Pursuant to the Camp David Accords (September 17, 1978), Israel’s prime minister Menahem Begin and Egypt’s president Anwar Sadat concluded a peace treaty on March 26, 1979. This article was written in late March 1979, in immediate reaction to the signing of the treaty, and was published in issue 87 of Matzpen (August–September 1979). It addresses in particular the agreement to establish a Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (as “framework for peace in the Middle-East”), which had been part of the Camp David Accords, but which in the event was quietly shelved.
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One of the central and most consequential questions in assessing the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty is whether Israel’s policy has come out relatively better or worse off as a result of the agreement just signed. This question is hotly disputed among the Israeli public, and it seems that also in our organization (Matzpen) opinions about it are divided.
It is my impression that some comrades believe that Israeli policy has suffered a relative defeat. In fact, if we examine the text of the Camp David Accords (and of the other documents pursuant to them) it would appear that Israel has hardly made any important concession on the most consequential issue, the Palestinian issue. But if I have understood correctly the position of these comrades, they believe that what is significant is not the literal text. That text is supposedly only a sugaring of the bitter pill (bitter for Zionism). The accords speak of some fuzzy and limited autonomy, but in practice this autonomy will be but an initial stage of a process leading to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. If I have indeed understood correctly the assessment of these comrades, then I completely disagree with it.
But a totally opposite position is also possible: the agreement constitutes a crushing victory for Zionism, and (among other things) entombs the Palestinian people and its right to self-determination for the foreseeable future. The autonomy is in reality exactly what it looks like on paper — an alibi and cover not for the creation of a Palestinian state but for more or less rapid colonization and annexation to Israel of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
I must say that I tend more toward the latter assessment. It seems to me that in the recent agreements Zionist policy has scored a major success. Begin has achieved a peace treaty with Egypt without making any significant concession on the Palestinian issue (although on the Israeli-Egyptian issue, that of Sinai, he conceded more than what the Labor Alignment government had been ready to do); whereas Sadat has given up all his initial demands, virtually without exception.
True, in a certain sense the autonomy may in the end bring about the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state; however, that would not be because this autonomy is by its very nature and purpose a kind of germ of self-determination, but for a different, almost opposite reason. The attempt to impose the autonomy may lead to unprecedented intensification of the struggle in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. So long as the moves of the accord were in a preparatory stage, the Palestinian struggle (especially that of the population in the Occupied Territories) was partly paralyzed, because many people were waiting for the situation to become clearer. The more moderate, in other words, more conservative, elements were hoping that perhaps there would be the kind of settlement that would accommodate them. It has now transpired that there is no question even of the minimal rights of a genuine autonomy. In addition, Jordan too has been kept out of the loop of the accord, so the supporters of King Hussein have also been pushed into the camp of the resistance.
The recent meeting of Hussein and Arafat signifies not only the backsliding of the present Palestinian movement but also confirmation and recognition that in the present situation both the Palestinians and the Jordanian regime find themselves in the front of opposition to the accord. On the other hand, the signing of the accord removes one of the temporary brakes on the momentum of Israeli colonization in the Occupied Territories. It can be predicted with certainty that the camp represented in the government by Ariel Sharon will now launch an unprecedented colonization drive.
Now that the accord has been signed, there is no longer any real reason for Begin and Sharon to hold back; they can now show their cards and make it crystal clear that the “Autonomy” in question is in fact vacuous, and its real meaning is a worsening of the Palestinians’ situation. And as Dayan has hinted, even if the United States or Egypt doesn’t like it, there is little they can do about it. Sadat has already demonstrated that he is not very tenacious as far as Palestinian interests are concerned.
So in my opinion we can expect major intensification on both sides: intensification of the Palestinian struggle in the face of intensification of the pressure of colonization and Israeli oppression. Attempts to implement the fake autonomy will only exacerbate the situation and intensify the struggle. One reason for this is that the election of any representative bodies, even if they have no real authority whatsoever, would introduce an element of instability, and create foci of struggle (in this connection recall the effect of the election of pro-PLO mayors in consolidating the struggle in the West Bank, despite the fact that these mayors have no political power).
In my opinion the fake autonomy will be an important cause of instability, not because it is a sort of germ of Palestinian sovereignty, but precisely because it is not.
If this prognosis is correct, then we can expect a long period, lasting more than a few years, of intensifying struggle. And at the end of it a sovereign Palestinian state may perhaps be established in the Occupied Territories. But even if that will come about, it will not be a natural outgrowth of the autonomy germ but precisely the opposite: the outcome of an intensive struggle against the autonomy. Therefore our support for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination obliges us to take a most adamant position against the autonomy, and to condemn it as worse even than South Africa’s Bantustans.
Of course, this condemnation is mainly directed against Israel’s policy in the Occupied Territories. If among the leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip there will be persons who would agree to collaborate with the autonomy (whether out of corrupt personal motives, or as a tactical move aiming to extract every possible benefit out of the few rights offered to the Palestinians), then it is certainly not our business to attack them and denounce them as “traitors”. We can leave that to the Trotskyists, who like preaching to all and sundry how they ought to behave. Our struggle is mainly against Zionist policy, against the Israeli regime.
As I said, I think we should forcefully denounce the autonomy plan. In doing so, the slogan that we should counterpose to it is the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, including the right to establish its own sovereign state. This brings me to another matter, which has only an indirect connection to the accord. I am referring to the improvement in the attitude of the Communist Party (Rakakh) to our organization.
I hope that within our organization there is no support for an aloof sectarian stance, whereby we should reject the CP’s courting and continue in splendid isolation. Clearly, we must welcome these advances, and cooperate with the CP on all matters where such cooperation is possible. The CP is not the enemy but an ally on a whole range of topics. However, I think we must be very careful that our approval of the positive turn in the CP’s attitude toward us will not go to our heads and will not lead us to give up our principles. The CP has not managed to kill us with blows, and we have no reason to allow it to kill us (or to assist us to commit political suicide) with embraces.
One of the points on which we have always had a principled difference with the CP, and on which in my opinion we must not make any concession, is the attitude to the creation of a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories and the existence of the Zionist State of Israel.
For the CP, the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel (even in the latter’s present, Zionist form) would actually constitute a solution of the national problem and a realization of “the just national rights of both peoples”. We have always emphasized that we do not regard the creation of a Palestinian state as a solution, still less as an ideal. The creation of such a state is a right of the Palestinian people, and any attempt by Israel to prevent it doing so constitutes grievous national oppression. But we do not acquiesce in the existence of a Zionist state, and in our view the national problems of this region cannot be solved short of a revolution that will overthrow all its present regimes, including the Zionist regime. In my opinion we must not soften our position on these questions. Of course, these differences need not prevent useful collaboration between us and the CP on many important issues.
To sum up: as a direct and legitimate extension of our organization’s past position, all of whose main elements have in my opinion proved to be correct, I think that our position following the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement should focus on the following points:
- Continued opposition to the occupation, also in its new — and more grievous — form, dubbed “autonomy”.
- Support for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, including the right to establish its own sovereign state.
- Denying the right of the State of Israel to exist as a Zionist state.
- Rejection of the “stage theory” that envisages a “bourgeois-democratic” stage, in which the region’s national problems would be solved while the present regimes continue to exist, separate from the stage of the socialist revolution.
[This translation of the article was originally published in “Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution” by Moshé Machover, Haymarket Books, Chicago 2012]