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Middle East conflict: Sharon Out To Crush Palestinians
AFTER INTERCEPTING a ship carrying arms in the direction of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Israeli government forces have stepped up their brutal repression in the PA areas.
On 14 January a leading activist in the al-Aqsa brigades (a Palestinian militia attached to Yasser Arafat's Fatah organisation) was assassinated by an Israeli hit squad. In revenge, the brigades carried out a suicide attack on an Israeli Bat Mitzvah party in Hadera in which six people were killed and dozens wounded, and a shooting spree in Jerusalem in which two were killed and around 20 injured.
Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has ordered the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) to continue to assassinate Palestinian 'terrorists', to destroy many homes and parts of the infrastructure in Palestinian areas and to storm into towns and cities in the PA in temporary re-occupations.
In the worst demolition operation since the start of the intifada (uprising) 16 months ago, 600 Palestinians in the Gaza strip, half of them children, were made homeless when their homes were bulldozed.
The airport in Gaza has been bulldozed and the PA police headquarters in the West Bank town of Tulkarm was destroyed with missiles. The IDF went on to seize the whole town of Tulkarm for 30 hours, searching for 'terrorists' and hoisting the Israeli flag.
Four activists of the Palestinian Islamic militia Hamas were killed by the IDF in Nablus, and blockades were tightened in other West Bank towns, including in Ramallah, where PA leader Yasser Arafat has been trapped for two months.
Israeli military leaders are divided on what strategy to pursue. Some want an all-out invasion to crush the last vestiges of the PA and remove Arafat, while others argue for the present course of action, a continuation and stepping up of military pressure which could lead to the same result eventually.
Sharon would like to see the end of Arafat, having already declared him "irrelevant", but is being held back for the time being by some of the military strategists in the IDF and by pressure from the US administration. However, US President George Bush, having declared victory over the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, has shifted his position to being increasingly hostile towards Arafat and the PA.
He recently stated his "disappointment" in Arafat, accused him of "enhancing terror" and his administration issued a statement saying they could "now understand" Israel's policy of blockading Arafat in his headquarters.
The mood in the Palestinian areas is one of outrage at recent assassinations and other IDF attacks, and support for the armed struggle of the militias.
The latter are seen as the only people doing anything, in the absence of democratic organisations of struggle based on the Palestinian masses, that could represent their interests and involve them directly. Arafat's effective imprisonment and humiliation is viewed as further evidence that the peace process is dead.
Following his betrayal of the Palestinians in the Oslo peace process and his complete failure to lead opposition to the IDF onslaught, support for his Fatah organisation remains at only 20-30% of the population.
In the Palestinian areas, thousands have been storming prisons to demand the release of arrested activists. The militias have abandoned any talk of a ceasefire, with the al-Aqsa Brigades declaring it "cancelled, cancelled, cancelled" and Hamas announcing that the murder of their four activists "has opened the door wide to total war that will hit the Zionists everywhere and with all means at our disposal".
In Israel, fear and insecurity are giving leeway to Sharon for the time being to step up repression, but there is widespread realisation that military action or war will not solve the root problems.
This is recognised by some representatives of the ruling class: for instance, a former leader of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security force, has said Israel should unconditionally withdraw from the PA areas.
Sharon, though, representing a position much further to the right, has a set the path for worsening conflict. He refuses to contemplate any degree of self-determination for the Palestinian people and wants nothing short of the dismantling of the PA with the exodus of many of its people, the remainder being forced into small, isolated enclaves.
However, Sharon is also facing another battle in Israel itself, with a flexing of muscles by the working class.
A wave of strikes in the public sector broke out at the end of last year and has resumed in some sectors this year. National Insurance workers have recently taken strike action over under-staffing and 50,000 civil servants have planned a strike over pay and staffing levels.
This is against a background of increasing economic crisis; there was a 29% increase in job-seekers in January this year, following a loss of 155,000 jobs last year.
It is estimated that 1.5 million Israelis now live in poverty, including a quarter of all children.
A decent future for Israeli workers and youth lies in building a new workers' party that can challenge all the horrors of capitalism and pose a socialist alternative. Likewise the Palestinian masses will need to take the future into their own hands, overthrowing their corrupt PA leaders and turning away from support for terrorist actions which only bring further retribution.
In this way the basis can be laid for a complete transformation in the lives of all, in a socialist Palestine, alongside a socialist Israel, in a socialist confederation of the Middle East.
In The Socialist 1 February 2002: