an organization always known to be an obedient instrument of the Syrian regime — was awarded a respectable position in the PLO and was thereby legitimized as though it were a genuine Palestinian organization. Wishing to keep its rotten alliance with Syria, the Palestinian leadership agreed to admit this Trojan horse into the movement. Only at a later stage, when Al-Sa’iqa resorted to armed struggle alongside Syria and against the Palestinian movement, did the PLO turn against it.
4. At first the leadership of the Palestinian movement tried to keep a position of non-intervention in the Lebanese civil war. Later it was compelled to get involved, which proved once again that the Palestinian struggle is inseparable from the internal struggles within the Arab world.
No ruling class can acquiesce for long in the presence of a serious focus of force (especially an armed force) that is not under its control. Hence the active presence of the Palestinian movement in Lebanon was itself one of the causes of the outbreak of the civil war. This fact had not been understood in time or sufficiently clearly by the Palestinian leadership.
5. When the Palestinian movement was sucked into the war, there were many cases in which Palestinian forces were drawn into behaving as an army of occupation toward the Christian masses, and to acts of revenge along sectarian lines.
6. All the weaknesses, errors, and faults listed above follow from a common source: the character of the Palestinian national movement as an all-class alliance, with petit-bourgeois leadership and ideology.
7. Militarily, the Palestinian movement has withstood the Syrian challenge more successfully than had been predicted, and with many manifestations of heroism. This however is but a short-term success. In our region — in which exploitation, poverty, and disease hold sway; in which the ruling classes impose on the masses ignorance, stupidity, and religious obscurantism; and in which class antagonisms are intensifying — no movement can have long-term success without positioning itself clearly on one side or another of the class barricade.
F. A New Era
1. Current events herald the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.
The era in which it has been possible to win the masses, if only in the short term, for a purely national struggle, not organically connected to the class struggle, is approaching its end. The coming era is that of explicitly class struggles.
2. This does not mean that from now on the Palestinian struggle must cease and wait for an upsurge of the forces of socialist revolution in the entire Arab East; rather, the Palestinian struggle must see itself in advance as an organic part of the social struggle in the region, against all its existing regimes.
G. Consequences for Our Activity
1. We, members of the Israeli Socialist Organization (Matzpen), propose to those Palestinian masses with whom we can have direct contact (that is, mainly those within the border of the State of Israel) a road that differs in essence both from that proposed by the PLO and that proposed by Rakah [the Israeli CP].
2. The road proposed by the PLO is external to the struggle taking place inside Israel. The actions of the PLO have no organic connection with the daily problems encountered by the Arab and Jewish workers in Israel.
3. Rakah’s situation is more complex. Regarding general political questions (resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Palestinian problem) Rakah mainly relies not on mass struggle but on the actions of a coalition of external forces, headed by the Soviet Union, that also includes what Rakah regards as the “progressive Arab regimes”.
As far as the daily problems of the Palestinian masses in Israel are concerned, Rakah does not have an “external” stance but is involved directly in the struggle and even leads it. It is not for nothing that Rakah has so far won a great deal of confidence on the part of the best among the Arab community in Israel. But growing parts of the politically conscious Palestinian community are gradually discovering (especially following Land Day [the bloody events of March 30, 1976]) the limitations of Rakah, which is fundamentally a reformist party. Rakah bases its program and activity on acceptance of the continued existence of the present regimes in the region — both the Arab regimes and the Zionist regime. Rakah therefore tries to restrain or prevent struggles and demands that may be seen as calling into question the continued existence of these regimes, including the Zionist regime.
4. Also, on general political questions as well, Rakah cannot arouse full confidence, because its supreme loyalty is given to the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. Past experience suggests that it is possible that the Soviet Union may change its policy line, due to internal reasons or its global interests — and Rakah’s leadership will then follow in its footsteps.
Rakah’s loyalty to the Soviet Union also explains the confusion in the position of this party regarding the Syrian invasion of Lebanon, for the Soviet Union regards itself as a friend both of the Syrian regime and of the PLO.
5. We, members of Matzpen, regard the daily struggle of the workers in Israel — as well as in the surrounding countries — as actively and necessarily connected to the general political problems. We envisage the resolution of the region’s general problems as resulting not from the action of a coalition of global diplomatic forces but from the struggle of the masses in the region. We stress the continuity between the daily struggle and revolutionary struggle. It is not accidental that a strike [on Land Day] against the expropriation of some thousands of dunams of land boiled over immediately into a confrontation that challenged the entire Zionist regime.
6. Although under present conditions the Palestinian masses struggling against their national oppression in Israel constitute the most active protagonist in the struggle for the overthrow of the Zionist regime, in its profound essence it is not a supra-class national struggle but a supranational class struggle.
7. We regard the struggle for democratic rights for all the citizens of Israel as an aspect of the general struggle for social liberation; and in the colonial reality of Israel it is necessarily connected with the struggle against Zionism.
8. A necessary condition for the success of any struggle against Israel’s regime — including the struggle for democratic rights — is that it is a joint Jewish-Arab struggle. It is therefore the duty of the Israeli Socialist Organization (Matzpen) to create frameworks in which this joint struggle can develop, on the basis of the joint historical interest of the workers of both peoples.