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From The Socialist newspaper, 15 March 2002

Middle East Conflict: Horror Without End?

"IF THEY aren't badly beaten there won't be any negotiations. Only after they are beaten will we be able to conduct talks" - Ariel Sharon, 6 March.

The brutal words of Israel's Prime Minister, reflect a massive escalation in the Israel/Palestine war. US President George Bush has now dispatched his special envoy, general Zinni, to try and restore a ceasefire.

ARIEL GOTTLIEB of Maavak Sozialisti (Workers' Struggle), Israel, reports on the conflict.

"THERE WILL be funerals. Caskets will come out of here, even the commanders say that. What can I tell you, it's not that Golani [a battle-hardened infantry division - editors] are afraid to die, surely we're not afraid to take fire. But dying for nothing, even Golani don't like that", sergeant Shay told Yedioth reporter, Ron Leshem, just before the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) raids on the Balata and Jenin refugee camps began on 27 February.

The politicians and generals may have tried to spin the raids as a success, sending a message to Palestinian fighters that there is no safe haven for them (at the cost of two IDF soldiers and around 30 Palestinians killed, including children), but the reaction was swift and painful. A suicide bomber killed ten Israelis, including children and babies, coming out of a Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem on Saturday night.

Early on Sunday morning, a single Palestinian sniper hiding in a hill above an IDF checkpoint near Ramallah fired 26 single, accurate shots, one every 45 seconds, hitting 16 people and killing ten - six reserve soldiers, one regular officer and three settlers - before escaping unharmed.

Also left wounded was the IDF prestige, repeatedly bruised and beaten by a growing number of successful, deadly guerrilla attacks by poorly armed but highly motivated Palestinians, familiar with the terrain and the Israeli enemy's Achilles heels.

Sharon's government has no way out of this mess. He and most of his cabinet do not believe in any political arrangements or negotiations before the Palestinian will to fight is crushed militarily, and this outcome they hope to achieve by steadily increasing the pressure on Palestinian fighting forces.

Some far-right ministers have been even more outspoken in proposals for more bombing raids on the centres of Palestinian cities.

Foreign minister Shimon Peres, Labour's senior minister, however, has said that the government's current policy "leads to nowhere", warning that "the country is going towards its doom". But that does not mean that Labour will necessarily pull out of the government soon.

Labour ministers, afraid of becoming a lonely, no-perks opposition, still cling to power. One or more parties may leave the coalition, but the lack of a viable alternative means Sharon is not likely to be unseated in the near future.

US president George Bush also faces a foreign policy dilemma. He has given the green light to Sharon to 'pursue the terrorists', while pressuring the hapless Palestinian president Yasser Arafat into arresting militants. But in order to retain the support of Arab regimes in the region for the US's strategic imperialist plans - which includes possible attacks on Iraq - Bush's administration has called on Sharon for restraint in military actions against Palestinians.

In the escalating Israel/Palestine war, dispatching, once again, US special envoy Zinni to the region is unlikely to succeed in resuming peace negotiations.

The Middle East conflict is a grim reminder that capitalism is incapable of peacefully resolving the questions of nationalities.

The Palestinian dynamic

THE INCREASING military pressure by the IDF, while far from achieving Sharon's aims, is causing some serious changes in the balance of forces within Palestinian society.

Yasser Arafat, surrounded by Israeli tanks, retains an almost purely symbolic leadership status. The arrest of those responsible for the assassination of the racist Minister Ze'evi (demanded by Sharon as condition for the lifting of the siege and carried out according to Arafat's direct orders), only got him the Israeli masters permission to move freely within Ramallah.

Setting the tone are the different armed organizations independent of Arafat's direct control, competing with each other for influence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The ongoing raids on the buildings of the Palestinian Authority and its disappearing financial resources prevent it from performing the most basic services and in some cases from paying its own personnel.

Inside and outside Arafat's own Fatah movement, the Tanzeem militia, previously Fatah's youth wing, is gaining prominence by giving a lead to the resistance that Arafat's clique has been unable (or unwilling) to provide.

Tanzeem's rise is also an expression of the ascendancy of "the insiders", the home-grown fighters, prevailing over "the outsiders", or the 'Tunis Gang' (meaning Arafat's cronies brought into Palestine as a result of the Oslo peace accords). Most Palestinians despise these cronies as traitorous and corrupt profiteers, out of touch with the people's hardships.

Despite the public show of unity between all Palestinian groups fighting against the common oppressors, important debates are raging on between and within the organisations as to the strategy and tactics for the Intifada. One wing of Fatah, The Brigades of Al-Aqsa Martyrs, is adopting the Islamic movements' methods of suicide missions inside Israel proper, while Tanzeem's West Bank leader, Maruan Barghouti, calls for the struggle to be limited to fighting against the IDF and settlers, linked with a demand for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 border.

None of these organisations are democratically accountable to the masses, but they all depend on popular (mostly passive) support, and the debates at the top are a distorted reflection of the contradictory trends in the mass movement.

Cracks in the Israeli consensus

THE DEVELOPMENTS of the last few months - a further decline of the sinking economy, the deteriorating state of personal security for ordinary Israelis, plummeting motivation among conscripts and reserve soldiers alike - underscore capitalism's inability to resolve any of the problems facing Israeli workers and youth. And they have recently eroded the government's seemingly impregnable popularity. Its approval rating, standing firm at around 70% for a long period, has gone down to 50%.

This still high figure should be seen in the context of a lack of any viable mass alternative. Support leaving the government has gone both ways, with some layers outflanking it from the right, demanding more brutal repression and harsher military solutions, such as the reoccupation of the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip and/or "Transfer" -1 the forceful expulsion of Palestinians to other Arab countries.

The other side of the coin is the reappearance of the liberal left, around the Peace Now extra-parliamentary movement and the liberal-reformist Meretz party on the streets, with significant rallies of 10,000 or so in Tel Aviv. The last of these was a march through the centre of Jerusalem (a traditionally right-wing city).

This ended in a rally of 1,000-2,000 on Saturday night outside Prime Minister Sharon's residence, calling for an immediate withdrawal from the occupied territories and the dismantling of settlements. It went ahead despite being scheduled to begin less than 30 minutes after the atrocious Bar Mitzvah bombing which occurred only a mile away.

Added to this is the important movement of the "refuseniks", reserve combat officers and soldiers signing the "Combatant Letter" stating their refusal to serve in the occupied territories.

This letter was first published by 50 signatories about two months ago, and at this time has 314, growing daily. This is a real explosion compared with the trickle of refuseniks over the last two years. One line of the letter, posted on their website (, reads: "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people".

This movement has the potential of becoming a strong catalyst in the opposition to the continued and intensified occupation, but its current leadership suffers from serious political and organisational deficiencies similar to those of the liberal peace movement.

The middle class composition of the letter's authors is reflected in their current level of consciousness: their grounds for refusing are overwhelmingly moral and conscientious, and they make no criticism of government policies other than the occupation and the "war of the settlements".

They are trying to remain "apolitical" and within the Zionist consensus, and do not appeal to conscripts, without whom no successful campaign to end the occupation is possible. Their future influence will depend on the degree to which they will be able to deepen their political programme and the issues they tackle in a way that can receive the support of working-class elements in the army and outside it, as well as the youth.

No way out under capitalism

AFTER THIS last round of brutal IDF raids and deadly Palestinian reaction, we stand another step closer to an all-out regional conflagration.

Sharon is trying to remove all obstacles standing in the way of IDF operations, casually shrugging off political initiatives such as the Saudi plan suggested by Crown Prince Abdullah (but probably engineered by the US administration) or Egyptian president Mubarak's offer for a Sharon-Arafat summit in Sharem A-Sheikh.

Assasinations ("targeted preventions") of Palestinian militants, which killed more than 20 unrelated civilians to date, are set to increase. So too are more raids on refugee camps and other heavily populated Palestinian areas, with occupying forces staying for days or weeks in some cases.

An order given to soldiers recently, allowing them to shoot at every arms-bearing Palestinian anywhere, could force into armed resistance 40,000 Palestinian uniformed policemen who have so far avoided an open confrontation with the Israeli army.

An emergency mobilisation of Israeli reserves is becoming a likely possibility, which will not go unnoticed by the Syrian and Egyptian armies, as the US prepares to light the tinderbox with a massive attack on Iraq expected later this year.

Though a temporary ceasefire at some point cannot be ruled out, the unresolved contradictions which have erupted in the second Intifada have only multiplied in the past 18 months, making even a fragile Oslo-type truce highly unlikely.

Only the Palestinian masses and the Israeli working class, the main victims of war, suicide attacks, occupation and economic collapse, can offer a genuine way out by toppling the capitalist regimes on both sides, creating mutual links in the process and resolving all the contentious issues, insoluble under capitalism, in their common interests.

The socialist alternative

MAAVAK SOZIALISTI (Socialist Struggle), the CWI's Israeli section, has intervened in the anti-occupation movement, with a working class perspective and socialist programme to challenge illusions in a diplomatic capitalist solution.

And despite the armed conflict the class struggle in Israel is continuing, as the ongoing strikes and the occupation of the Bagir textile factory by its 1,080 workers show.

In every working-class industrial struggle we raise demands to underline the failure of the capitalist system and its corrupt politicians, in providing personal security as well as economic security.

From this apparent failure flows the need for independent working-class positions and programme, as well as the struggle for socialism - a socialist Israel and an independent, socialist Palestine leading to a democratic, socialist federation of the Middle East on a free and equal basis, which will transform the living standards of the masses of the region while safeguarding the rights of all minorities.

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In The Socialist 15 March 2002:

Organise A One-Day Public Sector Strike

ISR day of action

Lewisham: Battling Socialist Councillors Build Up Local Support

New Labour And The Union Link: Feeding The Hand That Bites Us!

Middle East Conflict: Horror Without End?

US Prepares Invasion Of Iraq


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