- Created: Thursday, 30 April 2009 15:30
- Written by Robert Clough
FRFI 176 December 2003 / January 2004
A new government; a new ‘peace agreement’; a possible new ceasefire; but the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same for the Palestinian people. The imposition of Ahmed Qureh as a replacement Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister for Mahmoud Abbas won’t change anything: his government draws its members from the same ranks of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation leadership that negotiated the disastrous Oslo agreement in 1993. The recently negotiated Geneva Accords, which are now being offered as an alternative to Ariel Sharon’s scorched earth policy, are little more than a make-over of the Camp David offer which Yasser Arafat had to reject in 2000. Finally, negotiations that have restarted with the Palestinian resistance forces, brokered once again by the Egyptian government, are yet another attempt to isolate the fighters from the people in order to comply with the requirements of the Zionists and their imperialist supporters. What is constant is the Zionist terror campaign, as the Israeli state continues in vain to force the Palestinian people to submit to its dictates. Robert Clough reports.
Qureh’s government was finally sworn in on 12 November following a wrangle between Qureh and Arafat over who should be appointed as interior minister and who should therefore have direction of the PA security forces. Presented as a government of national unity, it is anything but. It excludes any representation from the organisations which are leading the Intifada – Hamas, Islamic Jihad, sections of Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Instead its principal members are tainted by their association with the treachery of Oslo and every disaster that has been visited on the Palestinian people since: Saeb Erekat, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Qureh himself. There was no room for anything more than token representation of the younger Fatah leadership, even those who tactically supported the Bush roadmap.
Qureh’s first step was to attempt to broker a ceasefire with the resistance movement. Negotiations have been restarted under the aegis of the Egyptian government; the resistance forces have stated clearly that any ceasefire would be conditional on an end to Zionist incursions and its assassination campaign. The failure to defeat the Intifada has created splits within the Israeli ruling class which are being exacerbated by a severe crisis in the Israeli economy. GDP per capita has fallen by 3.3% since 2000. The budget deficit has risen from 3.5% of GNP in 1999 to 6% in 2003; the trade deficit stood at $4.9bn in the first nine calendar months of 2003, also about 6% of GNP. Production is falling, and unemployment rising towards 10%. The consequence is that every third child lives below the poverty line, and the number of poor families rose from 319,000 in 2001 to 350,000 in 2002. The government’s austerity budget for 2004 has slashed social welfare and raised the retirement age from 65 to 67 for men and from 60 to 67 for women.
The crisis has led to a massive outflow of capital and savings: overseas investment in 2003 totalled $5.06bn in the first nine months. Meanwhile rich Zionists have shown the extent of their patriotic sentiment by holding $21bn in foreign currency (up 44% since 2000), 27% of it salted away abroad. Such circumstances explain why Sharon has faced increasing criticism for the self-defeating brutality of his handling of the Intifada from within the state itself: four former leaders of Shin Bet, the Zionist intelligence and torture agency, and even the current Israeli army Chief of Staff.
Underscoring Sharon’s ruthlessness was the October onslaught on Rafah in the south of Gaza. On 10 October, a massive Israeli army invasion, allegedly in search of tunnels under the Egyptian border, resulted in the deaths of 12 Palestinian civilians, injuries to 100 more and the demolition of 170 houses leaving between 1,500 and 2,000 homeless. The US government expressed its support for the operation on the grounds of ‘Israel’s need to defend itself’. On 14 October, US ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, vetoed a Security Council resolution condemning the Zionist state’s decision to extend settlement activity on the West Bank and to continue to construct the Apartheid Wall. The following day, a massive remote-controlled bomb blew up a jeep in a US convoy in Gaza killing a diplomat and two CIA agents. Poetic justice it might have been, but no resistance organisation claimed the operation, and there is circumstantial evidence that it could have been a Zionist operation.
Over the next ten days, repeated incursions into Rafah brought more destruction as the Israeli occupation forces tried to extend their cordon sanitaire around the refugee camp, leaving only its centre standing. On 20 October, the day after a resistance operation killed three Israeli soldiers near Ramallah, a series of missile strikes killed at least 14 people in Gaza and injured over 100. The first missile strike, launched from an F16 fighter bomber, demolished a partly-built house, although its target was suspected to be a Hamas leader who lives nearby. Helicopters launched the other strikes, one of them on Nuseirat refugee camp. Two Hellcat missiles hit a car killing the two occupants. Initial Zionist claims that they were Hamas members were discounted even by the Israeli media. As crowds gathered round to help the occupants, the Apache helicopter returned and fired a third missile. Six people were killed immediately including a doctor; of the 100 taken to hospital, six more died the following day. It has now emerged that the third missile was a new and hitherto undisclosed weapon. Although there are claims that it might have been tipped with depleted uranium, it is more likely to have possessed a flechette warhead which discharges hundreds of metal fragments when it explodes; their sole purpose is to shred human bodies. This would be consistent with reports that it exploded in the air above the crowd to maximise the spread of the shards.
The resistance forces hit back: a joint Hamas/Jihad ambush in Gaza killed three soldiers for the loss of one guerrilla. Zionist revenge involved yet another war crime: the demolition of three apartment blocks in Gaza, making 2,000 more homeless. The Israeli claim that the blocks were being used to spy on the nearby Netzarim settlement was a particularly transparent lie: the blocks were reserved for members of the Palestinian Preventive Security Forces. The onslaught continued into November: between 6 and 12 November, 17 Palestinians were killed, including six children. Examples of the brutality included:
• 6 November: An Israeli sniper shot a 40-year-old woman dead as she stood in a window in her home in Nablus; the Israeli army impeded the arrival of an ambulance and searched it on its departure. On the same day soldiers shot dead a 44-year-old engineer returning to Tulkarm from work in Ramallah. That evening in Khan Younis, Gaza, tanks fired three flechette shells killing two and injuring six.
• 7 November: Tanks and APCs fired shells into Al Maghazi camp, killing one and injuring five more, destroying five houses. 11-year-old Mahmoud Al Qayed was deliberately shot dead by a squad of Israeli soldiers near Gaza City. The same night, soldiers shot dead two youths attempting to get across the barrier from Beit Hanoun into Israel to seek work. One was 15, the other 17. Their bodies were not recovered until the following day.
• 8 November: A 16-year-old boy was shot dead in Jenin – no warning was given. Earlier that day during the same incursion another 18-year-old was shot dead.
• 10 November: 14-year-old Shaid Abu’Anza was shot dead during an incursion into Rafah. A further 28 houses were demolished on top of the 170 destroyed in the October invasion.
Whilst Zionist terror continued, Palestinian Authority leaders attempted once more to reach a settlement with the Israeli state. Secret negotiations in Geneva between a delegation led by Yasser Abed Rabboo on the Palestinian side and Yossi Beilin on the Israeli side resulted in an agreement formally signed on 4 November. Although the Israeli delegation had no official status, Beilin had led the initial negotiations in Oslo in 1993; another member was former Labour Party leader Avram Mitzna. They represent a faction of the Israeli ruling class which wants to find a way out of the mess the Zionists are in – although of course at the expense of the Palestinian people.
In practice the Geneva Accords, if enacted, would be a further disaster for the Palestinian people. They are no more than a recycling of the 2000 Camp David negotiations which Arafat had to walk away from. The parties agreed to a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders – although there would be land transfers to compensate for any settlements left on the West Bank. The Palestinian state would not have full sovereignty – it could not possess a standing army, for instance – and there would be a guaranteed Israeli army presence in the Jordan Valley for at least three years. Most crucially there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees into Israel.
The Accords cut no ice with the Israeli government: General Sharon refused to receive a copy and attempted to prevent the airing of advertisements in its support. One extreme Knesset member denounced it as treason and demanded the arrest of the members of the Israeli delegation; defence minister Shaul Mofaz described it as ‘a grave danger to the security of Israel’. More important was Avram Mitzna’s opinion that:
‘For the first time in history the Palestinians explicitly and officially recognised the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people forever. They gave up the right of return to the state of Israel and a solid, stable Jewish majority was guaranteed. The Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter (of Jerusalem) and David’s Tower will all remain in our hands. The suffocating ring was lifted from over Jerusalem and the entire ring of settlements around it – Givat Zeev, old and new Givon, Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Neve Yaacov, Psgat Zeev, French Hill, Ramot, Gilo and Armon Hanatziv will be part of the expanded city, forever. None of the settlers in those areas will have to leave their homes.’
These are homes to the majority of the settlers on the West Bank. Even though the Israeli negotiators were not representing the Israeli government of today, they could do so if the Labour Party is re-elected in the future. And at that point, the PA concessions in the Geneva Accords may well come to haunt the Palestinian people. In the meantime, Sharon will continue to pursue his ambition of a Greater Israel.
The mass of the Palestinian people, recognising the danger, have already signalled rejection of the Geneva Accords in huge demonstrations. The Independent (21 November) characterises this as a struggle between Palestinian ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists’; this is part of an attempt to sell the agreement internationally to those who sympathise with the Palestinian people. However, it is not just the fate of Palestinian refugees that the Accords ignore, but also that of the Palestinians and Bedouin who will have to continue to live under Israeli racism. Both populations face continued dispossession; although they constitute 20% of the population of Israel, they now own no more than 3% of the land. As Israel’s Education Minister Limor Livnat puts it in supporting government proposals to allow Jewish communities to exclude non-Jews, ‘We’re involved here in a struggle for the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jews, as opposed to those who want to force us to be a state of all its citizens’. Racism and fascism, these will continue to be the hallmarks of any post-Geneva Israel.