While Tony Blair lends his smile to the job of envoy, the situation in the Middle East has become increasingly complicated with the divisions between Hamas and Fatah in Palestine. Fighting between them has paused since Hamas took control of Gaza and Fatah consolidated in the West Bank. Palestine is now divided politically as well as geographically.
Gaza remains blockaded by Israel, resulting in the closure of 75% of its factories. Cross border fighting continues, with rocket attacks on Israel and military responses from the latter. At the time of writing we are hearing that there has been another Israeli raid on Gaza. By contrast, the government of Mahmoud Abbas, which controls the West Bank, has been rewarded by Israel for replacing the Hamas prime minister. Palestinian duties collected by Israel have now been released, and this has allowed the payment of Palestinian Authority employees for the first time in 16 months. Hamas supporters are not included. Abbas and Fatah are being encouraged, subsidised – and armed – as the alternative to Hamas that the ‘west’ can rely on in Palestine. The prospects of a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict could hardly look more absurd when the Palestinian would-be state is so divided.
Hamas is hoping that the kudos it has gained from the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston will improve its position diplomatically. It has, after all shown that it has control of Gaza and is a force for ‘law and order’ against random kidnappers – as well as winning last year’s Palestinian election. Enemies of Hamas will point to many reasons why it should still be seen as a terrorist organisation. But yesterday’s terrorist is often today’s statesman and the real reason for unease about Hamas lies in the wider conflicts in the Middle East. Hamas is backed by Iran, and therefore by the ‘axis of evil’. Iran is, of course, run by a repressive theocracy and it is trying to develop nuclear weapons. But the US and Britain have backed many repressive regimes and in fact supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, when they used his regime to weaken Iran in a ten year war. Their real objection to Iran is that it is has the potential to rival Israel as the dominant regional power in the Middle East, and it is already causing problems for the USA and Britain in their occupation of Iraq through backing Shia gangs like the Mahdi Army of Al Sadr. The Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon last summer was aimed against another Iranian pawn, Hezbollah, and had the tacit support of the USA. The Blair government backed it by refusing to call for a ceasefire.
Iran has been increasing its influence very effectively through aid to Hezbollah and Hamas. However, the main stimulus to its rise came from the weakening of the USA. Although still the world’s only superpower, with massive military advantages over any other country, or even over any other group of countries, it has seen its position gradually weaken. Getting bogged down in Iraq has dramatically worsened this tendency. The US military is now too stretched to contemplate another war on the same scale. Not only that, by effectively knocking Iraq out of the equation it has freed Iran from a major rival and fed its ambitions to rival or even supplant Israel as the most important regional power. Hence the great enmity between them: Iran’s bloodcurdling threats against Israel, and the latter’s attacks on Iran’s pawns in Lebanon and Gaza. So the invasion of Iraq has not only created appalling chaos there, but is greatly intensifying imperialist tensions throughout the region: not only in Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon, but also in Afghanistan where it has stimulated Taliban activity, in Pakistan where the army is involved in more and more clashes with Islamists and in Turkey which is threatening to make a major incursion into Northern Iraq to crush the Kurdish separatists (see ICC Online, ‘Problems of Decadent Capitalism in Turkey’).
Caught in the middle of these imperialist conflicts the populations of the Middle East, in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan, can only expect a worsening of their situation, more raids, more bombs of the aerial or suicide variety. Neither the ‘Road Map’ nor the newly appointed ‘Middle East envoy’ offers any alternative. The only hope lies in the development of the struggle of the working class internationally. This is the only way workers in the ‘west’ can show their solidarity, by defending their own interests against the demands of the national interest. Class struggle is also developing in the Middle East in spite of permanent war and the incessant demands for national unity (see ‘Egypt: germs of the mass strike ’ in WR 304, ‘Middle East: despite war, class struggle continues ’ in WR 302 and ‘Israel/Palestine the proletarian alternative ’ in WR 300, and ICC Online).