What is road forward in the Middle East?

By Seth Galinsky
July 31, 2023

The spread of terrorist attacks against Jews in Israel and the West Bank by supporters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad — backed by the bourgeois-clerical regime in Iran — along with thuggish actions by rightists among Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank, have increased the obstacles to working-class solidarity in the region.

It’s the absence of a leadership that points a road forward that has led to the spiraling violence. That road starts with the need for Palestinian organizations and Arab governments to recognize the existence of Israel as a refuge for Jews — especially in the face of a rise in anti-Semitism in today’s world — and for the Israeli government to recognize an independent Palestinian state.

Prominent Sunni cleric Maulana Abdul-Hamid, a central leader of the fight for democratic rights in Iran and for equal rights for oppressed nationalities there, has repeatedly called for negotiations. “The government of Israel and the Palestinian people should make peace,” Abdul-Hamid told a large crowd in Zahedan in Iran’s Baluchistan region Jan. 27.

There are no prominent voices in Israel and the Palestinian territories that are speaking out along the same lines today.

On July 2-3, the Israel Defense Forces raided Islamic Jihad and Hamas centers in Jenin, with drones, missiles and as many as 1,000 soldiers — its largest operation in the West Bank in 20 years. This comes on top of a previous raid June 19.

As of July 15 at least 30 Jewish Israelis — almost all unarmed civilians — have been killed in terror attacks since the start of the year, close to the total number for all of 2022. The overwhelming majority of the 147 Palestinians killed this year were members of armed groups or involved in terror attacks. But some were civilian bystanders or killed in clashes with Israeli settlers.

Dead-end course of Islamists

Al Jazeera interviewed a member of one of the armed Palestinian groups in Jenin. He said negotiations are a waste of time and that there is no political solution. “We do not know where we are going,” he told Al Jazeera. “We are just waiting for death.”

That view is an accurate reflection of the reactionary perspective of Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Tehran, which put forward nothing except the desire to destroy Israel “from the river to the sea” and expel its Jewish inhabitants. Most Palestinians don’t share that view. It’s Palestinian workers and farmers in Jenin and Palestinians and Israelis throughout the region who pay for the unending cycles of violence.

The Israeli government knows that its military operations against Islamic Jihad and Hamas offer no long-term solution.

The West Bank, occupied by Israeli forces since 1967, has been gerrymandered by the Israeli rulers into a patchwork of three areas: Area “A,” under control of the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority; Area “B,” under Palestinian civil control and Israeli police authority; and Area “C,” under direct Israeli control.

For a number of generations, Israelis have lived in the West Bank. Today there are some 500,000 Israelis living in roughly 150 settlements, up from 350,000 in 2014. About 5 million Palestinians live there.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he would support a Palestinian state. But the actual course of his government, including lifting some obstacles to expanding the settlements, go in the opposite direction. Rightists in his coalition want an even bigger expansion of the settlements.

Using the Islamist terrorist attacks as a pretext, some rightists among the settlers have burned crops and vandalized Palestinian homes and farms in the West Bank, while the Israel Defense Forces and police look the other way.

Recognize Israel, Palestinian state

Backers of reactionary groups like Islamic Jihad and Hamas, rightist forces in Israel, and the middle-class left in the U.S. all say the “two-state solution” is dead. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he favors it, but also says he won’t seek talks with the Israeli government to try to advance toward it.

In fact the latest terrorist attacks by Islamists and thuggery by rightists among the settlers show once again that recognition of Israel and negotiations to reach agreement on a contiguous, sovereign Palestinian state is the only way forward.

In 2020 the White House under then-President Donald Trump brokered the “Abraham Accords” in which the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kosovo, Morocco and Sudan ended their decadeslong boycott of Israel and established diplomatic and trade relations. But President Joseph Biden has shown little interest in expanding the accords and the process has stalled. Since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, conflicts have sharpened among rival capitalist powers intervening in countries across the Middle East. Each is jockeying for position and seeking new alliances.

Amid these conflicts, working people in the region will continue to seek a road forward. Some 20% of the population of Israel are Arab citizens. They work side by side, are members of the same unions, strike together and join the same picket lines.

Even in the West Bank, many Jews and Palestinians are getting to know each other. “They want to portray us as fascist anti-Arab right-wingers,” Rabbi Leo Dee, whose wife and two daughters were murdered in a terrorist attack April 7, told the press. “The truth of the matter is that we live very closely with our Arab neighbors and get along with them.”

A leadership worthy of the Palestinian people would advance their fight for national rights by winning allies among working people of all religions and nationalities in Israel and the region. It would tell inhabitants of Israeli settlements you are welcome to stay in the West Bank when it becomes an independent Palestinian state, with equal rights — the same rights that Arab citizens demand inside Israel. A leadership that took a similar stance inside Israel would reach out to Palestinian workers and farmers.

That would open the door to further joint struggles by working people — be they Palestinian, Jewish, Arab, Kurdish, Turkish, Persian, whatever their religious beliefs — against the capitalist governments and ruling classes that exploit and oppress them.