The Third Round

5 July 1967

in Documents, The Other Israel

Statement by the Israeli Socialist Organization that originally appeared in Matzpen, No.36, June-July 1967.

 

The June 1967 events in the Middle East constituted a “third round” of the Israeli-Arab war, a further stage in the struggle between Zionist colonization in Palestine and the Arab national movement. At the same time, the June 1967 war was part of a larger, international picture whose significance goes far beyond the Middle East.

We shall therefore begin by reviewing the global aspect of the war, and then we shall go on to discuss its local aspect.

The fifties was a period of victories for socialism, for the world forces of progress and for the anti-colonialist revolution. In China, the revolution became well established; in Indo-China, the socialist forces defeated French colonialism; in Cuba, a socialist revolution took place.

Anti-imperialist forces came to power in many countries in Asia and Africa, and the direct presence of the colonial powers was considerably reduced in these continents. The forces of imperialism were retreating.

This general state of affairs was reflected also in the Middle East and was clearly exhibited by the outcome of the Suez war of 1956. After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, Britain and France intervened by force of arms in order to recover the colonial positions they had lost in the Middle East. The government of Israel, proving once again that Zionism is a natural ally of imperialism against Arabs, furnished the two Western powers with the pretext for intervention. At the same time the government of Israel tried to create by force new facts in the Middle East, in favor of Zionism and at the expense of the Arabs.

Despite Israel’s considerable military successes, the tripartite adventure ended in failure.

In the sixties a very considerable change took place in the international arena. The Western powers fortified their neo-colonialist positions in the Third World; American imperialism became a “world gendarme”; in many countries reactionary coups d’etat took place – inspired, instigated and financed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency – which succeeded in overthrowing anti-imperialist governments.

Let us mention the following milestones of that global American offensive:

  • The American intervention in the Congo;
  • The Cuban missile crisis, in which the USSR backed down in the face of American nuclear blackmail, while the United States imposed a de facto recognition of its “right” to conduct itself as an exclusive ruler of the waves: to blockade the seas, to search vessels;
  • The American intervention – unprecedented in scope and form – in the civil war in South Vietnam;
  • The brutal war waged by the United States against the Peoples’ Republic of Vietnam, which stands alone in the battle.

This is not the place for a detailed analysis of the factors which aid this general offensive of imperialism; but in this connection we should note the unfortunate role played by the USSR and the Communist parties which follow its line. The mistaken slogan of “peaceful transition to socialism” (which means, in effect, withdrawal from the road of revolutionary socialism), the defeatist interpretation given to the slogan of peaceful coexistence, the desire to reach an agreement with imperialism at all costs, the suspension of nuclear and industrial aid to China in 1960 – all these have strengthened the hand of the United States and enabled her to lord it over the international arena.

In the beginning of 1966, the left wing of the Ba’ath Party staged a coup d’etat in Syria. Power was taken by petit-bourgeois elements with a leftist inclination and a decidedly anti-imperialist tendency. This regime – despite its weaknesses and internal contradictions – had wide popular support.

As a part of its global offensive, American imperialism tried to bring about the overthrow of the regime in Syria. Incessant attempts were made to subvert it from without (especially from Jordan) and from within (the abortive coup d’etat of Hatoum in the fall of 1966), but these attempts did not succeed.

At the same time the tension between Israel and Syria became very high in connection with actions by saboteurs coming from Syrian territory as well as in connection with the dispute over the rights to cultivate lands in the demilitarized areas. It can be assumed that the particularly close ties which were forged during recent years between the United States and Israel (Israel, side by side with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, became an overt bastion of American policy in the Middle East), and the knowledge that the United States is interested in the overthrow of the Syrian regime, encouraged the Israeli Government to take an intransigent and threatening stand against Syria.

After the Israeli-Syrian talks on the cultivation of the disputed plots had failed (largely because of Israel’s intransigence), Israel took unilateral action and began to cultivate the disputed plots. The tension on the border readied a climax. On April 7, Israel took a military step whose scale went far beyond the previous clashes and caused a considerable escalation of the conflict: Israeli planes penetrated into Syria, bombed the Syrian Heights and reached the outskirts of Damascus; air battles were fought in the skies of Syria. It was clear that this action was not capable of putting an end to the terrorist activities of the saboteurs that had been encouraged by certain circles in the Syrian Government On the other hand, it was also clear that Israel’s next step could only be a large-scale military action.

On May 10, Ha’aretz quoted “military circles” as saying that “it seems that in the future a frontal clash with Syria cannot be avoided, unless the Syrians first withdraw from their position on sending saboteurs into Israel.” On the following day, Prime Minister – and at that time also Minister of Defense – Levi Eshkol declared that “in view of fourteen incidents during the last month, we may be compelled to take steps which will not be less serious than on the seventh of April.” Similar threats were made by responsible Israeli spokesmen until the middle of May. (It should be noted that during the June war Israel attacked Syria after the Egyptian Army had broken up and after Syria had agreed to a cease-fire.)

The Israeli Government assumed that Syria would remain isolated (as it had been on April 7) and that Egypt would not come to its- aid because the Egyptian Army was tied down in Yemen. This assumption was stated explicitly by Eshkol in his interview with the army weekly Bamahaneh (see also Ha’aretz of May 10). It should be pointed out that at that time the Jordanian authorities showed clear signs of glee at the Syrians’ difficulties.

On May 15, Egypt took an unexpected step: In a demonstrative manner she moved troops into Sinai. The Egyptian authorities demanded the withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force from its positions near Egypt’s border with Israel. But for reasons that remain obscure to this day, the UN Secretary General hastened to challenge the Egyptians to demand a total withdrawal of the Emergency Force from Egyptian territory.

At that stage Nasser’s step was interpreted as a mere demonstration. The military correspondent of Ha’aretz, for example, asserted on May 17 that the movement of Egypt’s troops was meant “primarily to exert pressure and not for real action … The aim is to prove to the Arab world that Egypt will come to Syria’s aid.”

On May 22, Ha’aretz reported that Jordan was conducting a campaign of incitement against Nasser, challenging him to block the Tiran Straits.

And in fact on that same day Nasser did declare the Straits blocked. With these actions Nasser transferred the point of main tension from the Syrian to the Egyptian sector.

There is reason to suppose that at that stage Nasser still believed that the conflict would not avalanche into a major military confrontation, but would remain on the political level where it would bring him some political gain (mainly the erasure of the last vestige of the gains made by Israel in the 1956 Suez war). There is also reason to suppose that the USSR – putting her trust in the tacit agreement existing between her and the United States in the international arena-encouraged the Egyptians in their belief that the United States would not allow Israel to start a war.

In reality, such considerations have proved gravely mistaken. Nasser put himself into a deadly trap.

It is clear that the United States was interested in weakening Nasser, because of his prestige in the Third World and particularly because of the situation in the southern Arabian peninsula. It must also be pointed out that the Americans – unlike their Soviet rivals – do not stick so rigidly to the rules of the coexistence game. They are not frightened by every military conflict and do not subscribe to the mistaken views that every such conflict leads straight into nuclear conflict.

Moreover, although Israel depends in every way upon American support, she is no passive partner who merely executes orders. For to Israel’s rulers, serving the United States is not an end in itself but a means for advancing the aims and aspirations of Zionism. More than once it was Zionism which pushed or tried to push imperialism into taking this or that step.

Nasser also gravely misjudged the true relation of military forces between Egypt and Israel. He did not suppose that in case of a military confrontation Egypt would suffer a swift and crushing defeat. (Later on we shall dwell upon some of the deep causes of that defeat.)

Following the steps taken by Nasser, the most extreme pro-war elements in Israel were strengthened. Begin and Dayan were co-opted into the Cabinet – the latter in the key position of Minister of Defense. It should be stressed that Moshe Dayan had lately also become an outstanding representative of the pro-American line in Israel; this fact became especially clear when he visited Vietnam as the guest of the Americans, who also paid -for his trip.

The close ties between Israel and the United States were undoubtedly among the main causes that led to the open branch between the Israeli Government and the president of France.

From all that has been said here, it follows that the consequences of the June 1967 war, regarded from the point of view of their global significance, join the list of successes of the general offensive waged by American imperialism in the international arena.

Besides the international aspects of the conflict, one should also consider the local aspects, which played an important role in the course of events.

This was no abstract confrontation, in a vacuum, between imperialism and anti-imperialist forces. In reality the conflict assumed a typically national form and appeared as a further stage in the historical conflict between Zionism and the Arab national movement.

These local and national aspects complicated and obscured the general picture.

The first factor that should be mentioned – and which to a large extent determined the outcome of the campaign – is the nature of Egypt’s regime. The Egyptian revolution, though it had been a progressive phenomenon in its time, halted in mid-course and did not assume a socialist character. The group of officers ruling Egypt did carry out various important economic and social reforms, but the regime nevertheless remained petit bourgeois; it failed to organize the masses and to involve them in political life. Even the attempts to set up a mass party (the Socialist Union) as a groundwork for the regime were no more than bureaucratic abortive experiments and ended in utter failure. The mainstay of Egypt’s regime is the Army, together with a new bureaucratic stratum which took root after the coup d’etat. The old ruling classes were not shattered but remained in the Army and state apparatus. The enormous gap between the privileged classes and the masses remained. This, in turn, is an important factor which strengthened the right wing of the ruling elite.

This explains the swift collapse of the Egyptian Army during the campaign. It should be noted that the pilots and a large proportion of the officers belong to social strata that are fundamentally opposed to revolution. The social contradictions that caused the decay of the Army during the ancien regimeremain to this very day.

The fact that the Egyptian revolution halted in mid-course and did not carry out sufficiently profound social transformations was reflected by Nasser’s political moves on the eve of the war. Nasser himself had repeatedly stressed for several years that the immediate task of the Arabs was not a military confrontation with Israel. First they had to carry out internal transformation within the Arab world, to liquidate the reactionary monarchist-feudal regimes that prevailed in several Arab countries, to create unity based on progress. He had rightly denounced Hussein as a lackey of imperialism, an enemy of the Arab nation and an oppressor of the Falestinian Arabs.

But when the test came, Nasser was driven – because of the Egyptian regime’s social weaknesses – to use nationalistic slogans of the worst kind. Instead of an alliance of anti-imperialist forces, he made an unholy alliance with King Hussein. (In so doing he even overruled the objection of the Syrian Government.) Up to that moment Hussein had been denounced as “enemy number one” – but when his throne seemed to be collapsing he was given the “kiss of life” by Nasser, who granted him indulgence in the name of Arab national unity. As his “best man” for this alliance Nasser chose Ahmed Shukairi, the reactionary Palestinian leader who had once been Saudi Arabia’s delegate to the UN.

This turn of events was reflected particularly strongly in the vicious propaganda campaign conducted from Cairo, mainly by Shukairi’s broadcasting station. The anti-imperialist talks and the calls to defend Syria against aggression were submerged in a murky stream of threats to exterminate Israel and her inhabitants.

As we had foreseen, this propaganda boomeranged on its authors, as it strengthened the extremist circles in Israel and drove a considerable section of world public opinion to a position hostile to Egypt and friendly to Zionism.

Israel appeared not as an aggressor and servant of imperialism, but as fighting for her own and her people’s very existence.

In a statement we had published in the beginning of May (before the Middle East crisis became acute), we made the following criticism of the position of nationalist Arab leaders:

“The solution of the Palestine problem must not only redress the wrong done to the Palestinian Arabs, but also insure the national future of the Hebrew masses. These masses were brought to Palestine by Zionism – but they are not responsible for the deeds of Zionism. The attempts to penalize the Israeli masses for the sins of Zionism cannot solve the Palestinian problem but only bring about new misfortunes.”

Unfortunately these words of warning came true much sooner than we expected.

In the same statement we also said:

“It should be understood that the Israeli masses will not be liberated from the influence of Zionism and will not struggle against it unless the progressive forces in the Arab world present them with a prospect of coexistence without national oppression.”

Reality confirmed the correctness of this remark.

It should be added that if Nasser had won the June 1967 war, on the basis of slogans used and his alliance with Hussein, then the Palestine problem would still not have been solved. At best, the problem of the Palestinian Jews would have been substituted for a problem of Palestinian Arabs.
While from the point of view of international relations of forces, the June war scored another success for the world imperialist alignment, from a Middle Eastern point of view it gave Zionism an inestimable victory.

Zionism is by nature a colonizing movement of settlers who came to Palestine from outside under the influence of nationalistic ideas. Its modus operandi has always been to create faits accomplis – if necessary, by force of arms – at the expense of the Arabs and against the Arabs. Along this road which it pursued, Zionism has always been a natural ally and protégé of the imperialist powers and inescapably clashed with the Arabs.

All these traditional characteristics of Zionism were clearly manifested also in the 1967 war. The military victory has further strengthened the most right-wing, militaristic and chauvinistic circles in Israel’s Zionist leadership and a general shift to the right in the country as a whole.

Because of the present international situation, as described above, the decisive majority of the Israeli public is of the opinion that the military victory enables Israel to impose settlement and in this way to reach a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Various formulas for such an imposed settlement have been put forward on public forums.

We think that this view is fundamentally mistaken and all the formulas based on it cannot solve the problem.

Essentially, the Israeli-Arab problem is not confined to the questions of the refugees, or of the borders or of the political future of the Palestinian Arabs. These are only several aspects and manifestations of the central problem: the future of Israel in a predominantly Arab region.

The question is whether Israel will become a second edition of the crusader’s state or will successfully be integrated in the region and in the historical processes that will determine the fate of this region.

From this point of view the war has not advanced Israel one inch toward a solution of its basic problem; quite the reverse. Despite the present relation of military forces, Israel remains a little island within the Arab world.

If Israel exploits the present balance of military forces to impose faits accomplis on the Arabs, this will boomerang on Israel in the future when the relations of forces change, as they inevitably must. Any “settlement” reached today from a position of strength will only be temporary and therefore illusory. Even if some Arab states agree to sign a peace agreement with Israel under the pressure of facts created in the war, the fate of such an agreement will be no better than that of the Versailles peace treaty. It will become a meaningless piece of paper and will not prevent the outbreak of another war – quite the reverse. It will not solve the problem but just freeze it.

In fact, a separate peace treaty with Hussein may be a possibility. The consequences of such a treaty could be particularly grave, because it will tie Israel’s future to the most reactionary forces in the Middle East, strengthen (in the short run) the position of imperialism in the region and increase Israel’s dependence on imperialism.

There are circles in Israel who demand the annexation of all or most of the conquered territories. We shall not say much about these hallucinatory aberrations which are an infallible recipe for widening and deepening the conflict and for preparing a disastrous future for Israel Territorial annexations from a position of strength are to be condemned in principle. They would also create a dangerous precedent that can be used in the future against Israel itself.

Another suggestion being aired is the creation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip of an Arab state under Israeli protection. In practice this would mean the annexation of these territories to Israel without giving their inhabitants civil rights and without rehabilitating the refugees of the 1948 war in Israel Such a protectorate would be like the Bantustans planned by the government of South Africa for the black-skinned inhabitants of that country. It is clear that the Palestinian Arabs will not accept such a political fate; and the creation of this kind of Bantustan will also be an imposed solution sure to backfire on its authors.

Some circles in Israel who are usually considered progressive have fallen for another variation of the same plan. They speak about granting self-determination to the Palestinian Arabs, who will establish an independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This state is to have federal ties with Israel We warn: Despite the good intentions of some of those who support this formula, in the present situation its realization would be a negative step. The very notion of self-determination and free choice under present conditions can be nothing but fiction, a mere mockery.

We said in the past and now repeat that the Palestinian Arabs are entitled to determine their own political fate without external compulsion. But we warn against the dangerous illusions entertained by a section of the Israeli public: That now – when Israel rules by force of arms over the whole territory of Palestine within the boundaries of the original British Mandate – an opportunity has been created for implementing this right to self-determination.

Quite the reverse is true. It is just these conquests which destroy the basis for self-determination out of free choice. At best, a Palestinian state established on the basis of the conquests would be a narrow ghetto, a caricature of an independent state. In the long run, a complete solution of all the national problems (including the self-determination of the Arabs and Jews of Palestine) can be realized only in the framework of a socialist revolution in the countries of the Middle East which will unite the region into one entity.

Considering the international significance of the June 1967 war, considering our opposition in principle to the Zionist policy of imposing faits accomplis on the Arabs, and out of concern for Israel’s fate in the Arab world – we think it is the duty of the Israeli Government to withdraw from all the occupied territories and from the attempt to impose a settlement by force. This demand is the test for every progressive group and person.

It should be made clear that we are under no illusion that withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines and agreements will, in itself, constitute a solution to the Palestine problem and Israeli-Arab relations. It is only a necessary step, without which no progress can be made, toward a genuine solution.

As for the longer term, we hold today – as we have before – that the only real and stable solution for the Palestine problem and the Israeli-Arab conflict is Israel’s withdrawal from the Zionist path and the integration of a socialist, non-Zionist Israel in the region. The socialist revolution, under the leadership of the workers, is also the only way to Arab national unification and to ending the Balkanization imposed by imperialism on the Arab world.

Bloodstained experience ha? shown that the roads of nationalism – Zionism or Arab nationalism – do not lead to the solutions of any fundamental social problem, including the national problems of the Middle East. The solutions that we support require a profound revolution in Israel, aimed at changing its character totally – from a Zionist state into a socialist state that is capable and ready to integrate within the region.

A deep revolutionary transformation is also necessary in the Arab world. The Arabs will not be able to solve the fundamental problems of their future in a nationalistic way, under the slogan of “national unity,” irrespective of class (purely on a national basis), together with the forces of reaction in the Arab world. The progressive task of uniting the Arab world and putting an end to the fragmentation which was artificially imposed on it by imperialism can only be accomplished in a socialist way. The latest events have shown once again that socialist transformations are needed in all the Arab countries, including Egypt

In times of crisis as in normal times we raise up high the banner of socialism and internationalism and call on the masses of the Middle East – irrespective of nationality – to struggle under this banner.

Previous post:

Next post: