Issue 168 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1993 Copyright © Socialist Review
ON THE BACK
One of the most disgusting sights I can remember was watching Menachim Begin and Anwar Sadat receive the Nobel Peace Prize. I remember thinking at the time that it was as if the prize had been awarded to Adolf Hitler and Neville ('peace in our time') Chamberlain.
Begin and Sadat received their award for their big contribution to peace: the Camp David summit in 1978.
It was remarkable: the accord didn't recognise the PLO, didn't give any rights to Palestinians, let alone give them back their land, or grant them citizenship in their own country.
It couldn't and indeed didn't contribute one iota to peace in the region. It was a disgraceful sham that allowed Begin and Sadat to sit with their awards on the mantelpiece while countless lives were lost.
Now once more we are being told that peace is being brought to the region. 'Historic breakthroughs' have been made, and no doubt the mindless morons who confer peace prizes are already beginning to engrave the names Arafat and Peres on their worthless rolls of honour.
This time the PLO will be recognised, and the Palestinians will even be given a strip of land with a degree of autonomy. Surely there will be real peace?
But before such conclusions are reached, one or two pertinent questions have to be asked. Will the Palestinians be allowed back to their own country? Will they be free of the misery of refugee camps? Will Israel cease to operate an apartheid state? Will the bombings of refugee camps stop?
Sadly the answer to all these questions has to be no. There is even something worse about all this. Up to now Israel has been responsible for all the violent attempts to crush resistance. Now Arafat will take up the mantle of Israel's policeman, having to crush sections of his own people to hold this wretched deal together.
This may seem to some an outrageous statement. After all Arafat has spent his whole life dedicated to the Palestinian cause, has fought Israel and has sacrificed so much for the struggle. Surely he would never do such a thing?
Perhaps not, but as I looked at all the coverage one name kept rolling around my head, that of Michael Collins. Michael who?
Michael Collins was the boy's own hero of the struggle for Irish freedom in the years 1918 to 1921. He was the nearest thing Ireland ever produced to Che Guevara--a romantic hero, a legend, loved by those who supported his cause, despised by those who opposed it.
He had spies inside the police, the civil service and the government administration, covering everyone from barmaids to priests. He was able to use the information brilliantly. On one occasion he had 12 English intelligence officers shot in one afternoon.
Yet this is not what most people think of first when they remember Collins. Rather, they think of him as the man who signed the treaty which granted Southern Ireland a degree of autonomy from Britain, and created that sectarian six county monster of Northern Ireland.
Collins signed because he thought something was better than nothing, because he saw it as a first step, and because he had the huge encouragement of an Irish capitalist class whose interests were well served by the deal.
A substantial minority of the IRA supported him, and the slogan, 'If it's good enough for Mick it's good enough for me', became a byword with many of his supporters.
However, the majority of his old comrades in arms opposed the deal and were determined to keep fighting.
What was Collins to do? Winston Churchill, the British minister responsible for Ireland, made it clear that if Collins failed to crush them, then the British army would sweep away not only Collins's opponents, but his supporters too.
Collins, the man who had led these men against the hated British, now accepted British arms and money to crush people supporting the cause to which he had dedicated all his adult life.
Urged on by the British and his own capitalist class (he was not a socialist of any sort) he embarked on a civil war which would crush the Republicans, copperfasten the division of Ireland and claim his life.
Collins got caught in the logic of his compromise, in circumstances so similar to that of the Palestinians today that I for one would be loath to assume that Arafat cannot travel the same course.
What will Arafat do when other Palestinians continue to wage a struggle and use his area as a launching pad for their activities? What will he do when Peres or Rabin tell him to put his house in order?
The trap that ensnared Michael Collins has now been laid for Arafat, and it will be no more easy for him to escape than it was for Collins.
When Collins signed the treaty he announced that he had just signed his own death warrant. He was right, but he had signed much more than that, and the body count in Northern Ireland over the last 25 years is a far more fitting testament than anything that some committee dedicated to the memory of Alfred Nobel could ever come up with.