Palestine End of the road map?

FRFI 175 October / November 2003

The fall of Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has dealt a significant blow to US/Israeli plans. The Zionists and their imperialist allies had hoped that the new PA government would achieve what three years of Zionist war had failed to deliver: a military defeat of the Palestinian resistance. To this end they did their best to foster a civil war between the PA and the Intifada. But the Zionists had destroyed the infrastructure that was essential to any PA-led war against the liberation movement. All that Abbas could secure from the resistance was a three-month ceasefire agreement; once the Zionists saw that he could not crush the ‘terrorists’, they resumed their assassination campaign. The inevitable result was the end of the ceasefire; and with it, what little credibility Abbas had started out with. Robert Clough reports.

The end of Abbas was also the end of President Bush’s road map to peace. Now the US and its Zionist allies will have to find a different way of securing the defeat of the Palestinian people. One proposal is a US-led occupation of the West Bank and Gaza under the aegis of the United Nations. This may acquire more credibility, given US concerns about the Sharon government’s threat to expel or kill Arafat, an action which would immeasurably compound the problems they already face in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The end of the ceasefire
The Palestinian ceasefire agreed on 29 June was already shaky when we reported on it at the end of July in FRFI 174. The Zionist occupation forces had not reciprocated at all, but had continued to build settlements, seize land for the Apartheid Wall on the West Bank, hold thousands of political prisoners and fire daily into Rafah and Khan Yunis refugee camps in Gaza. On 8 August, in a calculated attempt to bring the ceasefire to an end, Israeli occupation forces killed four Palestinians, two Hamas members and two civilians, in an attack on Askar refugee camp near Nablus on the West Bank. With the failure of this provocation, they organised a second attack less than a week later when they resumed their assassination campaign, murdering Islamic Jihad activist Mohamed Sidar in Hebron. This time there was a response. On 19 August Raed Mesk, a Hebron teacher, carried out an unauthorised suicide attack in Jerusalem: 20 were killed. Mesk had been a personal friend of Sidar and of a Hebron Hamas leader, Abdullah Kawasmeh, assassinated three months earlier.

This gave the Zionists the excuse they had pushed for. On 20 August, Apache helicopters launched a missile attack on a car in Gaza, killing Hamas political leader Ismael Abu Shanab and two of his aides. The following day all factions of the resistance declared an end to the ceasefire. 100,000 attended the funeral for Abu Shanab in Gaza. Within 48 hours, another missile strike killed four Hamas militants. By the end of August, eight assassination attempts had left 19 dead and dozens injured. The Zionists had now decreed that political as well as military leaders were legitimate targets. Within three hours of Abbas’ resignation on 6 September the occupation forces struck again, attempting unsuccessfully to assassinate Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin. This was followed by two Hamas suicide attacks, one which killed seven Israeli soldiers outside a barracks, and another which killed six civilians in a Jerusalem café. On 9 September, Israeli tanks shelled a Hebron apartment block killing two more Hamas members and a 12-year-old boy; the next day a rocket attack on the Gaza home of Hamas spokesperson Mahmoud Zahar killed his son and a bodyguard.

Eliminating the resistance
The purpose of the Israelis’ renewed onslaught was not only the liquidation of Hamas, according to commentator Ze’ev Sternhell in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, since the Israeli government knows that ‘every liquidated individual will have a replacement.’ Instead, he explains, the Israeli government are not just fighting terrorism, since ‘their strategic goal is not a peace based on compromise, but the total submission of the Palestinians.’ He concludes that ‘from their point of view, the war will not end until the day when the Palestinians accept unquestioningly Israel’s rule in the territories. The government leadership is composed of clear-eyed, cold-tempered people. They are waging a political war, a clear-cut war of choice, which is the continuation of the policy of occupation and smashing of the territories to the point of preventing any possibility that a sovereign state will be able to exist there.’

The shoes of murdered resistance leaders will indeed be swiftly filled by replacements. On 16 September, the occupation forces announced that an undercover unit had ‘eliminated’ the ‘head of the Hamas military wing in Hebron’, Ahmed Bader. Yet only three months earlier on 22 June they had claimed the same achievement with the assassination of Abdullah Kawasmeh. Previous ‘heads of the Hamas military wing in Hebron’ they claim to have killed or arrested include:
• Ali Alan, assassinated 18 March 2003
• Abdel Halek Natshe, arrested 28 August 2002
• Jail Jadallaj, killed in a missile attack in November 2002

In addition they have arrested hundreds of alleged Hebron Hamas members – 130 in one day alone. Yet still the resistance in the city continues. As radical Zionist Gideon Levy complained ‘What hasn’t Israel tried? Liquidations, defoliation, mass arrests, demolition of homes, roadblocks everywhere, a terrifying security barrier – but none of these actions has been victorious over terrorism.’

Despite the bravado of the Sharon government, and the repeated declarations of Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz that the resistance is on the ropes, there are signs of a crisis in Zionist politics. Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg writes despairingly (The Guardian 15 September) ‘the Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice…we live in a thunderously failed reality.’ He describes the dehumanising effects of the occupation on Israeli society: ‘We have grown accustomed to ignoring the suffering of the women at the roadblocks. No wonder we don’t hear the cries of the abused woman living next door, or the single mother struggling to support her children in dignity. We don’t even bother to count the women murdered by their husbands.’

Israeli economy faces crisis
One reason for the loss of confidence is the state of the Zionist economy, which continues to contract under the impact of both the Intifada and a depression in the high technology world market. This has forced the Sharon government to implement an austerity budget with deep cuts of $2.2bn in public sector spending for 2004. Shaul Mofaz complained that the cuts meant that the Israeli air force would not be able to afford training flights; on the other hand, its proposals also sparked a number of demonstrations led by women opposing the social care cuts. Meanwhile the number of jobs has fallen by 3.5% in the past year in the high technology sector on which the Israeli economy is highly dependent.

Some relief has now come with President Bush’s release of $9bn loans guaranteed until September 2006. This is five times the aid given for the post-war reconstruction of Afghanistan; it demonstrates the absolute commitment of US imperialism to its most favoured client state. The closeness of the alliance was shown once again on 16 September when the US vetoed a resolution in the UN Security Council condemning the decision of the Israeli cabinet on 8 September to ‘remove’ Yasser Arafat. This was the 34th time since 1967 that the US had exercised its UN veto in defence of the Zionist state.

The UN debate followed a statement by the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert explaining that the cabinet decision meant that ‘killing (Arafat) is definitely one of the options’, although an alternative would be to treat him like a ‘prisoner in a dungeon’. But despite the use of its veto, the US is opposed to Arafat’s removal because of its incalculable consequences within the Middle East and specifically for its increasingly disastrous occupation of Iraq. Hence there is now a foreign policy debate about the US taking a much more direct role in settling the Palestinian ‘problem’. One suggestion comes from Martin Indyk in Foreign Affairs that the US secure a UN mandate to lead an international force into Gaza and the West Bank, placing the occupied territories under US trusteeship. Indyk was ambassador to Israel in 1995-97 and 2000-01 and has long been one of the most active leaders of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee. His proposal rests on a number of assumptions: that the road map will fail; that Sharon will be unable to crush Palestinian resistance; and that any strategy Sharon devises anyway will be too risky for US interests. The key component of his proposal are that combined US, British, Canadian and Australian forces under US command are deployed in those areas of the West Bank and Gaza under nominal PA control. This would not be a peace-keeping force, but one made up of special forces to go after the resistance and to dismantle its infrastructure; it will have Israeli logistic and intelligence support. Having eliminated the resistance, the US occupation force will then supervise elections and reconstruction, and help implement the final agreement. Fanciful though the entire plan might seem, it is a measure of the concern that the US has at the continued failure of Sharon to destroy the Intifada.

Whatever the problems that Palestinian resistance poses for US/Zionist policy, the cruelty and oppression of the occupation continues. On the evening of 6 September, 17-year-old Mohamed Al Husni was shot in the legs as he walked past a Gaza military post. The occupation forces prevented an ambulance from attending him; every time he made a move they shot at him again. He was left unattended overnight; he was found dead the next day his whole body riddled with bullets fired overnight. He was the 470th child killed by the occupation forces since the start of the Intifada; over 100 were under ten years old; 156 had been shot directly in the head or neck.

Despite his austerity budget, Sharon has announced that his government will accelerate construction of the Apartheid Wall. The Wall now surrounds Qalqilya on three sides, cutting it off from its hinterland of 34 villages. With an 80% unemployment rate in the town, the predicted depopulation is starting to taking place. Six hundred out of 1,800 shops have closed, and 4,000 people have left the town. In March, occupation forces demolished 80 shops in the village of Nazlet north of Tulkarm to make way for the Wall. On 22 August the army returned with 24 armoured bulldozers and 5,000 troops to demolish the remaining 100 shops with all their contents.

The Palestinian resistance faces serious challenges. How will it prevent the completion of the Wall? How will it deal with the Palestinian Authority and its policy of capitulation to the occupation? How will it defend Yasser Arafat against any attempt to remove him from Ramallah? It is clear that the appointment of Ahmed Qureih on 7 September as the new PA Prime Minister will not affect matters. The expectations of the US and Zionists remain the same: just prior to his appointment, US State Department official Richard Boucher declared that ‘Whoever becomes the new Palestinian prime minister, we’re looking to see if he has the commitment, authority and resources to move forward on the road map. At this juncture that means principally…taking control of the security situation and acting against groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.’ Whatever then the tactics the US/Zionists employ, they are agreed on one thing: the Intifada must be destroyed together with the hopes of the Palestinian people.

Edward Said
As we go to press we have learned of the death of Edward Said.

There was no more eloquent scourge of Zionist racism, and US imperialist support. From the moment Arafat signed the Oslo Agreement Said exposed the dreadful capitulation of Palestinian interests this represented. His articles in publications like Al Ahram were required reading for anyone who supports the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom and justice.

Our next issue will include a fuller assessment of his political position when we analyse three years of the Intifada.


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