Palestine: ‘so far we have nothing’

On 8 February, following meetings with the US Secretary for State Condoleezza Rice newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Ariel Sharon met at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. Here they agreed a ceasefire, or to be more precise Abbas delivered an undertaking that the Palestinian resistance groups would not engage in attacks on Israeli occupation forces. BOB SHEPHERD reports.

Abbas declared ‘we are committed to the peace process. The time has come for the Palestinians to achieve the independence of our people, to enjoy peace. Dialogue will replace weapons and shells.’ Sharon was in no hurry to engage in any real dialogue and made it clear that he would carry on with his plan to withdraw all settlers from Gaza before returning to President Bush’s ‘Roadmap’ and any discussions on a future Palestinian state. Sharon did however agree to initiate prisoner releases and begin the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from five main Palestinian cities on the West Bank.

At the end of the summit Abbas declared ‘We jointly agreed with Prime Minister Sharon to stop all acts of violence against Israelis and Palestinians everywhere’. This formulation equates the legitimate resistance of the occupied Palestinian people with the violence of the Israeli occupying forces.

In fact, the aim of the summit had little to do with delivering justice to the Palestinians, but a lot to do with bolstering the position of Abbas, strengthening him in his confrontation with the Palestinian resistance. The period since 8 February has seen continued Israeli killings, continued building of the apartheid wall, no dismantling of army checkpoints, no meaningful pullout from West Bank cities and no release of long-term Palestinian political prisoners.

The ceasefire
In the first days of the ‘ceasefire’ Israeli forces killed two Palestinians, one in Gaza the other on the West Bank. Hamas responded by launching rocket attacks from Gaza onto Israeli settlements. Abbas condemned the rocket attack, sacked nine leading police officers in Gaza, declared a state of emergency in the Palestinian police force and promised a clamp down on the resistance. Ze’ev Boim, Israel’s deputy defence minister, echoing imperialism’s support for Abbas, declared: ‘We still have a policy of restraint and civil gestures in order to strengthen him [Abbas]’, but warned ‘it must be remembered this won’t last for ever. He has to take action’. The action demanded was of course action against the resistance.

By the end of the first week of the ceasefire, Israeli forces had killed six Palestinians including two young boys. After a meeting with Abbas, Hamas stated ‘we explained to brother Mahmoud Abbas that we wouldn’t accept a situation whereby Israel attacks and kills us with impunity’. However Hamas also conceded that they would consult with the Palestinian Authority before responding to any further Israeli provocation. In return for the continuation of what they term the ‘calm down’, the resistance groups reiterated their call for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners and an end to Israeli attacks on Palestinian areas.

The first and up to now only release of prisoners took place on 21 February. Israeli forces currently hold 7-8,000 political prisoners. Only 500 were set free and they were Palestinians who were either coming to the end of their sentence or those held in administrative detention. No long-term political prisoners were released nor any who had engaged in actions that had led to Israeli deaths. All that Israel has agreed to is the release of a further 400 political prisoners within the next three months. A joint Israeli-Palestinian ministerial committee has been set up to choose which prisoners will qualify to be set free.

A government report on illegal settlements in the West Bank published on 9 March revealed the real agenda being pursued by Sharon and the Israeli state. While the Israeli government is committed under the Roadmap to demolish settlements built on the West Bank since 2001, the report shows that the government has continued to encourage and finance their construction. The report details the financial support government ministries give to Jewish settlers to set up outposts, unauthorised illegal settlements, in the West Bank. In all, the Housing Ministry has spent around £10 million funding outposts since Sharon came to power in 2001. The Education Ministry has paid for nurseries, the Energy Ministry has connected outposts to the electricity grid, roads have been built and the army has provided protection. According to the report, of the 105 outposts it lists, only 24 have been constructed after 2001 and therefore face demolition. By concentrating on the outposts or unauthorised settlements, the report obscures the massive growth of ‘authorised’ settlements and therefore the full extent of Zionist colonisation of the West Bank. The continued construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank clearly shows what is really going on.

On 14 March Sharon approved the proposed route of the apartheid wall around Jerusalem. It will place the whole of Jerusalem and part of Bethlehem on the Israeli side and it will almost cut the West Bank in half. A UN report states that the wall will swallow 10% of the most fertile land in the West Bank. It will also include the biggest Jewish settlement on the West Bank, Ma’ale Adumin with a population of over 250,000, onto the Israeli side. As Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, ‘Does anyone have even the slightest doubt that Ma’ale Adumin is an integral part of Israel?’

Whether the ‘calm down’ the Palestinian Resistance groups have kept to since 8 February becomes an official ceasefire or not, it is clear that the Zionists will delay any meaningful talks as long as possible. Sharon has already said that a ceasefire is meaningless whilst the ‘terrorist groups remain’. In the meantime Israel will forge ahead with the construction of the apartheid wall creating ‘facts on the ground’. With the encouragement of the US and Britain, the Zionists will keep the pressure on Abbas to confront the Palestinian resistance.

Evidence of Britain’s pressure came at a one-day conference in London on 1 March. Tony Blair praised Sharon’s ‘courage’ in disengaging from Gaza, whilst a statement from the quartet of the EU, the US, UN and Russia demanded ‘immediate action’ to arrest those involved in a bombing in Tel Aviv at the end of February. Abbas took the cue by saying that ‘the most important message is our complete readiness to exert 100% effort in the domain of security.’ One of the few concrete measures the meeting agreed to was the setting up of an international team, including Britain, led by Lieutenant-General William Ward, US security co-ordinator for the region, to reorganise the Palestinian security services.

The main opposition to Abbas has come from Hamas; it has announced that it will stand in the July elections to the Palestinian Legislative Assembly. To date Abbas has done nothing for the poor. Unemployment rates are now over 60%, and in Gaza on 12 March thousands of unemployed stormed the government building demanding work. One of the organisers was quoted as saying that Abbas had promised jobs ‘but so far we have nothing’. The resistance needs to take up the demands of the poor and oppressed as part of its struggle against Zionism.

FRFI 184 April / May 2005