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US SECRETARY of state Colin Powell's Middle East diplomacy has failed to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has contemptuously dismissed any demand to withdraw troops until they have 'finished the job'.
Meanwhile, Sharon says he will try for mass murder Marwan Barghouti leader of the Palestinian Tanzeem militia, a decision that will further enrage the Palestinian masses.
As HANNAH SELL explains, there can be no just settlement of the conflict on the basis of capitalism.
Israel/Palestine War: The Failure Of Capitalism - The Need For A Socialist Solution
THE WORLD continues to be outraged by the bloody rampage of Israeli government troops through the West Bank.
Despite all Sharon's efforts to prevent the media from revealing the full horror of what the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has done, above all in Jenin, the real picture is beginning to leak out.
Helicopter gunships, tanks and anti-aircraft missiles have destroyed buildings, electricity and water systems, killed hundreds of Palestinians and injured thousands. Medical crews have been prevented from reaching the injured, or shot at when trying. Peres, the Israeli foreign minister, blurted out the truth when he said that the Israeli army's action in Jenin risked being branded as a massacre.
Thousands of Palestinian men have been rounded-up and taken handcuffed and blindfolded to Israeli military interrogation centres. There they have been starved and beaten by their jailers.
Following the 11 September attacks and the subsequent US- led war on the Taliban/al Qa'ida regime in Afghanistan, Sharon's government was given the 'green light' to conduct its own 'war on terrorism' against the Palestinians.
Plans to reoccupy the enclaves of Palestinian territory, destroy the Palestinian Authority structures, target (ie murder) known militants, and render impotent Palestinian president Yasser Arafat's regime, were approved by the Israeli cabinet. The only concession was that Arafat himself would not be assassinated.
Sharon, hypocritically, has claimed that the purpose of this brutality and slaughter is to snuff out terrorism and prevent future suicide bombings. But just as the Israeli government began to claim that the policy was working another terrifying suicide attack took place in Haifa - killing eight civilians.
So desperate are the Palestinians that it seems that support for the mistaken tactic of suicide bombings has become widespread.
The Palestinians clearly have the right to armed self-defence, democratically organised, against the IDF onslaught. However, attacks on Israeli civilians are counter-productive. It is the Israeli ruling class not ordinary Israelis who are responsible for the nightmare situation faced by ordinary Palestinians.
It is true that many Palestinians see the tactic of suicide bombings as having shaken Israeli society but rather than increasing opposition to the occupation amongst Israel's Jewish population it drives them into the hands of their own worst enemies; Sharon and the most reactionary elements of the Israeli ruling class.
Of course, the Palestinian people can't postpone their struggle until most Israeli Jews accept the need for a genuine Palestinian state. But as well as organising mass opposition to the occupation, the Palestinian struggle needs to help undermine the support of Israeli Jews, particularly the working class, for Israeli capitalism and all that goes with it. The Palestinians will not win the right to self-determination by military struggle alone.
The only way this can be achieved is by driving a wedge between the mass of Israelis and the Israeli ruling class.
The paradox of this tragic situation is that there have never been better opportunities to win over sections of the Israeli working class. More than 1,000 Israelis have refused to serve in the Occupied Territories. In the past fortnight over 4,000 Palestinians and Jews demonstrated against the occupation at the IDF checkpoint in Ramallah and 10,000 demonstrated in Tel Aviv.
At the same time the Sharon government is graphically proving that the interests of the Israeli Jewish working class have nothing in common with the interests of the Israeli ruling class and state.
The government is carrying out vicious cuts in the living standards of the Israeli working class. The recent round of budget cuts amounts to $1.5 billion. In addition the government is suggesting a war levy of 5% on all earnings.
The Israeli Jewish working class are paying for this war - both literally and in terms of the increased instability and danger that it brings.
However, whilst the potential for a united struggle between Israeli Jews and Palestinians against the occupation is undoubtedly there, in the current situation a siege mentality exists on both sides. The Palestinians are under occupation and face daily slaughter. At the same time millions of Israelis feel that their right to exist both as a nation in their own state and as individuals is under threat. Without an alternative, the bloody and brutal cycle will continue.
Sharon will continue to face a ferocious resistance in the occupied territories. It is possible for the IDF to conquer the West Bank but they cannot hold it - if they attempt to do so they will face a ceaseless and determined struggle from the Palestinians. This was the lesson the IDF should have learnt from their 18 year-long occupation of southern Lebanon. And there, it should be remembered, many Shia's initially welcomed their presence.
Far from bringing peace and security to Israel itself this will lead to increasing violence; as the Haifa and Jerusalem suicide bombings have demonstrated. The whole situation - the cycle of terror and counter-terror - is preparing the basis for a wider war in the Middle East.
Every Arab country has seen massive demonstrations in support of the Palestinians. It is not possible to exaggerate the degree of upheaval which is taking place.
One million demonstrated in Morocco headed by the Prime Minister. One million have demonstrated in Egypt. Demonstrations have even taken place in formally quiescent Bahrain and Kuwait. The Middle East is like a lake of petrol waiting to ignite. And imperialism will have to desperately try to prevent the sparks currently flying leading to an inferno.
The pro-US, undemocratic Arab regimes are under enormous pressure from the Arab street. This was reflected in the fact that, when asked by the US to rein in Hizbollah in Lebanon, the Syrians replied by saying that they could not do so because this was "a war for national aspirations" and therefore legitimate. Syria has also moved 20,000 troops into the Beka'a valley which borders Israel.
Even the Kuwaiti foreign minister has felt the need to come out publicly against Israel's actions. He (inaccurately) compared the Palestinian's situation to the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. He went on to say that Sharon had saved Saddam's neck by diverting the world from the repression of Iraq to the repression of Israel.
Without doubt Saddam Hussein has been able to use the current crisis to bolster his own position. In addition to the threatened halt in oil production in solidarity with the Palestinians he has promised to increase his payment to the bereaved relatives of suicide bombers from $10,000 to $25,000.
However, the most telling remarks made by the Kuwaiti foreign minister were when he raised the prospect of a regional war. The regimes in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere do not want to go to war against Israel; but faced with being overthrown by mass uprisings if they don't forcibly oppose Israel's actions, they could be left with little choice.
In the face of desperate pleas from the Arab leaders, Bush has finally declared that Israel should withdraw from the towns of the West Bank. Powell has been dispatched on a Cook's Tour of the Middle East and has eventually meandered into Israel itself. However, the reality is that Bush and his cohorts gave Sharon the green light for the slaughter of the last weeks. Bush initially gave open support to Sharon's action by declaring that Israel had "the right to defend itself".
One Israeli minister has reported that, whilst Vice-President Dick Cheney publicly called for peace on his visit to Israel, behind the scenes he was even more extreme than the Israeli government.
US imperialism is just as culpable for the deaths in the West Bank as the Israeli regime was for the thousands of Palestinians massacred by the Christian Phalange militia in Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps during the Lebanese conflict of the 1980s. (Sharon of course is indicted to stand trial as a war criminal for his role in Sabra and Chatilla. Strangely, all the witnesses have died!).
The Bush government imagined that by allowing Sharon to go ahead in the West Bank it would be possible to 'pacify' the Palestinians leaving the US free to concentrate on attacking Iraq. Unsurprisingly, this strategy has blown up in their faces.
The majority of the current US government, temporarily strengthened by their victory in Afghanistan, arrogantly imagines that, if they click their fingers, the world will jump. As events are showing, the reality is very different.
Huge as their military might is, US imperialism cannot suppress the raging anger of the Arab masses. The Arab leaders, desperate to hold on to power, are watching US policy with horror. The real possibility exists of a number of regimes being overthrown, such as Mubarak in Egypt and the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia.
Whilst their overthrow would be as a result of the enormous anger against imperialism amongst the Arab masses, it is unlikely, at this stage, that the regimes that would come to power would be genuinely anti-imperialist. On the contrary they would be likely to be unstable right-wing Islamic regimes.
German imperialism, terrified of the consequences of developments in the Middle East, has come forward with a proposal for international forces to oversee a ceasefire, for the IDF to withdraw to the Israeli borders and the declaration of a Palestinian state. This proposal is doomed to failure. A viable Palestinian state is not possible on the basis of capitalism, as the failure of the Oslo accord has so graphically demonstrated.
Clutching at straws, the German proposal claims it could succeed where Oslo failed by dealing with all the controversial issues at the beginning of the process, instead of leaving them until the end as Oslo did!
The reality is that granting genuine Palestinian statehood would be seen as a radical alternative for the Arab masses to the corrupt regimes in the region and a threat to imperialism's strategic and oil interests. It would threaten the power, prestige and profits of the capitalist elite in the Middle East.
Similarly capitalism will never be able to deliver the right of return for the Palestinian refugees. This issue has come to the fore in recent weeks. This is partly because the Saudi peace plan deals with the issue but more importantly because the Palestinians fear that a new wave of refugees numbering hundreds of thousands are about to be created.
The refugee issue is one of the most complicated in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After the barbarism of the holocaust during the Second World War Jews fled to what they regarded as their homeland. However, the new Israeli entity was achieved on the basis of the forcible dispersal of the Palestinian population - a crime initiated by the Israeli elite for which ordinary Israeli Jews have had to pay in blood for ever since.
The Socialist Party supports the right of return for Palestinian refugees. However, it is ruled out on a capitalist basis, and, even if it were somehow to be implemented on a capitalist basis, it could only be a mirror image of what the Jews did to the Palestinians in 1948.
However, a socialist Middle East could provide the full economic and social resources to absorb the millions of Palestinians who would be given the right of return and guarantee increased living standards for the whole population.
Only a socialist confederation of the region, with a socialist Israel alongside a socialist Palestine, would provide the political conditions for genuine negotiations between representatives of Palestinians and Israeli Jews, which could respect the national, religious and ethnic rights of all groups involved.
Powell's visit may lead to a temporary stall in the conflict but it will not provide a solution. In fact a major part of Powell's real aim is to heap further humiliation upon Arafat. In any case, Sharon intends to continue with his plans one way or another, regardless.
Sharon's real proposal is for a complete separation of Israel and the occupied territories. He wants to build a Berlin Wall around Israel. This would mean a unilateral separation of Israel from Palestine, with the declaration of new borders on far worse terms than those that have been outlined before.
The Palestinians would be given an entity where borders were decided by Israel and would be living in utter destitution. It can't be excluded that Israel could go so far as to expel the Israeli Palestinians in a grotesque version of 1948.
Imperialism internationally is in a very risky situation, made worse by the short-sightedness and arrogance of its leaders. The problems of the world economy are far from over and can only be deepened by the tinderbox of the Middle East.
The Middle East still supplies one-quarter of the oil for the US market and contains a majority of the world's known oil reserves. Iraq alone is the sixth-largest US supplier. If the current situation pushes oil prices up to $40 a barrel it would shipwreck the world economy.
Bush and his poodle Blair are blundering ahead, blinded to all but the need to assert US dominance on the globe. They arrogantly state that they are going to implement a "regime change" in Iraq. We give no support to Saddam Hussein - but it is for the people of Iraq, not US imperialism, to decide to change the regime.
The explosive situation in the Middle East, exacerbated by the stupidity of the approach of US imperialism, means the possibility of war and colossal turmoil in the region.
Internationally, there is enormous anger about the plight of the Palestinians amongst workers and youth and a desire to support their struggle.
Workers in a Volvo plant in Umea, Sweden, for example, have refused to deliver special lorries to the IDF. Trade unionists in Britain should take up the same demand - of refusing to produce armaments, tanks and other equipment for use by the IDF.
At the same time we support the building of links with the Israeli Jewish working class - and also support the 1,000 reservists who are refusing to serve in the occupied territories.
The only genuine solution to the cycle of violence in the Middle East lies with the poor peasants, workers and youth on both sides of the national divide.
The overthrow of capitalism in the region and its replacement with a socialist Palestinian state and a socialist Israel as part of a socialist confederation of the region remains the only answer to the gloomy prospects which faces future generations in the region otherwise.
That is why the building of strong working class movements on both sides of the national divide in Israel and Palestine, committed to these ideas, is such an urgent task for socialists in the region.
In The Socialist 19 April 2002: