Middle East: Bush’s ‘road map’

PUBLICATION OF George Bush’s long-awaited "road map" to end the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was greeted by suicide bombings in Israel by pro-Palestinian Islamists and a massive and bloody invasion by Israeli armed forces into the Gaza strip. Hardly the best start and not the "confidence boosting" measures envisaged.

The US-approved Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, sees the US, EU and Russian-backed peace plan as ’the only show in town’ but many Palestinians and Israelis remain unconvinced.

The road map plan consists of three phases leading to a ’viable Palestinian state’ by 2005. However, many Palestinians are deeply sceptical of achieving this national aspiration.

They see the Palestinian leaders, with their opulent lifestyles, as desperately clasping at straws to maintain their privileges while 53% of Palestinians remain unemployed and suffer the humiliations of occupation and widespread poverty.

These feelings of anger and political alienation have fuelled political Islamist groups like Hamas who have dismissed the road map.

Hamas has won political support from Palestinians both for its welfare provision and for its uncompromising opposition to dealings with the Israeli government. Its armed wing has attracted Palestinian youth, some of whom have become suicide bombers.

One reason for US secretary of state Colin Powell’s recent visit to Damascus was to pressure the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, into reining in guerrilla groups such as Hamas and to close down their political offices in that country. This does not appear to have succeeded.

But while the mass of Palestinians remain cynical or opposed to the road map, there is also the opposition of the Israeli ruling class to a Palestinian state.

Ariel Sharon’s government poses a major road bloc to George Bush’s ’viable Palestinian state’. Even the right-wing Economist conceded that Sharon’s "half-vision of a scrappy Palestinian state in about 40% of the West Bank, while Jewish settlements and their environs gobble up most of the rest, is nobody else’s idea of a viable country…".

And so long as the Israeli ruling classes pursue their nationalist and capitalist agenda, then the Israeli working class will suffer both from economic hardship and continuing warfare and insecurity.

While it is clear that the Israeli Defence Force, despite its massive firepower, cannot stop armed incursions by Palestinian guerrillas into Israel or stop attacks on Jewish settlements, equally the armed Palestinian groups cannot defeat, militarily, the Israeli state.

There can be no ’military solution’ to resolving the issues of Palestinian national rights, the guaranteeing of security for Israelis, nor the ending of poverty and exploitation in the region. Equally, diplomacy which involves the region’s capitalist ruling classes and US imperialism, is also likely to result in an impasse.

The only social class that has a genuine interest in achieving a peaceful settlement and an end to economic misery is the Palestinian and Israeli working classes and also of the working classes throughout the Middle East. Any solution based on social and national equality therefore requires the building of mass, socialist movements throughout the region.

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May 2003