AS SOON as Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, returned home from a triumphalist meeting with US President Bush, he turned his mind to the assassination of the newly appointed leader of the Islamic Palestinian organisation, Hamas.
Abdel Aziz Rantisi had been Hamas leader for less than a month following the killing by Israeli forces of Sheikh Yassin, his predecessor.
Like Yassin, Rantisi had great authority amongst Palestinians, coming second only to Yassar Arafat in a poll carried out when Yassin was still alive. This latest atrocity will fuel desire for retaliation and will add to Palestinian outrage, already at boiling point as a result of continuous humiliations, house demolitions, orchard destruction, curfews, road blocks, arrests and killings by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).
Support for Hamas will increase as a result of them being a prime target of the IDF, also because their leaders are seen as untainted by corruption and more supportive of armed actions when compared to the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) around Arafat.
Sharon has stepped up his assassination drive in order to placate Israeli right-wing leaders who oppose his unilateral separation plan. This plan involves an IDF pullout from Gaza, the removal of the 18 Jewish settlements in Gaza and a small number of West Bank outposts and settlements (all these being difficult and expensive to defend), and the completion of a 450 mile long wall to confine the Palestinians into apartheid South Africa-style Bantustans.
It will mean fully incorporating the largest West Bank settlements into Israeli territory, so that Israel will have around 90% of the land that was pre-1948 Palestine.
International apologists for the plan call it progressive because it will be the first time established Jewish settlements are removed from Gaza and the West Bank. But the number of settlers has more than doubled in the last decade with only a small proportion now planned for removal. Over 400,000 settlers will remain.
It is true though that Sharon’s policy is a set-back for those on the Israeli right, including many in his own Likud party, who believe there should be complete Jewish domination from the river Jordan to the sea. It opens the door to major divisions in Likud. However, Sharon’s policy is also one of massive repression of the Palestinians, who will be left in poverty- stricken small enclaves with no control over their borders, water, airspace and foreign policy, nor will they be able to have their own army.
The IDF assassinations are partly in response to predictions that organisations like Hamas will declare the withdrawal of Israeli troops as a partial victory and be boosted by it.
So trying to smash these organisations, as well as damaging further those involved in the PA, has become part of Sharon’s strategy to reduce opposition in Israel to his plan. In any case, he is retaining the ’right’ to send the IDF back into Gaza at any time should he decide to do so.
In case of any doubt over his intentions towards the Palestinians, Sharon boasted: "My plan is a fatal blow. There’s no Palestinian state in a unilateral move". However, although he is gaining increasing support for his plan in Israel, he still wants to do as much as possible to be sure of winning a Likud party referendum on 2 May. He also wants to win key figures on the right in his coalition government, though the Israeli Labour Party has agreed to enter the government to save it if necessary.
Sharon’s wooing of support from Bush was part of this campaign to win support at home. He was ecstatic at coming away with Bush’s full endorsement – the first time a US President has so directly reneged on international recognition of the Palestinians’ right to all the land within the borders set by the 1967 war.
Bush also said that Palestinian refugees should have no right of return to their pre-1948 homes. As an editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz put it, Washington agreed to "wrap Sharon’s plan in colorful Bush-plan wrapping".
Bush had his own pressing reasons for the deal. With the US Presidential elections fast approaching and the situation in Iraq worsening rapidly, he needed a diversion from Iraq, and believed he could paint a positive picture to his domestic audience of putting pressure on Israel to disband settlements, while also impressing US Jewish voters with his close collaboration with Sharon.
Bush’s concessions were met with opposition from many capitalist politicians worldwide, who can see well that his anti-Palestinian stance will worsen the crisis in the Middle East and further increase anti-US sentiment amongst the Palestinian masses and throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
Palestinians in the occupied territories have no lack of will to struggle. But they are held back by leaders who look to negotiations with capitalist representatives in Israel and internationally, which inevitably end up betraying their interests, and by militia leaders who have a mistaken strategy of relying on secret armed actions by individuals and small groups. The intifada needs to redevelop as a mass democratic movement, involving all Palestinians in the territories in decision-making on defence and on how to end the brutal repression they face.
One vital aspect of this needs to be an appeal to the Israeli working class, who themselves are caught in a nightmare trap of continuing violence on the basis of a capitalist future. Their country’s economy is in crisis and unable to offer decent living standards – 30% of Israeli children live in poverty, and neither Sharon, nor other leading politicians from any capitalist party, can offer an end to the growing poverty and bloodshed.
All the problems are unsolvable for as long as capitalism remains. So the growth of socialist forces at ground level on both sides of the national divide is essential, to begin to lay the basis for the end of capitalism in the region and the building of a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel in a socialist confederation of the Middle East.
Editorial from The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales