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Middle East conflict
Divisions open up in Israeli society
ISRAEL'S PRIME Minister, Ariel Sharon, said on TV that there would be no let up in military attacks on Palestinian areas. A subsequent 'offer' to cease military actions for one week was greeted by scepticism by war weary Palestinians.
Moreover, he announced the creation of "buffer zones" to prevent Palestinian attacks on Israel proper and on Jewish settlements on the West Bank and Gaza.
Critics say these buffer zones represent an attempt to permanently annex tracts of West Bank land. Sharon already backs the establishment of illegal Jewish settlements in the territories.
His belligerent speech followed a week of widespread violence in which over 40 people - ten Israelis and over 30 Palestinians - were killed. In the last year, under Sharon's premiership, Israel has experienced its worse loss of life since the 1948 war of independence.
In February, the Palestinian death toll from the Intifada (uprising), which began in October 2000, reached 1,000. The Israeli death toll is over 260.
Significantly, six Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinian militiamen at an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) military checkpoint near Ramallah. Earlier, for the first time, Palestinians succeeded in destroying a Merkava tank in Gaza - a big psychological blow against the IDF. In response, apart from the usual air strikes, the Israeli cabinet sanctioned the widespread use of assassination squads to "destroy the terrorist networks".
The Israeli daily newspaper, Ha'aretz reports the comments of an Israeli IDF officer who chillingly urged his fellow officers to "study how the German Army operated in the Warsaw Ghetto".
F-16 fighter bombers also hit Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah a few metres from the sleeping quarters of the beleaguered Palestinian president. Anticipating Sharon's hardline response, Arafat announced his security apparatus had arrested three PFLP militants, allegedly responsible for the assassination last October of Rehavim Ze'evi, the right-wing Israeli government minister.
But this action has not resulted in Israel lifting its virtual house arrest of Arafat nor has it allowed the resumption of 'peace' negotiations. Sharon contemptuously refers to Arafat as "an irrelevancy" while some of his fellow hardliners call for him to be 'eliminated'.
RECENTLY PALESTINIAN guerrillas allied to Islamist groups, Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction and the PFLP, have switched their attacks to Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and to the hated military checkpoints. These checkpoints bisect the Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled areas and are a source of economic strangulation and humiliation for Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Israelis are becoming increasingly disillusioned in Sharon's failure to stem terrorist attacks. His standing in opinion polls has slipped by 16 points since December to 54%.
Recently, 50 IDF reserve officers signed a letter refusing to serve in the occupied territories. The number of refuseniks has risen to 231, with 26% of Israelis supporting them - a high figure given the country's culture of military service.
The Peace Now movement, which calls for an end to occupation and a return to peace negotiations, held a 20,000-strong demo. Although small compared to previous demos, it is the biggest since 11 September when George Bush gave the 'green light' for Sharon's military incursions into PA areas.
Sharon also faces increasing domestic pressures, not least from the organised Israeli working class who have been suffering the impact of a deep recession.
Unemployment has now risen to 258,600 - an all-time high. The jobless rate which officially stands at 10.2% is the highest since the 1992 recession which also coincided with the mass influx of people from the former Soviet Union. The highest rates of unemployment are concentrated in predominantly Israeli-Arab towns.
One consequence of the latest Intifada is a big fall in the tourist trade. This has led to employers driving down wages, overtime pay and holidays - with the connivance of right-wing trade union leaders.
There has also been a wave of industrial strikes by workers. National Insurance Institute (NII) workers who are demanding extra staff have just returned to normal working after five-and-a half-weeks of strikes. But, as the NII strikes end 1,800 administration staff at Tel Aviv University have started work stoppages.
IN RECENT months the character of the Intifada has changed from a mass movement to a guerrilla war between Palestinian militias, using suicide bombers with devastating effects, and the IDF with its sophisticated and large military arsenal.
Neither the Western imperial powers (particularly the US who, with some reservations, supports Sharon's government), nor the Israeli government and the corrupt PA, can provide an end to the cycle of violence blighting both Palestinians and Israelis.
For these rulers, their motivation is the control of land, resources, markets and the exploitation of labour; together with US imperialism's strategic goal of securing its vital oil supplies in the region through client states and military domination.
Capitalism has failed to resolve the burning question of nationalities in the region. It has also created oppressive political systems resting on extremes of poverty and wealth.
These massive social divisions and complex problems can only be properly addressed by workers' governments resting on socialist economies in both states of Israel and Palestine and throughout the region. Only then could a voluntary, socialist federation of middle eastern states be forged that could end poverty, discrimination, conflict and wars.
Therefore, the key task facing socialists is to assist the building of new, mass workers' parties throughout the Middle East.
In The Socialist 1 March 2002: