On Wednesday 9 January, as George Bush began his first presidential visit to Israel, the 10,000-strong security bubble that surrounded him did not silence the news of hostile protests greeting him in both Gaza and the West Bank.
The day before, thousands filled the streets of Gaza, demonstrating with placards reading ‘US weapons are killing us’ and ‘We are under siege due to US decisions’. They symbolically paraded with coffins for the victims of the crippling siege, which, since June 2007, has prevented, among many other things, medicines reaching civilians.
On Thursday 10 January, when Bush paid a brief visit to Ramallah in Palestine’s West Bank, hundreds of angry protesters chanted “Bush, war criminal”. The US president’s security service operation, code-named ‘Clear Sky’, sealed off the area around the Mu’qata (the presidential compound – which only four years ago, when Arafat was president, was itself under siege), clearing the surrounding streets of people, and using snipers to enforce a ban on rooftop viewing and tear gas and batons to charge into those brave Palestinians who assembled to protest outside the security cordon.
Whereas Bush’s speeches were full of empty phrases about “new opportunities for peace in the Holy Land”, the Palestinian people clearly knew from the reality of their lives that US imperialism, administered by George Bush and his colleagues, was responsible for the political, economic and military violence meted out by the zionist forces against them.
At the end of November 2007, the ‘international gathering’ convened by US imperialism at Annapolis culminated in a bland joint statement agreed by Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas to “make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008”. Annapolis was never intended by the US to advance Palestinian self-determination, and, without the democratically-elected Palestinian leaders from Hamas being represented, it stood absolutely no chance of doing so.
Less than two weeks after the statement was issued, the ‘negotiating’ sessions between the Israeli and Palestinian teams (led by Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei respectively) ended in discord, with Palestinians protesting at Israeli plans to build 740 new homes in east Jerusalem. If US imperialism wanted to take steps towards a genuine peace in the region it could at least have put economic pressure on Israel to end the expansion of Israeli settlements in accordance with international law, but, of course, no such pressure has been brought to bear.
During these two weeks, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas prime minister in Gaza, proposed a ceasefire – but Olmert vowed to press ahead with what he called a “true war”. It is the Palestinians who have continually pushed for peace, only to be met with zionist intransigence. In 2006, for instance, Hamas had been observing a truce in its attacks on Israel for several months before their victory in free, fair and open elections, as the ‘road map’ required, yet they are still not recognised as the elected representatives of Palestine by the ‘international community’.
The majority of Palestinians have no illusions in the current round of talks. They see no signs that Israel is keeping its promises to freeze settlement building and dismantle outposts in the West Bank, which are illegal even under Israeli law.
The campaign to end the siege of Gaza, an international crime of collective punishment on an entire population of 1.5 million, is a very high priority for all of our participation. The activities, leafletings, pickets by Palestine Solidarity Campaign should be fully supported by all our readers. (See www.palestinecampaign.org)
The US/Israeli aim is to break the Palestinian fightback and in particular the popular support for Hamas. The method being used to achieve this aim is crude: tightening the blockade on land, sea and air until the situation becomes intolerable.
Since 19 September, Gaza has been designated as ‘enemy territory’ by the Israeli government and has suffered even greater deprivation – 80 percent of its people are currently reliant on food aid, receiving only 61 percent of the recommended daily intake of calories and nutrients, while a staggering 90 percent now live below the poverty line. (UN report, December 2007)
Since 6 January 2008, electric power has been only available for 8 hours each day, while 210,000 people have access to drinking water for only 1-2 hours a day. Diesel fuel supplies have been cut by 65 percent, with the number of supply trucks reaching Gaza down from 900 a day to 15! These are economic attacks that not only America, but the EU and Britain, could have stopped if they wanted to – instead, the EU has exacerbated matters by withholding money that would be administered by Hamas.
The ‘security wall’ and road blocks that chop the West Bank into tiny pieces, cutting people off from their jobs and services and contributing to a major humanitarian crisis in that area, are well known. The destruction of home, farmlands, schools and hospitals in the Jordan Valley in order to make way for Israeli settlements is a further example of the Israeli campaign to make life impossible for the Palestinian people.
The escalating military incursions into the occupied territories by Israeli forces in recent weeks have further shown the hollowness of the rhetoric about ‘peace negotiations’. According to a report issued on Tuesday 15 January by the Palestine National Initiative, a secular political group, Israeli forces have killed at least 117 Palestinians in Gaza in the seven weeks since the Annapolis conference took place.
Ehud Olmert has ordered a series of “sharp and short” incursions into Gaza and the West Bank, which are claimed to be for “targeted killings”, ie, the extra-judicial murder of key Palestinian militants. However, Yuval Diskin, Shin Bet’s security chief, admitted on 13 January that “Israeli security forces had killed 810 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in 2006 and 2007” and that “some 200 of those killed were not clearly linked to military organisations”. Ha’aretz calculated that “360 were civilians” . (‘Israel blasts Gaza’, Aljazeera.net, 14 January 2008)
The latest murders of Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces in Gaza bring to 6,067 the number of Palestinian deaths estimated by Aljazeera since the start of the second Intifada in September 2000.
As a result of the continual political, economic and military attacks against Palestinians during the time of the supposed peace talks, it is becoming increasingly impossible to continue the farce of negotiations.
Ahmed Qureia, Fatah negotiator, admitted that if violence continued it would render negotiations “meaningless”.
“Israel’s continuous attacks on Gaza and [its] ongoing settlement construction in east Jerusalem highlight the enormous gap between official Israeli declarations and the deteriorating reality on the ground,” said Saeb Erekat, a senior Fatah negotiator.
Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader, said: “We believe that this zionist escalation is the result of Bush’s visit and a natural result of the cover supplied by Bush to the Israeli occupation authorities … We will retaliate in the way they understand.”
No way forward for imperialism and Zionism
The US strategy at the moment is to maintain the Israeli state as a military and nuclear base for its warmongering needs in the Middle East, in particular with a view to dealing with Iran.
At the same time, with its hands full in Afghanistan and Iraq, Anglo-American imperialism does not need the upheaval in Palestine. The US answer was to hold empty talks to stall matters, enabling Bush to make his Middle East visit and making it easier for reactionary Arab governments to keep their own constituencies quiet.
No doubt Bush also took the opportunity of his time with the zionists to talk about logistics and Israeli capabilities in regard to attacking Iran.
But the situation in Palestine cannot stay quiet. Uri Avnery wrote in December: “At long last, there now exists a world-wide consensus that peace in our region must be based on the co-existence of the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. Our government has slipped into it and is exploiting this agreement with another aim altogether: the rule of Israel in the whole country and the turning of the Palestinian population centers into a series of Bantustans. This is, in fact a One-State-Solution (Greater Israel) in the guise of the Two-State-Solution.” (‘Help! A cease fire!’, gush-shalom.org, 22 December 2007)
Olmert himself told Ha’artez the day after the Annapolis conference closed: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights then as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.” (Quoted in ‘Olmert warns of “end of Israel”’, BBC News Online, 29 November 2007)
What Olmert did not say is that Israel itself has already made sure that the two-state solution is dead and buried!
The whole basis of zionism is lost without expansionism towards a ‘Greater Israel’, but this expansionism only brings crisis, since zionism will never be able to crush the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. Zionist attempts at instigating divisions have had some limited success, but zionist brutality is also emphasising the need for Palestinian united action.
Ultimately, there is no way forward for zionism, no matter what it does. In the meantime, though, the suffering that imperialism and its Israeli gendarme are most savagely meting out is continuing.
It is the duty of all anti-imperialists to support the Palestinian resistance, which, like the resistance movements in Iraq and Afghanistan, is dealing severe blows to the whole imperialist edifice. Let no progressive person remain silent while Israel, with the full support of the US and Britain, continues its brazen and barbaric repression of the Palestinian people.