At the beginning of July, US President George W Bush called for an ‘international meeting’ to advance the Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace process’. Unsurprisingly, there were a few glaring omissions from the list of invitees (which included representatives from 47 countries), namely, the democratically-elected representatives of the Palestinian people, Hamas, and one of the largest countries in the Middle East, Iran. One would have thought that, for any realistic discussion about the future of Palestine, Hamas’s inclusion was imperative, whilst if the conference truly were ‘international’, Iran’s presence would be a basic requirement.
As Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini pointed out: “The organisers of this conference are Americans and past experience tells us that they cannot be objective and credible mediators and they are providing all out support for the zionist regime.” (Quoted in ‘Hezbollah joins Tehran and Hamas in denouncing Annapolis talks’, Haaretz.com, 25 November 2007)
Instead of inviting Hamas, the elected representatives of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian invitation was issued to Mahmoud Abbas and his cohorts. Abbas, however, can lay no claim to being the representative of the Palestinians. The hijacking of power by his faction of Fatah was instigated and financed by the US, and goes against the wishes of the majority of the Palestinian people.
Khaled Meshal, leader of Hamas, speaking at a press conference in Damascus prior to the Annapolis ‘conference’, stated: “No one is authorised to continue with negotiations like he [Abbas] wishes while the Palestinians are divided. No one is authorised to give up an inch of land, exchange it or give up the right of return.” (Quoted in ‘Meshal: summit is US ruse meant to distract from war vs. Iran’, Haaretz.com. 22 November 2007)
Mass demonstrations took place throughout the occupied territories in opposition to the Annapolis meeting. Tens of thousands demonstrated in Gaza City, and there were also protests in the West Bank, with demonstrators shouting slogans warning against selling out inalienable Arab rights in Palestine, including the right of return.
In spite of the Abbas government banning public demonstrations over the weekend before Annapolis, thousands took to the streets of Hebron and Nablus, although they were eventually dispersed by police using clubs, tear gas and live bullets. In one instance in Hebron, a 37-year-old man was killed when Palestinian Authority (PA) police loyal to Abbas opened fire on a peaceful demonstration.
One Palestinian on this demonstration is quoted as saying: “I don’t see any difference. They are acting like the Israeli occupation army, they are quislings and traitors, this is why the zionists and the Americans armed them and brought them here.” (‘PA police assault peaceful demonstrators against Annapolis conference’, The Palestinian Information Centre, 27 November 2007)
The Annapolis conference was clearly not about serious peace negotiations. Not only was it a further attempt to undermine Hamas as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, it was also used divisively amongst the Arab nations to solicit support for, or at least limit opposition to, further US imperialist war plans. Further, it was designed to undermine the support that Iran has achieved by its anti-imperialist stand.
No doubt the hope of the US is that, on the pretence of being the ‘mediator’ and acting with ‘diplomacy’ on the question of Palestine, its warmongering in the rest of the Middle East, not to mention its actions in the rest of the world, can continue unchecked.
Annapolis was and is a distraction from a potential attack on Iran, and from the quagmire in which Anglo-American imperialism finds itself in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The timing of this ‘international conference’ to address the longest-running occupation in the Middle East is no coincidence. As Khaled Meshal correctly explained at the above-cited press conference in Damascus: “Strategically, it [the US] is setting the stage and covering up for the upcoming American war in the region … There are preparations for an aggression against Iran, and could include other parties – Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah. Therefore, America is distracting us with a false game and is preparing itself for the real one.”
The joint declaration produced by Israel, Abbas and co pledging to “pursue peace” is a bland and empty statement agreeing to “engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations”. Annapolis has not advanced the Palestinian cause for self-determination one jot, and without real representation of the Palestinian people, future negotiations will also lead nowhere.
The participants in Annapolis either have no intention or no ability (or both) to bring about any advancement for the Palestinian people. As Mahmoud al-Zahar, a Hamas leader, told the largest protest against the conference: “Let them go to a thousand conferences, we say in the name of the Palestinian people that we did not authorise anyone to sign any agreement that harms our rights.” (Quoted in ‘No peace deal without us: Hamas’, The Star, 28 November 2007 )
The continuing expansionist activities of Israel, encroaching further and further across the ‘green line’ of 1967, is, in reality, reducing the possibility of a two-state solution in Palestine. With the West Bank divided into tiny Bantustans, all cordoned off from one other, while Gaza is completely isolated, how is it possible for a Palestinian state to function? It is the action of the Israeli government that is forcing a two-state solution off the agenda, not whether Hamas explicitly ‘recognises’ Israel (which, along with the majority of the self-proclaimed ‘international community’, does not recognise Hamas).
Siege of Gaza
Annapolis is not only being used as part of the war-mongering plans of the US in the Middle East. Israel, too, sees it as a useful diversion from its ongoing violent repression of the Palestinian people, in particular the current siege that has effectively turned Gaza into a huge concentration camp.
Since the beginning of September, the 1.5 million population of Gaza has been suffering under the tight blockade imposed on it by Israel. On 19 September, the Israeli cabinet declared the Gaza Strip a ‘hostile entity’ and voted to restrict the passage of goods into and out of Gaza. This is the latest cranking up of the collective punishment of Palestinians since Israel withdrew its illegal settlers from Gaza more than two years ago.
The current blockade has compounded the dire situation caused as a result of the US and EU halting international aid following the election of Hamas in January 2006. It was not until June 2007, after Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction had failed to take control of Gaza and oust Hamas, that the US and EU decided to reinstate aid through Abbas in an attempt to lure support away from Hamas, which the ‘international community’ still refuses to recognise as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
Despite the dirty tricks being played by the US and the EU, Hamas has stood defiant against the imperialists’ attempts to undermine the support it has amongst the population. It is in the hope of crushing this support that the current brutal sanctions have been imposed by the Israelis, whatever their claims about sanctions being a ‘response’ to Qassam rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel. However, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy writes: “Anyone who takes an honest look at the progression of events during the past two months will discover that the Qassams have a context: they are almost always fired after an IDF [Israeli Defence Force] assassination operation, and there have been many of these.” (Cited in ‘Stop this strategy of strangulation’, The Independent, 14 November 2007)
The people of Gaza are being punished for supporting Hamas; for supporting the party that maintained military pressure on Israel at a time when the Palestinian population was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the willingness of the Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, to toe the line of Israel and the US.
In order to effect this collective punishment, Israel has closed the two crossing points into Gaza, at Rafah and Karni. Gazans have been unable to leave for five months; 670 students have been unable to return to study abroad; those Palestinians who earned living outside Gaza have been prevented from doing so. The only things allowed in are 12 basic goods and half the number of UN aid trucks that were previously allowed through, while nothing comes out. The result is that now 84 percent of the population is living below the poverty line, with two thirds dependent on UN food for survival. Malnutrition, which previously was limited to the worse areas in the refugee camps, is now spreading across the whole of Gaza.
Unsurprisingly, the number of unemployed has risen to 80 percent, with over 3,000 factories having closed down due to their inability to import raw materials. Prices of basic goods have sky-rocketed owing to their scarcity; for example, the price of flour has risen 80 percent.
Medicines are becoming scarcer and the restriction on movement into and out of Gaza has caused a number of deaths as people have been prevented from seeking medical attention outside. If all this were not obscene enough, the siege has now been further intensified by the Israeli cabinet’s decision to reduce the fuel and electricity supply to the strip. Sixty percent of Gaza’s power comes from Israel, and this supply has been substantially reduced, with a devastating effect in homes, workplaces and hospitals.
The silence from the ‘international community’, so prepared to take part in the ‘peace process’ for Palestine, has been deafening. While claiming to be unable to sit and talk with Hamas, which is apparently too violent (ie, is taking a steadfast anti-imperialist stand against Israeli oppression), there appear to have been no such qualms about having Israel at the conference while it continues to violently oppress the Palestinian people.
There have been no demands on Israel to end the siege, or calls by the self-styled ‘champions of human rights’ and ‘humanitarian watchdogs’ of the US and Britain for a major outcome of the so-called peace conference be at the very least the end of the siege. What a sham!
Even while all this is going on, Hamas is striving for Palestinian unity. While Abbas is still vehemently condemning Hamas and joining in the imperialist slander against it, Hamas has called for a return to dialogue between Hamas and Fatah. Ahmed Yusef, political adviser to Hamas Prime Minster Ismail Haniyeh has called for “a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah”. He has blamed Abbas, the Fatah leader, for rebuffing Hamas’s offers to restore the unity government that briefly linked the two factions, at least on paper, prior to the eruption of internecine fighting in June. Abbas now has no mandate or authority to negotiate a peace agreement on behalf of the Palestinian people, he said, adding that the attempt to create a rift in Palestinian unity would eventually be doomed to fail. (The Star, op cit)
Haniyeh also predicted that bloodshed would continue, and warned the Israeli military it would encounter many unpleasant “surprises” if it launches a large-scale invasion of Gaza, an escalation expected by many Israelis. “The Palestinian people are ready to sacrifice their lives for their lands,” he said.
Unity between the Palestinians is a necessity. This unity, however, has to be based on the rights of the Palestinians, not on recognition by the ‘international community’, which is really nothing more than a handful of monopoly capitalists and their stooges.
Annapolis was never intended by its hosts to be a conference to advance the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. It was a political stunt by Anglo-American imperialism to attempt to isolate Iran and undermine the undoubted standing that Iran has gained in the Middle East by its anti-imperialist stance. It was also a futile attempt by the Bush administration to salvage some of the reputation it has lost through the defeats it is suffering in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Without Palestinian participation through its genuine representatives, the conference was doomed to be an empty exercise, while Israel’s actions have in any case effectively denied the possibility of a two-state solution. On top of this, neither Olmert nor Abbas have the standing within their respective communities to mobilise support for negotiations on the basis set out under the US’s ‘Road Map’.
By contrast, the progressive forces are showing determination and bravery. The savage oppression being meted out to the Palestinians will continue to generate resistance. It is greatly to be hoped that the Palestinian people will thwart these latest attempts to sow divisions within their movement for self-determination.
For any negotiations on the future of Israel/Palestine to succeed, they must be on the basis of the minimum programme of the Palestinian people: full Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
This programme, set in motion at Oslo and stopped in its tracks at Camp David (by the total intransigence of the Israeli and US negotiators), is the only basis on which negotiations could ever be successful. Israel has shown that it is unwilling or unable to take that route; therefore the Palestinians have no choice but to resume their campaign of armed resistance in pursuit of a single Palestinian state over all of Palestine.
For our part, we must reaffirm that Palestine is not just an academic, nor merely a humanitarian, matter, but is a vital issue for the British working class as it seeks to both support and gain strength from its allies in the anti-imperialist struggle for its own emancipation.
Victory to the Intifada!