A WORLD TO WIN    #30   (2004)


The Unquenchable Fire in Palestine

With the shift in global US strategy, signalled by the rise of the Bush team, came a shift in the US approach to Palestine. Bush & Co. were highly critical of former US President Clinton's Camp David negotiations effort. There was a feeling that things were being approached in the reverse order, that too much emphasis had been given to a view that the key link in strengthening the US position in the Middle East was achieving some kind of resolution of the fighting in Palestine. Instead, the view strongly put forward by leading members of Bush's foreign policy team was that "the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad". In other words, in their view the best or perhaps the only way to make progress in pacifying the Palestinian struggle was to overthrow the Saddam regime and use a US-dominated Iraq as a lever to re-shape the Middle East. A big part of this agenda was cleaning up the remnants of what was regarded as the "old world order". The Bush strategists argued that one of the key factors propping up anti-US regimes in the region had been the existence of a rival camp headed by the Soviet social-imperialists. Since the Soviets were no longer around to back these regimes up, the US needed to seize the opportunity to clean these regimes out, give a boost to pro-US forces in the region, especially Israel, and solidify unchallenged US domination of the region.

In Palestine, this programme meant that Yassir Arafat as well as Hamas were both to be escorted from the stage of history, to be replaced by modern pro-Western Palestinians, people with whom Bush could "do business". For over a year US officials have refused to have any dealings with Arafat, whom they labelled "yesterday's man", despite his election as President of the Palestinian Authority. In October 2003, the US went even further and vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's open threat to exile Arafat or "take him out of the picture" through other means that were unspecified, but clearly ominous.

As part of preparing for the dramatic US grab for power in Iraq, Bush launched a "road map for peace" in the Middle East. Co-sponsored by the UN, the European Union and Russia, it consists of a three-phase process that would lead to the establishment in 2005 of a Palestinian state, on the one hand, and to ensuring Israel's security, on the other.

The road map is supposed to be an "even-handed" process, where each side advances in step with the other. But there is nothing even-handed about it. In the first phase of the road map, for instance, the Israelis are required to "freeze settlement activity" in the Occupied Territories (meaning occupied from 1967, as opposed to 1948) and dismantle settlements established since September 2001. Bush has called this a "tough demand" and Sharon says it would be a "painful sacrifice". Yet the Israeli occupation of these lands in the first place is a violation of international law and UN Resolutions (e.g. 242), and building settlements on them, as Israel has been doing for decades under both "liberal" and "right-wing" governments, compounds this. The illegal settlements have grown at a rate of 10,000 people per year for the past three years, aided by a $10,000 subsidy from the Israeli government for each settler family. While the settlement movement is veiled in all kinds of religious nonsense about god giving the Jews the land, the settlements in fact function as heavily armed fortresses to strengthen Israeli control of what remains of the Palestinian territory. So what the road map actually requires is that the Palestinians cease struggling against the theft of their land and stand by and watch the Zionists consolidate this control whilst stealing even more of it.

On point after point, this is the so-called even-handed approach of the road map: requiring minor Israeli concessions on unjust policies that have long placed it in violation of international law and in opposition to world public opinion, while requiring the Palestinian leadership to surrender its just claims and to suppress all resistance to Israel and its US masters.

Whilst the Israelis have continued to violate the road map conditions with impunity, the Palestinian Authority has been repeatedly and loudly condemned by Bush and Blair, who have both publicly declared that it is the Palestinians and Arafat that are the main reason for lack of progress towards peace. Yet even as the US and British imperialists piously preached at every opportunity that the gun could never help the Palestinian cause, they geared up to advance their own cause by invasion and war. They screamed "bloody murder" at the top of their lungs every time a handful of Israelis died at the hands of Palestinians, whilst they sent in 150,000 heavily armed troops to kill many thousands of Iraqi civilians and occupy their country. Nowhere in the world does imperialist hypocrisy stand out more than in the Middle East.

This hypocrisy perhaps reached new levels when, after having waged a war on the stated grounds of eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which have now been shown not to exist, US officials recently admitted that they collaborated with the Israelis to deploy US-supplied cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads on Israel's submarines. Israeli military doctrine is designed to place one nuclear submarine in the Persian Gulf, and another in the Mediterranean, giving the Middle East's only real nuclear power the ability to strike at any of its Arab neighbours. Whilst the US imperialists preach peace and disarmed Saddam's rag-tag army, they have merrily armed the formidable Israeli war machine with nuclear missiles in the most war-torn part of the world.

More Bricks in the Wall

A key part of recent Israeli efforts to strengthen their control in the last year has been what the Israelis call the "security fence", called the Berlin Wall or the "apartheid wall" by the Palestinians. The wall is up to nine metres high (30 feet) and slices deep into the West Bank, cutting off tens of thousands of Palestinians behind it and forcing them to go through Israeli checkpoints to get to their farms, jobs and schools. While Sharon says that it is only to keep out suicide bombers and is not intended in any way to mark out a more permanent border, the unanimous opinion of the Palestinians is that is exactly what it is for.

The wall has brought fierce condemnation internationally - giant, heavily patrolled walls like this where trespassers can be shot on sight are supposed to be the work of totalitarian suppressors of democracy, not governments like Israel's that the US touts as being the "only democracy in the Middle East". The US government issued some mild criticisms of the wall, but then vetoed a UN Security Council resolution denouncing the wall, and when a resolution was then brought before the UN General Assembly the US was one of only four countries that voted against it. The next day, Israel announced it would ignore the UN resolution.

Israel has used the wall and its pervasive infrastructure of control and repression to even further drive down living conditions in Palestine in recent years. In 2003, a Parliamentary commission from Britain visited Palestine. There has been strong sentiment among some members of the British Parliament that it had been toyed with by Bush and Blair and that the road map was a sop tossed out to undercut opposition to the war moves of the US and UK governments, who had no real intention of forcing Israel to make any concessions to the Palestinians. The commission delivered a damning denunciation of the Palestinian people's living conditions.

The report blames the security wall as well as Israeli incursions, curfews, checkpoints and other restrictions for strangling the Palestinian economy. It notes that unemployment has shot up to nearly 70 per cent, and that there has been a serious decline in living standards, resulting in malnutrition levels as bad as found in sub-Saharan Africa. "What makes the poverty so unpalatable," the report says, "is the level of deprivation vis--vis Israel, and the awareness that it is not the results of natural calamity but of deliberate action on the part of the government of Israel." The report points out that one particularly "emotive" practice is Palestinian ambulances being held up for long periods at checkpoints. The members of pariliament go on to say: "It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is a deliberate Israeli strategy of putting the lives of ordinary Palestinians under stress as part of a strategy of bringing the population to heel."

As Israel subjects the Palestinians to unprecedented levels of oppression, the US carries on feeding the Zionist military machine the arms and money indispensable to its bloody functioning. The US State Department has just asked Congress to approve $2.2 billion in military aid for Israel in 2005, up by $60 million from 2004. The US has also agreed to an extra $9 billion in loan guarantees over three years to bail out the Israeli economy. Overall Israel receives nearly 40 per cent of total US military and economic foreign aid.

Sharon's Trojan Horse

As AWTW goes to press, Ariel Sharon has just announced that his government plans to pull Jewish settlements out of the Gaza Strip. Liberal commentators, including the New York Times, Le Monde and many others, are arguing that Sharon's initiative should be welcomed and efforts should be focused on ensuring that this is only the "first step" in a more general Israeli pullback from the West Bank too - that, in effect, this announcement could initiate the "land for peace" trade that has been the cornerstone of all imperialist-sponsored peace plans for the region.

Whatever comes of this initiative, it is clear that the Israeli ruling class has no more intention of abandoning the entire West Bank after Gaza than it does of continuing in the same vein to ultimately abandon Israel itself. Raising this as the New York Times and many other imperialist liberals have done prettifies what is in fact nothing but an Israeli trap. To accept Sharon's gambit would require ignoring everything else Israel has been up to in recent years, with the US's full backing.

The much more likely goal of this initiative is to give up the tiny settlements in Gaza - the 7,500 settlers in far-flung, isolated settlements in poor areas that are expensive and difficult to defend - in order to grab a big chunk of the far more strategic and valuable West Bank, with its 210,000+ settlers. There is every reason to think that the Israeli rulers will try to impose an arrangement, unilaterally if necessary, that would retrench the West Bank settlements behind the security wall and set up a rump Palestinian micro-state on the remaining land in the West Bank and Gaza. "Gaza First" might well prove to mean "Gaza Only". After all, do Le Monde and the New York Times really believe that the Israelis do not intend for this 600-700 kilometre-long wall built at a cost of $1.4 million per km to function as an actual border wall? This would leave the Israelis with a large chunk of the West Bank and at least most of the Jewish settlements there, which are decisively positioned to control the water and transport system of the entire area. As for the Palestinians, they would be imprisoned in what's left of their own land, behind giant walls surrounding Gaza and what remains of the West Bank, with Israeli-held territory separating the two. The original partition of British Mandate Palestine in 1948 by the UN gave Israel 50 per cent of the territory and the Palestinians 50 per cent. After the war immediately following partition and then the occupation in 1967 of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel held 78 per cent of Mandate Palestine. Taking the West Bank portion behind the security wall would give Israel between 80 and 85 per cent of the land. The Palestinians would have the bitter consolation of being granted what Sharon has infamously called "the attributes of a state" - meaning little more than a national flag and a song to go with their South African apartheid-style bantustan.

Unilaterally imposing this kind of arrangement on the Palestinians would be a desperate move on the Israelis' part, and in a certain sense it would be an admission of the impotence of the Israelis and their imperialist backers. From the late 1980s when the Palestinian struggle exploded from the refugee camps into the mass battle of the First Intifada, Israel and the US have calculated that to put an end to the Palestinian resistance they had no choice but to try to come to some sort of an arrangement with a compliant Palestinian authority. This has been the underlying logic of the Madrid and Oslo agreements, and then the road map.

It is possible, however, that the Israelis will risk a unilateral move. On the one hand, they seem to feel that there are some factors in their favour, including a certain momentum that the US imperialists have built off the occupation of Iraq and the consequent pressure they have been able to bring to bear on Syria's Assad and the Iranian mullahs. At the same time, the Israeli rulers are facing a number of increasing difficulties. Jewish immigration has plunged in the wake of the Second Intifada to its lowest level in 15 years, tourism has collapsed, the economy is suffering, and there are even certain cracks appearing in the seemingly monolithic Israeli military, as hundreds of reservists and some officers have refused to do their service in the Occupied Territories.

The last year has seen rising support in Israeli ruling circles to unilaterally "separate" from the Palestinians and pull back behind "defensible borders", leaving the Palestinians some form of "mini-state". This was a major plank in the 2003 Labour Party presidential elections. Sharon, despite his long-time identification with and support for Zionist expansion into all of Palestine, has long favoured a mini-state solution, which is why two years ago he fought the Likud Party resolution pushed by former Prime Minister Netanyahu opposing such a state. It is also clear that what redeems the road map in Sharon's eyes is phase two, which calls for establishing an "interim" Palestinian state in just under half the West Bank. Sharon might well intend to entrench Israeli forces, including the illegal settlements, behind the security fence, leave the Palestinians to establish a rump state in Gaza and roughly half the West Bank, and then Sharon can proclaim that he has complied with phase two of the road map, and make sure that this "interim" solution is actually "permanent".

The difficulty the imperialists and Zionists are having in achieving some kind of settlement in Palestine that puts an end to the violent conflict there is of course fundamentally rooted in the fact that their cause is unjust - but there is more to it than that. For in today's world, every ruling class cause is unjust& but not every ruling class faces the unrelenting onslaught of resistance that the Zionists face every day. The situation of the Palestinians represents in many ways a concentration of the crimes of imperialism - the uprooting of an entire people from their land, their expulsion from their homes to a life in refugee camps, the development of the settler colonial state into the chief armed outpost of Western imperialism in the region, where a few million European settlers lord it over tens of millions of Arabs.

Anyone anywhere who has ever been ripped off, bullied and mistreated, who has ever tasted the lash of the oppressor's whip or been forced to watch in impotent fury as their brothers and sisters were humiliated and scorned by armed oppressors, looks at Palestine and sees their own condition stripped naked and bare for the whole world to see. The refusal of the Palestinians to give in, despite what sometimes look like overwhelming odds, inspires millions to look anew at their own situation, sometimes seeing possibilities for resistance where they previously thought none existed.

Today, the Palestinian people are facing perhaps the most intensive all-around assault on their existence in their history. The Zionists and imperialists hope they have ground the Palestinians down so far that they will welcome, or at least acquiesce to, having any kind of Palestinian state at all, even a runt state run by a corrupt clique of compradors in less than a quarter of their original homeland.

But the Zionists have never known peace, and they will not now. At the heart of the problem they face is the fact that theirs is an oppressive settler colonial state erected on another people's land, and the sons and daughters of that original refugee population, numbering some 10 million today, still harbour a deeply felt dream of reclaiming their homeland - and this is especially true of the millions still in refugee camps. However much Arafat may have wanted to reach an agreement with Israel's Labour Prime Minister Barak at Taba in 2000, and regardless of the exact percentage of the Occupied Territories that Israel actually put on the table, Arafat knew - just as do the imperialists themselves - that any agreement that signs away the right to return of the refugees and formalises the subordination of the Palestinian people in a mini-state could never bring peace. This, ironically, is one of the reasons why Sharon might proceed in a more unilateral fashion - it would be a way the Israelis could enable feudal and comprador elements to finally have the mini-state they crave so much, without being publicly forced to sign away the right of return of the Palestinians still in refugee camps, and a way to accept conditions that amount to an abject capitulation.

The forces the Palestinian people confront today are daunting, and they still lack the leadership they need to actually move ahead to defeat their enemy on the battlefield - yet no one doubts that they will continue their struggle, and that the world's oppressed will stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

The struggle of the Palestinian people powerfully illustrates the truth of Mao Tsetung's summation that, "Make trouble, fail, make trouble again, fail again&till their doom; that is the logic of the imperialists and all reactionaries the world over in dealing with the people's cause, and they will never go against this logic&. Fight, fail, fight again, fail again, fight again& till their victory; that is the logic of the people, and they too will never go against this logic."