In November, representatives of over 50 communist and left parties met in Nicosia, Cyprus, to discuss “The New World Order and Its Consequences in the Greater Middle East.” The meeting was hosted by AKEL, the Communist Party of Cyprus.

Opening the meeting, Andros Kyprianou, AKEL’s international secretary, said “the sovereign question” for the countries of the Middle East is “the Palestinian question.”

In recent times, the Middle East “has been tied up with colonialism, foreign intervention and foreign dependence,” he said. With the end of the Cold War, the countries of this region, “where significant geo-political interests and access to petroleum deposits and energy routes are at stake, were left to the mercy of U.S. intervention.”

Solution of the “Palestinian question,” Kyprianou said, “constitutes a key for the solution of many of the problems of the region.”

The meeting took place as Israelis and Palestinians alike were debating new developments. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was about to form a new party, Kadima (Forward), joined by right and centrist political figures. Meanwhile, Israel’s Labor Party leadership was won by Amir Peretz, a trade union leader, on a program calling for ending the occupation and defense of workers’ living standards. Significant elections are set to take place in the Palestinian territories in late January and in Israel in March.

At the November meeting, People’s Weekly World editorial board member Susan Webb spoke with leaders of the Communist Party of Israel and the Palestinian People’s Party. Although these conversations took place before the sudden departure of Sharon from Israel’s political life, these communist leaders provide important insights into current developments.

Palestinian People’s Party

Amin Inabi is a member of the Central Committee of the Palestinian People’s Party and secretary of its Ramallah District. Founded in 1917 as the Palestinian Communist Party, it is the oldest party in Palestine. Originally composed of Jewish and Palestinian members, it divided in 1948 when the state of Israel was established, with those members inside Israel forming the Communist Party of Israel. When Israel seized the West Bank in 1967, the PCP became a branch of the Jordanian Communist Party until 1982, when it re-established itself as a separate party. It changed its name to the PPP in 1993. Today it is represented in the Palestinian National Authority — the minister of planning is a member of the PPP.

Inabi, 43, was born in Ramallah, in the West Bank. His parents settled there in 1948 when they were forced to leave their home in Lod, Israel. Inabi works with juvenile delinquents, directing a department of the Palestine National Authority’s Ministry of Social Affairs. He has a degree in sociology and psychology from Bir Zeit University and earned a master’s in gender and development in the U.S. He also studied children’s filmmaking with the Children’s Television Workshop in New York.

Inabi has been a member of the PPP since the age of 16, when he got involved with voluntary work organized by the party helping farmers pick olives, helping people whose homes were demolished by the Israeli army, and building roads. “It’s traditional, helping your neighbors,” he said. “Through voluntary work, you talk politics.”

“I joined because I saw the party’s ideology and program is closer to my ideas and feelings. I believe the only way to work with your people is to give a hand to them. Voluntary work is not different from political work.” As a political person, “you have a responsibility to society,” he said. “I saw the PPP is a place where I can do all these things.”

Inabi has been jailed “many times” by the Israeli authorities. “If you are active in politics, social movements, they don’t give a reason. They go to your house at night.” Inabi, who has three children, said, “Children in Palestine are frightened every day.”

Return to 1967 borders

The PPP emphasizes, Inabi said, that to solve the Israel-Palestine crisis, Israel must return to its 1967 borders as called for by the United Nations, and alongside Israel must be a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. All Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and all Israeli troops there must be removed. Any solution must also address the right of the Palestinian people to return to the lands from which they were forced out. “The only way to have a free Palestine” is based on these principles, Inabi emphasized. “It’s not open to discussion. Nobody from the Palestinian people has the right to delete any part. The Palestinians as a whole have to decide.”

Peace negotiations are the only way to build trust between Israeli and Palestinian people that is essential to achieve these goals, he said. “We have to get back to negotiations.”

We have to deal with the realities of today’s world, Inabi said. The so-called “road map” involving the “quartet” of the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia offers a first step but Europe and the U.S. have to force Israel to return to negotiations.

Sharon, using withdrawal from Gaza and his new party, was pressing ahead with his program of entrenching Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, said Inabi. “They are continuing building the apartheid wall” separating Israel from the occupied territories, he said. “Why are they continuing to build settlements? They are demolishing Palestinian houses, continuing aggression.” The indications are that Israel “wants peace only after the Palestinians are almost destroyed,” he said.

We are not terrorists

“We are not terrorists, but we believe people have the right to resist oppression,” he said, adding that the PPP has “good relations with all the Palestinian movements.” However, he said, “We don’t believe armed struggle is the way.”

The PPP is trying to build a coalition of the left, the working and middle classes, and educated people, Inabi said. “We want to show the world there are others besides Hamas or al-Fatah” in the Palestinian people’s movement.

“We are against suicide bombing. We have to get civilian people outside armed struggle,” he said. “According to our experience, political struggle gives more benefits. If we have an army, weapons, Israel uses all kinds of weapons, invades and destroys every Palestinian city” with its overwhelming military force.

The focus of the PPP is on peace, Palestinian rights, bettering the conditions of the poor and rural people, workers and farmers, fighting for unity and organization to achieve these ends, Inabi said. The party has worked to build civil society organizations, particularly in the areas of agriculture, medical relief and the women’s movement. With this kind of grassroots work, he said, “you can go inside the houses in the villages and talk to them about political issues.”

Fight for democracy

The PPP is participating in the local and national elections, including running a candidate for president — not expecting to win, Inabi added, but “to show we are on the ground.” In local elections held Dec. 15, the PPP ran candidates in all the major Palestinian cities. (Results were not available at press time.) “We have to build a public democratic movement, from the grassroots,” said Inabi.

Communist Party of Israel

Dr. Ahmad Sa’d, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Israel, is chief editor of its Arabic-language daily newspaper Al-Ittihad (Unity). The CPI also publishes a weekly Hebrew-language newspaper, Zo Haderekh (The Path).

Sa’d was born in the village of Birwa. In 1948, at age 3, when the village was occupied and later bulldozed by the Israeli army, Sa’d and his family became refugees within Israel, living in tents in a nearby village, Abu Snan. He says he became a communist at age 8, when he went to meetings organized by communists in the village, where they talked about the struggle for his people’s right to return to their native lands.

Right wing attacks Palestinians, Israeli poor

“From 1992 to today, not a single Israeli government finished its term,” Sa’d pointed out. The Sharon government is the sixth to end this way. “The main reason,” he said, “is their position on the Palestine problem. This government has reached a dead end.”

One factor, he said, is the internal contradictions within the ruling right-wing Likud party. “The main split is over Sharon’s Gaza pullout plan.”

That move “did not relieve the Palestinian people; it relieved the occupiers,” Sa’d said. Administering Gaza is very costly, with more than a million people living in poverty. So Sharon “retreated” in order to strengthen Israel’s West Bank colonies, seeking to annex large chunks of the land to Israel under cover of “peace,” to “eliminate any possibility of a viable Palestinian state.”

Nevertheless, even this tactical maneuver was too much for Israel’s ultra-right. “The right extremists, fascists, racists, united against the pullout. For more than a year and a half, the CPI warned of the emergence of such a right-wing extremist, even fascist, coalition under the leadership of Netanyahu, the former finance minister.”

The second factor, said Sa’d, is “the policy of aggressive unilateral intervention in the occupied territories and neoliberal domestic policies implemented over the past two years.

“There are now 350,000 new poor in Israel. The total has reached over 1.5 million, out of a total population of 6.5 million — over 20 percent. The number of millionaires is now over 2,000. Neoliberal policies have widened the gap between poor and rich.

“This government failed, it couldn’t solve the Palestinian problem, couldn’t impose Israeli policy, did not ensure peace and security for the Israeli people and did not secure solutions to social problems.”

Trade unionist now heads Labor Party

In the recent Labor primary, Amir Peretz, a Moroccan Jew and the head of Israel’s trade union federation Histadrut, unexpectedly defeated the party’s president, and vice president of the government, Shimon Peres. Peretz won because he opposed being part of the government, calling for the Labor Party to be a real alternative, and promising to solve domestic problems, Sa’d said.

Ironically, until now, “through its demagogy, Likud’s main base has been among the poor,” including the Sephardic (eastern) Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and Russia, Sa’d said.

The Labor Party until now did not appeal to the poor and working-class eastern Jewish communities. But after Peretz won the Labor leadership, the head of Likud in a heavily Sephardic town called Peretz the real representative of the poor and eastern Jews.
“Likud is afraid Peretz will win the poor people and other sectors with a campaign linking peace and Israel’s domestic social problem,” Sa’d said.

When Sharon left Likud, it was questionable whether he would have been able to hold onto leadership there, and even if he had, the party would be divided.

“This division is positive — it can marginalize the reactionary section of Likud. Sharon [and the trend he represents] needs the center. But,” Sa’d cautioned, “when he talked of a new party, he spoke of a ‘new era of peace’ — but he didn’t say ‘a just peace.’”

Before Sharon’s crippling stroke, his new party was seen as likely to draw defections from Labor — already some key figures had joined. With Sharon out of the picture, the prospects for the new party remain to be seen.

Open space for progress

In the CPI’s view, the election of Peretz to head Labor opens the possibility for developing a left front for peace, democracy and social progress.

But, Sa’d said, Peretz has to “do battle with the right and those who favor imposing Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.” Peretz needs to win voters who are influenced by the right rather than avoiding such a fight and undermining left parties by assuming their voters will switch to him anyway, said Sa’d.

A winning program for peace must be “based on justice and recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”

Moreover, Sa’d said, Peretz has said he favors a “free market” economy and privatization, which increase poverty and unemployment. Instead, he needs a program that overcomes these ills.

The CPI set its sights on enlarging the left political coalition, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash). Founded in 1977 with the CPI as the main force, it included Jews and Arabs from a variety of left groups, mayors of several cities and villages, and leading personalities. Today it consists mainly of the CPI and friends. This does not reflect the new realities and possibilities, Sa’d said.

“Due to our political positions, anticommunism has been demolished. Everyone has adopted our slogan: ‘two states for two people’ — the rightists even accused Sharon: ‘You are implementing what the Communist Party demanded.’ All platforms are open to us; everyone wants to hear our views.”

This has not yet translated into an increase the party’s membership, Sa’d said, but the prospects for growth are evident among the young. Seventy percent of the party’s members are youth. Young communists lead the Union of Arab Students. In Tel-Aviv and Haifa a strong student organization, Campus, includes Jews and Arabs.

Communists are active in many civil society organizations that involve both Jews and Arabs. These include Coexistence (Taayush), supporting the Palestinian struggle against the settlements and related issues; Coalition of Women for Peace; There’s A Limit (Yesh Gvul), soldiers who refuse to serve in the West Bank; and groups dealing with economic and environmental issues.

“We are not a Zionist party. We call for a return to the 1967 borders, and an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, based on UN resolutions.”

Calling Zionism “a bourgeois ideology,” Sa’d said, left Zionists are progressive on issues like ending the occupation, demolishing the separation wall and restoring the peace process, “but reactionary on economics, supporting neoliberal policies.”

Many in Histadrut accept the communists’ position on social issues, Sa’d said. Leading figures in the left party Meretz-Yachad agree with many of the party’s views.

“But, there is no real consistent left beside the Communist Party. We are the only party that consists of Arabs and Jews on an ideological/political basis. We are the future of these two people.”


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.