Article by Palestinian Marxist ‘Adel Samara on the historic failure of bourgeois Arab nationalism and the uneven development of Arab countries could lay the foundations for its supersession by a more radical Arab nationalism.
IN THIS ESSAY, which covers an entire century, I shall deal with two groups of themes.
First, I shall discuss the failure of bourgeois Arab nationalism to achieve its avowed aims: economic independence and national victory, that is, the liberation of occupied Arab territory. Despite its failures, the Arab bourgeoisie still holds power throughout the Arab homeland, except in South Yemen. I shall also try to explain how and why the Arab bourgeoisie has intentionally amplified the unevenness of economic development between the Arab countries. I shall discuss Palestine as the obvious example for the national failure. And I shall use the Gulf Cooperation Council as an illustration of the policy of uneven development.
Second, I shall try to show that the nationalism of the bourgeoisie differs from and conflicts with the national consciousness of the masses – the working class, the peasantry and the rest of the poor. The material interest of the masses in Arab unity is also discussed.
I shall try to show that the continuation of the trend of uneven development will create the need for inter-Arab integration, contrary to the aims of the authors of the policy of unevenness. The latter will, in a sense, produce the conditions for their own destruction.
Stressing the objective necessity for integration, I shall outline an economic scenario for Arab unity. If such unity were to be realized, it would create the social and economic conditions for a common struggle for socialism. Indeed, I argue that Arab development requires Arab unity, and is hardly possible in a state of fragmentation.
Many points touched upon here are not sufficiently discussed and developed; it would be impossible to do so in one relatively brief essay. However, my aim is to raise as many issues as possible, for the sake of the debate which I hope will follow, concerning the future of the Arab homeland.
1: Bourgeois Arab nationalism
BY VIRTUE of national affiliation and origin, the Arab world has been, and still is, the strategic rear base or hinterland of the Palestinian people’s struggle against the Zionist state of Israel. Regardless of the actual role this strategic hinterland has played – be it helpful or obstructive – its existence is an issue that cannot be ignored among the Palestinians. In the last few years, various trends of Palestinian opinion have been rethinking and re-evaluating this issue.
One school of thought, conditioned by the bitterness of the Palestinian experience with the Arab regimes, even goes so far as to suggest that an Arab strategic hinterland no longer exists (if indeed it ever did) for the Palestinians, who should therefore be reconciled to doing without it.
A different approach to this issue is based on a class analysis. While calling for a critical re-examination of the role played by the Arab hinterland and the extent to which it has come up to expectations or fallen short of them, this approach stresses that the concept of an Arab hinterland is no mere abstraction, but corresponds to an objective reality. The actual position within this hinterland is not uniform, however, inasmuch as each ofits parts is represented by its own ruling Arab bourgeoisie. This theme will govern the discussion in the present article.
To be more explicit, the view adopted here is that in reality there does exist, an all-Arab nationality (qaumiya) but that it is regionally split up, each region (iqlim) possessing its own peculiarities, which have been greatly intensified over the last five decades – ‘the decades of fragmentation’. Politically and ideologically, this contradictory reality has been represented by the contradictory political practice and ideology of current Arab nationalism, which is bourgeois Arab nationalism. Towards the end of this article we shall outline the characteristics and dimensions of another, latent, all-Arab national identity, which is essentially that of the working classes and other repressed classes in the Arab world.
The pioneers of Arab nationalism
THERE IS a consensus among Arab, and perhaps also non-Arab, writers on modern Arab history, that most of the early pioneers of Arab nationalism were Christian Arabs.
We mention this oft-repeated observation not in order to assess its historical accuracy, but rather to discuss the ideological use to which it has been put by Islamic fundamentalists and others who wish to discredit Arab nationalism and the idea of Arab national unification (as opposed, for example, to pan-Islamism) as inauthentic foreign imports. It is sometimes alleged that the Christian pioneers of Arab nationalism, living under the Ottoman empire, were basically motivated by the wish to emancipate themselves from the rule of that Sunni Muslim caliphatestate. A somewhat more sophisticated version of the same thesis maintains that these early pioneers anticipated the impending and inevitable collapse of the Ottoman empire; but they were alarmed at the prospect of its being replaced by a Sunni-dominated Arab state (or states) in which Muslim Arabs would hold all positions of power and influence. In order to prevent themselves being thus marginalized, these Christians hatched and fostered secularist Arab nationalism.
There are several reasons for rejecting such attempts to invalidate the authenticity of Arab nationalism. First, let us note that from the end of the nineteenth century, with the increasing incorporation of the Arab homeland (then still under Ottoman rule) in the world system, and with the growing number of Arab students-both Muslim and Christianstudying in Europe, a new environment was developing in the Arab world. Such an environment would have encouraged Muslim Arabs to adopt nationalist ideas whether or not Christians were the first to do so.
Indeed, Muslim Arabs had adequate grounds for adopting such ideas, given their bitter experience under Ottoman rule (1516-1919) and the plausibility of the view that the only way to emancipation was through Arab nationalism.
Second, those who wish to deny the authenticity of Arab nationalism are displaying their own ideologically motivated bias by stressing exclusively the Christian background of pioneers of Arab nationalism such as Qustantin Zuraiq, while glibly ignoring the genuineness of their national aspirations.
Third, even ifit were conceivable that the early pioneers-whose commitment to nationalism was expressed solely through the written word-were merely self-seeking opportunists using nationalism as a cloak, surely such an accusation cannot possibly apply to the second generation of militants, who personally led an organized struggle, as was the case with both the Ba’th Party and the Movement of Arab Nationalists (Harakat Qaumiyun al-‘Arab).
Fourth, if Arab nationalism was merely the invention of a few Christians, how can one account for the fact that the Muslim Arab multitudes responded so massively (albeit unevenly as between one Arab country and another) to its call and were mobilized in their millions for the national movement, despite having been influenced by Islam for fourteen centuries? Moreover, why has this massive acceptance of Arab nationalism continued until the early 1970s, for almost a whole century, ‘the century of bourgeois Arab nationalism’, despite the fact that the Arab national movement was not alone in the field and had several political and ideological competitors in the Arab homeland during this century? Does not all this show that the slogans of nationalism and national unity corresponded to real popular aspirations?
The question that poses itself now is the following: who is to blame for the failure of the Arab nationalist movement to achieve development and all-Arab unification? Is it the fault of the early pioneers? Or of the militants of the second generation? Or perhaps the fault lies with the bourgeoisie of the various Arab regions ( = Arab countries ) – a bourgeoisie which is in fact almost exclusively Muslim?
The only Arab country to have been ruled to any extent by Christians is Lebanon. This small country, with its marginal development-distorted even when compared with the distorted development of the other Arab countries-has two special characteristics: on the one hand, it has experienced a semi-liberal bourgeois political system; on the other, it has spawned the fascist Phalange (al-Kata’ib). Thus the Lenanese state was but a reflection of the European political model, rather than the thing itself.
Two trajectories of uneven development
ARAB BOURGEOIS nationalism emerged in the period of tightening incorporation of the Arab homeland in the world market. Under such circumstances, an independent capitalist development became impossible. Moreover, unlike India, for example, which was incorporated into the world market as a unified entity, the Arab homeland underwent this process piecemeal; each Arab country was incorporated directly and separately, rather than as part of an all-Arab entity. As for the fragile political independence of the Arab countries, this too came separately to each individual country, under its own regional bourgeois leadership, which in most cases was the creature of the departing colonial powers.
The unevenness of development between the Arab countries goes back to the pre-colonial past, though it has been greatly amplified during the century of bourgeois Arab nationalism. One of the most important causes of this unevenness is the highly unequal distribution of natural agricultural resources. Some Arab regions – most notably the Nile Valley – are endowed with ample resources which have enabled them to sustain dense settlement and population growth. Other regions-such as most of the Arabian peninsula-are almost totally lacking in natural agricultural wealth, and have therefore been a perennial source of migration.
Nevertheless, the Arab homeland had to a large extent experienced a common history, even if not quite as unified as the pioneers of Arab nationalism imagined it to have been. This was manifested in the Umayyad and ‘Abbasid states, and to some extent in the Fatimid state. Later, the Arabs shared a common history of submission under the Ottoman empire, which incorporated the Arab homeland into the Islamic caliphate but also hindered its socio-economic development.
What we are saying, then, is that the Arab proto-nation had existed as a visibly coherent entity prior to the century of bourgeois nationalism; and that the uneven economic development occurred within this one general national framework.
This unevenness between the Arab regions became an acute problem only during the century of bourgeois Arab nationalism, when imperialism granted a separate political independence to each country, and pushed each regime to build a separate economy. We must now deal with the different paths of this development.
Development of Arab unevenness
Unevenness of development between the Arab regions existed, as already mentioned, before they fell under the sway of colonialism and were incorporated into the world market. Nor is such unevenness peculiar to the Arab homeland; it is a world-wide phenomenon. The south of the United States, for instance, is poorer than the north; and the same holds true for Italy. Likewise, not all the various regions of China are equally developed. An even clearer example is perhaps provided by India, although it is really more a multinational state than a nation. The decisive factor in all these countries, however, is that each constitutes one state; whereas the absence of this very factor is the key problem of the Arab world and the secret behind its weakness. The political fragmentation imposed on the Arab homeland by colonialism, and subsequently intensified by the regional Arab bourgeoisies, has provided an institutionalized basis for the development of unevenness between the Arab countries. The bourgeoisie of each country, separately and directly connected to the world market, has acquired a vested interest in maintaining the fragmentation. This process has continued throughout the last five decades. Even the seemingly genuine attempt at unification, that between Egypt and Syria in 1958, was implemented in the only way of which the Arab bourgeoisie is capable – by the ruling class of the stronger country trying to impose its hegemony over its weaker ‘partner’ – and was bound to fail.
The bourgeoisie’s division of interest, and vested interest in division, does not extend to the Arab poor classes, notably the peasantry and proletariat. The Egyptian peasant, for example, stands to lose nothing and to gain much by having direct and unhampered access to the exportable surplus produced in Iraq. Indeed, the ruling Arab bourgeoisies have been aware of this fact, and have therefore paid lip-service to the masses’ aspirations by mouthing slogans about unity and all-Arab nationalism, while in practice pursuing a policy of division and fragmentation, especially through developing the unevenness. They probably hope that as the divergence between Arab countries proceeds, they will be exempted from giving up their regional interests; since growing unevenness would remove any real basis for unification, the popular feeling of a common all Arab national identity would fade away.
However, as we shall argue later, the very fact of divergent and uneven development may, on the-contrary, favour all-Arab national unification under the leadership of the working class.
The first trajectory of uneven development
Both before and after gaining political independence, the Arab bourgeoisies transformed uneven development from a ‘natural’ process occurring within a state or a nation into an institutionalized unevenness between states. And because these bourgeoisies were backed and protected by colonialism, the uneven development over which they presided was born as, and still is, a dependent development.
The first trajectory of this development has been traversed by a group of countries that share certain particular structural charàcteristics, over and above the traits common to all Arab countries. These particular characteristics are basically economic, but have given rise to social and organizational characteristics as well.
In Egypt in particular, but also in Iraq and Syria, there is arable land capable of producing an agricultural surplus whose proceeds can be invested in industrial growth; and any industrial products can find a suitable local market, especially in Egypt with its large population of potential consumers. These economic capabilities have played a role in orientating the regimes of these countries towards trying to build an independent economy (be it capitalist or ‘socialist’) inasmuch as the regimes have dreamed of the possibility of severing the ties of dependence on the world market through the development of capitalism or self-styled ‘socialism’. (It must be noted here, however, that there is a huge gulf between the availability of economic and human resources needed to constitute a state, and the possibility of achieving an actual capitalist economic independence under the auspices of imperialism.)
These very countries, due to their economic and social potential, have in general also been the breeding-ground of the bourgois national movement throughout the century of Arab nationalism. This manifested itself in the Ba’th Party (born in Syria and Iraq and also in Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan), the Movement of Arab Nationalists (born in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq) and Nasserism (born in Egypt). All these countries have constituted the first wave along this first trajectory.
A second wave (also along the same trajectory) consisted of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, which gained their political independence during a later period. These countries of the Maghreb-somewhat similar in their economic and demographic structures to Egypt, Syria and Iraq-had been strongly influenced by the bourgeois Arab nationalism that prevailed in the Mashreq, especially Ba’thism and Nasserism. The two Yemens can perhaps also be included in this trajectory.
The second trajectory
A different path has been followed by countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other Gulf states, as well as Libya, which lack agricultural resources and consequently have a sparse population. In these countries not only did the development of social classes occur later, but their political independence was also (in most cases) gained more recently. Moreover, their political struggle for independence was hampered by the higher degree of subordination of their ruling classes to the colonial powers.
However, a radical turning-point in the lives of these countries was the discovery of oil, which transformed them from poor and backward regions into distortedly wealthy ones. This transformation enabled the Saudi ruling class to come forwards in the 1970s as the leader of those forces that were calling for closer dependence on imperialism, as opposed to the leadership of the countries of the first trajectory, whose declared aim was to sever this dependence. This was described at the time as an opposition between the reactionary and progressive Arab camps.
The inability of the countries of the first trajectory to break loose from that dependence (because their programme was in reality capitalist) enabled the rival camp-and Saudi Arabia specifically-to take the lead in Arab politics, thus superseding Egypt in this role. This is what has been happening in the 1970s and 1980s.
There are Arab countries which do not quite fit into the two-trajectory scheme we have just outlined. Sudan, for example, has economic resources somewhat similar to those of the countries of the first trajectory, but they have remained largely unexploited. Despite the backwardness of Sudan’s economy, however, the political movement there was very active and relatively advanced.
The most outstanding exceptional case is of course Palestine, which was taken over by the British (according to an imperialist agreement following the First World War) in order to displace its people and set up a Zionist state that would serve imperialist interests in the area. As a result of these special circumstances, the emergence of a bourgeois nationalist movement here was hampered and delayed, especially when compared with the Arab countries of the first trajectory.
The inexorable decline of bourgeois Arab nationalism
We have already noted that the countries that followed the first trajectory of evolution were those in which capitalist economies had developed earlier, giving rise to greater unevenness of development. Thus, when the bourgeois national movement achieved power in these countries (Egypt, Syria and Iraq), it was faced with a contradiction that proved difficult to resolve: a contradiction between its ideological nationalist aspirations for all-Arab unity, and the clear and confined regional (i.e. local) interests of the bourgeoisie of each country.
Economically, these regions have been handicapped in various ways:
1) Weakness in the structure of production and low productivity, resulting in an unfavourable ratio between the exportable surplus and the import requirement.
2) Low technical standard of production, resulting in sub-standard products that cannot compete in foreign markets.
3) The neighbdouring countries, which could have provided a natural market, are directly linked to the world market.
4) The economy of these regions themselves has not dismantled its dependence on the international capitalist system.
In a nutshell, the first failure of this group of countrit:ls, was the failure of their regional bourgeoisie to achieve economic ind,ependence and development. Consequently, the bourgeoisie of each region turned inwards, clinging to its local interests.
The period from 1950 to 1970 can be seen as one in which an attempt was made to build an independent economy and unify the Arab nationthe twin aims of the Arab national bourgeoisie. But attempts at unification ‘from below’ never amounted to much, and the dividing boundaries remained intact. Nor was any single country able to develop its own economy sufficiently and impose unification ‘from above’ (as Prussia had been able to unify Germany).
Although the development plans of the period were draped in ‘socialist’ rhetoric, they were in reality grounded on capitalist relations. Externally too these countries remained dependent on the world market, despite their economic and political relationship with the Soviet çamp.
In its relations with Third World countries, the Soviet Uniop was guided by the theory that these countries could evolve towards socialism under the leadership of their nationalist bourgeoisie. In reality, however, the Arab regimes-based on capitalist structures and on class alliances between the bourgeoisie and the lower middle class, under the political leadership of officer juntas that came to power through coups d’étatproduced a type of bureaucratic capitalism.
Trade with the Soviet Union, and the economic aid received from it, were in reality based on the norms ofinternational commercial exchange, which can in no way be regarded as a socialist mode of relations. (Incidentally, even had the Soviet Union granted non-profitable aid to these nonsocialist regimes, such aid could only derive from the exploitation of the Soviet working class.) The result was that the Soviet Union contributed to the maturation of the economy of these peripheral capitalist states ruled by bureaucratic bourgeoisies, thus facilitating their integration into the world market through a process that can be called ‘the new dependence’, which has evolved after a volte-face that has occurred over a period of two decades.
The second failure of this group of countries was manifested in their defeat in the struggle against the occupation of Palestine, especially after 1967. This was defeat in the external national battle, as distinct from the internal national struggle for achieving unification and economic independence.
The Arab bourgeois national movement confronted socially and technologically advanced imperialism and Zionism with Arab backwardness and deformed economic development, a development of unevenness ràther than of all-Arab convergence. It confronted the cohesive alliance of Istàel and imperialism with internal Arab fragmentation and the exclusion of the Arab masses from the struggle; and its own fragile alliance with the Soviet Union could not save it from a shattering defeat.
This defeat has enabled the countries of the second trajectory, particularly Saudi Arabia, to achieve ascendancy and lead the Arab homeland towards complete dependence and incorporation into the world market system. The slogan of Arab unity has been replaced by that of solidarity between the ruling classes. The newly dominant policies are designed to perpetuate the fragmentation of the Arab homeland, to recognize and accept the Zionist state, and to downgrade the Palestinian question to a problem of refugees dependent on the Arab regimes.
The Arab regimes and Palestine
THE FOREGOING discussion can serve as an introduction to the next section of this article, which focuses on the Palestinian issue. Let us start by outlining the manner in which the Arab regimes (and bourgeois all-Arab nationalism) have reacted to the struggle of the Palestinian people against the Zionist appropriation of Palestine.
As we have already pointed out, most of the regimes that have presided over the Arab homeland since the eve ofindependence were the creation of British and French colonialism, which was also responsible for the balkanization of that homeland. In other words, these regimes did not achieve power through a radical struggle leading to the expulsion of colonialism, but through compromise and accommodation. The Arab homeland has thus never severed the umbilical cord of dependence.
Palestinian opposition to Zionist immigration and colonization began shortly after the profuulgation of the Balfour Declaration (November 1917), which sanctioned the creation of a Jewish ‘national home’ in Palestine. This opposition had a local Palestinian as opposed to all-Arab character.
With the rise of Zionist influence in Palestine, the Palestinians’ struggle also escalated, most notably in the 1930s. The armed resistance led by Shaikh ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam in 1935 was a prelude to a general uprising, which culminated in the famous six-month general strike of 1936. After this event, Arab volunteers from the neighbouring countries began to join the struggle of the Palestinians, who were desperately short of the basic requirements of guerrilla warfare, especially weapons.
But while these volunteers were coming to the Palestinians’ aid, the Arab regimes were bowing to the desire of Britain (and, by implication, of the Zionist movement) by helping to paralyse the struggle. On Britain’s behalf, the regimes of Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Trans-Jordan did their best to induce the Palestinians to call off their general strike. They exerted their pressure mainly through Hajj Amin al-Husaini, the traditionalist Palestinian leader who belonged to one of the country’s top landowning families. He believed that the emancipation of Palestine could be achieved through a deal with Britain, and was generally restricted to the political, intellectual and ideological horizon of the Arab regimes.
We must emphasize here the decisive difference between the two Arab resþonses to the Palestinian issue: at the grass-roots level Arab volunteers joined the armed struggle; while at the governmental level the Arab ruling classes were behaving in a manner which, in effect, smoothed the path of colonialism and Zionism.
Through an agreement between Britain’s prime minister Winston Churchill and the Egyptian government, the idea of creating the League of Arab States was proposed in 1944 and promulgated in the Alexandria Protocol. The significance of the Arab League was that it institutionalized the regional borders dividing the Arab homeland and excluded the latter’s organic unification. The League was conceived and set up as a political alliance between countries that – despite their cultural and historical affinities – were strictly separate ‘nation-states’. In joining this organization, the Arab regimes in effect renounced the aim of unifying the balkanized nation.
The declaration of the Jewish state in 1948 came as a serious political embarrassment to the Arab regimes, some of which declared war against Israel. The war itself was conducted on the Arab side as a political charade. The two main Arab armies in Palestine were the Trans-Jordanian and the Egyptian. The former was commanded by British officers, led by Brigadier Sir John Bagot Glubb; the outcome of the war on this front was largely fixed in advance through secret negotiations between Jordan’s Amir ‘Abdallah and the Zionist leaders (including Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir and others). The Egyptian army was disastrously badly armed and under-equipped; indeed, the scandalous way in which it conducted the war discredited the Egyptian regime and led directly to its downfall in 1952. These two Arab armies, far from collaborating or even co-ordinating with each other, were in fact gleefully looking forward to each other’s defeat. Syria’s role in the war was strictly limited; and the Iraqi forces, which initially penetrated Palestine in two sectors of the eastern front, were soon withdrawn.
Even more important: the Palestinians, on whose behalf the war was ostensibly being fought, were after May 1948 prevented from actively participating in it; they were relegated by the Arab regimes to the role of mere spectators in their own calamity.
Here, in 1948, we can already discern the Arab regimes’ policy of suppressing the Palestinian identity and trying to eliminate it altogether. This was the best gift that these regimes could offer to the nascent Zionist state. Soon the Arab governments were to be involved in armistice negotiations with Israel, ostensibly on behalf of the Palestinians, but in fact only to carve up between them what remained of Palestine, in accordance with an implicit agreement they had reached with Britain after 1937. Thus Trans-Jordan swallowed the West Bank (and accordingly renamed itself ‘Jordan’), Egypt grabbed the Gaza Strip, and Syria kept a small pocket of land around al-Hammah. During the following two years, the so-called General Government of Palestine, located in Gaza, was eliminated and the Strip came under Egyptian military administration, although it would have been possible to keep Gaza as the germ of a Palestinian state.
Clearly, what the UN partition resolution of 1947 had offered the Palestinians-the creation of a Palestinian state comprising about half of Palestine’s territory-was preferable to what the Palestinians actually got from the Arab regimes, which did their best to prevent the creation of such a state.
Leaving aside the Suez war of 1956, the next round in the war over the Palestinian question between the Arab regimes and Israel was the war of June 1967, which was started by Israel. The Arab side in this war was led by countries which were following what we have called the first trajectory of development, and their defeat sounded the death-knell of the Arab bourgeois national movement, with its ambition for unification.
Whereas in 1948 the Arab regimes had entered the war under the umbrella of the Arab League, in 1967 they joined the struggle under the umbrella of the Arab Summit, one of the new political forms of the Arab League.
The next war, that of October 1973, was started by Egypt and Syria, whose main aim was to regain their own territories (occupied by Israel since 1967) rather than the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This war was to lead to a political accommodation with the Zionist state rather than a radical struggle against it.
Following the 1973 war, the Arab Summit produced a slogan which was even more feeble than the Summit itself: the slogan of ‘Arab solidarity’, which marked the new hegemony of the Arab countries of the second trajectory, especially Saudi Arabia, over the bourgeois national regimes in the Arab homeland.
In all these wars, the Arab masses were not allowed to participate or even to criticize, and their voice remained unheard. The only exception was the clandestine infiltration of some Arab militants, who managed to cross the barriers erected by the Arab regimes and joined the Palestinians after 1967.
To conclude this part of our discussion, let us emphasize once more that the Arab masses have been denied participation in the Palestinian struggle, and their national position towards Palestine has always been submerged. Their position is not represented by that of their rulers. To confuse these two positions is, at best, an error; at worst, it is a mark of dubious intent.
2: The Palestinian identity – between dissipation, reconstruction and neglect
THE CATASTROPHIC outcome of the 1948 war disrupted the development of a Palestinian identity and Palestinian social formation, as compared to the rest of the Arabs. Not only was the country carved up between Israel and the neighbouring Arab states, but the majority of the Palestinians of all social classes were uprooted and dispersed. Through this double fragmentation -territorial and human -the Palestinian people lost the natural basis required for the existence and development of any normal human society.
Those who remained in Israel were officially defined as ‘Israeli Arabs’ and their Palestinian identity was suppressed. Those who came under Jordanian rule were forced to assume Jordanian nationality; those crowded into the Gaza Strip had to carry identity papers that were accepted only in Egypt; and the situation of the Palestinians displaced into Syria and Lebanon was similar.
As a result of the geographic, human and social dispersion of the Palestinians, their political struggle was likewise fragmented: the Palestinian militants were distributed among the various Arab movements and trends, each according to his or her ideological affiliation.
The bourgeoisie and the remnants of the aristocratic land-owning families not only joined the Jordanian ruling apparatus, but offered the West Bank as a present to King’ Abdallah at the stage-managed Jericho Conference (May 1949), where the main protagonist was Shaikh al-Ja’bari. This section of the Palestinian bourgeoisie has continued up to the present time to collaborate with the Hashemite regime, against the Arab revolutionary movement and the interest of the Palestinian people. Suffice it to say that during the massacre of September 1970 (Black September), the head of the military authorities in Amman was Colonel Mahmoud Daoud, a Palestinian.
In the post-1948 period, the Arab nationalist and communist movements also fell into the trap of suppressing the Palestinian identity. The Palestinian Communist Party (then called ‘The League for National Liberation’) demanded in 1949 that both Israel and the Arab states withdraw from the area allotted to the Palestinians in the 1947 UN resolution, and that a democratic independent Palestinian state be established there. By 1951, however, the party had accepted the new carve-up of Palestine: the Palestinian communists remaining in israel helped to form the Israeli CP, while those in the West Bank formed the Jordanian CP. Thus the communists, instead of trying to preserve the Palestinian national identity (wataniya), submitted to its dissipation by the regimes of the area. The Jordanian CP continued to adhere to the same line even after 1967, until an acute conflict broke out among its leaders and intellectuals in 1972-75, which brought it close to fragmentation, to the point where it was named the Palestinian Communist Organization for almost one year, until renamed the Palestinian Communist Party. Without any doubt, the Palestinian communists’ distorted understanding of the national question had been a major cause of that crisis.
After 1948 those Palestinians who had Arab nationalist aspirations distributed themselves among the Ba’th Parties, the Movement of Arab Nationalists and the Nassarist movement. However, these also failed to appreciate the necessity of maintaining a Palestinian national identity. Like the communists, they too felt in a rather confused way that to uphold such an identity would be inconsistent with their belief that Palestine could only be liberated through a united Arab struggle. They failed to realize that the existence of a Palestinian national identity is quite compatible with a united Arab struggle; indeed, the former may reinforce the latter and enable the Palestinians to pressure the rest of the Arabs into a more radical position on the Palestinian issue. What attracted those Palestinians to the Arab nationalist parties and movements was the latter’s commitment to Arab unification. The defect lay in their inability to realize that Zionism, imperialism and the reactionary Arab regimes were all intent on eliminating the Palestinian identity. Thus, adherence to this identity would have been consonant with a radical position, rather than with a regional fragmentary tendency opposed to Arab unification.
The Palestinian movement, 1967-1970
THE TREND of Palestinian incorporation into Arab political movements and regimes was dominant in the period from 1948 to 1965. After that period, there emerged new Palestinian movements that advocated very clearly the need for Palestinian action within a framework of autonomous organizations, independent of the Arab parties and regimes. The first group to urge such a course was Fatah.
Before going any further, it is essential to note that the new Palestinian national movement, with its new structure, that emerged in the mid1960s – and was, in effect, the Palestinian version of the bourgeois Arab nationalist movement-came into the world belatedly, a decade or so after what would have been its ‘natural’ time. Instead of coinciding with the revival and high tide of nationalism in the Arab homeland, the new Palestinian national movement emerged when its Arab counterpart had already been ebbing away. This late arrival of the Palestinian movement (compared to its Arab sisters) is due to the destruction of the Palestinian social structure.
The leadership of the Palestinian national movement had to develop outside Palestine, for two main reasons. First, the Palestinians belonging to the largest and most central concentration – on the west and east banks of Jordan-were officially regarded as ‘Jordanians’, and were prevented from showing any sign of Palestinian affiliation and identity. Second, the Palestinian bourgeoisie in Jordan had incorporated itself into the Jordanian regime and lost all national or political aspirations to go beyond that regime’s framework. The West Bank had also been economically integrated into the Jordanian economy.
In the surrounding Arab countries, on the contrary, the Palestinians were not given citizenship but were more or less segregated. As a result, the bourgeois Palestinian political movement in these countries, though initially still linked with Arab political groups, found an adequate environment for its own political crystallization; it therefore developed politically before the propertied bourgeoisie inside Palestine.
The Palestinian subjective factor – the politically oriented national petty bourgeoisie – was thus able to develop in advance of the objective conditions such as the economy and the general material life of the Palestinians, scattered in several states. As a result, it is the petty bourgeoisie that has led the Palestinian resistance movement, especially after 1967, with the radical turn in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The early 1960s saw the beginnings of the new orientation of the Palestinian struggle, largely independent of the Arab regimes and to some extent also independent of Arab political forces. This drove the Arab regimes to reinforce their policy of containing the Palestinian struggle. Thus in 1964 Nasser established the old PLO – an institutional apparatus rather than a mass movement. The man appointed to lead it was Ahmad Shuqairi, a traditional Palestinian politician who had spent many years in the service of various Arab regimes, and would ensure that the politics of the organization would not go beyond the confines of the Arab political establishments.
The development of the Palestinian armed struggle organizations (in particular Fatah) started in 1965 outside Shuqairi’s PLO. The decisive turning-point came in 1967, with the defeat of the Arab regimes and, more generally, of the Arab national bourgeoisie. This led to the discrediting and demise of Shuqairi’s apparatus. The armed organizations – mainly Fatah, but also other groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – had little difficulty in ousting the Shuqairi leadership, thanks to a clear programme of armed struggle which had already been put into practice.
The Palestinian organizations’ engagement in armed struggle won them huge mass support, especially against the background of the defeat of the Arab regimes with their regular armies. This support was given a further boost by the battle of al-Karameh (March 1968), in which the Israelis were surprised by the hitherto unfamiliar guerrilla tactics of their antagonist.
However, the Palestinian organizations’ opportunity for developing their activity, based in Jordan, proved to be short-lived. It was made possible by the Hashemite regime’s weakness and the disintegration of its institutions following the 1967 war, which created a space for the development of a situation of dual power. But the Jordanian regime was trying hard to consolidate its power and reconstruct its institutions, while the Palestinian organizations were unable to overcome the fragmentation that has always been their bane. Moreover, they did not succeed in attracting the Jordanian masses and in consolidating an alliance with the Jordanian national movement. The showdown came in Black September, 1970, when Palestinians living in Jordan were massacred and their armed organizations were evicted from the country.
It should be noted here that most of the Arab regimes gave their blessing to the massacre, and merely offered to ‘mediate’ in order to reach a unanimous resolution that the Palestinian organizations should evacuate Jordan. A notable-but short-lived-exception was the Syrian regime, still dominated by the left wing of the Ba’th Party, which offered the Palestinian resistance some help against the Jordanian regime. A ‘slowmotion’ military coup was already well on its way in Syria, however, and Hafez aI-Assad – no friend of an independent Palestinian movementsoon assumed full power.
The Palestinian organizations were not allowed to use Egyptian or Syrian territory as a base for military operations against Israel, and after 1970 they were excluded from Jordan as well; so they moved their main forces into Lebanon. But for geographical and demographic reasons, Lebanon could never be a substitute for Jordan as a natural base for the struggle against Israeli occupation. Besides, it was only a question of time .before one or more of the rival Lebanese power mafias would acquire – or be given – the capability and the opportunity to perpetrate another massacre of the Palestinians.
In retrospect it is clear that the PLO’s eviction from Jordan signalled the end of its claim to be the vanguard of the Arab revolution.
U-turns of the PLO
AFTER SEPTEMBER 1970, the Palestinian right reached a conclusion that has affected its conduct ever since: that the way to achieve a solution was through a diplomatic settlement. However, the Palestinian right realized the need to play this card cautiously and to be wary of the reaction of other wings of the movement. This conclusion led to theorizing about a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This may be regarded as the PLO’s first U-turn, which brought the organization into line with the positions taken by the Arab regimes since 1967, in confining their demands to the territories occupied in the June war of that year. Moreover, it should be noted that the left has followed the right in this U-turn, albeit using a different rhetoric. The Popular-Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PDFLP), for instance, has joined in the theorizing process for a programme of a ‘national authority’ and later for a ‘Palestinian state’. By 1974 the PDFLP had changed its political and ideological platform from a call for action against the Arab regimes to a stance of reconciliation; from a call for struggle led by an all-Arab communist movement to advocating an exclusively Palestinian struggle; and from a call for critical alliance with the ‘socialist camp’ to an uncritical acceptance of the positions and analyses of the Soviet Union.
The October 1973 war accelerated the shift of the PLO towards a diplomatic settlement. Following the war there was much talk of convening a top-level Middle East conference in Geneva, to be chaired jointly by the US and the USSR; and it was widely believed that this would lead to a Palestinian state. But the real outcome of the war was the PLO’s total exclusion from any position of influence on Arab policy-making, which was now completely subordinated to the interests of the Egyptian and Syrian regimes.
Despite the friendly attitude of the Soviet Union towards the PLO, the latter’s leadership gradually came to realize that a diplomatic settlement in the Middle East in the foreseeable future would only be possible if it were imposed by the US, as a Pax Americana. This gave the PLO’s leadership all the more reason to fall in with the political outlook and methods of the Arab regimes, which had meanwhile come under the leadership of America’s staunchest Arab ally, the Saudi regime.
The ‘American’ trend within the PLO, encouraged in the post-1973 atmosphere, was apparent in the activity of persons such as Sartawi and Dajani. Sartawi, for example, forged links on the PLO’s behalf with middle-of-the-road Israelis (who would never go beyond agreed American policy in the area) but neglected or excluded Israeli leftist and communist forces.
The PLO leadershsip’s orientation towards an American diplomatic settlement had a detrimental effect on its conduct in the Lebanese civil war, which broke out in 1975 and in which the Palestinians were embroiled from the start. The PLO leadership refused to put into practice the socially radical programme for the establishment of a non-sectarian ‘democratic Lebanon’, and became involved in confessional alliances. This offered the Syrian regime the chance to prop up the sectarian set-up in Lebanon, and in so doing, it found it expedient to conduct a massacre against the Palestinians. Thus the PLO lost its second historical opportunity to establish a base for its struggle.
Then came Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 and his recognition of Israel. This made it patently clear not only that any diplomatic settlement in the area would be an American-Israeli one, but also that the Arab regimes would be assigned the task of imposing it on the Palestinians. As recent years have proved, the Arab governments’ boycott of Egypt was merely a charade; in fact, the Egyptian regime has only done what the others had always been willing to do.
The American-mediated 1981 truce between the PLO leadership and Israel, and the consequent halting of operations from southern Lebanon against northern Israeli settlements, marked the second U-turn of the PLO leadership, bringing it into line with the Arab regimes. This was, in effect, a step towards recognizing Israel. Although some people alleged that the truce also implied recognition of the PLO by Israel, this is not the case: Israel made no real concession but merely bided its time, preparing and awaiting a pretext for a major war against the Palestinians. This is exactly what took place in June 1982.
The evacuation of the PLO from Lebanon in 1982 paved the way for the organization’s third and most recent U-turn towards acquiescence and submission to the Arab regimes. In this respect, Arafat’s visit to Egypt was not as dangerous as his reconciliation with Jordan and the revival of the Jordanian parliament, including appointed ‘representatives of the occupied territories’. Indeed, Arafat’s visit to Cairo was perhaps no more than an attempt to divert attention from his blossoming relations with Jordan, which were condemned by most Palestinian forces. One of the first results of Arafat’s rapprochment with Jordan – surely, second only to Israel in its hostility to a Palestinian identity – was a joint acceptance by Arafat and Hussein of UN Security Council Resolution 242 as a basis for proposed negotiations with Israel. Hitherto, Resolution 242 had always been rejected by the whole Palestinian movement, mainly because it refers to the Palestinians merely as ‘refugees’ rather than as a national entity, as object rather than subject.
Thus in making this third U-turn, the PLO leadership has delivered itself as hostage into the hands of the Arab regimes.
The West Bank is the object
THE WEST BANK has the largest concentration of Palestinians within their homeland, and is therefore the focus where several issues intersect: the Palestinian struggle; the PLO’s aim of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; Israel’s drive to annex these territories for good; Jordan’s wish to regain its domination over the Palestinian population and, if possible, over the West Bank itself; and the Arab regimes’ interest in seeing the territory revert to Jordan, thus freeing themselves of the burden of the Palestinians. The US too has an interest in these territories, which it hopes to use as a counter in an American-backed settlement designed to satisfy the ambitions of Israel and the interests of some Arab regimes. As for the Palestinians, they are assigned the passive role of mere props on the stage where the action takes place.
From dependence to atrophy
In the present section I shall discuss the occupation regime in the West Bank, concentrating on its economic aspects.
The West Bank did not have an independent economy when it was under Jordanian rule. Following the 1948 defeat, the territory’s population, economy and land were simply incorporated into Jordan, whose development efforts were deliberately concentrated on the East Bank. The economic neglect of the West Bank fitted in with Jordan’s policy of suppressing the Palestinians and obliterating their identity.
Thus in 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank, it found a weak and ramshackle economic structure, no match for Israel’s capitalist and relatively developed economy, which was incorporated into the world system. Whether or not Israel had prior designs to subordinate the West Bank’s economy to its own needs, such a policy has certainly evolved during the years of occupation, as a corollary of Israel’s political ambitions over what it regards as ‘liberated’ territory. Both major parties in Israel, the Likud and Labour, insist on retaining Israeli domination over most, if not all, of the territory’s lands, and are at best ready to negotiate with Jordan over the status of the Palestinian inhabitants, as is clear from the Camp David accords.
From the early days of occupation, Israel has decreed a large number of military orders and regulations, governing all aspects oflife. (Among the first was an order according to which the Palestinian inhabitants were issued with identity cards for personal identification, but not as proof of nationality or national identity.) In particular, the military governor promulgated various economic regulations, such as the imposition of Israeli currency and a ban on exports and imports except through Israel; this latter ban does not, however, apply to a limited number of products that could compete with Israel’s own products, and which are therefore still exported across the ‘open bridges’ into Jordan.
The West Bank soon became economically dependent on Israel. The local merchant was forced to import from the Israeli market. Similarly, Israel was the only source of raw materials and other inputs for manufacture, and the same was true of certain inputs for agriculture. Thus the various social classes were linked to the Israeli economy for the operation of the processes of production in the West Bank.
In addition, workers became dependent on employment in the Israeli economy. A surplus labour force had existed in the West Bank even before the 1967 war. Despite a wave of emigration on the eve of the war, and mass expulsions immediately after it, the size of this surplus actually increased. The reason for this was a sharp decline in demand for labour in the West Bank: the effects of the war paralysed various spheres of manufacture and agriculture. Moreover, the public services sector, which had been a major employer under Jordan, was cut down to a minimum by the Israeli occupation authorities; besides, Palestinian workers are not attracted by this new employer. As a result, many Palestinian workers were faced with the choice between emigration and seeking work inside Israel. This large supply of new Palestinian labour coincided with an increased demand for labour in the Israeli economy, which revived from its pre-1967 recession and, due to foreign investments, boomed for the following six years. At the same time, the expanding Israeli militaryindustrial complex, closed to Arabs, absorbed a growing proportion of Israelis, thus creating a need for Palestinian workers in other sectors of the economy. These Palestinian workers came not only from the cities and refugee camps, but also from rural areas; even before the large-scale expropriation of lands, the capitalization of the relations of production forced the peasant family to increase its cash income by sending some of its members to seek hired employment.
The economic structure that took shape in the occupied territories during the first ten years of occupation can be described as colonial. Israel harnessed the territories’ economy to its own; the various sectors of the local economy were prevented from fitting in with each other, but were instead made to fit into the capitalist Israeli economy. This was an instance of what Chattapodaya has called ‘reservation/disintegration’. Thus local agriculture was directed towards producing for the needs of the Israeli economy, and local manufacture was fitted into slots in Israel’s industrial production.
However, the term ‘colonial’ is no longer adequate for describing the pattern that began to emerge after the first ten years. Through massive expropriation oflands, Israel had by 1984 seized about half of the West Bank’s area. Taxes were imposed on local industries, leading to their eventual bankruptcy or at best halting their development. Economic hardship (exacerbated by a spiralling inflation imported from Israel) and political repression led to increased emigration. Israeli settlements, rapidly growing in number, also changed their character: they became overtly civilian (rather than military outposts) and spread into the heartland of the occupied territories, invading even the cities. All these processes go beyond the colonial aim of merely harnessing the local economy to Israeli needs; rather, they tend to destroy the very structure of production.
It is becoming clear that Israel’s aim is not merely to subjugate the Palestinian inhabitants and concentrate them in reserve areas, but to displace them altogether, to be replaced by Israelis. Unlike the South African settler-colonial policy of herding the indigenous people into segregated, purely black reserve areas, the Israeli colonization policy is to set up settlements inside densely populated Palestinian areas, in order to achieve an Israeli demographic majority and disperse the Palestinian society, as a step towards its ultimate expulsion across the Jordan. This clearly goes beyond the formation of a settler-colonial mode of production; it is an ideologically and politically motivated programme of complete destruction of the structure of production, of uprooting the Palestinians from the soil, preventing them from owning industrial and technical means of production and, finally, encouraging or forcing the largest possible number to emigrate.
The present economic situation in the occupied territories is that of transition from a settler-colonial mode of production to economic atrophy, partly masked by a sizeable inflow of political funds – mainly through Jordan, with Israel’s acquiescence – on which a growing number of Palestinian inhabitants have become dependent. True, the local bourgeoisie and land-owners are trying to protect their interests by clinging to their role of subservience to the Israeli economy, thus tending to preserve the colonial mode of production. However, Israel’s ideological and political plans spell the doom of this attempt, and will finally lead to the dissolution of the local social and economic fabric. The Palestinian population of the occupied territories already produces less than it consumes; and the disruptive economic situation has led to confusion and unease in daily life.
Aspects of deformation
In 1970 about 20,600 workers from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, comprising 13.5 per cent ofthe total number of workers in these territories, were employed in Israel; in 1975 the number was 66,300 (about 47.8 per cent); and by 1985 the number had reached 85,000, of which 47,000 come from the West Bank and the rest from Gaza. Together with some 50,000 who work in Israel illegally, this adds up to well over half the total number of wage workers in these occupied territories (estimated at slightly less than 250,000). Despite this, unemployment in the territories ranges from 16 to 20 per cent, due to the economic crisis in Israel, which has led to the replacement of Palestinian workers by Israelis. The situation is exacerbated by the policy of Jordan, which prevents Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank from staying in Jordan for an extended period or migrating elsewhere. This policy – aimed not so much as entrenching the Palestinians in their territories as at maintaining their dependence on the Jordanian authorities – adds to the pressure of unemployment.
The grossly deformed character of the economy of the occupied territories is revealed by the fact that well over half of their workers are employed outside, in Israel, which retains all the surplus produced by these workers. The picture becomes even worse when we remember that a major part of the wages brought in by these workers, as well as incomes generated within the occupied territories and private remittances and political funds that flow in across the Jordan bridges, are used to pay for consumer goods imported from Israel, and are thus drained away into the Israeli economy.
The situation of the peasants, however, is more complicated. In the early years of the occupation, the Israeli authorities directed local agriculture into producing crops that were needed by the Israeli economy, whether for its domestic consumption or to fill gaps in Israel’s exports. Israel granted incentives for growing such crops, and guaranteed their sale. But once local agricultural production had been completely reoriented to serve Israel’s needs, the Israelis stopped offering incentives and the produce became subject to market fluctuations. Moreover, while the flow ofIsraeli products into the occupied territories is unrestricted, a permit from the military governor is required for exporting Palestinian products to Israel or to foreign markets where they might compete with Israeli products.
All these pressures, as well as the continual decline in the number of people engaged in agriculture, created a highly unstable economic situation during the early years of occupation.
Since 1973 matters have been getting steadily worse, due to the proliferation of Israeli settlements and massive expropriations of lands. Land seizures, at first gradual and piecemeal, have assumed vast proportions, especially since 1980; it is estimated that by the end of 1984 about 2.5mn (million) dunums, constituting about half of the total area of the West Bank, had been seized. The number of Israeli settlements is estimated at about 165. (The exact number is difficult to determine, because the Israeli authorities take new decisions almost daily; this also applies to the exact area occupied by each settlement.)
The number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank was 20,000 in 1973, and grew rather slowly until 1982, when it reached about 22,000. But in recent years the numbers have escalated rapidly, reaching about 43,000 in earlý 1985. To this should be added 78,000 settlers in the areas surrounding East Jerusalem, which have been officially annexed to Israel, making about 121,000 settlers altogether, or approximately 11 per cent of the entire population of the West Bank.
A recent significant trend has been the industrialization of Israeli settlements. In 1982 Israeli settlements already employed about 3,000 industrial workers (out of a total of 18,300 in the whole West Bank). But in that year the Israeli authorities decided to build 79 new factories (over the next two years) in existing or projected Israeli settlements. The effect of this trend is to cut the cost of transporting Palestinian workers employed in Israeli industry, as well as the cost of transporting Israeli industrial produce into the West Bank. This gives Israeli industry additional advantages in its competition with local industry over labour and markets, leading to the virtual extinction of Palestinian industry. Thus the Israeli settlement policy not only results in uprooting the Palestinian farmers and peasants, leading to their proletarization, but also undermines and destroys the other productive sectors.
This amounts to a deliberate strategy of annexing the occupied territories from within, by settling large numbers of Israelis in them and fragmenting their weak indigenous socio-economic structure. Thus the process of external Israeli annexation of these territories, through military occupation, is being complemented internally by their complete economic dissolution into the economy of the occupier.
Balance of trade
The data on the occupied territories’ imports and exports for the years 1981-83 are summarized in Table 1. It is clear from these data that the territories’ trade deficit derives for the most part from their exchange with the Israeli economy. The trade deficit is covered by a unilateral inflow of funds: Arab aid, assistance from the Joint Palestinian-Jordanian Committee, and the remittances of migrant workers in Israel, Jordan and elsewhere.
Table 1. External trade of the occupied territories, 1981-83 in millions of Israeli shekels
The occupied territories are thus net exporters of labour-power and net importers of goods. This reflects the structural weakness of their economy, and its dependence on the economies of Jordan and other Arab countries, and to an even greater extent on that of Israel. Moreover, the occupied territories are peripheral to these other economies, while the whole region is peripheral to the world economic system.
In addition to exploiting the labour-power of the occupied territories and using them as a market, Israel derives another economic benefit from the occupation: a significant quantity of Israeli goods are re-exported from these territories into the Arab countries, under local or foreign labels. It seems almost as though this is a sort of pilot project, in preparation for much larger and overt Israeli economic penetration of the Arab markets, as part of an American-sponsored settlement.
Finally, let us point out that the bourgeoisie of the occupied territories exports its capital to Jordan, Egypt and other Arab countries, although much of this capital originates from the ‘steadfastness’ funds donated by the Arab world; thus these donations are recycled back to the Arab countries, but in the process they serve to subsidize the Palestinian bourgeoisie and secure its political allegiance.
The traditional local bourgeoisie
In the foregoing discussion we have tried to describe and analyse the deformations of the socio-economic structure of the occupied territories. We pointed out that the peasantry is shrinking, due to the loss of lands through Israeli colonization. At the same time, the working class has become an object of double exploitation, through the export of its labourpower, and as consumers of Israeli goods. The deformation of the peasantry and working class goes hand in hand with the deformation of the bourgeoisie of the occupied territories. This latter class is mainly made up of mercantile and comprador elements, as well as landlords of estates, and to a lesser extent of owners of small-scale industries. The productivity of the local economy is very low compared to consumption, about half of which is covered by remittances of migrant workers and political subsidies from the Arab world.
The Palestinians of the occupied territories cannot, of course, be considered as an entity separate from the Palestinian people as a whole. For one thing, many workers from these territories are employed in Israel and the surrounding Arab countries, where they mingle with other sections of the Palestinian people.
In addition to the demographic, economic and cultural interdependence between the Palestinians in the occupied territories and those outside, there is the Palestinian struggle, in which the Palestinians of the diaspora still playa pioneering and leading role. The PLO was formed in the diaspora, and its leadership, as well as its main forces, are still outside the occupied territories.
The PLO is the only organization that can claim to represent the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and it has firm links with all the social classes there. It still enjoys the virtually undivided loyalty of the masses. The only social class whose allegiance to the PLO is less than solid is the bourgeoisie, which is more inclined to be loyal to the Jordanian regime.
It is clear that in the last few years the local traditional bourgeoisie has exerted pressure on the PLO leadership in favour of delegating to Jordan the role of representing the Palestinians. This is because, if Jordan were to be accorded this role, it would in turn use local bourgeois elements as spokesmen for the Palestinians, thus bypassing the PLO.
Two factors have contributed to turning the local bourgeoisie away from the PLO. First, the Camp David accords, which were designed (among other things) to exclude the PLO from the political process, were welcomed by this bourgeoisie. The second factor is the Joint PalestinianJordanian Committee, which has facilitated Jordanian interference in local Palestinian affairs through pro-Hashemite loyalists inside the occupied territories.
In addition to maintaining relations simultaneously with the PLO and Jordan, the traditional bourgeoisie also flirts with Israel and the US. These latter contacts have resulted in a plan to set up inside the occupied territories a ‘development project’ which is to be financed mainly by American capital, under Israeli-American supervision. This will no doubt deepen the dependence of the occupied territories and reinforce their role as a link between the economies ofIsrael and the Arab countries.
To justify its flirtations with the US and Israel, the traditional bourgeoisie argues that the Palestinians of the occupied territories have been abandoned by all the Arabs, and they must therefore look after themselves as best they can; if that means making a deal with the US, and even with Israel, then so be it.
In this argument, the traditional bourgeoisie misleadingly glosses over the fact that the politics and positions of the Arab regimes do not truly represent the aspirations of the Arab masses.
It is important to point out that the defeatism of the traditional bourgeoisie has been fostered by the weakening of the PLO and its growing dependence on the Arab regimes, as well as by the apparent inability of the left of the PLO to offer the Palestinian masses a credible alternative strategy.
The recent policy of the PLO leadership – signalled most clearly by its acceptance of Security Council Resolution 242 – has resulted in strengthening the position and role of the traditional bourgeoisie. In turning back to the circle of the Arab regimes, that leadership has lost its revolutionary principles, and with them its very raison d’être.
3: Crisis, Industrialisation and the development of submerged all-Arab identity
IN PART 1 of this essay we discussed the incorporation of the Arab economies into the world capitalist market and the new Arab dependence on the imperialist centre. We also explained how the uneven development between Arab countries became, for economic and political reasons, an aim in itself. Through uneven development, the direct interrelations between the Arab countries have been attenuated and have given way to the separate attachment of individual Arab countries to the world system and, more recently, to relations between some Arab countries and the Zionist regime, which partly mediates between them and the world system.
Since the first boom in oil prices (1973), the oil-exporting Arab countries have become increasingly incorporated into the world economic system. They have acquired huge liquid reserves, which they have used, in part, to enlarge their exchange with the outside world. This has still left them with surplus funds for investment in the region itself – and hence they have acquired an increased stake in the region’s political stability. At the same time, the Arab bourgeois ruling classes have reached a certain ideological maturity, mobilizing into their ranks a host of writers and academics who advocate capitalist development through ‘open door’ relations with the world system in general, and with the US in particular. These theoreticians argue against the ideas of Arab nation, all-Arab national identity and unification of the Arab world.
These developments prepared the ground for Sadat’s visit to Israel, where he declared that there would be ‘no more wars in the Middle East’. In this he was representing the beliefs not only of Egypt’s ruling class but also those of other Arab countries, mainly Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Projecting this analysis forwards, we can detect the beginning of a new front in the area, with the Israeli regime and the Arab ruling classes as the local junior partners, and the US as the dominant senior partner.
All this constitutes a total U-turn by bourgeois Arab nationalists, away from their erstwhile preaching of ‘Arab unity and the liberation of Palestine’ . In this third part of our essay, we shall outline a hypothetical economic scenario for the development of the Arab homeland. If this scenario is indeed realized, its outcome will supersede all the present centrifugal deviations of the Arab bourgeoisies and bring the region to the threshold ofa new era.
The present economic scene
As AN introduction to our scenario for the economic future, we must first discuss the present economic situation in the Arab world. We shall concentrate mainly on Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as being the most important representatives of their respective types.
Despite a long series of pan-Arab economic and trade agreements, the Arab ruling classes have continued the process of divergent development, using these agreements merely to cover up their real policies.
The majority of industrial workers in the Arab countries are concentrated in simple and craft industries, mostly in plants employing no more than 100 workers. The proportion of industrial workers in the total employed labour force is still only 20 or 21 per cent – a clear symptom of under-development. (In the developed countries of both West and East the figure is around 40 per cent; in countries whose per capita income is near the world average it is around 28 per cent.)
However, the share of industry in total employment varies considerably from one Arab country to another. The same holds true for the share of industry in the gross domestic product (GDP): it is 48 per cent in Algeria, 25 per cent in Egypt, 24 per cent in Syria and 20 per cent in Lebanon. In the least industrially developed Arab countries, such as Sudan, Jordan and Yemen, the proportion is even lower.
In most Arab countries, the growth of industry’s share in the GDP has gone hand in hand with a decline in the share of agriculture. At the same time, the public and private service sector has grown continually at the expense of the first two sectors. This tertiary sector absorbs 71 per cent of the workforce in Lebanon, 68 per cent in Jordan and 58 per cent in Syria. This reflects the large size of the bureaucratic apparatus in the Arab countries.
Despite the mainly agricultural character of the Arab economies, productivity in this sector has declined during the 1970s and 1980s. During the 1970s the Arab world doubled its agricultural imports and is now, in relative terms, the greatest importer offood products in the Third World.
Between the 1950s and 1960s agriculture’s share in the GDP declined from 33 to 16 per cent in Algeria, and from 33 to 18 per cent in Syria. In most Arab countries, agriculture absorbs over half the workforce, in some cases as much as 70 per cent; but its share in the GDP is only around 20 per cent, and in South Yemen and Sudan it is as low as 9 and 4 per cent respectively. At the same time there are huge tracts of untilled arable land (100,000 hectares in Morocco, 126,000 in Egypt, 427,000 in Libya, 1.3 million in Algeria, 2.5 million in Syria, 12.6 million in Sudan) and a high rate of unemployment, particularly disguised unemployment in rural areas, in all Arab countries (11.5 per cent in Libya, 15.6 in Jordan, 25.7 in Iraq, 66 in North Yemen and as much as 73 per cent in Somalia)
Migration of labour
Chronic unemployment persists in most Arab countries, despite the sizeable migration of workers to non-Arab countries as well as between Arab countries. According to a French survey, France has 754,000 migrant workers from Algeria, 400,000 from Morocco and 134,000 from Tunisia. There are also smaller, but significant, numbers from Syria and Libya.
As for migration of Arab workers to oil countries, Table 2 shows the number of such migrants from six labour-exporting countries, as well as the percentage of the total labour force in the country of origin represented by these workers.
Table 2. Migrant labour force in oil-producing countries
Most of these workers are employed in construction and in government jobs; a minority are employed as skilled workers.
In the labour-importing oil countries, Arab migrant workers are increasingly outnumbered by non-Arab ones. Table 3 contains data on the total workforce employed in the major oil-exporting Arab countries, as well as the number of expatriate workers (including migrants from Arab and other countries). As the table shows, the proportion of migrant workers has been increasing rapidly. At the same time, it is known that the share of Arabs in this expatriate workforce has declined.
Table 3. Total and expatriate labour force in major Arab oil-exporting countries; selected years
These trends reflect a deliberate policy on the part of the governments concerned: migrant workers are preferred because they accept lower wages; and non-Arab migrant workers can more easily be kept ‘out of politics’. In the last few years, however, the governments are becoming increasingly concerned that this policy is leading to the creation of national minorities.
The remittances of migrant Arab workers form an important part of the national income of their countries of origin and help to offset their trade deficit. Syria receives some $50 mn each year from Syrian workers employed in other Arab countries; the corresponding figure for Egypt is at least ten times as high. And the remittances ofJ ordanian migrant workers make up about 40 per cent of Jordan’s GDP.
Under Ottoman rule, the Arab countries formed a common market, and the exchange of commodities between them was free. In the years just before the First World War, a quarter of all Syrian exports went to Egypt alone, and another quarter to the rest of the Ottoman empire. In 1910 one-fifth of all Egypt’s imports came from Arab countries, excluding Sudan; by 1929 this proportion had dwindled to 3 per cent. Trade between the Arab countries declined drastically during the 1930s: from 1928 to 1938 the share of Syrian exports going to Egypt fell from 17 to only 5 per cent, and Syria’s share in Egypt’s exports was halved.
The decline in inter-Arab trade was due to the balkanization of the Arab homeland following the war, and the fragmentation of the interests of the ruling classes. At the same time, trade between Arab countries and the rest of the world increased, as each Arab country conducted its exchange separately.
There have been many attempts to tighten economic relations between the Arab countries and to re-create an Arab common market. Thus in 1953 several Arab countries agreed to lower duties on trade and transportation between them. In 1957 members of the Arab League signed an agreement for complete economic unity; in 1964 they agreed to form an ‘Arab Common Market’ and in 1965 they undertook to set up a Council for Arab Economic Unity. Some time after that, they established the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC). The 1970s were likewise punctuated by similar bilateral agreements; the decade also saw the creation of Arab committees for industry and for joint arms production, and so on.
The results of all these agreements fell far short of expectations: rather than becoming mutually interdependent, the Arab countries deepened their separate dependence on the world market. Those countries which followed the first trajectory of development, such as Egypt, failed to develop an independent industrial base; and when oil prices boomed, Saudi Arabia and other countries of the second trajectory used their new financial strength to become even more integrated into the world capitalist system.
Briefly, the 1970s were a period of’recompradorization’ (to use a term coined by S. Amin) of the Arab countries, especially Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Algeria.
Trade between the countries of the so-called Arab Common Market remained weak; it represented 6 per cent of their total foreign trade in 1970, and declined even further in 1973 and 1976. At the same time imports from the West went up. From 1972 to 1976 the share of the US in Algeria’s imports increased from 6.6 to 8.9 per cent; the corresponding figures for Iraq are from 3.2 to 9.5; and for Syria, from 3.7 to 14.4 per cent. The rise in Egypt’s imports from the US was particularly steep: from 7.8 to 27 per cent. The former French possessions in North Africa conduct much of their trade with the EEC; for example, 63 per cent of Tunisia’s total foreign trade was with the EEC.
In 1983 inter-Arab trade was worth just under 10 per cent of total Arab exports and imports. While this is still a very modest figure, it is three times as high as a decade before; it seems to indicate a new development in inter-Arab exchange and economic relations, and a growing tendency in some Arab countries to become involved in their neighbours’ markets.
A modest industrial development began in Egypt in the 1920s. The pace ofindustrialization quicked in the 1940s, largely due to the presence of a very sizeable British garrison during the war. The British forces in Egypt and the Western Desert had to rely to a considerable extent on local supplies and presented Egyptian industry with a lucrative market. A large and ambitious programme ofindustrialization began to be implemented under Nasser’s regime, which stressed the need to create an infrastructure for traditional industries, such as steel. Stagnation set in at the end of the Nasser era, and was exacerbated under Sadat’s regime, which adopted an ‘open door’ policy, exposing local industry to the competition of technologically superior and cheaper foreign goods and diverting the purchasing power of the ailluent strata to imported luxuries. The annual economic growth rate, which averaged 7.1 per cent over the years 1945-65, fell in the 1970s to 3 per cent, which is about equal to the population’s growth rate.
Egypt’s foreign trade makes up only 0.25 per cent of total world trade; the corresponding figure for Israel-whose population is less than onetenth of Egypt’s – is 3.3 per cent. In the financial year 1982/83, the Egyptian budget deficit exceeded E£4.8 bn; the government offset this deficit by issuing banknotes, thus stoking innation. As a direct consequence, the Egyptian pound had to be devalued: its value dropped to $1.43 in 1983, compared to $2.56 in the early 1970s. By the end of 1983 Egypt’s debts amounted to over half its gross national product (GNP).
Alongside the deep and widespread poverty – over 27 per cent of the population live below the officially defined poverty line -there are enormous riches. Egypt has 250,000 millionaires, 150,000 large building landlords, 7,500 owners of export-import firms, 15,000 owners of transportation fleets and 4,000 persons owning more than 50 acres ofland.
Other Arab countries which have followed the first trajectory of development also face grave economic difficulties. Let us take Syria as an example. The agricultural sector employs almost half of Syria’s labour force, but produces less than one-fifth of the GNP. In 1963 Syria’s exports covered 80.4 per cent of its imports; but by 1974 Syrian exports ($778 mn) covered a mere 22.5 per cent ofimports.
The oil era
OIL IS, in more than one sense, liquid wealth; it is not a true indication of real economic development. The 1974-80 boom in the price of this exceptional commodity sharply increased its exceptional role in the Arab economies. In that period, the oil revenues of the Arab states jumped from $53.1 bn to $213.8 bn. But at the time of writing it is expected that in 1985 these revenues will not exceed $75 bn, which in real terms (taking into consideration the rate of inflation and the dollar’s rate of exchange) is less than the 1975 level.
Total Arab exports in 1970 were estimated at $11. 9 bn. By 1974 they had gone up six-fold, and by 1981 they amounted to eighteen times the 1970 figure. Most of this increase is due to oil. Indeed, the share of oil in total Arab exports had risen from 74.5 per cent in 1971 to 93.3 per cent in 1981.
The bonanza in oil revenues actually had a harmful effect on the Arab economies, turning them into economies of revenue distribution rather than developing productivity. In the period 1971-81, when exports multiplied eighteen-fold, imports also increased by the same factor, and consisted largely of consumer goods. The Arab homeland became one of the world’s regions which suffer most from a shortage oflocally grown foodstuffs.
Despite the growth in Arab agricultural development in the early 1960s, a serious shortfall arose during the 1970s: food consumption was increasing by 6 per cent annually, which is double the rate of population growth. Food importation shot up at an alarming rate: from $1 bn in 1970 to $53 bn in 1982.
Perhaps one of the best proofs of the mal-investment of Arab oil revenues is the Arab world’s large foreign debt, totalling some $105 bn; the biggest debtors are Iraq (32 bn), Egypt (21 bn), Morocco (12.5 bn) and Sudan (8 bn).
The huge surplus oil revenues have been used in several ways, most of them non-productive. Large sums are kept as reserves in Western banks, and used by the banks to acquire high profits; another major part of the surplus is spent on luxury consumption by the ruling classes – while the Arab homeland still has one of the world’s highest rates ofinfant mortality – or on buying real estate and investment shares in the West.
Another part is lent by the Arab oil states to Third World countries. Arab non-oil countries in particular receive substantial loans and even free gifts; but much of this is in turn spent non-productively.
Some of the oil revenues have nevertheless been used for industrial investment within the Arab world, particularly in constructing a petrochemical industry in member countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) as well as in Algeria, Iraq and Libya.
Algeria was the first Arab country to invest in this field, in the mid-1960s. However, despite the Algerian government’s heavy concentration in this sector, the share ofindustrial production did not exceed 12 or 13 per cent of the total domestic product. There were several reasons for this: lack of skilled labour, maladministration, the backwardness of the industrial infrastructure, and international competition.
Following Algeria, the GCC embarked on large-scale development in the petrochemical industry. This was motivated by the availability of the necessary raw materials, cheap energy and ready finance. The multinational corporations were involved in this development; they contributed investment capital as well as technology and expert personnel. Indeed, the whole programme was based on advice from foreign sources and was in essence externally oriented, irrespective of the potential harm that might be caused to the local economies. In other words, the project is merely a branch of the multinational petrochemical industry that – for reasons of convenience and low costs – happens to be located in the Gulf countries.
The member governments of the GCC are fully aware that the age of oil cannot last for ever and that substitute resources should therefore be developed well in advance, before the oil reserves begin to dwindle. But in practice the GCC petrochemical industry was based on a short-sighted policy which was externally oriented and neglected the need for balanced industrialization. Moreover, the GCC remains an exclusive club that does not admit new members. This reveals the orientation of the GCC towards the development of unequal development between Arab countries.
The profits which the multinational corporations are syphoning off and the shares that they hold are not the only losses of the GCC. One of the GCC petrochemical industry’s major weaknesses lies at the level of marketing. Despite the fact that the GCC petrochemical companies are merely branches of the multinationals, the latter have joined Western officials, businessmen and ‘opinion-makers’ in demanding high tariffs on the importation of GCC petrochemicals into Western markets. Their argument is that the Arab oil countries are rich enough not to be treated as underdeveloped countries in need of preferential treatment. Thus, for example, in July 1985 the EEC decided to impose a 13.5 per cent duty on imports of methanol from Saudi Arabia, rather than offering the facilities accorded to products of underdeveloped countries.
At the same time, Western companies continue to push the GCC to invest even more in the same field, and their advice is being accepted.
Wrong-headed policies of the GCC
It is obvious that the GCC industrialization policy is a continuation of the policy of uneven development between Arab countries. The petrochemicals produced in the GCC plants are basic products which serve as inputs for manufacturing in the West. This new role of the GCC economy is an example of international re-specialization.
Besides its technological dependence (on imperialist countries), the GCC also suffers from its dependence on a foreign workforce. The reason for this dependence is the sparsity of the indigenous population – a mere twelve million, spread over a very large area. As we have already noted, however, this creates a dilemma for the GCC governments. The presence of a large number of non-Arab workers may eventually lead to the creation of a national minority which, given the small size of the indigenous population, would threaten the Arab character of the host country. On the other hand, foreign Arab workers do not regard themselves as really foreign; following a time-honoured tradition, they feel it is their right as Arabs to playa part in the politics of their Arab host country.
Possibly the gravest problem for the GCC industrial policy lies in the sphere of marketing. Because of the nature of the GCC’s main industrial products, their principal markets are in the industrialized countries. If these markets refuse to absorb all of the output, the GCC cannot switch over to production for the Arab market, because the latter has little demand for these products.
Another aspect of the GCC’s economic dependence, often reflected in speeches made by leaders ofits member governments, is the GCe’s great concern about the international economic order, in other words, the stability of the capitalist West. This concern is, alas, rather one-sided; the major capitalist powers have been busily engaged in plans and policies designed to break the bones of OPEC, with the result that the latter has now become immersed in a real crisis. It is clear that the West would like to compel OPEC to push oil prices down, and keep them down, to the pre-1974 level.
The GCC’s concern for the economic stability of the West has several material explanations, not least of which is the fact that GCC governments, as well as individuals, have invested heavily in the West. This policy of investing abroad was pioneered by Kuwait and Abu Dhabi in the 1960s, with the aim of offsetting their non-oil foreign trade deficit. Despite this laudable aim, the policy in fact enhances dependence. The investment – even where it is in industrial shares rather than real estate is unproductive from the point of view of the Arab homeland, because it does nothing to develop production there. Moreover, Western governments may one day nationalize these assets, or block remittances from their profits. Needless to say, Western experts and advisers are very enthusiastic about this investment policy and do much to encourage it. GCC aid to other Arab countries is also largely oriented towards nonproductive projects. Most of this aid is spent simply on offsetting the current trade deficit of the recipient states; very little is invested productively. Thus in 1976 the Kuwaiti government paid out $170 mn earmarked for Arab development projects, through the Kuwaiti Development Fund; but in the same year the government paid out $1 bn in direct aid to the Arab regimes. Similarly, the Saudi Development Fund paid out some $100 mn in that year for investment throughout the Arab world, but the Saudi government spent directly $2 bn in backing various Arab regimes.
Significantly, inter-Arab exchange underwent a relative decline during the era of oil price boom, and now stands at a mere 4 per cent of total Arab foreign trade.
What is the alternative?
IT IS OBVIOUS that a small country cannot compete in this age of regional or continental blocs. The only apparent exceptions are small countries such as Kuwait, which are endowed with great natural wealth. But even there this advantage cannot last in the long run, and Kuwait is, despite all its wealth and development, a dependent economy. Indeed, liquid assets and current surpluses alone do not suffice to overcome economic dependence; they may merely mask it.
In a world of huge blocs, the only way for the Arab countries to develop is by initiating common Arab policies, programmes and projects. The present dominant theories of Arab economic integration, indicative planning and free trade still harmonize with the trend of growing uneven development; and they are centred on exchange rather than production, which must be the point of departure for any genuine development.
The productive programme could proceed in two stages. The first step is to set up joint classical industrial projects between the GCC, which would contribute the capital, and Egypt, which would be the source of abundant cheap labour power. Such joint projects could solve at least the problems of dependence on foreign labour, the GCC’s dependence on insecure foreign markets, and Egyptian unemployment. Concurrently, joint agricultural projects could be started along similar lines between the GCC and Sudan, with GCC capital and Sudanese (as well as Egyptian) land and labour power.
The second stage would be to involve other Arab countries, which would initially at least subscribe financially to the projects. Eventually, the bilateral projects would be transformed into common all-Arab national ones. This two-stage programme should not ignore the existing petrochemical plants, but rather rationalize this sector and subject it to the priorities of balanced development.
The common projects and the overall programme encompassing them would offer several important advantages: the creation of a common productive basis, enjoying the use of mutually complementary resources of different Arab countries; the employment of millions of workers; a saving of surpluses which are at present squandered on imports; and the creation of a regional market which would automatically give priority to the products of the joint enterprises. The Arab countries would be obliged to buy from these enterprises, in which they themselves had invested, or in which their own workers were employed. Moreover, aid from the richer Arab countries could be made conditional on giving preferential treatment to these products. The joint enterprises would also be able to sell their products relatively cheaply on Arab markets because the transportation costs would be small, and the oil-exporting countries could offer their aid in the form of price subsidies.
Because of these and other advantages, and due to the objective economic pressures of the world market, it is quite possible that the capitalist ruling classes of the Arab countries will be impelled to pursue such a course of development, despite the fact that it would imply a certain degree of de-linking from the world capitalist system.
Indeed, the creation of joint Arab productive projects would reduce Arab dependence and harm imperialist interests in the region. From the point of view of the imperialist countries, the main loss would be that of the large Arab market for consumer goods. This in itself would create a real contradiction between the Arab bourgeoisie and the imperialist centres, whether or not the Arab ruling classes intended it.
What would be the political consequences of such an economic scenario, if it were to be implemented? As far as the Arab homeland itself is concerned, the development of economic interdependence and a regional market would no doubt play an essential role in encouraging Arab political unity.
At the same time, it would provoke economic conflict not only with the imperialist countries but also with Israel. At present, one of the main incentives that may induce Israel to accept some kind of Americanimposed political settlement is the prospect of being able to break into the large Arab markets. However, the creation of joint Arab development and an Arab common market might raise the spectre of a boycott, or at least of rigid tariff barriers against the penetration ofIsraeli goods. Moreover, any move towards Arab unification is anathema to Israel’s strategy, which aims at maximal fragmentation of the Arab world. It is no secret that Israel would like to see the Arab countries break up into three or four times their present number. Therefore, the probable Israeli reaction would be to use military force-in order to try to prevent a ‘dangerous’ convergence between its Arab neighbours.
In this new environment, however, the Arab regimes would have a real stake in struggling against Israel (and indirectly against imperialism) in order to defend their own interests. This struggle would, in turn, create two new variables: first, a new chance for the Palestinians to intensify their struggle for a genuine solution to the Palestinian question; and second, a new motive for the internal revolutionary forces inside Israel to fight against its aggressive regime and to achieve a real solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which can only be a socialist solution through a regional socialist state.
This line of analysis points to the probable conclusion that the present policies of uneven development – which have oriented the Arab regimes against unity and in favour of the recognition ofIsrael-may create the conditions for their own negation, in other words, the necessity for Arab unity on the one hand and a new wave of struggle against Israel and imperialism on the other.
If the Arab regimes were to adopt the scenario outlined above, they might well succeed in offsetting the Arab social crisis in the short run. However, it is a moot question as to whether this scenario can actually achieve an articulated development along a capitalist route. Can an Arab common market and political convergence be created while internal social differences become crucial?
Be that as it may, the working-class movement in the whole region will continue its struggle for a socialist solution to the social, economic and political questions. This movement also includes those Israeli revolutionaries who are struggling against the capitalist Zionist regime; in their joint struggle with Palestinian and Arab revolutionaries, they will help to build a socialist Palestine as part of the Arab socialist homeland.
The struggle of the working class, jointly with other oppressed classes, for socialism and unity implies the rise of the submerged feeling of all-Arab identity, which is even now the aspiration and an expression of the aims of the Arab socialist nation.