ARIEL SHARON appears to be biting the hand that feeds him. The assassination of another leading Hamas activist by an Israeli hit squad has further undermined George Bush’s efforts to put a lid on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through its ’road map’ peace initiative.

The following article was written before the announcement of a temporary ceasefire by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa brigades. This ceasefire may have raised hopes that the Road Map could bring about a sharp reduction in the bloodshed for a sustained length of time. However, as the article explains the Road Map gives no answers to the terrible conditions faced by the Palestinians and the huge difficulty of achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East under capitalism. CWI online.

Sharon’s deadly assassination squads

This apparent wrecking strategy of Sharon comes only weeks after the US Congress approved a massive $9 billion loans package to bolster Israel’s faltering economy.

US secretary of state Colin Powell, attending the World Economic Summit in neighbouring Jordan, barely concealed his anger at the Israeli government’s action. He said the murder of Abdullah Qawasmeh in Hebron was a "matter of concern" that "could be an impediment to progress". However, Sharon had no regrets, saying the assassination was "a vital action designed to provide security for Israel’s citizens".

In fact, such actions will guarantee a retaliatory strike against Israeli citizens by Hamas, which has spurned attempts by Egypt and the US-approved Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Abbas to secure a ceasefire from the various Palestinian militias.

Another indication of Sharon’s insincerity is his attitude to the ’illegal’ Jewish settlements in the West Bank. These settlements on Palestinian territory have flourished since Sharon became PM in 2001, despite some token dismantling in recent days of some ’hilltop settlements’. Sharon reportedly said last week that the settlers should continue to build, albeit more discreetly.

So it’s hardly surprising that most Palestinians are rightly cynical of the road map achieving anything positive, let alone a "viable Palestinian state". What they see is only a continuation of the occupation, oppression and impoverishment as the Israeli government’s response to the Intifada.

Many Israelis also remain sceptical of peace under Sharon’s leadership. An Israeli newspaper opinion poll found that 40% of Israelis believe that the recent assassination attempt of Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi was a deliberate act to wreck the road map - 67% want these assassinations to stop to enable peace talks.

Not that the road map, with its lack of concrete measures to resolve such issues as the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, the financing of a ’viable Palestinian state’ etc. offers a way forward for the working classes of the region.

George Bush’s plan is designed to bolster pro-US Arab regimes whose populations are incandescent at the US invasion of Iraq and the continuing national oppression of the Palestinians.

The only viable solution to the wars, national conflicts, grinding poverty and extremes of inequality of the Middle East is the transformation of the region through the building of mass revolutionary socialist movements.


People’s Mojahedin - victims of imperialist rivalry

TWELVE MEMBERS of the exiled Iranian People’s Mojahedin (MKO) have set themselves alight in a number of European capitals, including London, in protest at the arrest and detention of 160 MKO members in France.

The French authorities are to investigate 17 MKO members for "conspiring with a terrorist organisation". Eleven are being held in custody including MKO leader Maryam Rajavi.

The MKO is the political wing of the Mojahedin Khalq guerrillas who oppose the Iranian regime. The People’s Mojahedin, a curious blend of Islam and ’Marxism’, was a prominent force on the left during the early days of the 1978-79 Iranian revolution before being banished under Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime (see the socialist 14 June).

Its 10,000-strong militia has military bases inside Iraq and had enjoyed the patronage of Saddam Hussein. These bases were bombed by US forces during operation ’shock and awe’. The guerrillas have subsequently agreed to disarm since the US occupation of Iraq.

The MKO has found itself the victim of inter-imperialist rivalry between the EU, principally the French government and the US. The US has targeted Iran as part of an "axis of evil" that aids and abets terrorism and that is pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. It has opportunistically encouraged regime change during the recent student-led protests against Iran’s clerical leaders.

However, the French government is pursuing its own imperialist policy to cultivate its capitalist interests in the Arab and Muslim countries of the Middle East. This includes maintaining friendly trade and diplomatic relations with Tehran, hence the arrests of the MKO members at its Paris compound.


Imperialist wishes 1

AS THE US-led occupation of Iraq faces mounting opposition, the occupying forces keep up their aim of making the country into a ’free-market economy’. The US wants more privatisation - moving resources and workers from state enterprises to what they hope will be profit-making private-sector ventures.

Paul Bremer, US ’civil administrator’ for Iraq, acknowledged that this move would exacerbate social relations - mainly with mass sackings. Bremer made vague promises of some kind of "social safety net", paid for by Iraq’s oil!

Who’ll gain most if this plan comes to fruition? The oil companies, mainly in the USA, and other big business enterprises, including a few Iraqi fat cats.


Imperialist wishes 2

TOP MAGAZINES in Britain’s construction and civil engineering are running a conference on business opportunities arising from the Iraq reconstruction process.

They will advise big business (or small business wanting to grow fat) on "the realities of doing business in Iraq", on "the challenges of doing business in a country which has been closed to business over the past decade" and other issues such as "developing an effective risk management strategy" in "what will become one of the fastest growing economies in the world".

Well, that’s that sorted then. After years of warfare at various levels, years of sanctions which "closed Iraq" to trade and had a devastating effect on the population, big business can see light at the end of the tunnel. For themselves!


Military big spenders

THE WAR in Iraq pushed global spending on military purposes up 6% last year, says the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Expanding at twice the rate of the year before, it has now grown to $794 billion (£500 billion a year).

US imperialism - responsible for three-quarters of the increase - accounted for 43% of global military spending last year (up from 36%). Washington spent an alarming $336 billion ($210 billion) on arms.

What’s more, US defence budget estimates for 2003 showed a planned 32% increase in arms procurement over the 2002-2007 period, in line with ideas of a new global ’Pax Americana’ with "full spectrum dominance".

Other world powers find it hard to keep up. Western Europe’s arms spending actually went down. Russia overtook the US as the world’s biggest arms exporter while China, with imports estimated at growing 18% in 2002, was the biggest importer of arms.

India and Pakistan, which came close to nuclear conflagration last year, both vastly increased their arms imports last year - India’s 72% rise in imports making it the world’s second largest buyer of arms from abroad.

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

Committee for a workers' International publications

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