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From The Socialist newspaper, 29 November 2006

Gaza

How long will the ceasefire last?

THE ISRAELI government began operating a ceasefire in the Gaza strip, along with Palestinian militias, on Sunday 26 November. Israeli troops left the strip, halting - for the time being - a vicious military onslaught that has killed 400 Palestinians in the last five months. Over half the dead were women, children and elderly people.

Palestinian militia leaders agreed, on their part, to halt Qassam rocket attacks on Israelis in the western Negev, which have recently killed several people.

However, Palestinian fighters are angry that the present ceasefire agreement does not apply to the West Bank, where the Israeli army is continuing with arrests and assassinations, so their leaders have not succeeded in stopping all retaliatory acts.

When two Qassam rockets were fired on the day after the ceasefire declaration, the Israeli regime said it would also break the ceasefire by striking rocket launchers where they can.

A reprieve from daily shelling will bring some relief to Gazans. But how long will it last? In this decades-long conflict, many ceasefires have lasted for just hours, days or weeks. Sometimes they are desired by military leaders largely in order to 'recharge the batteries' of their forces.

So although it fails to mention that the military forces involved are hugely unequal, there may be some truth in an editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz which said: "We can assume that both sides agreed to an end to the shooting after continuous fighting left them both exhausted and battered."

In addition to the ceasefire, negotiations are taking place for an exchange of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, held by Palestinians, for some of the 8,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

There are also prolonged talks within the Palestinian territories over the possible formation of a 'unity' government, involving the governing party Hamas and the ousted Fatah. Hamas's aim is to try to get western and Israeli financial sanctions lifted, to alleviate starvation conditions and help it to keep its support base.

However, Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, raised hopes for a long-lasting and more substantive agreement when he declared that the ceasefire "could be the beginning of a serious, real, open and direct negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority... leading towards a comprehensive agreement" and "we will agree to leave large territories and dismantle settlements that we established... in exchange for real peace".

An escalation of the conflict, spiralling into a wider war, which is always possible, would push back such talk of a "comprehensive agreement".

But at some stage, there may be a period of release from the cycles of violence through a longer-lasting and more far reaching agreement.

However, as long as negotiations and decision-making remain in the hands of Israeli capitalist and Palestinian aspiring-capitalist elites, there will not be a settlement that fully solves the economic and national crisis of the Palestinians, or that will bring security to Israeli people.

For these urgent needs to be met, working-class people on both sides of the conflict have to build their own independent organisations and elect leaders who represent the interests of ordinary people, as the only way of achieving "serious, real, open and direct negotiation" that can end the cycles of bloodshed and deliver decent living standards to everyone in the region.

Jenny Brooks

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