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The October War and the PLO Charter, forty years on

By Samir Hassan

Four years after the October War of 1973, on 9 November 1977, Egypt's President Anwar El Sadat announced to the Egyptian People’s Assembly that he intended to visit the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was present when the speech was delivered. On 17 November, Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, sent an official invitation to the President of Egypt. On the evening of 19 November, Sadat’s plane landed in Israel. The next day, he declared to the Knesset: I come to you today on solid ground, to shape a new life, to establish peace. We all, on this land, the land of God; we all, Muslims, Christians and Jews (…).You want to live with us in this part of the world. In all sincerity, I tell you, we welcome you among us, with full security and safety (…) I have announced on more than one occasion that Israel has become a fait accompli, recognized by the world, and that the two superpowers have undertaken the responsibility of its security and the defence of its existence. (…) Once again, I declare clearly and unequivocally that we agree to any guarantees you accept because, in return, we shall obtain the same guarantees.

Anwar El Sadat did not mention the PLO, which nevertheless was the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. When Begin replied, he never once uttered the word Palestinian; he spoke of the Arab population and of Eretz Israel (Greater Israel).

Less than one year later, on 17 September 1978, together they signed the Camp David peace Accord under the leadership of US President Jimmy Carter.

Forty years after the 1973 war, the guarantee that Egypt's government – whether exclusively military or a Muslim Brotherhood-armed forces association – will abide by the Israel-Egypt Accords remains the corner-stone of the situation in the Middle East.

The Rogers Plan in 1970

The Six Day War in June 1967 plunged the bourgeois regimes of the Middle East into a deep political crisis. Unable to solve the issue of war and of peace, most of them exhausted themselves by straining every nerve towards war. In Egypt as well as in Jordan, the masses were increasingly frustrated with this situation. Faced with the danger of their own working class's resistance, the remnants of the feudal order, the comprador bourgeoisies and the military castes directed their action against the resistance of working masses and youth. They were helped by the Rogers Plan (named after President Nixon's Secretary of State), the objective of which was to resolve the aftermath of the Six Day War while preserving the feudal-bourgeois regimes. The plan was accepted by all the ruling classes of the Arab countries, with the decisive help of the Kremlin bureaucracy.

Black September was a first implementation of the plan: in September 1970, King Hussein of Jordan butchered thousands of Palestinian resistance fighters who were living in Jordan. While tons of heavy weapons, armoured tanks, heavy artillery and napalm bombs were unloaded in Jordan and while King Hussein – with the assistance of several US and British advisers – was preparing the slaughter, Nasser did not utter a single word of protest. Three months previously, he had accepted the Rogers Plan and its so-called peaceful solution. After the slaughter, on 26 September 1970 in Cairo, he sponsored the reconciliation of Yasser Arafat and King Hussein of Jordan.

Two days later, Nasser died. During his funeral, millions of Egyptian workers crammed the streets in Cairo, not to show support for the corrupt military regime – as was stated by the rulers of every country, from Nixon to Mao Zedong, to Brezhnev and France's Pompidou – but to scream their hatred for Jordan's blood-soaked king, who barely escaped being lynched by the crowds.

Lining up with US imperialism’s plan

Anwar El Sadat, Nasser's successor, came to power in this situation. Like Nasser, he was a member of the military caste, a member of the Free Officers Movement. He had participated in the 1952 coup which had overthrown king Farouk.

The state that he had inherited from Nasser was split into several factions, and the working class entered into struggle, expressing their wish not to foot the bill or the regime's corruption.

On 15 May 1971, Anwar El Sadat launched a coup d’état against Nasser’s left wing. He ordered thousands of people arrested and ousted a large number of senior state officials, including Ali Sabri, Shaarawi Gomaa and Sami Sharaf, three of Nasser’s long-standing direct collaborators and the backbone of the political structure he had instituted since the 1950s, those who had the closest links with the Kremlin's bureaucracy.

A few days after the coup, by the end of May, President Sadat received William Rogers himself in Cairo. His visit was the first in a long series by White House representatives, who commuted frequently between Cairo and Tel Aviv. Anwar El Sadat submitted several proposals to them, in which he pledged to sign a peace treaty with the State of Israel if the territories occupied in 1967 were evacuated and Israel's army agreed to withdraw part of its troops, which would enable Egypt's army to recover control of both banks of the Suez Canal, with, as a counterpart, the possibility for Israeli ships to sail on this strategic waterway.

William Rogers recognised that Egypt's head of state had gone all the way in terms of concessions and that nothing more could be requested from him. But Israel's Golda Meir did not move an inch.

Sadat's coup expressed the Egyptian bourgeoisie’s determination to put a final end to the dreams of regaining the Suez Canal and Sinai through military force, as advocated by the Nasser left. It also expressed his alignment with US imperialism's plan. Sadat wanted to entrust Washington with the task of guaranteeing peace in the Middle East.

At the end of 1971, there was no prospect of an agreement with the State of Israel, but the White House granted Egypt a seven-year grace period for paying back a US$125 million loan and ensured a new US$237 million loan by the World Bank, to be paid back within fifty years.

Faced with the refusal of Israel's rulers, Sadat spared no efforts to push his political agenda of opening up to US imperialism. Two months after the May 1972 Brezhnev-Nixon summit, he requested that around 20,000 Soviet military advisers be sent back to their home country. The Kremlin bureaucracy complied without batting an eyelid. Being a keeper of the order around the globe, it accepted discarding its best supporters in the top circles of the Egyptian state because its primary consideration was to support this state against any attempt by the masses that could threaten it.

The leaders of the Zionist state recognised that Sadat had given a slap in the face to the Kremlin's bureaucracy, but they encouraged the White House to let Egypt's regime slide into crisis. Furthermore, with the excuse of responding to the Palestinian attack in Munich on 5 September 1972, they increased the number of their attacks on Lebanon and Syria.

Mobilisation by the workers and students

Shortly after his 15 May 1971 coup, Sadat was to face strong worker and student mobilisations; in the face of fierce attempts to repress them, these turned into insurrection. At Shebin El Kom and Banha in the Nile Delta, workers went on strike to protest at rigged electoral lists. In a weapons factory in Helwan, the workers detained the managers because they had stopped providing work clothes in order to save money for the war effort. All the factories in Helwan declared that they would go on strike if the striking workshops were forced to re-open by the military. The army withdrew 36 hours after the strike started, and the demands were met.

On 20 January 1972, 30,000 students at Cairo University assembled in a rally against Sadat’s policies and organised a sit-in against his refusal to receive a delegation they had appointed. The famous student document was drafted in this context. Students rejected seeking a peaceful solution with the State of Israel and demanded measures to implement a war economy: re-directing the capacity of military industries towards weapons production, especially light weapons; stopping production of luxury goods; closing the wage gap; curtailing the privileges of economic elites. They demanded: the effective military mobilisation of the masses through the formation of democratic people’s militias, which would be decentralised, linked to the workplace or living place and open to the people as a whole without any discrimination; the free circulation of information; an end to censorship and methods of falsification used in media; guaranteed freedom of speech at university; the release of political prisoners, starting with a number of Helwan workers whom the authorities had finally arrested; and unconditional support to Palestinian organisations, among others. The repression was brutal. There was fighting in the streets, thousands of students were arrested. Encouraged by the secret services, the Muslim Brotherhood took part in commando-style actions to intimidate the students.

In March 1972, in the suburbs of Shubra, the workers from a group of private factories organised a joint march to the town hall to present a list of demands to the authorities (wages, contracts, social protection, legal limitation of the working day, etc.) Three hundred workers were arrested by the police. The movement hardened into a genuine insurrection of the Shubra neighbourhood.

The war that sacrificed the rights of the Palestinian people

Faced with the uprising of the masses, Sadat decided to prepare war in agreement with Syria's President Hafez al Assad, Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal and Algeria's President Boumediene. The Kremlin bureaucracy agreed to give technological and tactical aid, on condition that any risk of the war spinning off into a US-Soviet conflict was made impossible.

On 6 October 1973, Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal and took up positions on the East Bank. In the Golan, Syrian and Iraqi armies, supported by Palestinian and Moroccan units, had won back some ground. In Egypt, a few days before the 6 October offensive, students who had been arrested were released. Hundreds of thousands volunteered as recruits in the training camps.

But in contradiction with this sweeping mobilisation, Sadat was already preparing to stop the fighting.

On 11 October, the climate had already changed on the front line. Some commanders advocated pushing onwards, but those grouped around Sadat only wanted to bring the United States into a negotiation process.

Between 11 and 22 October, the Israeli army took back the initiative in the Sinai, after having done so in the Golan.

On 16 October, Sadat single-handedly took the initiative of giving a public speech in which he addressed President Nixon and proposed a peace plan. On that same day, Kosygin, the representative of the Kremlin bureaucracy, was staying in Cairo to support Sadat in his decision to end the fighting.

On 20 October in Moscow, Kissinger and Brezhnev were working out the basis for stopping the fighting: a cease-fire followed by negotiations. Without consulting the Syrian and Iraqi leaders, Anwar El Sadat agreed to a cease-fire. Israeli troops continued advancing.

The October 1973 war was prepared by the Egyptian and Syrian states and by US imperialism. Israel's Prime Minister Golda Meir testified to this fact when she stated during a press conference that the Israeli government knew that Egypt and Syria were preparing for war, but that for international reasons they had let those armies take the offensive. Abba Eban, Meir government's Minister of Foreign affairs, explained that at the 8 October assembly of the United Nations, he had warned of war preparations on the Arab side by telegram six hours before the start of the fighting. Guarantees had been given to Egypt and Syria by a third party, so it was clear that Israel would not try to resort to pre-emptive action. (Le Monde, 10 October 1973).

To encourage the PLO to join in the war that was imminent, Sadat and Assad had proposed limiting its objective to instituting a secular state on the whole historical territory of Palestine and to agree on behalf of the Palestinian people to a buffer state comprising the West Bank and Gaza and the Arab sector of Jerusalem. The war and peace-plan proposed by Sadat sacrificed the Palestinian people's democratic rights and vital interests, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return on their lands, their villages and homes.

Everyone can gauge the recurring relevance of that position.

The Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel dealt a severe blow to the struggle of the Palestinian people. It left them the prey to isolation and it opened the way to the 1993 Oslo Accords. These accords contradicted the PLO’s 1964 Charter, which outlined the strategic axis of the movement in establishing a democratic state within the historic borders of Palestine. Already in January 1998, in a letter sent to President Clinton, Yasser Arafat had confirmed that all the provisions of the Charter which do not match the pledge that the PLO will recognise Israel and live in peace with it are cancelled. In December 1998, the National Palestinian Council (NCP) had, by a large margin, expressed principled support for his determination to modify the Palestinian National Charter.

Already at that time, the intransigence of Israel's rulers expressed their determination to be considered as the only force capable of preserving imperialist interests in the Middle East.

In the view of President Sadat, the objective of the 1973 war, long prepared with the United States, aimed at obtaining the recognition that the Egyptian bourgeoisie was capable of playing its part in keeping imperialist law and order in the region, to step up the rhythm of negotiations with Israel's rulers and to open up Egypt's economy to the world market.

His successor Hosni Mubarak continued this agenda to the extent that he was overthrown by the revolutionary movement of the Egyptian masses on 11 February 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood, which claims to support the Palestinian cause, have got into partnership with the military and are continuously repeating that they guarantee that the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel will be respected. This is the major role devolved to them by Washington: to impose on Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, what Mubarak used to impose on Fatah.

But, in difficult conditions, Egypt's masses are resisting. They are not ready to give up on their rights, nor on their solidarity with the Palestinian people.

From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )