The road map to ’peace’ in the Middle East is becoming soaked in blood. Since the Israeli army attempted to assassinate the deputy leader of the Islamic Palestinian organisation, Hamas, on 10 June, the number of deaths has again escalated. The toll includes 17 Israelis killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem and 18 Palestinians gunned down by Israeli forces in Gaza on two consecutive days.

The road map was never a map with any real routes. It left the major issues of contention unresolved, such as the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Rather it was a desperate response by the US administration linked to promises they made when trying to win support for war on Iraq, to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict after the war.

At first, Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, would not sign up to the map, fearful of being pushed towards concessions beyond his right-wing agenda, such as the removal of Jewish settlements from the West Bank. But under intense pressure from the US regime, with its bargaining power of massive funding of the Israeli state, Sharon was forced to pay lip service to it. This was not without substantive qualifications though, such as refusing to use the word ’independent’ regarding a future Palestinian state.

Sharon is bound by a right-wing coalition government that strongly supports Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and will not contemplate a genuine Palestinian state. These are views he shares, as do most representatives of the Israeli ruling class on the issue of a genuine Palestinian state.

But there are domestic factors pushing Sharon towards negotiations, particularly the present deep economic crisis in Israel. Recent increases in share values and of the Israeli Shekel against the US dollar have been attributed to the road map negotiations, reflecting the toll the national conflict has taken on the defence budget and the tourist industry. It is also the case that, according to a poll, 62% of Israelis want occupation of the territories ended.

So Sharon manoeuvres between international pressure, domestic opinion and a dire financial situation on the one hand, and the Israeli right-wing and backing for forceful ’security’ measures amongst a section of Israeli Jews on the other hand. The Palestinian leaders, on their part, have little room for manoeuvre. As long as the Israeli government continues its brutal occupation of the Palestinian territories along with house demolitions, assassinations and many civilian deaths, they are helpless in the face of demands to reign in the armed activists and suicide bombers of organisations such as Hamas. In any case, their security apparatus has been too weakened by the Israeli onslaught to even attempt it. Understanding this situation, Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, has stated he must negotiate with Hamas rather than trying to disarm them.

Whether the road map folds quickly or has a longer death agony, it is a further graphic example of the inability of the imperialist powers to offer any solution. With next year’s US election campaign looming, US President George Bush is more concerned with keeping in with the US Christian right and Jewish lobby who staunchly support the Israeli ruling class than with international pressure favouring Palestinian rights. However, even governments worldwide who argue more forcefully for a Palestinian state, including the Palestinian Authority itself, do not have the interests of ordinary Palestinian people at heart, nor can their pressure lead to a genuine Palestinian state. The national conflict and satisfying the aspirations of both Israeli Jewish workers and Palestinian workers cannot be resolved on the basis of the capitalist system that all these governments represent. Only by building a socialist Israel and a socialist Palestine in a socialist confederation of the Middle East will a real map be laid towards a decent future for all the people of the region.

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

Committee for a workers' International publications

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