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Israeli/Palestinian conflict: A road to peace or to further conflict?
WITH ISRAELI cabinet agreement to remove Jewish settlers from Gaza by August 2005 and the release of 500 Palestinian prisoners, hopes of an end to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have been rekindled.
JENNY BROOKS looks at the prospects for peace.
FOLLOWING THE recent summit of Palestinian and Israeli leaders at Sharm el-Sheikh, the first since Israeli Prime Minister Sharon came to office, the media talked of a possible end to the decades long Israel-Palestine conflict.
Such reporting is extremely far-fetched, especially given that none of the fundamental problems were even touched on at the summit, with no reference being made to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Authority (PA) areas. Even the much lauded 'ceasefire' was not a formal agreement, but was based on unilateral declarations of intent.
Although terrible brutality has been unleashed on the Palestinians by the Israeli regime during the four-and-a-half-year intifada, (three-quarters of the 4,500 dead being Palestinian), PA president, Mahmood Abbas, laughed and joked with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and accepted an invitation to his ranch as well as to the US White House.
In an attempt to maintain a respite in the bloodshed, particularly in the run-up to his unilateral withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza, Sharon has decided to alleviate Israel's stranglehold on Palestinian areas to some extent, including the withdrawal of Israeli troops from some West Bank towns. He has also allowed access to work for some Palestinians across the 'borders' of the PA, and ordered a respite in targeted and indiscriminate killings and house demolitions.
While these measures are wanted by a Palestinian population that is weary of years of repression and poverty, they offer no solution to end their plight or to meet their aspirations. The occupation will effectively remain and their own state is not on offer. There is no promise to stop building the new separation barrier - already a third completed - which carves through Palestinian farmland and towns, confiscating more of their land.
The planned pullout of the Gaza Jewish settlements, starting in July, while being a setback to the previous aspirations of the Israeli ruling class, will not make much difference to living standards in the Palestinian territories. And the withdrawal is with the aim of confiscating more land in the West Bank and rejecting discussion on the fundamental issues concerning the Palestinians, such as the right of return of refugees and a Palestinian state (including the future of East Jerusalem). Sharon is in any case refusing any discussion on these until after the Gaza withdrawal.
Despite all this, the main strategy of Abbas is to further the Palestinian cause by negotiating with Sharon, backed by Bush's US regime and other world imperialist powers. The latter are motivated not by desire to genuinely help the Palestinian people, but to appear to be doing something towards 'peace' in the Middle East and to aid their own interests there.
Abbas always opposed the use of arms in the intifada uprising, and is now under pressure from the Israeli regime and his international sponsors to subdue the militias of Hamas and other armed organisations.
In his speech at Sharm el-Sheikh, he spoke of having "one authority that is the only party allowed to carry weapons". Applying pressure, Sharon said: "We in Israel have had to painfully wake up from our dreams... you, too, must prove you have the courage to compromise, abandon unrealistic dreams, [and] subdue the forces which oppose peace" and that they must "act together determinedly to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, to disarm and subdue it once and for all".
Yet within two days of the declared ceasefire, the Israeli army killed two Palestinian men in separate areas, followed by Hamas and other Palestinian organisations firing volleys of rockets into Jewish settlement Gush Katif.
The Palestinian militias, not surprisingly, refuse to give up weapons while under occupation, and have made it clear they will use them if killings by the Israeli army continue.
They have also been using their ability to break the ceasefire in order to negotiate with Abbas in their own interests - such as regarding the electoral system for legislative elections planned for next summer. Hamas is already in a position of some strength, having gained a significant majority in seven of ten municipalities in local elections in Gaza on 27 January.
With the Palestinians' basic problems unresolved, a return to bloodshed at some stage is inevitable. An Israeli foreign ministry official, Gideon Meir admitted: "The short-term will be a ceasefire in fact. But Israel cannot see a ceasefire as a long-term arrangement because Israelis will see a threat of violence always hanging over their heads".
This is the best that the capitalist politicians on both sides of the divide have to offer, but many ordinary people see things differently. An Israeli cafˇ owner was quoted in The Independent (8 February) as saying: "The problem isn't between people, it's between the leaders and the politicians. We have the same mentality as Palestinians. We inhabit the same place. We know each other well".
Increasingly, both Palestinians and Israeli Jews will draw the conclusion that neither side has a decent future under capitalism, and that a socialist alternative is needed in both Palestine and Israel.
In The Socialist 26 February 2005: