Israel/Palestine: Palestinian state halted by Sharon roadblock

GEORGE BUSH’S recently published road map to ending the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and achieving a ’viable Palestinian state’ by 2005, already looks set for failure.

Having despatched secretary of state Colin Powell on a tour of the Middle East capitals to promote the plan, it became abundantly clear that the principal player – Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon – has no intention of allowing Palestinians to secure their long sought after national rights.

Envisaged in the first phase of the road map are ’confidence building’ measures such as ending the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian Authority areas, dismantling the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) checkpoints (more accurately ’chokepoints’), relaxing the travel ban of Palestinians holding Israeli work permits, dismantling some ’illegal’ hilltop Jewish settlements, etc. In return the US-approved new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, (the US, responding to Israeli pressure, has sidelined Arafat who is a virtual prisoner of Israel in his Ramallah HQ) is meant to rein in armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Brigades to cease attacks on Jewish settlements and on Israel.

Powell doled out a $50 million reconstruction ’sweetener’ to Abbas and got Sharon to release 140 Palestinian prisoners (out of 7,000 detained under laws dating back to the British mandate days). But Sharon, having tabled numerous wrecking amendments to the road map, raised the bar higher by demanding that the new Palestinian cabinet disarm all militant groups and even sections of the Palestinian police considered by Israel to be aiding and abetting "terrorism".

Sharon knows that this is an impossible demand since it would lead to a Palestinian civil war. Hamas has already accused Abbas of betraying the Palestinian cause to appease the US and Israel. Sharon has also ruled out any discussions in the near future on the status of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

Underlining his insincerity, within 24 hours of announcing the relaxation of travel restrictions for 25,000 Palestinians holding work permits, the Israeli military re-imposed the closure of the Gaza Strip both for Palestinians and foreigners; even journalists were barred.

This follows the Israeli government saying that all foreigners would have to sign a form absolving the IDF of responsibility if they shoot them! This waiver is in response to international criticism of the IDF following the shooting dead of a British cameraman filming an IDF incursion into Gaza and the near fatal shooting of a British peace activist in recent days. Clearly, the Israeli government does not want any witnesses to its brutal attacks on, and humiliating occupations of, Palestinian areas.

The US government currently gives around $3 billion a year in civilian and military aid to Israel (compared to $1 billion aid, in total, from donor countries to reconstruct Afghanistan). In the last year, the US Congress has also approved a massive $9 billion loan to the country to deal with the worst recession in Israel’s history, combined with the cost of the war against the Palestinians.

While US imperialism continues to back its principal regional ally then the securing of a ’viable Palestinian state’ let alone the issues of the settlements, the return of refugees and the status of Jerusalem, will not feature on any map of the Middle East.

The US ’road map’

Phase 1 (to May 2003) End of ’terrorism’, normalisation of Palestinian life and Palestinian political reform; Israeli withdrawal and end of settlement activity; Palestinian elections.

Phase 2 (June-December 2003) Creation of an independent Palestinian state; international conference and international monitoring of compliance with roadmap.

Phase 3 (2004-2005) Second international conference; permanent status agreement and end of conflict; agreement on final borders, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements; Arab states to agree to peace deals with Israel.

The socialist road to national and social liberation

SINCE THE formation of the state of Israel in 1948, the Palestinian people have demonstrated that no amount of oppression, impoverishment and humiliation will stop them fighting for their own state. Subsequent wars and invasions saw Israel take control of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, especially after the Arab/Israeli war in 1967.

The maintenance of the state of Israel, however, has long been a priority for the US. During the cold war, Israel was the main base for the US against the Soviet Union in the Middle East. It was a way of trying to prevent revolutionary movements in Arab countries challenging capitalist economic and strategic interests in the region.

The Soviet Union – which had provided material support to Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (as part of its superpower rivalry to the US) – collapsed in 1991.

This weakening of the PLO’s position came soon after the exhaustion of the first Palestinian intifada (uprising) – a mass movement of resistance to Israeli occupation and brutality. It also coincided with the Gulf war defeat of Iraq, led by US imperialism. Against this background a ’peace process’ was pushed through in 1993.

In reality, the Palestinians were presented with a plan which fell far short of self-determination. It ensured Israeli/US domination. The Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Arafat and those around him, took over the running of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A Palestinian state was promised in the future.

Since then, however, the Israeli state has steadily undermined the agreement, and now has effectively reoccupied nearly all of the territory given over to the PA.

The second Palestinian intifada erupted nearly three years ago in the form of armed attacks by the militias of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah. In the absence of a socialist alternative and due to the exhaustion of the mass struggle, these militias have largely taken upon themselves the resistance to the Israeli state.

Over the years, Hamas has deepened its support by providing social services in the impoverished Palestinian towns and refugee camps, which the unaccountable clique around Arafat failed to provide. They have been seen as some of the most resolute fighters against the IDF.

Socialists emphasise the need for mass participation in deciding how self-defence is carried out. The arms held by the PA and the militias should be under the control of community-based committees. Linking up these groups would establish a cohesive, accountable, mass self-defence force.

This could be linked to appeals to Israeli Jewish workers in the IDF – mainly young conscripts – not to participate in the reoccupation. Many of the troops on the frontline are drawn from the poorest sections of Israeli Jewish society, and face long-term unemployment and deteriorating social conditions once they return home.

The suicide bombings of Israeli Jewish civilians, however, actually reinforce the Israeli state’s grip on Jewish society. They are used to justify intensified oppression and territorial reoccupation.

A class-based approach is important because it is essential to break the chains which bind the Israeli Jewish working class to the reactionary state.

Four years of economic recession in Israel have led to increasingly severe budget cuts and attacks on social spending. As a result, public-sector workers are currently involved in a general strike. This shows that there is deep class division in Israel (as in all capitalist society), and not – as some people suggest – that it is a monolithic, reactionary state. A clear socialist alternative, such as that put forward by Ma’avak Sozialisti (the CWI section in Israel) can attract working-class people taking such action.

Socialist alternative

Given the level of distrust which exists, there has to be a two-state alternative: a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state, with agreement over the status of Jerusalem, as well as guaranteed religious and minority rights. But this cannot be achieved under the divisive, profit-driven capitalist system, which fuels mutual fear and hatred, violence and brutality.

However, mass, working-class action on a socialist programme – from both the Israeli Jewish and the Palestinian sides – could provide the basis for the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism in Israel/Palestine. It would be a powerful example to other mass movements in the Middle East, would encourage international solidarity, the overthrow of the reactionary Arab regimes in the region, and the establishment of voluntary, democratic socialist federations.

Socialist societies would be able to plan production, prioritising the needs of working-class people, land and water access. As the basis of this society would be human solidarity as opposed to private wealth and greed, it would be possible to negotiate borders, the status of Jerusalem, etc, in a positive and constructive manner.

This does not mean that all problems could be resolved quickly and easily. The distrust, resentment and divisions have been fostered over hundreds of years. It would, however, provide the basis on which to resolve these questions.

Capitalism and the imperialist powers have no answers. The failure of the ’peace process’ over the last decade has produced a deep scepticism among both Palestinians and Israelis over the lastest ’road map’ plan. Moreover, Bush has already started his re-election campaign for 2004, and will not risk alienating the powerful pro-Israeli lobby in the US.

That is why the only viable solution is an international socialist solution.

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May 2003