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talking politics

DA'AM (ODA): Thinking outside the Box

The following piece will soon be published in Solution: Israel-Palestine, edited by Joshua Simon, Sternberg Press, Berlin - New York.

T

he Middle East conflict will not find a solution within the current array of forces. On the one side there is American hegemony (somewhat shaken), Israeli refusal, an internal Palestinian schism, and dictatorial Arab regimes. On the other side is extremist Islamic fundamentalism. Those who have sought a solution under these conditions have reaped, until now, intifada, blockade, the separation barrier, and war. The negotiations taking place under the auspices of the Obama Administration will not undo the stalemate. A real solution will not be possible except as part of an international social, political and economic change, affecting not just Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab world, but also the Western industrial nations that today are at the heart of the capitalist order.

We are not proposing utopia. The economic crisis afflicting the centers of capitalism today threatens that system with collapse. It puts in question not just the fates of millions who are faced with loss of job and home, but also the fates of those who have led the system. People are far from internalizing the fact that the rules of the game are going to change, but they will, and the big question will be: What are the alternatives? We have grown accustomed to the notion that the natural option in a crisis is war. We can see the seeds of a new fascism sprouting in several countries, including the United States with its Tea Party. But the same situation can and must serve as a wake-up call to the Left as well, to pull itself together and organize the workers—who make up the biggest social force, after all. This can be done. It is essential, for the alternative is not to be borne.

The Oslo Accords, at the start of the 1990's, came about amid the weakening of leftist forces. The fall of the Soviet Union and the imposition of a new world order under exclusive US leadership led frequently to chaos. America promised peace and prosperity, but instead have come poverty and bloodshed. Peace will not dawn from an America that wages war elsewhere.

Today, 17 years after Oslo, it is a battered US that comes to the table. The economic crisis has hit it full force. It is stuck in Afghanistan and will likely remain stuck in Iraq. This is not a neutral country coming as mediator. It is an integral part of the conflict, and it needs the Israelis and Palestinians to save its dwindling status.

In accordance with the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority (PA) replaced the PLO as part of the transition to the putative new world order. The PA easily adapted itself to the new codes. Its identification with the Left had always been by default alone. In essence the Palestinian national movement had always belonged to the bourgeois camp. As soon as it opened itself, it compromised, agreeing to a limited administrative function in the Territories, cushioned by Western money.

Oslo did not work. The Palestinian people got an agreement that emasculated their future state, canceled the right to sovereignty, and hitched their lot to Israel's security needs. The settlements have gone on expanding, with the result that they now preclude the possibility of a territorially continuous Palestinian state. To dismantle them, an Israeli government would have to be willing to open a war with the settlers. No such government is conceivable.

The Oslo Accords led to the second intifada, starting in the year 2000, and to the growth of Hamas as an alternative to Fatah. Strangely enough, the Islamist resistance won support from the Left in the Arab and western worlds. It has failed, however, because it allows no compromise short of Israel's disappearance, while deepening the rift within the Palestinian ranks.

Today both Palestinian sides have failed. Both have lost the capacity for making independent decisions. They are pawns of greater powers—be these the members of the radical axis (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah) or the "moderate" regimes that are subject to the US (Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia).

The Palestinian Left long ago ceased to believe in revolutionary change. Thus it missed a rare opportunity to present itself as an alternative, winding up instead as a partner in Salam Fayyad's PA.

In Israel too the Left has all but disappeared. What is the "leftist" alternative people are looking to? Kadima, a hybrid of Likud and Labor.

DA'AM (English: ODA—Organization for Democratic Action), founded in 1995, is a workers' party. We believe in the need to build a leadership different from those that have failed. We are doing this from the grass roots, organizing a workers' movement of Jews and Arabs, one that will be capable of gathering momentum. We seek to be part of an international workers' movement that will support popular struggles for political and economic freedom throughout the world, offering democratic socialism as the means for conducting human society.

Socialist responsibility

Capitalism has reached a phase where the greed for profits has overcome the real economy, replacing it with a casino. It has become incapable of doing what any economic must minimally do: providing for people's needs. The result shows today in stagnation and dwindling ability to buy. In the evolution of society, when a system fails, a better one needs to replace it. Needs to, but not necessarily must. Here lies our responsibility.

What can be done?

Israel takes pride in the fact that the economic crisis has passed over it so far without injury, but on a closer look we see that the seeds of destruction are sown here too. Ever since the country began privatizing itself to death in the 1980's, the wealth has concentrated in the hands of a few. Some sixteen families own 20% of the top 500 companies. A middle class consisting of people in high-tech, services and commerce lives a life of comfort. Beside this Israel is another, trudging along without a voice (for now): the class of exploited wage labor.

For nearly half the Israeli labor force, about a million in number, the legal minimum wage is the maximum they can hope to earn. Along with them, subsidizing the country's profitability, are hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, whose low wages keep a brake on all. The lower middle class (teachers, office workers) is also being eroded, but some have begun to struggle.

This situation has brought back terms that were long thought passé, like "socialism" and "social agenda." Social forces and new labor unions are beginning to sprout, making our vision more relevant than ever.

In the gulf separating the two peoples, DA'AM has chosen to build a bridge of understanding and hope. We initiated the establishment of MA'AN, a representative workers organization uniting Jews and Arabs from a variety of industries: truck drivers, stonecutters, workers for personnel agencies or subcontractors, farm workers, college lecturers, construction workers, restaurant and hotel workers. MA'AN helps people organize themselves into workers' committees. It accompanies these in negotiations with the employers toward the signing of legally binding collective agreements. Its legal staff provides counsel and aid in the courts.

We believe that apart from the fence that separates Jews and Arabs, there is a very different kind of fence. This new fence positions on one side all workers of the world, the victims of neoliberal economics: Arabs, Jews, Americans, Greeks, Spaniards, Egyptians, Iranians, Indians, Chinese and more. On the other side stand the wealthy of all nations, backed by their governments, who exploit, oppress, and make profits. Here is a large space for action, because the forces that unify are stronger than those that divide. Recently we have begun to visit the homes of the truck drivers. On the walls of some we see pictures of Baba Sali, a saint-like Jewish figure, while on the walls of others we see verses from the Quran. But all unite in condemning the ways in which the transport industry exploits them, forcing them to work long hours beyond the legal limit, resulting in death on the roads.

The aim of DA'AM is to build anew the working class and provide it with values of solidarity, despite national and religious differences. We do the same in our work with youth and with women. All the social frameworks we create are common to Arabs and Jews. This class can form the basis for a new Left, a third way, over against religious and nationalist agendas.

The task is not easy. The hatred is abysmal, and each side clings to its narrative. Such division is influenced by the atmosphere of religious and nationalist extremism in both camps. But the common denominator is bigger. The Jewish worker is beginning to grasp the fact that he or she is being transformed into an "Arab"—that is, one who has no privileges in the Jewish State, which itself has become a State for the Rich. This new reality confronts Jewish workers with a major challenge: Will they go on risking their lives in Israel's wars—for the sake of sixteen families?

But there is also a challenge for Arab workers. Will they realize at last that the national-religious agenda leads to ruin, and that the only way out is to find their class partners on the other side?

Amid the present crisis, the building of a new social Left, both here and worldwide, is a necessary condition for getting a better system. The astonishing opposition movement in Iran is a source of inspiration to us. So is the brave resistance—against their employers and the government—demonstrated by tens of thousands of Egyptian workers in the textile plants at Mahalla al-Kubra. Similar movements throughout the world will enable the Palestinians, the Iraqis, the Afghans and all oppressed peoples to shake off their chains and have their say.

Within such a framework, one can begin to seek partners for change and social justice, and also for peace: not a counterfeit peace of occupation regimes and dictatorships, but a peace of workers, a peace of democratic societies, a peace without walls, a peace that will enable human beings to earn their living with dignity.

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