For the first time since the nineties a peace process seems to be moving forward in Palestine. It is being driven by Egyptian diplomacy and neither Israel nor the United States are directly involved. Its main rivals are Iran and Hezbollah, the Shiite Islamist state-party that the Tehran regime supports in Lebanon and Syria. The centerpiece, and also the most fragile party in the negotiations, is Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, supported by Turkey and Qatar and in simultaneous war against Israel, the Palestinian National Authority led by the PLO… and Egypt itself.
What is this new peace process?
Egyptian diplomacy is building a two-pronged structure. On the one hand, it mediates between Hamas and Al Fatah, the main party of the PLO which in turn leads the government of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) recognized by the EU and the US. Hamas rules Gaza, the PLO rules the West Bank. Both have their own armed forces and militias, have been waging a long and quiet civil war against each other since 2006, and have their own networks of alliances with major imperialisms. The negotiations are now centered on the call for elections to the PNA, elections that have been suspended since 2009 and that would re-establish a single Palestinian government.
On the other hand, Egypt has reactivated the quartet formed by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Jordan and Egypt itself, to promote a peace conference between the PNA and Israel. If the elections in the PNA take place and, as is attempted by the Egyptians, culminate in a government of national unity between Hamas and the PLO, the eventual agreements would involve all the Palestinian armed forces.
The appearance of such a possibility implies a radical change in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The PLO is the expression of the secular Palestinian bourgeoisie and bureaucracy. A class participating in the exploitation of Palestinian workers in a symbiotic but unequal relationship with the Israeli bourgeoisie. That is why for the PLO the conflict with Israel is a question of borders, investments and terms of trade. Hamas -and the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole- originated as a feudal reaction against the capitalist relations imposed by British domination. Hence their inveterate anti-Semitism and the genocidal aim of throwing the Jews back into the sea as the only possible end to their eternal jihad against Israel.
Why is such a radical change in Hamas possible now?
At the beginning of this century, the Muslim brothers capitalized on the decomposition of the secular nationalist Arab regimes first, and of jihadism later. The process culminated in the so-called Arab Spring. Despite the defeat suffered in Egypt, where Sisi’s repression reduced them once again to the clandestine underground, the spectacle of mass mobilizations and the rise of government coalitions in Tunisia and Tripoli consolidated their ascendancy over a significant part of the Arab petty bourgeoisies. Getting there, however, came at a price: coming under the patronage and control of Turkey and Qatar. And the latter is what has changed:
1In 2020 we have seen the last attempt of the Turkish regime to perpetuate itself and rescue its own semicolonial national capital by gaining commercial space through militarist assertion and war. The Turkish strategy shaped and charted the most dangerous moments of the year leaving thousands of bodies in its wake, from Libya to Nagorno-Karabakh via Iraq and Syria. Today it is clear that this strategy has failed.
2The Turkish failure left a winner: Egypt, which nipped the Turkish advance in Libya in the bud with an invasion attempt; articulated Greece, Cyprus, Israel, France and finally the Emirates in the exploitation of the gas of the Eastern Mediterranean, mowing down with international agreements Turkey’s territorial aspirations on offshore hydrocarbons off its coast; and served as a bridge in Africa and the Maghreb for the alliance between the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, winning Sudan for the Abraham agreements and – not without difficulties – facilitating the incorporation of Morocco into them.
3The consolidation of an Arab alliance, which was originally anti-Iranian, capable of incorporating Israel for the first time and financing an accelerated arms race, would also hit the Muslim Brotherhood on its weakest flank: Qatari funding. Qatar and its state-run TV channel, Al Jazeera, had been the media partner for decades of the Muslim Brotherhood in all Arab-speaking countries. In addition, Qatar had channelled much of Iranian finance and trade during the international embargoes, and in that capacity had served as a link between Hezbollah and Hamas, between Ankara and Tehran. The response of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was a brutal three-year blockade. The blockade ended last December with a Qatari defeat dressed up as a reconciliation. The result: the régime of the Ayatollahs is more isolated than ever, and Egypt, which was deeply involved in the conflict, is definitively incorporated into the Gulf’s game .
4 With the addition of the previous elements, Turkey made a U-turn: starting with the new year, it went on to request sincere and lasting relations with Israel, and declared that it would seek to restore part of what of the lost terrain with the EU and especially with France, where he played the card of subversion of the Muslim Brotherhood in depth, and even held a hand to Egypt. The message to Hamas was clear: not only is it time for a tactical retreat, it is perhaps time for an aggiornamento, an update of goals and means.
Does Hamas have any other choice?
Gaza’s economy is collapsing. UNCTAD – the UN’s trade and development arm – notes that the only way out of the mess is to make a deal with Israel for access to natural gas and the opening of trade in goods. In this apocalyptic economic framework, without Qatari and Turkish financial and political support, it would be very difficult for Hamas to even hold political control of Gaza. And in fact, polls, for the first time in years, indicate that the PLO could win the election.
In principle everything pushes Hamas into the business of joint exploitation of Palestinian workers. It is already exploiting them now, but external aid allows it to exploit them without going too far beyond the methods of a neighborhood mafia or a feudal caste: through levies and taxes that parasitize what workers earn working for the Israeli bourgeoisie. The future of Hamas is to develop the methods of exploitation typical of a normal bourgeoisie, that is, the organization of production and the payment of wages.
However, it is not so clear that it will go there. In Syria’s war, Hamas supported the same Islamist forces as those armed by Turkey, a coalition in which the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was recognized as having political weight beyond its real capacity to control. The war brought the brotherhood into direct confrontation with its former Lebanese allies in Hezbollah and deprived it of much of the Iranian funding.
But the fact is that Al-Assad has won the war. And pressure from the Arab alliance drives an increasingly isolated Iran to reconsider its relationship with Hamas. Within the Palestinian organization, a part of the leadership is rushing to acknowledge the government of Damascus as a way to find a way out for its sister organization on the ground, and above all as a way to recover income to keep its political position without the need to make any fundamental agreements with the PLO and Israel. Iran is seriously betting on this option. That it has a chance of succeeding would be proven by at least two recent signs: that the Yemeni Houthis are calling for the release of Hamas members imprisoned in Saudi Arabia in exchange for two captured Saudi pilots, and that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have carried out joint maneuvers in Gaza in order to commemorate the death of Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Does anyone care about the workers?
It would be useless to look for the interests of the workers in any of the subjects of this plot. Fatah and Hamas are fighting precisely to direct the exploitation on one side of the border of the bantustan formed by the so-called Palestinian territories. The differences over the terms of their relationship with the Israeli bourgeoisie do not in the least call into question their willingness to maintain a class dictatorship with authoritarian political forms and bloody and immediate repression of any workers’ protest or struggle. The Israeli and Palestinian bourgeoisies are both beneficiaries of this exploitation intensified by a national fracture: a proletariat divided into two groups that are facing each other and are given dissimilar rights. A round business for both bourgeoisies. Not to mention each other’ s partners. If they latter get involved it is only to better defend their own imperialist interests and make the exploitation of the workers under their control more profitable. The interests of the workers will not be reflected in the imperialist ambitions of Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Syria, Russia, France or the US.
This new peace process has some chance of success. With a changing and accelerating panorama of imperialist conflicts around the world it is still early to venture an outcome. What is certain is that whether through war or through the peace they aspire to achieve, there will be no truce for the workers on either side of the borders separating Egypt, Palestine, Israel and Syria.