Thursday, June 3, 2010

A turning point in the Middle East

PSL Editorial

The Freedom Flotilla massacre has made it absolutely clear that the status quo in the Middle East is unsustainable. While the details of the diplomatic fallout are still somewhat unclear, and (Israel’s) propaganda machine is hard at work trying to control the damage, things cannot continue on as they were. The date May 31, 2010—when nine brave activists lost their lives while trying to deliver aid to blockaded Gaza—might become a key turning point in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

On the face of it, it appears that little has changed. As in the past, the White House is providing diplomatic and political cover for (Israeli) war crimes. The entire United Nations Security Council, which currently includes Turkey and Lebanon as members, would have openly condemned (Israel) were it not for the U.S. representative’s stubborn opposition. It looks like the murderous assault on the Freedom Flotilla, like the genocidal siege on Gaza in 2008-2009, will go unpunished.

But behind the surface, Israel faces some very real problems. Their brazen massacre could not have come at a worse time for their international standing. While neither the (Israeli) or U.S. governments will admit it, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was undoubtedly told that he was not welcome in Washington on the day of the flotilla massacre. Considering the U.S. government’s strategic aims in the Middle East—its ongoing occupation of Iraq, its tenuous relationship with Turkey, its support for dictators in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and pro-U.S. forces in Lebanon—it would be too much of a political liability for Obama to be seen shaking the hand, still wet with blood, of the (Israeli) leader.

The massacre has further polarized politics within Turkey, (Israel’s) long-time ally in the region, between a military leadership historically aligned with (Israel) and a population that identifies strongly with the Palestinian struggle. Egypt has opened up the Rafah Crossing (at least temporarily), eliminating a major pillar of the Gaza blockade. Britain and other leading European imperialist powers have reversed course and called the blockade “unsustainable.”

These should be seen as part of a larger process that has unfolded since Israel unsuccessfully invaded Lebanon in 2006. The (Israeli) war machine could not defeat Hezbollah, thus shattering the myth of Israeli military invincibility. Two years later, Israel launched another assault on the densely populated and economically strangled Gaza Strip.

But despite the horrific human loss that (Israel) inflicted on the Palestinian people, it too was a political setback. People throughout the world condemned the barbaric attack. In the last few years, the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) campaign has picked up, as has the international campaign to defeat the Gaza blockade. As a result, (Israel) is undoubtedly more isolated than in any other period.

Internally, the Palestinian people have continued their resistance and steadfast determination to reclaim their homeland. In demographic terms, the Palestinian population continues to outpace that of the (Israelis); it has become increasingly difficult to preserve even the fiction of “democracy” in the Jewish-only apartheid state of (Israel). Palestinian parties were banned from running in the last (Israeli) elections and there is open discussion of stripping Palestinians of citizenship rights.

In this context, (Israeli) politics have shifted sharply to the right. Not only was the right-wing Netanyahu elected, continuing settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but also far-right, fascistic political forces have received top-level positions in government.

The final point to make about the Flotilla Massacre is the one that the corporate media will never make: It is the people’s struggle that changed the situation. There have been years of fruitless diplomatic negotiations and conferences over the Palestinian-(Israeli) conflict. But it was the 700 people on those ships, the millions of Palestinians who have refused to give in over decades and the growing international movement that stands behind them, who will change history.

The nine martyrs who lost their lives on May 31 did not die in vain! They join a long list of heroes whose names will be enshrined and celebrated when Palestine is finally free.

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