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talking politics

Time to dump the Oslo Accords

I

n a recent TV appearance, Yossi Beilin voiced his hope that the Palestinians will carry out their threat to annul the Oslo Accords, which he helped design. Annulment would spell the end of the Palestinian Authority (PA), throwing direct responsibility for the residents of the Occupied Territories upon the shoulders of Israel.

The Palestinian threat to annul the Accords results from lack of progress toward peace and, in particular, from a financial crisis which has spurred angry demonstrations against the PA in the Palestinian cities. In sympathizing with this threat, Beilin finds himself in the same camp with leftwing activists who denounced the Accords twenty years ago, immediately after they were signed, claiming that they would not bring an end to the Occupation.

It is ironic that at the time of the signing, PM Yitzhak Rabin and the rest of the Labor Party, including Beilin, did not enjoy a majority in the Knesset. Having formed a government with the left-liberal Meretz as their only partner, Rabin had to rely on support from the Arab Knesset members, whom they did not dare admit into the coalition. He paid for this reliance with his life. Labor then lost to Netanyahu, who opposed Oslo and made every effort to prevent its implementation. Today, however, these positions are reversed. Beilin (who has since left Labor) is calling for Oslo's annulment because, he says, the Accords perpetuate the Occupation, drawing Israel towards becoming a bi-national state. Netanyahu, for his part, holds tight to the Accords; he insists on maintaining the PA as a cover for continuing Israeli settlement and de facto control of the Occupied Territories.

Beilin’s call for annulment appears logical today, as do similar calls from the PA itself. Yet twenty years ago, this call sounded extreme and politically illogical. It was a foregone conclusion that Oslo meant peace. A bloc including most of the Israeli Left, the Arab parties and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) prevented any serious debate over this assumption. There was, however, a small group of activists—including the writer—who asserted, “Oslo offers nothing but formal peace as camouflage for the continued Israeli control of Palestinian territories.” We later formed the Organization for Democratic Action (ODA-Da’am), today known as the Da'am Workers Party (DWP). The above assertion appears in a document that formed the basis of our party's agenda: “The Palestinian Question and the Socialist Alternative” (February 2000; available in Hebrew and Arabic; for excerpts in English, see here and here). Looking back on this paper today, we find it extremely relevant in the light of the Arab Spring and the first signs of a Palestinian Spring.

The document deals with the main issues that concerned us during that dark period. The doors of hope and revolution seemed to have slammed in our faces. The USSR had crumbled. The Oslo Accords brought an end to a chapter in the Palestinian struggle for independence; they were the last nail in the coffin of the first Intifada, which had placed the Occupation on Israel's political agenda. But the Accords were also an expression of a radical change affecting the entire globe, which raised difficult questions for workers’ movements, unions, and leftwing parties around the world.

The Accords reflected the PLO leaders’ belief that after the fall of the USSR, the US was the only remaining superpower. They had no choice, they reasoned, but to face reality and accept the little that was being offered – and this is exactly what the Palestinians received with Oslo. For us, though, many critical questions remained. The first was whether the victory of capitalism meant that socialism was an unachievable utopia. If it did not mean this, where would the next socialist revolution erupt? Would the nationalist program that lay behind the revolutions of China, Vietnam, Cuba, Algeria, Nicaragua and of course the Palestinian struggle for national liberation still be relevant in an era in which capitalism ruled supreme? Had Marx erred in writing that the socialist revolution would break out in the established industrialized strongholds of capitalism?

Coping with these issues was not easy; it required a search for the internal contradictions which, according to Marx, would lead to the collapse of capitalism. It seemed that globalization and neo-liberalism ruled incontestably, and capitalism was spreading over the world on the wings of the information and communication revolution. This revolution united the global market and enabled capital to grow to an unprecedented extent.

The more we studied the situation, however, the more convinced we became that capitalism would collapse. Today, after the financial crisis of 2008 and the smaller crises that preceded it, our analysis from the year 2000 seems justified.

Our most daring dialectic assertion appeared under the subheading “The collapse of the USSR will accelerate the collapse of the capitalist regime.” It was generally supposed that the Soviet collapse had demonstrated the strength of capitalism. Yet what we see taking place in the US today, following the neoliberal application of free-market doctrines and the dismantling of the welfare state, grants validity to Marx’s doctrines. In contrast to movements that emphasized “nationalist Marxism,” we championed the classic version, which foresaw that the crisis of capitalism would appear in the large industrial centers. Therefore the US became our focus. We declared that the fate of America would decide the fate of the world and, with it, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Oslo is the solution that fits the current global situation, and so the annulment of Oslo depends on changes that will take place around the world,” we asserted in the document.

And so it is. The world is changing, as we see in the Arab Spring. In the same document of 12 years ago, under the subhead, “The Occupation must be confronted by confronting the PA,” the following words appear: “The creation of a political alternative to the PA must be based on the masses who have been directly harmed by the Oslo Accords.… Achieving this aim depends on the development of revolutionary alternatives in the Arab world. The Palestinian working class, exhausted by the long struggle against the Occupation, has lost its position as pioneer in the revolutionary struggle of the Arab world. The growth of a mass movement against the Arab regimes will influence the Palestinians living under occupation… A change of this nature is crucial because the PA, which relies on the capitalist system, is using the miserable condition of the Arab peoples to persuade the Palestinian workers that change is impossible.”

Twenty years ago, it was thought that the Arab nations would never change, that capitalism was gaining strength all the time, and that the entire world would enjoy the pleasures of the “global village.” But time has shown that those who gave up on revolution have led the Palestinian people to the brink of disaster, have shored up the Israeli settlement project, and have buried any chance of reaching peace.

“How long the path will be does not depend on our efforts alone, but on processes in the developed world, such as unemployment and cuts to welfare budgets. It also depends on processes in the Arab world, especially the growth of a movement against the corrupt, despotic regimes.” This understanding granted us the forbearance that is necessary for the long road.

Today we can say that we are entering a new, revolutionary era. The events unfolding in the streets of Madrid, Athens and New York, and the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and the Yemen, together with the heroic struggle of the Syrian people against that cruel regime, all herald the coming of the Palestinian Spring – and thus the Occupation will return to the center of the public agenda in Israel. The capitalist regime has been exposed in all its ugliness, leading to movements calling for change to a system that benefits only 1%. In light of all these developments, there is no place for further prophesy; now is the time to act – to work and struggle for social change, because the revolution has arrived. "end"

– Translated from the Hebrew by Yonatan Preminger

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