SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 78 - October 2003

End of the road map

THE LATEST so-called ‘peace initiative’ in the Middle East – the ‘road map’ – has collapsed after only a few months. It was another attempt to finally crush the struggle of the Palestinians, without offering anything but continued misery and oppression in return.

The road map was launched by the US, supported by the UN, the European Union and Russia. The imperialist leaders attempted to impose some kind of stability in the crisis-ridden Middle East. And the road map was further described by US President Bush as an achievement made possible by the occupation of Iraq.

The Palestinians were offered a ‘state’ by 2005, on several conditions. One was to appoint Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as Palestinian prime minister. From the beginning, Abbas was led by Washington and Jerusalem. He spoke alongside the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia at the launch of the road map in June, and he negotiated a ceasefire from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al Aqsa brigade.

Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, showed no ambition, however, to fulfil his part of the conditions, having only reluctantly agreed to the road map anyway. The occupation, road blocks and curfews on the West Bank continued. Only a few hundred out of 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners were released. Instead of the closure of Israeli Jewish settlements on the West Bank, at least two more were established. The building of the 370 mile long concrete wall continued. A quarter is now finished. In the Palestinian town Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem, which has no schools or hospital, for example, the six-metre high wall is built where 15,000 to 20,000 people pass every day. Overall, it is longer and higher than the Berlin wall.

For the 3.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, the road map was a bleak reminder of the collapsed Oslo ‘peace process’ which started in 1993. The ‘state’ offered this time was minimal and cut into pieces. The Palestinians were supposed to give up their struggle, while the brutal repression of the Israeli state increased. Since 1993, the number of settlers has doubled to 200,000, plus another 200,000 in east Jerusalem.

At the same time, the social crisis has just become worse: 60% of the Palestinian population live on less than $2 a day and half are unemployed, Amnesty International reported in August. Three years ago, 150,000 Palestinians worked in Israel. Today it is 15,000.

From day one, Abbas lost support among the Palestinians because he was seen as servicing the US and Israel. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian president, placed under de facto house arrest in Ramallah by the Israeli army, started to openly criticise Abbas. In the beginning of September, he even compared Abbas to Hamid Karzai, the lame president of Afghanistan. A week later, Abbas had resigned.

The Palestinian masses had no trust in Abbas. His main achievement was the ceasefire from the armed Palestinian organisations, which lasted for seven weeks. When a suicide bomber killed 22 Israelis on a bus on 19 August, the answer from Israel’s government was ‘total war’, in the words of defence minister Shaul Mofaz. In the following weeks, Israel assassinated 15 Hamas leaders, plus six bystanders.

If the downfall of Abbas disappointed some people – particularly those like EU foreign policy spokesman, Javier Solana – it only hardened the right wing in Israel. The ‘total war’ was followed on 11 September, a day perfectly chosen, by the decision to ‘remove’ Arafat. Ehud Olmert, Israel’s deputy prime minister, said that could mean killing Arafat, while other ministers spoke of deportation.

Abbas hoped for American pressure on Sharon, but ‘that pressure never came’, The Economist commented. Instead, the eventual bomb attack gave Washington an excuse for Israel’s repression. President Bush accused Arafat of being behind Abbas’s resignation, and called him ‘a failed leader’.

The hard-line policy of Sharon’s government, however, has in no way given the promised security for the Israelis: 2,600 Palestinians and 850 Israelis have died since the start of the second Palestinian intifada on 28 September 2000; and 102 suicide attacks have been conducted against Israel. The attempt to kill Hamas leader, sheik Ahmed Yassin, will undoubtedly be replied to with more attacks, which will increase insecurity for the people in Israel.

Hamas leaders had, in fact, softened their position when the road map was introduced, reflecting the mood among Palestinians that the present struggle was not leading anywhere. They also claimed that they had not sanctioned the bus bomber on 19 August. Hamas has been weakened financially since it was declared a terrorist organisation in the West and because Saudi Arabia supported the road map.

Generally, Israel and the US have overestimated Arafat’s role, both in the Palestinian struggle and his ability to control the Palestinians. His standing has fluctuated over the years. But, "with one decision, the Israeli cabinet succeeded in resurrecting Yasser Arafat", commented the liberal Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. With his life threatened by Israel, thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in support of Arafat. He took control again, appointed Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) as prime minister, and changed the head of the security forces. He also immediately started talks with Hamas to agree to a new truce.

But neither Arafat nor Qurei have anything to offer the Palestinians. They will not put a significantly different position than Abbas did, if they are invited to any negotiations. The Palestinian finance minister, Salem Fayyad (another favourite of the US), for example, met G7 finance ministers, the IMF and others in late September to ask for emergency assistance. Promises of concessions inevitably come with strings attached. But no more than Arafat will Hamas be able to deliver a viable Palestinian state which addresses the aspirations of the Palestinian people. Neither concessions to the US nor suicide bombs can unite the Palestinians in struggle, or win sustained support from workers and the oppressed in the Middle East.

In Israel, Sharon has not only failed to deliver security. His government is conducting a neo-liberal economic policy, hitting the working class and the poor. Close to one family in four cannot buy the food they need. In the spring, privatisation led to a big strike in the public sector. Without the ‘total war’, Sharon’s government would not stay in power. Workers in Israel have nothing to gain from continued occupation. A real improvement of the situation will only come out of a struggle against the Sharon government, Israeli big business and imperialism.

For the moment, the Israeli state’s attack on Arafat is proclaimed, but suspended. So is the threatened reoccupation of Gaza. The ruling class of Israel is more and more going for a unilateral partition. The so-called Labour Party (which, at present, is against the removal of Arafat) is pushing partition, including building the wall, to guarantee a Jewish majority. Their argument is that any kind of Greater Israel – upheld by ruthless occupation forces, without mass deportations of Palestinians – eventually would lead to a Palestinian majority. Any Palestinian ’bantustan’ state, however – split into separate units with very limited autonomy – would not be a viable state, but would remain under the domination of Israel.

Capitalism and imperialism cannot provide peace and development in the Middle East. New democratic mass organisations and workers’ parties are needed to fight for a socialist Palestine and socialist Israel in a voluntarily socialist confederation in the Middle East.

Per-Åke Westerlund,

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna – CWI Sweden


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