Israel/Palestine: What’s behind the “ceasefile”?

PALESTINIAN MILITIAS have declared a three month suspension in armed attacks against Israel and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has withdrawn from parts of the Gaza strip. There will be hopes worldwide that this is the start of a process that will end the bloodshed and lead to a peace settlement.

The ’road map’ being pushed by the US regime stops far short of an attempt at a comprehensive peace settlement. Yet, the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon is manoeuvring to ensure that its right-wing agenda and defence of the interests of the Israeli capitalist class is not jeopardised.

Sharon has sanctioned a process of staggered IDF withdrawals, of troops who have in any case been expensive to maintain in positions of occupation, and he has agreed to "review" the cases of 10,000 Palestinians who are in Israeli custody. But he has refused to end the policy of targeted assassinations which also means the killing of any Palestinian in the vicinity of the target.

The Israeli prime minister is refusing to reconsider the route of the new security fence that is further destroying Palestinian land and livelihoods and so far he has only paid lip-service to any meaningful removal of Jewish settlements from occupied areas.

Sharon is also refusing to recognise the Palestinian ceasefire, insisting that the Palestinian Authority (PA) forcibly disarm and disband the militias. This demand is a smokescreen, as the PA has neither the influence nor the forces to carry out such a task.

US envoy Condoleezza Rice has spoken of the need to suffocate the Hamas militias by building an alternative to the welfare system established by Hamas. She proposes that this is financed by huge sums of US money being invested in Palestinian projects. But who will invest given the underlying national conflict in the region?

Palestinians will inevitably be sceptical about such pronouncements given the US’s role historically in the region and the empty promises made to war-torn countries such as Afghanistan.

Despite all this, a lull in the bloodshed could hold temporarily as a result of the negotiation process. But it may not last for even the three months of ceasefire declared by the Palestinian militias, especially as some of the militia leaders were extremely reluctant to accept a ceasefire without a corresponding commitment by Sharon. With basic problems remaining unsolved and aspirations unsatisfied, there will be a resurgence of the struggle.

This second intifada has been characterised by armed attacks by small groups, whose actions are not under the control of the mass of the population. These groups have been driven by despair and an understandable will to fight, but some methods – in particular suicide bombings of Israeli civilians – have unfortunately played into the hands of the Israeli ruling class.

Future action needs to be of a mass character, organised on a democratic basis, which would show that the Palestinian force capable of ending the nightmare of this conflict is the working class. Likewise in Israel, where workers are suffering from huge government imposed cuts, further development of protests and strikes and growing unease at the military occupation, will lay the basis for a new mass workers’ party and the necessary growth of socialist ideas.

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July 2003