As the spiral of violence in the Middle East escalates, possibly towards a wider war drawing in the surrounding Arab countries, US President Bush continues to show the incapacity of the leading imperialist power on the planet to offer any solution to the conflict.

His recent speech, demonstrating breathtaking arrogance in calling for the removal of Palestinian leader Arafat, will in fact contribute to worsening the situation. It gives a green light to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to continue the brutal invasions and re-occupation of Palestinian Authority (PA) areas, and the destruction of the existing PA.

Bush’s reference to a Palestinian ’state’ is meaningless, with no timetable for it and no proposals on crucial issues such as its borders, the fate of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

The ’state’ would be conditional on an end to Palestinian terror attacks and on ’reform’ of the PA. Representatives of the Israeli capitalist class are applauding Bush’s speech, knowing full well that it provides no incentive for Palestinian militias to end their attacks, so the issue of a Palestinian state will not be on the agenda.

Bush’s speech followed a week in which 36 Israeli people were killed by Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen, the highest Israeli death toll in one week since the start of the second Palestinian intifada.

Iron heel

The Israeli government responded with a new spate of re-occupations of Palestinian towns in the West Bank. They announced that the incursions would be of longer duration than before, with more PA land being occupied after each Palestinian attack.

The Director General of the Israeli Defence Ministry, Amos Yaron, said that the recent ’Operation Defensive Shield’ did not go far enough and that the military is preparing a "crushing and decisive" response to suicide attacks.

Sharon has announced that there will be "massive action" against the Palestinian muslim organisation Hamas in the Gaza strip. Israeli government ministers have also decided in principle to deport from the occupied territories suspected Palestinian militia leaders and to forcibly move the families of West Bank suicide bombers to the Gaza strip.

Over 1,400 Palestinian people have already been killed by Israeli troops during the last 21 months. This brutal slaughter is continuing with these latest invasions. Suspected Palestinian activists are assassinated on the spot or are rounded up for interrogation.

Many thousands who have no involvement with the militias are suffering curfews and the destruction of basic necessities such as water and electricity supplies. Many have had their homes destroyed and been killed or maimed in atrocities such as the recent machine gunning of a market place in Jenin in which three children and a teacher were killed and 24 injured.

Israeli coalition government ministers are united over the stepping up of military action, but divided over how to portray it. For instance, Foreign Secretary Peres pressured Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into announcing that Israeli troops would not "occupy" PA territory, but would "remain there in accordance with operational needs". This is mainly just semantic manoeuvring to try to satisfy their own party power bases and be seen to be exerting influence.

New ’Berlin Wall’

A period of even partial re-occupation will be fraught with major problems for the Israeli ruling class. It means the call up of extra reservists and huge additional expenditure. Outrage from people world-wide will hit their pockets through direct and indirect effects on tourism and trade.

The economy is already in recession and crisis, made worse by the recent increases in military spending. Swingeing public expenditure cuts and tax increases are being made to try to reduce a large budget deficit. Poverty among working and middle class Israelis is increasing and there is massive anger at the government’s economic policy as a result.

Most Israeli people supported Operation Defensive Shield because they were presented with no alternative to assuage their fear and thought it might create a temporary lull in Palestinian attacks, as it did for a three-week period. They are still offered no alternative by any of the capitalist political parties in government and feelings of insecurity are high.

But re-occupation, bringing a combination of increased financial cost and increased loss of life of young Israeli soldiers, together with a likely continuation of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians, would inevitably lead to growing opposition to the government’s military strategy.

Sharon is presently pursuing a dual strategy, on the one hand continuing destruction of the PA and re-occupying PA territory, and on the other hand building fences and ditches between PA towns and Israeli settlements, and Israel proper. Work has begun on a 75-mile fence to try to stop suicide bombers from travelling from the West Bank into Israel.

This will be a further death knell to the jobs of the 120,000 Palestinians who travelled to work in Israel before the Intifada. Unemployment has tripled in the West Bank and Gaza since September 2000. And it won’t prevent bombers and gunmen from carrying out attacks. There have been many instances of fences being penetrated in order to carry out attacks on Jewish settlements, but even if the new fencing is more impenetrable, it cannot stop Israeli Palestinians from turning towards carrying out attacks from inside Israel.

The hardline right wing parties oppose the fence as they see it as leading to the exclusion of Israelis from territory that they regard as theirs, and as cutting off and isolating many Jewish settlements.

Many on the right support a policy of ’transfers’, that is the eventual removal of Palestinians from the occupied territories, a form of the horrific ’ethnic cleansing’ experienced in the Balkans.

Capitalist failure

The personal authority of Palestinian leader Arafat has plummeted amongst Palestinians, along with that of his corrupt associates, following many betrayals and his failure to advance the Palestinian struggle. His failings now include his recent announcement that he is prepared to accept the Taba peace plan put forward 18 months ago by US President Bill Clinton, which paid lip service to a Palestinian state and did not include the right of return of refugees. Incredibly, he also described Bush’s latest speech as "a serious effort to push the peace process forward".

However, despite their falling support for Arafat and anger at the corruption and failings of the PA, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza will be outraged at US attempts to dictate who should be their leader, as well as at Bush’s backing for Sharon’s brutality and his mere lip-service to a Palestinian state.

In any case, any kind of Palestinian ’state’ put forward by capitalist representatives in the Middle East or worldwide will not solve Palestinian aspirations. It would be too starved of funding to provide decent living standards and would be seen as too great a security threat by the Israeli ruling class to be given real independence and undivided territory.

Only a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel as part of a socialist confederation in the Middle East could offer decent living standards, peace and security for the workers of the region. This is the only real and viable alternative that can gain the allegiance of both Israeli and Palestinian workers both now and in the future.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI in England and Wales)

Committee for a workers' International publications

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