by Carl Gershman
The meeting in Vienna last July of former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt and Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky with Yasir Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, will be remembered primarily as the PLO leader’s first visit to a Western democracy. The meeting, as Arafat claimed, was a “major breakthrough” in the PLO’s campaign to enhance its international standing. It was also a breakthrough for Brandt and Kreisky, but in a very different and much more far-reaching sense. For the meeting with Arafat marked a decisive turn in their effort, undertaken in cooperation with other European Socialist leaders, to refashion democratic socialism into an international movement aligned with anti-Western revolutionary movements in the Third World.
In meeting with Arafat, Brandt and Kreisky acted in their capacity as officials of the Socialist International, a worldwide association of democratic-socialist and labor parties, the most influential of which are in Western Europe. Brandt is president of the Socialist International and Kreisky is a vice president and chairman of the organization’s Study Group on the Middle East; and they head, respectively, two of the largest parties in the International, the German Social Democratic party and the Austrian Socialist party.1
The Socialist International has been in existence in its present form since 1951, when it was reestablished in Frankfurt. From the first, the new International unequivocally aligned itself with the West in the struggle against Communism, which it called a “new imperialism” that had “destroyed freedom or the chance of gaining freedom” wherever it had achieved power. It opposed any cooperation with Communist parties and excluded from its ranks Socialist parties which did maintain alliances with them. In a statement of basic principles adopted in Oslo in 1962, it said that the cold war “has largely been imposed upon an unwilling world by Communist leaders” whose advocacy of peaceful coexistence is “only a change of tactics” while “they strive to extend all over the world” their totalitarian system and doctrine. While favoring complete disarmament, the International rejected “the idea that democracies should disarm unilaterally,” and it called NATO a “powerful bulwark of peace.” It also denied that Communism had anything constructive to offer the emerging nations. On the contrary, despite its anti-colonialist rhetoric, Communism had “enslaved scores of millions of people.” It was the developed countries of the West, particularly the Socialist elements in these countries, which were the natural partners of the newly independent countries in their historic effort to overcome poverty.
This world view disintegrated within the European Socialist movement under the impact of the rise of the New Left in the late 1960’s. The New Left’s intense opposition to America as well as to anti-Communism and Western military defense, and its equally passionate espousal of the cause of revolution in the Third World, swept the youth sections of all the Socialist parties. In time these views, refined and sanitized, were absorbed by the parties themselves, a process that was facilitated by the atmosphere of détente that prevailed during the early 1970’s. The Union of the Left in France between the Socialists and the Communists, the sharp turn to the Left in the British Labor party and trade unions, the rise of the Jusos (or Young Socialists) as an important force in the German Social Democratic party, and the outspoken anti-Americanism of the Swedish Social Democrats under Olof Palme, were all signs that a fundamental shift had taken place in the European Socialist movement.
This shift did not have immediate consequences for the Socialist International, if only because the SI was not looked upon by the member parties as a significant political organization. Meetings of the International’s executive body, the Bureau, were sparsely attended, generally by only the party functionaries assigned to international affairs, and they were taken up almost entirely with administrative matters. The most important events were party leaders’ conferences where top officials would gather for private talks. Such meetings offered a useful, if not indispensable, means of communication. But they were held outside the formal structure of the International and did not generate a coherent program of organizational activity.
Nevertheless, on those occasions when political controversies erupted in the International, the transformation of the organization’s political orientation became clearly evident. One such case involved charges of human-rights violations brought in 1975 by the Dutch Labor party against the International’s member party in Singapore, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which prompted the Bureau to call for an inquiry into the political situation in Singapore. The PAP accused “crypto-Communists” in the Dutch party and the International of aiding and abetting the Malayan Communists, pointing out that Singapore’s detention laws were a necessary means of dealing with Communist terrorism and had been part of the PAP’s election program at the time it was invited to join the International many years earlier. It was not the PAP that had changed, it said, but the Socialist International which, “from being an alternative to Communism, has now become its instrument.” When the charges against the PAP were not withdrawn, the party resigned from the International.2
It was during the period of this controversy, 1975-76, that the decision was taken to reorganize the Socialist International and to give it an important role in world politics. Several factors contributed to the Socialist leaders’ optimism about the political prospects of a revived International. First, the Socialist parties were at the height of their influence, providing heads of government during 1975 in nine European countries (sixteen countries worldwide), including West Germany which had emerged as the leader of Europe. Moreover, the French Socialists had overtaken the Communists in voting power and seemed on the verge of becoming the senior partner in a leftist coalition government. And in Spain and Portugal, the Socialist parties, long suppressed by right-wing dictatorships, were emerging as major political forces.
In addition to the strength of the individual parties, the changing world situation seemed to offer new opportunities for Socialists to increase their global influence. It was felt that détente, precarious as it might sometimes appear, had made it possible for Socialists to develop political relations with elements that otherwise would be drawn into the Soviet or American camp. In particular, the growing nonaligned movement, consisting primarily of countries ruled by parties that were nominally Socialist though admittedly undemocratic, was looked upon as a promising arena for expanding Socialist contacts. With American influence in decline, the time seemed ripe for an independent European initiative.
Still another reason for optimism was that Willy Brandt had agreed to assume the presidency of the rejuvenated organization. Although he had resigned as Chancellor of West Germany in 1974 under embarrassing circumstances (involving the arrest of one of his key personal aides who was discovered to be an East German spy), Brandt remained a leader of world stature who brought great prestige to the Socialist International. He also brought an ambitious political perspective. In his address to the 1976 Geneva congress at which he was elected president, he proposed that the organization undertake three bold “offensives.” The first was an offensive for a secure peace which would help put an end to the arms race, described by Brandt as a “marathon of irrationalism.” The second was an offensive for “new relations between North and South,” involving a new willingness on the part of the rich nations to make sacrifices in “the struggle against worldwide misery.” Finally, he called for a worldwide offensive for human rights.
The mere fact that such challenging “offensives” had been proposed was an indication that the Socialist International had moved into a new organizational phase. And the manner in which they were carried out during the first two-year term of Brandt’s administration showed that the body had completely revised its policies concerning the basic issues of Communism, peace, and political liberty.
The Socialist International adopted a policy of neutrality on matters of East-West relations and disarmament. Whereas in an earlier period the International had affirmed the principle of the collective security of the West as the basis for peace, it now presented itself as an impartial observer, urging, in the words of Brandt, a “political partnership” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union based on the acceptance by each side of the “legitimate security interests of the opposing side.” Moreover, whereas the International had once approached disarmament as a desirable goal made possible only by a system of collective security, it now raised disarmament to the level of a categorical imperative, the precondition not only for peace between East and West but also for the economic development of the world’s poor nations, which required the resources now being “wasted” on armaments. Not surprisingly, therefore, the idea of unilateral disarmament by the democracies was no longer rejected. While the International did not endorse the concept explicitly, it did so implicitly on many occasions, as when its speakers would repeatedly decry the dangers of the neutron bomb while never objecting to any Soviet weapon, or when appeals were made, in Olof Palme’s words, to “mobilize public opinion” against armaments, an effort that could only occur in free societies.
In keeping with this new approach, the Socialist International organized a conference on disarmament in Helsinki where, in addition to the member parties of the International, the U.S. and Soviet governments were both invited to send representatives. Yet far from being a forum used by the Socialists to foster a new “partnership” between the two superpowers (an approach wholeheartedly endorsed by the American representative, UN aide James F. Leonard), the conference became instead a platform used by the Russians to promote a new partnership between Socialists and Communists.
The Soviet delegation, the largest to attend the conference, was headed by Boris N. Ponomarev, the chairman of the international department of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist party, the direct descendant of Stalin’s Comintern, on whose executive committee he once served. In an hour-long speech, Ponomarev placed the entire blame for the arms race on the United States, the European members of NATO, China, South Africa, and Israel, while maintaining that only the Soviet armed forces were “designated exclusively for defense needs” and that only the Soviet people were engaged in “peaceful, creative work.” Observing that “of late, Communists and Social Democrats have formulated very similar standpoints concerning the struggle for disarmament,” he called for unity of all “peace forces” opposed to “imperialist reactionary circles” bent on nuclear war. He concluded by inviting a delegation of the Socialist International to visit Moscow for “summit level” discussions on disarmament, and by proposing the establishment of permanent machinery for “joint actions” by Communist and Socialist parties which would include conferences of journalists and experts and the creation of joint research groups.
The response of the Socialist International was not to question the premises of its neutralist approach to disarmament, including the possibility of getting the Soviet Union to appreciate the “legitimate security interests” of the West, but rather to give serious consideration to Ponomarev’s proposals for Socialist-Communist cooperation. The report on the Helsinki conference that appeared in Socialist Affairs, the International’s official publication, observed that the Soviet spokesman had “opened up an important perspective which the Socialist International member organizations cannot avoid.” A study group on disarmament was established which was “especially charged with studying proposals” that Ponomarev had made, and in his report to the congress held last November in Vancouver, the International’s general secretary, Bernt Carlsson, announced that “the time is past when such proposals could be treated just by silence.” As if to prepare the organization for what might lie ahead, Socialist Affairs published what it called a “timely look” at relations between the Socialist and Communist Internationals between 1919 and 1939, the last time efforts were made to reconcile the two movements.
If Brandt’s first “offensive” led to a new Socialist attitude toward Western security and Communism, his second “offensive” for a new North-South relationship was intended to link the organization to the nonaligned movement in the Third World. Toward that end, the 1976 Geneva congress revised the International’s statutes, adding to the organization’s purposes the goal of establishing relations with “Socialist-oriented parties not in membership which desire cooperation.” The International also revised its policies so as to remove any ideological barriers between it and the parties in Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere in the Third World with which it sought to establish new political relationships.
It dutifully called for “a new world economic order” in which the developing nations would have “permanently guaranteed” markets for their manufactured and semi-manufactured products and would receive “an increased transfer of scarce resources, particularly capital and managerial skills,” from the developing countries. The International also went to great lengths to demonstrate its unqualified support for various “progressive” forces in the Third World. It gave special attention to Chile, organizing a three-day conference which was attended by all six parties that made up Salvador Allende’s ruling coalition, the Unidad Popular. (It was announced that this was the first time since 1922 that representatives of a Communist party had taken part in a meeting of the Socialist International.) Among other things, it called upon member parties to give political solidarity, humanitarian aid, and “material support for peaceful purposes” to the armed “liberation” movements of Southern Africa. Representatives of two of these movements, the African National Congress of South Africa and the Patriotic Front of Zimbabwe Rhodesia, addressed the Vancouver congress and received a warm reception, as did representatives of the Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua and the Polisario Front of the Western Sahara.
This new orientation to the Third World inevitably affected the conduct of Brandt’s third proposed “offensive,” on human rights, since the International was hardly about to raise objections to violations of human rights by “Socialist-oriented” parties with which it sought a new relationship. Indeed, among the parties invited to send representatives to the Vancouver congress were the ruling parties in Algeria, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Somalia, and Tanzania—all one-party dictatorships where individual liberty is not respected. The International, Brandt observed at the Vancouver congress by way of justifying the new attitude toward “Socialist-oriented” one-party dictatorships, should not apply “standards which are too much of a European or North American stamp” in countries where satisfying “social human rights” takes precedence over respect for individual rights. “He whose life is exposed to sheer misery,” he added, “can take only a minor interest in other civil rights.” Evidently, though, this principle of relative standards has not been applied to Latin America, where the International has criticized the denial of political and civil rights by many right-wing dictatorships (though not by the Communist dictatorship in Cuba, a regime that has been warmly praised by the chairman of the International’s Committee on Latin America, Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley). Nor has it been applied to South Africa, with regard to which Brandt told the Vancouver congress that “nobody who is devoted to our common values can stand idly by while human rights are disregarded openly and in a systematic manner.”
Brandt’s human-rights “offensive” fell victim to East-West political considerations, as well as to those of a North-South nature. Under his leadership, the International has firmly opposed any initiative or statement on human rights that might appear to harm détente in any way. At Vancouver, Brandt observed that the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) had required of all signatory states the “renunciation of intervention in the internal affairs of other nations.” The only effect of “unprofitable provocation” and “largely pointless polemics”—that is, criticism of Communist policies on human rights—would be to “fling us back into the period of dangerous confrontations.” The International, Brandt said, would “continue to speak out when people are being tortured—particularly where this is happening under the misused name of socialism.” But it would not, he added, “be misled into degrading the debate about human rights into a drum which can be beaten for quite different purposes.” Presumably, however, any protest against Communist “torture” would amount to drum-beating, even protest against the slaughter in Cambodia or against the oppressive policies of the regime in Hanoi which have caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee Vietnam at great risk to their lives. On these questions, as on all others regarding brutality by Communist regimes, the Socialist International has remained silent.
The political transformation of the Socialist International has met with only minimal resistance within the organization. The only important leader to criticize the political direction which the International has taken under Brandt has been Leopold Senghor, the President of Senegal. As the leader of the only African party that is a member of the International, Senghor has restricted his criticism to African issues, accusing the International of supporting “those who claim kinship with Marxism-Leninism.” In a debate on the Western Sahara, he stated that he was “resolutely opposed” to a policy which favored the pro-Soviet forces in Africa. But his opposition has been unsuccessful, since he was not able to prevent the International from recognizing the Polisario Front of the Western Sahara or from inviting the MPLA of Angola to the Vancouver congress.
The only issue where the International has been blocked from taking its new radical course has been over the question of recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization. Or at least this was the case until Brandt and Kreisky met with Arafat in Vienna. Since this is a question of the utmost importance to the Socialist International, and since its handling is illustrative of the way some of the International’s leaders have approached many other issues, it is worth examining in some detail.
Until the Yom Kippur War, the position of the Israel Labor party on the Middle East conflict had broad support within the Socialist International. But the war strained the relationship between Israeli and European Socialists. At a party leader’s conference immediately after the war, Golda Meir rebuked her long-time comrades for capitulating to Arab pressures in refusing to allow U.S. planes with emergency supplies for Israel to refuel on their territory. Nevertheless, the Israel Labor party retained a decisive influence over the International’s Middle East policy for some years after the war, in keeping with the organization’s traditional practice of not opposing a party on an issue which specifically affects its country and political interests. (No Arab party belongs to the International since none is committed to multiparty democracy, which remains a requirement for membership.) But even during this period, an effort was initiated to change the International’s approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
At the very meeting at which Golda Meir berated the Socialist leaders for abandoning Israel in the war, it was decided that a fact-finding mission under Kreisky’s leadership should be sent to Israel and the Arab countries. The mission’s report, which was issued in 1977, called upon the Socialist International to adopt a “less emotional posture” toward the Middle East conflict and specifically recommended that the organization recognize the PLO and develop a new “partnership” with the Arab world. It proposed the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, maintaining confidently that “Israel would be totally unchallenged in its existence” if only it would agree to the creation of such a state and “adjust its future political aspirations” to developments in the Arab world.
The report made many outlandish claims that could not have stood up under close examination. The proposition, for example, that a speech delivered at the UN in 1947 by Andrei Gromyko was evidence of the Soviet commitment to Arab-Israeli peace, or that Arafat’s speech to the UN in 1974 showed that the PLO accepted Israel’s existence was not very convincing, to say the least. But the report never became official policy of the Socialist International, nor was it ever debated by the Bureau. Kreisky merely issued it and then proposed that a round-table discussion on the Middle East conflict be held outside the framework of the Bureau, to which all member parties would be invited to send representatives.
Such a meeting was held in Vienna in February 1978 and revealed the extent to which many of the parties represented there (notably those from Sweden, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Austria) differed fundamentally with the Israel Labor party’s view of the conflict. These parties favored recognition of the PLO and the establishment of a Palestinian state, proposals which Shimon Peres, who represented the Labor party at the meeting, rejected out of hand. Peres did not identify himself with the position of the Begin government, for he called the decision to increase the number of West Bank settlements during negotiations with Egypt “unwise” and advocated a territorial compromise on the West Bank. But the thrust of his remarks was against those who favored recognizing the PLO, an organization which Peres said was committed to Israel’s destruction and whose “bread and butter” was violence. “Why should we help crown such an undemocratic group?” he asked. It murders moderate Palestinians, it will endanger Jordan, and it “will bring the Russians to the gates of Jerusalem.” As to the view that the PLO was no longer an extremist group or would become moderate if it were recognized by Israel, Peres said that “we will not hang our future on an imagined proposition that holds no water.”
The Vienna round-table discussion offered no proposals and adopted no statement. There was little the International could contribute at that point anyway, in the context of Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem and the negotiations which were under way between Israel and Egypt. But when the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations became deadlocked, Kreisky invited Sadat and Peres to Vienna in July for talks with himself and Brandt. These talks produced the so-called Vienna document, a commendable four-point policy statement issued by Brandt and Kreisky which they were subsequently to repudiate. The statement called for “sincere and sustained” negotiations between Israel and the Arab states, as well as for the establishment of “normal and friendly relations” between them; Israeli withdrawal to “secure boundaries” to be agreed upon in negotiations, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338; and the resolution of the Palestinian problem involving “recognition of the right of the Palestinians to participate in the determination of their own future through negotiations in which their elected representatives would take part.” While the obvious intent of the Vienna talks was to pressure the Begin government to be more forthcoming in its negotiations with Egypt, there is no evidence that they had this effect. And, in any event, the Camp David settlement, which was reached in September, made the whole exercise superfluous.
This is where matters stood when, immediately after Camp David, the Bureau met in Paris and, in addition to endorsing the Vienna document, is also supposed to have adopted “the resolution . . . which authorized the chairman of the International to hold exploratory talks with the PLO leadership.” This, at least, is how the origin of the meeting with Arafat is explained in the joint communiqué which Brandt and Kreisky issued with the PLO leader following their talks in Vienna. In fact, however, no resolution of the sort was adopted at the Paris Bureau meeting.
What actually happened was that a lengthy debate was held on the proposal of the Spanish Socialist Workers party (PSOE) to invite the PLO as an observer to the International’s upcoming congress in Vancouver. Peres opposed the proposal, citing the PLO’s Palestinian National Covenant which declares the establishment of Israel “fundamentally null and void.” “This is simply the sort of resolution,” Peres said, “on which the Israel Labor party cannot make any compromise.” Most of the parties that spoke on the motion also opposed it, some because they saw it as divisive or premature, others because they objected to the PLO’s policy toward Israel and its role in international terrorism.
Kreisky took the position that it was first necessary to determine if Peres was correct in his characterization of the PLO’s aim. He proposed, therefore, that the Spanish motion be withdrawn and that Brandt be asked to inform the PLO of the Bureau’s discussion and to inquire whether there had been any change in its position as set forth in the Palestinian National Covenant. This would, he stated, give an argument to the moderate faction. At this point, however, Peres intervened and called for a clear rejection of the PLO. It was useless, he said, to inquire if it had changed its position since it had refused to do so on many previous occasions. He found the distinction between extremists and moderates in the PLO artificial and asked why so many people were interested in establishing a dialogue “between me and an organization that wants to kill my country.”
In the end, the Spanish proposal was withdrawn and no vote at all was taken on Kreisky’s motion. Brandt simply said that there was no need for a Bureau recommendation for the president to “increase his knowledge” about the position of some organization and, if he so chose, to share his knowledge with others on the Bureau. Kreisky, clearly displeased with the manner in which the issue was resolved, observed that he was not “prepared to concede that an organization like this should be brought to its knees, so to speak, before new formulas are worked out.”
On the basis of nothing more than readiness by Brandt to inform himself about the PLO, Kreisky, acting in the name of the Socialist International, invited Arafat to Vienna for three days of talks and accorded him the kind of treatment ordinarily reserved for an important head of state. Arafat was warmly embraced at the Vienna airport by Kreisky, who was joined in receiving the PLO leader by members of the Austrian cabinet, Arab diplomats, and ambassadors from Communist and other countries supporting the PLO. He was accommodated at the Vienna hotel used for visiting dignitaries and was the guest of honor at a banquet hosted by Kreisky and attended by Brandt. At the conclusion of the weekend talks, Arafat issued a communiqué with Kreisky and Brandt and participated with them in a joint press conference.
In holding these talks with Arafat, Brandt and Kreisky involved themselves in a series of deceptions, first by circumventing the Bureau which had not authorized such talks and had not even authorized Brandt to communicate with the PLO in the name of the Socialist International; then by publicly misrepresenting how the Bureau’s discussion had been resolved; and not least, by flouting their own expressed intention to use such a meeting, in the event it was ever held, to pressure the PLO into accepting Israel’s existence. Indeed, at the Paris Bureau Kreisky had stated that “I think we have to force, I am not using this term in its full meaning, that we have to cause the PLO to make their position on this question openly known, because I understand that we cannot expect our Israeli comrades to join people in a congress who have as an aim in their program the destruction of Israel.” But there is no evidence that such pressure was applied in the talks with Arafat, though there is considerable reason to believe that pressure was applied in the opposite direction. For the only thing that became “publicly known” as a result of the meeting with Arafat was that the Socialist International, not the PLO, had altered its policy toward the Middle East conflict, and had done so in a drastic way.
Any thought that the PLO might be ready to moderate its policy toward Israel should have been dispelled the moment Arafat arrived in Vienna, flaunting his combat fatigues which he was still wearing after having addressed terrorists at PLO training camps in Bulgaria. In fact, Arafat conceded nothing in the joint communiqué issued with Brandt and Kreisky, while the two Socialist leaders abandoned every one of the four points contained in the Vienna document of the year before. The substance of the first two points—state-to-state negotiations and the normalization of relations—is not to be found anywhere in the communiqué. Instead, it notes Arafat’s reference to “the Baghdad summit resolutions which called for a just and permanent peace in the Middle East. . . .” In effect, this constituted a repudiation of points one and two of the Vienna document, since the Baghdad resolutions rejected the Camp David accords and “all the consequences—political, economic, and legal—which derive from them.”
While Brandt and Kreisky endorsed UN Resolutions 242 and 338 in the communiqué, they did so in connection with “the implementation of Palestinian national rights” not mentioned anywhere in the two UN resolutions—but without mentioning secure and agreed-upon borders for Israel. (Arafat, of course, did not express support for these resolutions in the communiqué, and in the press conference he promoted two quite different UN resolutions adopted by the General Assembly, one endorsing the PLO’s political program and the other granting it permanent observer status at the UN.) Regarding the Palestinian question (point four), Brandt and Kreisky “concurred with Chairman Arafat that the Palestinian issue is the central problem of the Middle East conflict,” and they also noted Arafat’s description of “the PLO as the symbol and instrument of Palestinian nationalism, and its recognition as the sole legitimate Palestinian representative to the Rabat summit, the nonaligned countries, and the United Nations.”
In the communiqué, Brandt and Kreisky also joined with Arafat in expressing “extreme concern” over Israel’s “settlement activities in the occupied territories” and over the outbreak of “new military activities,” a reference to Israeli air attacks on PLO positions in southern Lebanon. In the joint press conference following the talks, Arafat called these Israeli raids “inhuman” and “terrorist” and decried the fact that there had been “a big outcry regarding 60,000 [sic] Vietnamese refugees” while world opinion ignores “the fate of 600,000 Palestinian and Lebanese refugees.” But nowhere in the communiqué or in the press conference did either of the two European Socialists so much as mention the campaign of violence against Israeli civilians conducted by PLO terrorists based in southern Lebanon.
At the press conference, Kreisky seemed to accept an additional point of PLO doctrine, which is that the PLO’s campaign against Israel is analogous to the European resistance against the Nazis. When asked how Austria could recognize the PLO on the basis of international law, Kreisky replied that a “de facto situation” existed where the PLO. was, in his view, the representative of the Palestinian people. He added that he wanted “to say something fundamental” at this point to explain why “in this question I do perhaps a little bit more than is usual.” He then referred to the period of the Nazi occupation of Austria when he and other Austrians went into exile and spoke “for a country that no longer existed on the map, but whose people existed.” He recalled how gratified he was to be received by the Swedish Prime Minister so that he could speak with him about postwar assistance to the Austrian people. “Such a refugee as I once was,” he said by way of explaining his personal interest in the PLO, “has special understanding for movements of a similar kind.” These remarks could easily be construed to mean that “movements of a similar kind” are in resistance against oppressors of a similar kind, especially since the remarks were made in a joint press conference with Arafat who has repeatedly compared Israel with Nazi Germany; neither Kreisky nor the former West German Chancellor, at any rate, said anything to dissociate himself from such a construction.
Following the talks, Der Spiegel reported, Brandt informed Bonn that “more clearly than ever, Yasir Arafat had conceded that implementation of the Palestinians’ right of self-determination was also possible without the destruction of the state of Israel.” Kreisky went a good deal further. He announced that “it would be absolutely ridiculous to think the PLO is out to destroy Israel.” When asked what evidence he had for this, he replied: “Arafat told me that there was never on his part any resolution which talks of Israel’s destruction. In fact, no Israeli has so far shown me such a resolution. On the other hand, there are clear decisions which are proof of the opposite. The PLO wants to establish its Palestinian state on the territory which will be evacuated by the Israeli troops. This implies the fact that this state will exist side by side with Israel.”
These “clear decisions” are noted in the joint communiqué, specifically with reference to “the resolutions of the Palestinian National Council which called for the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.” However, far from substantiating Kreisky’s contention that the PLO no longer seeks the destruction of Israel, these resolutions, adopted at meetings of the PNC in June 1974 and March 1977, prove precisely the opposite.
The resolution adopted in June 1974 states that “the PLO will struggle by every means—the foremost of which is armed struggle—to liberate the Palestinian land and to establish the people’s national independent and fighting authority on every part of Palestinian land to be liberated. . . .” Other points in the same resolution make it impossible to interpret this statement to mean acceptance by the PLO of Israel’s existence if a sovereign Palestinian state is established in territories ceded by Israel. The resolution states that “the PLO will struggle against any plan for the establishment of a Palestinian entity, the price of which is recognition [of Israel], conciliation [with Israel], and secure borders. . . .” The PLO, according to this resolution, will only “consider any step toward liberation which is accomplished as a stage in the pursuit of its strategy for the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state, as laid down in the decisions of previous National Council meetings” (emphasis added). The idea of a “solution by stages,” as the PLO calls it, does not modify the character of the “solution,” which is the destruction of the state of Israel. In fact, as Bernard Lewis has pointed out in these pages, the Arabic word used in this context conveniently combines the meaning of solution and dissolution.3
The fifteen-point PNC resolution of March 1977 calls for the “establishment of an independent national state on the national soil” (article 11). But the location of this state is deliberately left ambiguous. The reason for the ambiguity, as Yehoshafat Harkabi has explained, is that inside the PLO, article 11 “may be understood as applying to Palestine in its entirety, as the traditional PLO objective calls for. Externally, it may also be interpreted as referring to a small Palestinian state. Foreign protagonists of the PLO may make use of the second version, as proof of PLO moderation.” The ambiguity disappears if this article is read in the context of the rest of the resolution which calls for the restoration of Palestinian national rights “without recognition of or reconciliation with the Zionist entity,” and for the escalation of the struggle “to defeat and liquidate the occupation.”
In all of the statements issued by Brandt and Kreisky on the Vienna meeting, including individual press interviews, nowhere did they make any mention of the Palestinian National Covenant. This was a striking omission since the fundamental objection to the PLO voiced at the Paris Bureau was that its National Covenant called for the destruction of Israel. It was this objection that Kreisky had addressed when he said that the Socialist International had to “force” the PLO to make its position “openly known” before the question of relations with it could be dealt with any further. Unfortunately, even when Kreisky said this he showed no appreciation of the significance of the Covenant or even familiarity with its contents, since he referred (not without a trace of sarcasm) only to “the famous paragraph” that required clarification by the PLO, as if the objectionable content of the document were limited to a single passage.
In fact, as Peres and others have pointed out many times at meetings of the International, the entire 33-article Covenant—a name which, unlike “charter” or “constitution,” is meant to convey the national sanctity of the document—spells out in great detail the PLO position against Israel’s existence. In addition to declaring the establishment of Israel “fundamentally null and void” (article 19), the Covenant claims, among other things, that Jews are not a people and have no right to statehood (article 20); that warfare against Israel is legal while Israel’s self-defense is illegal (article 18); that any solution not involving the total liberation of the country is rejected and that this aim can only be achieved through armed struggle (articles 9 and 21); that only Jews living in Palestine before 1917 will be recognized as citizens (article 6); and that Zionism is a racist, colonialist, Nazi movement that is “organically related to world imperialism” and whose “tool,” Israel, is the “jumping-off point for imperialism in the heart of the Arab homeland” (article 22).
When I described the true nature of the Palestinian National Covenant at the Socialist International’s round-table discussion on the Middle East held in Vienna in 1978, the American Socialist Michael Harrington commented that instead of focusing simply on the language, “we should look behind the words to see if there is a political evolution.” Presumably this attitude reflects the thinking of Brandt and Kreisky as well, for both have shown themselves ready to ignore the words of the PLO and to look only at its alleged political evolution. But their meeting with Arafat showed that there has been no such evolution, at least none that has been publicly disclosed or which can be inferred from the PLO’s actions. Nor did this meeting increase the likelihood that an evolution will ever take place. For why should the PLO alter its declared objective of annihilating Israel if respected Western Socialists are prepared to collaborate with it on its own terms, even if this means betraying their Israeli comrades? Why, in fact, should the PLO feel any pressure to change its Covenant when Kreisky, instead of demanding such a change as he had said he would, declares after meeting Arafat that “as long as Israel will not recognize the PLO and the Palestinians, the leaders of the PLO cannot make public an official declaration recognizing Israel”? The uninitiated might well consider that Arafat, not Peres, is the comrade of the Socialists, and that it is Israel, not the PLO, which must repudiate the savage aims set forth in the National Covenant.
At the party leaders’ conference following the Yom Kippur War, Golda Meir asked reproachfully if Arab oil and the vast territories and wealth of the Arab states had become “decisive factors in Socialist thinking” about the Israeli-Arab conflict. She took the ignominious silence that greeted her remarks as an admission of guilt. Recently, however, the Socialists have become more forthright in stating their new attitudes, and also more adept at constructing elaborate rationalizations which attempt to obscure the political and moral meaning of their changed orientation. In an interview with Der Spiegel following the meeting with Arafat, for example, Kreisky acknowledged that Europe’s oil difficulties had much to do with the growing sympathy of European Socialists for the PLO. “This,” he said, “not only confirms the correctness of Marx’s thesis on societal interrelationships, but also makes it clear that certain existential problems have a sensitizing effect.” Socialists not only face these “existential problems,” but as the report of Kreisky’s fact-finding mission to the Middle East puts it, they also have a “moral obligation” to recognize the PLO and to call upon Israel to do so as well.
Such use of Socialist phraseology cannot obfuscate the plain fact that the policy that is being advocated amounts to an embrace by the Socialist International of a terrorist organization which seeks the destruction of the state of a member party. Nor can the appeal to moral principle make the adoption of this policy by the Socialist International appear consistent with the moral claims of socialism or with the oft-proclaimed principle of Socialist solidarity. All that such diversions do is reveal the extent to which the Socialist International has found it necessary to resort to cant and moral duplicity to justify the organization’s new policies.
The need for dissembling and pretense can be traced to several false premises that underlie the Socialist International’s present world outlook. One of them is the assumption that the radical parties of the Third World with which it now seeks a close relationship are “Socialist-oriented.” The Socialist International has never really defined what it means by this term, though a definition is discernible from the nature of many of the parties with which relationships have been established. “Socialist-oriented” refers to ruling parties in poor countries that perceive themselves to be engaged in a kind of class struggle against the rich countries of the West, a struggle that has euphemistically been called the North-South conflict. Such parties rule despotically, denying political and civil liberties while claiming to give priority to “collective human rights,” to borrow Willy Brandt’s phrase. They are also intensely nationalistic, using nationalism as both a means of legitimizing their rule and as an instrument of mass mobilization. “Socialist-oriented” also refers to “national-liberation movements” which share this general outlook and which seek to come to power through armed struggle.
The ideology of such parties has been called populist and Marxist-Leninist, and in some important respects it also resembles early Italian Fascism, which similarly emphasized nationalism, collectivism, and conflict between “capitalist” and “proletarian nations.”4 The important point is that this ideology is not “Socialist-oriented,” at least not according to the way socialism has been defined until recently by the Socialist International. The Oslo declaration of 1962, for example, specifically warned against “the dangers of nationalistic excesses, where the welfare of the people is sacrificed to the claims of the state. . . .” This same statement called for economic and technical cooperation between developed and developing nations, with democratic forces in both camps playing a leading role. But nowhere did it entertain the idea that the poor nations as a whole are in the position of exploited proletarians vis-à-vis all classes of the rich nations (including the working classes), an idea which the Socialist International now seems to endorse, though historically it has been associated with the Leninist attack against the complicitous “social imperialists” and “labor aristocrats” of the “world marauder nations.”
Most importantly, the Oslo declaration stated that “liberty and democratic self-government are precious rights which must not be surrendered,” and it reaffirmed the cherished principle that “the development of the individual personality is the basis for the fruitful development of mankind.” In courting the “Socialist-oriented” parties of the Third World, the International has rationalized the surrender of these “precious rights” and has made a mockery of Brandt’s pledge at Geneva that in the struggle for human rights “our vision must be unobscured in all directions.” This new policy has been justified, particularly with reference to support for the “liberation” movements, by the claim that the International is actually competing with the Communists for influence with such parties and is thus serving the cause of democracy. In this case, the Socialists are deceiving only themselves, as the meeting with Arafat made perfectly clear. For it was not the Socialist International which influenced the PLO, but the PLO which influenced the Socialist International while at the same time strengthening its own political standing in the world and weakening Israel’s position. It can be assumed that Moscow was not terribly distressed over the outcome of this meeting. Nor, one thinks, does it feel threatened when Socialists give political and material support to armed “liberation” movements in southern Africa and elsewhere, thereby relieving it of some of the burden of supplying these movements and also further isolating “Western-oriented” groups seeking a nonviolent solution.
The idea that Socialists can and should try to outbid Moscow for the loyalties of anti-Western elements in the Third World derives from a fundamental and dangerous misconception of the role of socialism as an international movement in today’s world. In the report of the Kreisky fact-finding mission to the Middle East, democratic socialism was portrayed as a “third force” which frees movements in the Third World from “the apparently inescapable alternative of having to make a choice either for ‘capitalist America’ or for ‘Communist Russia.’” The idea of a “third force” which lacks an independent capacity for self-defense, not to mention the ability to be a factor of any consequence in world politics, cannot be taken seriously. In an interview in 1973, Willy Brandt categorically dismissed the idea of a neutral Europe as a “force placed between the two world powers,” and there is even less reason to believe that European socialism, which is no longer the hegemonic political force in Europe, can play that role today. If the idea has gained some currency, it has nothing to do with socialism’s capacity to be a third force, but rather with the drastic decline in American leadership since 1973 and the ensuing emergence in Europe, mostly on the Left, of neutralist attitudes.
In this sense, the new orientation of the Socialist International can be viewed as a symptom of the shifting East-West balance of forces in the world, an indication of growing dangers and not new hopes. But it is more than simply a manifestation of this global problem, since the Socialist International itself has now become a factor, of limited but not negligible importance, which is contributing to the declining political cohesiveness of the West and to the growing intellectual confusion that has accompanied that decline. For the idea of socialism as a third force between capitalism and Communism is not only itself an illusion, but it feeds other illusions, among them the notion that there is no moral distinction to be drawn between the free culture of the “capitalist” world and Communist totalitarianism. This is an idea that Socialists abandoned many years ago, along with the posture of neutralism. That it should now be revived, at this moment of grave uncertainty in East-West relations, will only make it more difficult to achieve a sense of unified purpose within the West concerning the defense of democratic society.
There was a time not very long ago when the democratic-socialist movement was, in the eyes of many, the most determined champion of democracy and the most effective ideological opponent of Communist totalitarianism. One must conclude that this is no longer the case, at least if one judges from the course now being taken by the Socialist International. For instead of being a third force in the world between the poles of capitalism and Communism, the Socialist International represents a movement in crisis, cut off from the ideals and perspectives which once made it a source of hope, and positioned now somewhere between the poles of democracy and totalitarianism but being drawn increasingly into the political and ideological orbit of the latter. Seen by itself, this development does not spell doom for the West. It is really just additional evidence of the decline of democratic conviction in free societies, not excluding our own. But as such, its implications for the future of democratic civilization are ominous indeed.
1 Among the other parties in the Socialist International are the French Socialist party led by François Mitterrand, the British Labor party led by former Prime Minister James Callaghan, the Israel Labor party led by Shimon Peres, the Portuguese Socialist party led by former Prime Minister Mario Soares, the Spanish Socialist Workers party led by Felipe Gonzalez, and the Swedish Social Democratic party led by former Prime Minister Olof Palme.
2 The PAP's defense of its record as a ruling Socialist party since 1959, and its charges against the Socialist International, are contained in Socialism That Works—The Singapore Way, edited by C.V. Devan Nair, Federal Publications, Singapore, 1976.
3 See “Settling the Arab-Israel Conflict,” COMMENTARY, June 1977.
4 See my review of A. James Gregor's book, The Fascist Persuasion in Radical Politics, COMMENTARY, January 1976.