Palestinians resist the attacks

of Bush and Sharon

by Pete Brown
(CV #33, March 25, 2004)

.

Subheads:
Bush's road map still dead
Geneva Accord dead
U.S. elections will change nothing
Sharon plans unilateral disengagement
Palestinians protest the Wall
Prospects for struggle

.

. Everyday brings news of a new atrocity against the Palestinians, another brutality, another assassination. This is a campaign to destroy the spirit of the Palestinians and their very existence as a people. The latest atrocity is the Israeli Defense Force's murder of Sheikh Yassin, one of the most popular leaders in the Gaza Strip. This was part of an Israeli campaign to kill off as many Palestinian militants and leaders as possible. Yassin was the leader of Hamas, a backward fundamentalist trend. But it was a criminal act to kill him, an act designed to suppress the Palestinian people as a whole. The Israeli government began boasting about who they would kill next, would it be Arafat or someone else.

. But as Bush and Sharon come up with new forms of repression against Palestinians in the occupied territories, the Palestinians develop new forms of resistance. Sharon's Wall, which he touts as a guarantee of Israeli security, is now a focus of protest and an internationally recognized symbol of apartheid. Imperialism and zionism are stymied in their efforts to quash Palestinian resistance, and they have been unable to sell their new plans for repression as "peace plans" to the Palestinians. All the U.S./Israeli peace plans are based on preserving the present character of Israel forever and having the Palestinian people give up their struggle. But as long as Israel remains a theocracy based on subordinating and excluding the Arab masses, there will be no solution to the crisis. The Palestinians are facing a major crisis of orientation, but no one can stamp out their struggle.

Bush's road map still dead

. Bush's road map to peace in Israel/Palestine has been dead since last summer. During the first steps of Bush's road map the Israelis were supposed to disengage from the occupied territories, stop carrying out raids, and dismantle outposts set up by Israeli settlers. The Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, secured a ceasefire from armed Palestinian groups to create conditions for negotiations to move forward.

. But the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was not serious about peaceful negotiations. He continued launching raids and targeted killings in the occupied territories. As a result the Palestinian ceasefire collapsed after six weeks, and since then there has been no return to the road map. The armed Palestinian groups refuse to agree to another ceasefire without guarantees from the new prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, that he will accomplish something in negotiations. And Qurei refuses to meet with Sharon until he is given assurances that Israel will make some substantial concessions. But Sharon is not making any promises.

. So Bush's road map, one of his major foreign policy initiatives, remains a dead letter. Bush organized big summit meetings of his Mideast allies to initiate the road map, but now, with all the hoopla gone, the Palestinian people are left with the same situation on the ground that they faced a year ago. Only worse. Today many more people have been killed, the Israelis have pushed forward with building their barricade around the West Bank, and another year of normal life for Palestinian workers and schoolchildren has been lost. The Israelis have destroyed the civil and governmental infrastructure in the West Bank, and the result is impending chaos.

Geneva Accord dead

. After the collapse of the road map there were a number of private attempts at peace negotiations in the fall of 2003. One of them was co-sponsored by Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, together with Sari Nusseibeh, a prominent Palestinian bourgeois. Another one was called the Swiss plan, because it was backed by Swiss diplomats and resulted in the Geneva Accord between private Israeli and Palestinian parties. Both of these plans would have Israel make some concessions on the status of Jerusalem. But expatriate Palestinians would have to give up the right of return to Israeli territory, and another major sticking point, the issue of Israeli settlements, was left unresolved. These were attempts to get things moving again by going around the roadblock of prime minister Sharon. Actually, as a final resolution, which is what they were intended as, both plans were unacceptable to the Palestinians. Yet even these plans went too far for much of American bourgeois opinion. Colin Powell met with the people involved in the Geneva Accord, and drew a lot of right-wing flack for doing so.

. But eventually these initiatives too died out for lack of support from the major parties. The Egyptian government has also tried to revive negotiations from time to time, but these efforts have come to naught.

. One reason for the popularity of these unofficial peace plans among the Israeli establishment figures in Israel was the fear that Sharon's policies might lead to a dilution of the Jewish state and an end to the Israeli theocracy. By smashing all independent Palestinian political organization and creating a political vacuum in the occupied territories, it was felt that Israel might have to step in and completely take over -- that is, annex -- the territories. First of all, this would get Israel denounced around the world as an expansionist aggressor state -- nothing new, of course, but the level of criticism would intensify. But secondly, Israel would then be faced with the prospect of granting Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, which would mean Jewish citizens shortly becoming a minority inside Israel.

. Of course even if Israel did annex the territories, it would still be very reluctant to grant citizenship rights to the Palestinians. But it would be difficult to justify this in the international arena, and Israel would face increased pressure similar to the way South Africa faced pressure from the anti-apartheid movement. Hence some Israeli bourgeois figure it would be better to grant the Palestinians some distinct political organization, to keep them at a distance in order to preserve Israeli theocracy.

. There are other reasons for the popularity among ordinary Israelis of the private peace plans. Some Israelis are sick of the constant state of war and insecurity; some are worried about the financial costs of Sharon's military adventures and construction of the Wall; and among liberal circles there is some genuine desire for improvement in the horrible living conditions of the Palestinians. These plans offer the hope, if not the reality, of a solution. But for now Sharon's policies remain in control, and he is in no hurry to negotiate.

U.S. elections will change nothing

. One question that comes up is whether the 2004 presidential election in the U.S. will change anything as far as Mideast peace plans go. Liberal publications recall with fondness president Bill Clinton's enthusiasm for negotiations and his energetic pursuit of a peace plan with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The liberals imply that a change of administrations, with a new Democratic Party president, would break the Mideast logjam.

. But this impression overlooks the fact that Clinton, too, failed to come up with a plan that was acceptable to Palestinians. Yasir Arafat would have been happy to sign on to any plan that he could sell to the Palestinians, but the so-called compromises offered by Israel at that time were beyond what Arafat could stomach. And since then the Israelis have destroyed much of Arafat's proto-government Palestinian Authority.

. During the primary campaign season the Democratic Party candidates had very little to say about the Israel/Palestine question except general platitudes in favor of peace. The only interesting discussion among them on this issue came last September when Howard Dean, presuming to take seriously the talk by Bush and Clinton about the U.S. being an "honest broker" for peace in the Mideast, made a statement to the effect that the U.S. should treat Palestine and Israel "equally". The implication was that a Dean presidency would get tough with Israel and demand that Sharon negotiate in good faith.

. Right away Dean's opponents smelled blood. Joe Lieberman jumped all over his statement, charging that it violated a basic principle of American foreign policy, the "special relationship" with Israel. The liberal media weighed in, charging that Dean didn't know what he was talking about. John Kerry agreed, sniffing at Dean's statement with his sophisticated nose and bragging that he himself was too "experienced" in foreign policy issues to commit such gaffes, that a Kerry presidency would be more "nuanced. " Dean's own campaign manager started issuing apologies, explaining that his candidate sometimes "shot from the hip. " (It turns out that Dean's campaign manager was himself formerly chairman of the American-Israeli PAC. ) Within days Dean was forced to meet with American zionist leaders and explain himself, in the course of which he backed down and adopted the mainstream political position of unconditional support for Israel.

. That was the end of any substantive talk about Israel/Palestine. The candidates now do not deviate from the script of U. S. imperialism, that the U.S. must dominate the Mideast, and Israel has the major supportive role.

Sharon plans unilateral disengagement

. Sharon's new plan for the occupied territories is "unilateral disengagement", meaning that Israel will withdraw from some of the occupied territories without a negotiated peace settlement, without a Palestinian political structure being put in place. With the new wall in place, Israeli forces will withdraw behind it and leave the Palestinians to deal with the chaos created by years of Israeli attacks.

. This will not mean the end of Israeli interference. Sharon will maintain the option of re-invading and carrying out targeted killings of Palestinian leaders. Nor will it mean the end of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. On the contrary, Sharon is overseeing a feverish construction campaign as settlements expand and build roads and tunnels to connect with other settlements. Sharon does plan to close a few small settlements located inside the Gaza Strip, settlements which are somewhat isolated and hard to defend, but the major West Bank settlements will remain, as well as those just outside the Gaza Strip.

. Far from annexing the territories and giving Palestinians an opening to agitate for citizenship rights, Sharon is building a wall of separation between Israel and the Palestinians. Sharon is also talking about expelling long-term Arab citizens of Israel to the territories, removing entire villages to the West Bank and stripping their Arab residents of Israeli citizenship. Thus unilateral disengagement does not mean an end to Israeli interference in Palestinian affairs, but stepped-up repression and discrimination.

. Sharon's plan is an ultimatum to Arafat's Palestinian Authority that if they want Israel's cooperation in setting up a state structure they must make an agreement with Israel within the next few months. The PA is already dissolving -- the PA's mayor of the major city of Nablus resigned the end of February, which could mean the end of PA authority there and the takeover of the city by armed gangs; and the PA has been largely replaced in authority in the Gaza Strip by Islamic fundamentalist groups. But with Sharon holding all the cards, any agreement Arafat makes at this point will be an abject surrender, with Israel maintaining the settlements, the territory behind the wall, Jerusalem, and overall control over any territory ceded to the PA.

Palestinians protest the Wall

. The collapse of negotiated peace plans has not meant the end of the Palestinians' movement against Israeli oppression and the inhuman living conditions imposed on them. For months the Palestinians have organized an international protest movement against the wall being built around the West Bank by Israel. These protests reached a climax the last week of February coinciding with hearings on the wall being held at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Masses of Palestinians came out to demonstrate against construction of the wall, and in the course of these demonstrations they had sharp confrontations with Israeli troops. A number of Palestinians were shot and killed by the Israeli army. Confrontations also took place in Jerusalem and other cities.

Prospects for struggle

. Sharon's plans for unilateral disengagement dramatize what was wrong with the plans for a two-state solution in the first place. Supposedly having their own state would have allowed the Palestinians self-determination. But Israel would not agree to the Palestinians having anything like true independence. Israel's unilateral withdrawal will impose this situation on the Palestinians; they will be "free" of Israeli occupation, but it will be a freedom without political or economic self-determination. There will still be checkpoints, borders, military outposts, and Israeli settlements dividing up one Palestinian area from another.

. Nonetheless, there will remain possibilities for struggle against segregation and discrimination in Israel and the territories. Israel will maintain overall control of the area and will continue to use the territories for economic exploitation. Palestinians living in the territories will still work inside Israel or in industrial zones along the borders. This means a potential for economic struggles among Palestinian workers along with struggles for civil and political rights.

. On Feb. 7th, 400 members of Fatah (Arafat's party) resigned en masse to protest corruption, bad leadership, and a lack of direction in how Fatah handles the Israeli conflict. This dramatizes the crisis of orientation in the Palestinian movement. One of the main complaints of those who resigned is that Fatah has not even held elections for its officers since 1989, even though its party constitution calls for elections every five years. This is a reflection of the dead-end situation facing Fatah and the PA. Fatah is committed to a separate Palestinian state, but Arafat cannot get Sharon's assistance in setting up such a state. Even if he could, such a state in present conditions is bound to be a bantustan dependent on Israel. And meantime Arafat and his bourgeois cronies have done very little to help the masses, preferring instead to focus on profiteering and sectarian infighting.

. Palestinian activists need to revive the vision of a unitary democratic secular state for all of Israel/Palestine. Of course for Israel to simply annex the territories, thereby creating a single state, would not bring justice to the Palestinians. They would still be harshly oppressed and discriminated against, whether they were a minority or the majority in such a state. But the orientation toward a democratic secular state for all peoples in the area creates the possibility of forging working class unity between Arabs and Jews and also gives the orientation that Palestinians will not be satisfied with separate-but-unequal status. <>


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