(An interview with Saleh Jabir)

By: Farooq Sulehria

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The fundamentalists have objectively played into the hands of Ariel Sharon. The strategy of suicide bombing was politically short-sighted, asserts Salah Jaber, a long-time Marxist militant from Lebanon and member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. He pleads for the strategy of the First Intifada of the Palestinian resistance movement in an interview with Mazdoor Jeddojuhd, fortnightly organ of the Labor Party Pakistan. Excerpts:

MJ: From Israeli aggression to suicide bombing-----why, of late, the situation has flared up in Palestine?

SJ: The basic reason for everything happening now is the dead-end reached in 2000 at Camp David between Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat. The then US president, Bill Clinton, sponsored the talks. The present situation arose out of the provocative visit to the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem in September 2000 by Ariel Sharon. It was the spark which lit up this Second Intifada. The Second Intifada resorted to violence from the beginning against Zionist violence. Arms and suicide attacks were intensively used which created condition for the election of Sharon in February 2001. Sharon is one of the most extremist members of the Zionist establishment in Israel. He is extremist even among the right-wing Likud party leadership. He has always stated in the past that the Palestinians have already their state in Jordan and that the West Bank should remain under Israeli rule. He is implementing his agenda. This was made easier by September 11. The political climate created by President Bush by launching his 'war against
terrorism' provided Sharon with an opportunity to escalate his drive against the Palestinians.
He is deliberately keeping the situation from cooling down through provocation, assassinations and invasions into Palestinian territories. He wanted the temperature running high till he got the legitimacy to re-occupy the Palestinian territories. Secondly, his policy is to compel the Palestinians to leave their homeland.

MJ: Bill Clinton recently visited Sweden and claimed that the present situation is the consequence of Yassir Arafat's refusal to accept his deal offered at Camp David?
SJ: Yassir Arafat could not accept Bill Clinton's offer. Not because he is some radical person. He never was a radical. He refused because it meant total capitulation and loss of popularity. Yassir Arafat would have become a traitor in the eyes of the Palestinians and it could cost him his life. The deal offered at Camp David was costing Palestinians 15 per cent of the West Bank and their water resources. Following Camp David's failure, the US and Israel concluded that Arafat must be pressurized by unleashing terror on the Palestinian masses. Sharon was the best candidate for such a terror drive. That's why the so-called Labor Party gave way to Ariel Sharon, and joined him in the governing coalition. Now Sharon is implementing his plan. He is preventing all the attempts for the resumption of talks. He is destroying the infrastructure of Arafat's administration. He is not ready to accept anything short of the whole West Bank. He is so extremist that he is not willing to deal even with a compromising person like Arafat.

MJ: Do you think that suicide-bombing campaign is supported or sponsored by the PLO?
SJ: The PLO is not a homogeneous organization. It consists of many groups including Arafat's Al-Fatah. Even Al-Fatah has many currents. First of all, Arafat was not in a position to prevent such acts. Since the beginning of the Second Intifada that is from September 2000, many acts of suicide bombing have been carried out at individual level beyond the control of any organization. It has become a way of resistance struggle. These are desperate acts committed as a reaction to the unbearable situation created by the Israeli repression. Through such acts of despair, Palestinians are taking revenge for Israeli atrocities. One cannot believe how many people are ready to go for suicide bombing.

MJ: Do you think that the method of suicide bombing and violence will lead to something?
SJ: Resorting to suicide bombing was politically short-sighted. The Islamic fundamentalists have objectively played in the hands of Ariel Sharon. They could not understand that they were blindly reacting to provocations. Similarly it seems that Arafat thought that through such attacks he could get some concessions or could bring Israel to sign some new agreement. But this is nothing but political short sightedness.
There is no way for the Palestinians but mass mobilization. The present Intifada has become a military confrontation. First of all, any attacks against civilians are reprehensible from a humanistic point of view. We cannot accept a strategy of killing civilians and children indiscriminately. But aside from the humanistic point of view, this strategy is proving counter-productive. It is pushing the Israeli population more and more to the right. The Intifada cannot win support of the Israeli masses through suicide bombing. During the Vietnam War, the resistance forces won the war not only through fighting but also by mobilizing world opinion especially in the USA. But you cannot win the public opinion in the West trough this strategy of suicide-bombings and the public opinion in the imperialist world is very vital. As a consequence of this policy, Israel instead of pulling back is rather re-occupying. Israel will stay more and more as a result of this strategy.
This is not only a failure of the fundamentalists. This is also the failure of Arafat who allowed the use of arms from the start. You don't use arms when your ennemy is much more powerful militarily. What is clever is to struggle on the terrain that suits you best. The First Intifada was resorting only to stones. It achieved far greater success compared to the present one. Now, in the eyes of the wolrd public opinion, what is happening is some kind of 'war' between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel is not seen anymore as just an oppressor, but as a country reacting to suicide attacks. But the Palestinians are now realizing the futility of this method.

MJ: Is there any substantial evidence of this assumption?
SJ: Well, earlier on, the reaction to suicide bombing used to be joyful. This is not the case anymore. A concrete sign: recently several dozens intellectuals from the West Bank wrote an open letter condemning suicide bombing. They would not have dared write it if the trend of suicide bombing was still popular.

MJ: What means of struggle do you suggest for the Palestinian resistance movement?
SJ: Unarmed mass mobilisation. The strategy of the first Intifada. I am not talking here of Gandhian or Christian non-violence. The first Intifada was resorting to stones. It was not really non-violent in the Gandhian way. You have to analyze the whole situation. You have to weigh the balance of forces. The balance of forces suggests that the Palestinians should not resort to arms and bombs. No arms but mass struggle. Clashes without arms.

MJ: The bourgeois media has been commenting recently that following the siege of Arafat's headquarters, his popularity has dramatically gone up. What is your opinion?
SJ: Arafat's popularity has sharply gone up and down recently. He was unpopular before the siege of his headquarters. Then the siege in April has led to increased popularity. But as soon as it was over, Arafat's capitulation on the conditions to end the siege jeopardized the upsurge in his popularity. His popularity was sharply declining until US president Bush declared that the Palestinians should elect someone else as their president. Bush's statement made Arafat popular again. Thus his popularity is going through quick ups and downs, like a zigzag. Some Palestinians are even saying that it was an attempt by Bush to make Arafat popular and that Bush knew that his kind of statement would go in Arafat's favor. I don't want to involve myself in such a guess game. The fact is that Bush is actually repeating what Ariel Sharon himself wants him to say. But Sharon's aim is to prevent any kind of deal, knowing that Arafat is the best possible person for agreeing to any kind of US plan.

MJ: What about the left forces in Palestine?
SJ; The left has been in shambles for many years. They lost a historical opportunity during the First Intifada. Then, in 1988, the left was leading the Intifada in Gaza and the West Bank. But they jeopardized this opportunity by handing the leadership over to the PLO in the name of national unity. The Palestinian left is not a Marxist but a nationalist left. It never had the perspective to replace the bourgeois leadership with self-organization of the toiling masses. By standing behind Arafat in the name of national unity, they let the fundamentalists become the only alternative to Arafat.
Presently the left is very marginal. It is mainly represented by the Popular and Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP and DFLP) and the People's Party (Communist Party).

MJ: Are the Muslim fundamentalist forces widely popular?
SJ: The fundamentalists have increased their popularity during the 90s. The PLO used the strength of the First Intifada in order to negotiate with the USA. The priority for the PLO was to bring the US to negotiations. The PLO accepted Israel's right to exist, and Arafat went even to the point of stating that the PLO agreed to 'renounce' terrorism---obeying the condition put by the US which meant that what the PLO had been doing before was 'terrorism'. This disgusted the Palestinian masses. The fundamentalists started growing as an alternative. On the face of it, they have a radical program in terms of anti-Zionim which they confuse with anti-Judaism. The left was not there to offer an alternative.

MJ: What will this crisis lead to, in your opinion?
SJ: We have come to a dead end. Arafat's strategy of relying on the USA has proved totally bankrupt. On the other hand, the fundamentalists' strategy is no less bankrupt. Time is ripe for the emergence of a new trend in the mass struggle. A new political leadership should emerge. Though we are far from it yet the situation is ripe for that.


LPP (For a democratic socialist Pakistan)

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