AS PREDICTED, the journey along George Bush’s ’road map’ to end the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is now decidedly ’off-road’.
The imperialist-in-chief who wants to placate Arab opinion following the US-led war and occupation of Iraq, has failed to persuade Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon to make any significant concessions to the Palestinians. Instead, Sharon seems determined to sabotage any attempt to create a ’viable Palestinian state’.
When recently visiting Washington for talks, Sharon insisted that he wouldn’t halt the building of a 370-kilometre ’security fence’ – which will steal a further 7% of Palestinian land on the West Bank and rigidly define Israel’s borders ahead of any negotiations.
While Sharon protests that the concrete and steel wall isn’t proscribed in the ’road map’, it hypocritically continues the expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory supposedly frozen under the agreement. As recently as 31 July the Israeli government announced it would build 22 new homes in the Gaza Strip, justified as "natural growth".
The occupation of Palestinian towns and cities by Israeli Defence Forces still remains – including the detention of Palestinian president Yasser Arafat in his bombed-out HQ in Ramallah – despite a commitment to withdraw under phase one of the road map.
But perhaps the issue causing the most indignation on the part of the Palestinians is the prisoner release issue. Some estimates put the number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails at over 7,000. As many as 350 are "children" and most inmates have never been charged or do not know what they are accused of. They are simply held as "administrative detainees".
It is hard for the US administration to criticise the Israeli government over this since these illegal detentions are similar to Afghan prisoners held at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
As a sop to the Palestinian prime minister Abu Mazen the Sharon government, following a stormy cabinet meeting, announced two weeks ago that 540 detainees would be released. It has now published the names of just 349 marked for release.
Israel has said it won’t release those with "blood on its hands", despite the "targeted assassinations" of at least 170 Palestinians and over 2,300 killed by IDF forces since the start of the second intifada (uprising) in September 2000.
Yet, even the Blair government has released loyalist and republican paramilitaries convicted of sectarian murder under the Good Friday Northern Ireland peace initiative.
This limited release of prisoners in no way relieves the pressure on Mazen from the Palestinian militias which reluctantly agreed a three-month ceasefire at the end of June, let alone convince a Palestinian population sceptical about achieving national self-determination under the road map.
Indeed, the arrest of 20 militants in Arafat’s HQ by the Palestinian Authority demanded by Israel and the US has incensed Palestinian opinion. Already the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militia (linked to Arafat’s PLO Fatah faction) has claimed responsibility for shooting an Israeli woman and three children last Sunday, a breach of the ceasefire.
The socialist and its co-thinkers in Israel have consistently argued that Bush’s road map (supported by the EU, United Nations and Russia) is a watered-down version of the failed 1993 Oslo peace process. Any deal based on the existing capitalist ruling classes in the region with their competing demands for land, water, economic and military control etc, cannot reconcile the legitimate rights to self-determination of Palestinians or Israelis.
Only socialist movements in both populations, fighting for a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel (as part of a voluntary federation of socialist Middle Eastern states), can end the cycle of wars and endemic poverty afflicting the region.
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