Twins of terrorism

As we go to press, despite encountering heroic resistance from the Palestinian people and increasing international pressure, Israeli tanks remain on the outskirts of Qalqilya and Tulkarm and the Israeli Defence Force remains in control of the West Bank. The majority of West Bank cities have been occupied and the IDF is now fanning out over the entire territory - entering villages and refugee camps, inflicting on the population its own patented brand of terror. There have been withdrawals - but so far they are tokenistic. Most occupied cities are - unsurprisingly, given the regime imposed by the IDF - off limits to the world press. However, the picture painted by those reports that filter out is a vivid one of the savage repression meted out to the Palestinian people. Horror stories fill the press from cities where garbage piles up alongside the dead and the wounded in the streets. Essential supplies are cut off. Hospitals, which are left to manage with dwindling supplies of food, water and medicine, are regularly raided by the IDF and ambulances are denied permission to take bodies to the morgue or the wounded to hospital. Meanwhile within Israel the right is mustering its strength. Ariel Sharon has moved to loosen at least one fetter restricting his room for manoeuvre. Namely the ruling coalition's dependency on the dovish Labour Party for its survival. Sharon has managed to entice two smaller parties into the coalition - thus diluting Labour's influence and causing a split in its ranks between its cabinet ministers, who want to remain in the coalition, and the majority of its MKs (members of the Knesset), who want to withdraw. The Knesset approved the appointment of the three new cabinet ministers - Effi Eitam and Yitzhak Levi of the National Religious Party and David Levy of Gesher - on April 8. As its name suggests, the National Religious Party is an ultra-orthodox party. It dreams of the establishment of a theocratic 'Greater Israel'. As for the Palestinians, those who do not submit to Israeli rule would be forced to go to Jordan, which would de facto become the Palestinian state. Gesher meanwhile is a more moderate ethnic Moroccan party that fought the last Knesset elections on the same ticket as Labour. International opinion, of two very different kinds, is turning against Israel. The official attitudes - of the policy-makers of the various imperialist power blocs - has hardened. This is especially true of the United States. Pointedly, George W Bush has insisted that Israeli forces begin to withdraw from the West Bank "without delay". Of course, this has not been born out of a sudden concern for the Palestinian people, but out of concern for the amount of damage that Israel's actions are doing to US interests in the region. The US is still smarting from the snub delivered to it by the recent Arab League meeting. The Arab states declared themselves to be resolutely opposed to any attack on Iraq, which in return recognised Kuwait's sovereignty. Leaders of the Arab states - autocratic monarchs, one party dictators or heads of corrupt 'democracies' to a man - are looking nervously over their shoulders at the restive masses. A US attack on Iraq would set the region alight, and no doubt several of the more unstable regimes would be in serious danger of being swept away - not by progressive leftist forces, but, with the current balance of forces, more likely the reactionary fundamentalist right. Iraq has outmanoeuvred the US - for the moment at least. It has exploited the current situation to enhance its standing in the region - especially amongst those taking to the streets in anger at Israel's actions. It has presented itself as the most proactive supporter of the Palestinians by symbolically announcing a stoppage of oil exports until the Israelis withdraw and insisting that other Arab states do the same. Meanwhile the US is identified with Israel and its actions in the popular consciousness of the Arab masses. Thus the US is pursuing its own strategic goals and defending its own interests in the region by 'getting tough' with Israel. Ditto the European Union. In fact the EU has gone further than the US, threatening economic reprisals, though there are clearly divisions about exactly how far the EU should go. As Josep Pique, the Spanish foreign minister, put it, " some countries are in favour of introducing sanctions very, very soon", while others are "more reluctant" (The Independent April 8). Some within Israel are alarmed by this turn of events. Yossi Sarid, leader of the centre-left Meretz, no doubt spoke for a few when he complained to Sharon: "Not only have you isolated him [Arafat - JM], but he has also isolated us." They too have their own agenda. Taking succour from Tony Blair's remarks following his meeting with Bush, Meretz, like most of the official Israeli left, hopes that imperialism will provide an easy solution in the form of an international peacekeeping force. Discomfort caused by international pressure is counterbalanced for Ariel Sharon by continuing high approval ratings for 'Operation Defensive Wall' (between 75% and 85%). Equally germane, from Sharon's point of view at least, is that the popularity of the offensive seems to have shored up his right flank. A poll conducted for the BBC's Today programme put him level with his rightist rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, on 28.1%. There is a tendency on the left to simplistically view Israel as a lapdog of US imperialism, ever willing to do its master's bidding. For George W Bush, as he smarts from Israel's failure to carry out his demand for immediate withdrawal from the West Bank, the most pressing problem is precisely his inability to exercise direct control over Israel's actions. Politics is infinitely more complex than a simple cause-effect equation. Israel did not attack the Palestinian Authority's bases, infrastructure and towns on the orders of Washington. Israel has its own agenda. It is no simple puppet. Every Hamas suicide bomb against Israeli civilians brings new strength to the far right and popular demands for revenge. Ariel Sharon must balance between that public sentiment, which he feeds, and Israel's present reliance on the US strategically. As a politician with a grasp on reality, Ariel Sharon has indeed been careful to acknowledge the views of the United States and been seen not to flout or humiliate the world's only superpower - and supplier of massive economic and military aid. Perhaps there will be a full-scale withdrawal as Colin Powell meets Sharon. But everything tells us that once he leaves and once there is another Hamas suicide bomb IDF units will again be unleashed - sooner or later to inflict upon the Palestinian masses Israel's final solution: the forcible expulsion of the entire population. Sharon's tit-for-tat Israeli terror in return for Hamas terror is in fact a system which has already successfully destroyed the Oslo accord - hated by Sharon and Hamas alike and which is designed , stage-by-stage, to lead to the complete elimination of the Palestinian enemy within. Meanwhile, mobilisations from below against Israeli aggression and in solidarity with the Palestinian people have seen thousands take to the streets across the globe, from the United States to Australia. Aside from the protests in Arab countries themselves (Morocco saw perhaps the largest, with at least a million coming out in Rabat to vent their anger), some of the biggest of these demonstrations have taken place across Europe. In Paris more than 20,000 people marched to the Place de la Bastille in a protest organised by anti-racist, communist and pro-Palestinian support groups. 10,000 marched on the institutions of the European Union in Brussels. And 50,000 gathered in Rome's Piazza del Popolo. May 18 will see an opportunity for demonstrators in Britain to express their solidarity with the Palestinian people. Clearly a good turnout will send a clear message of opposition to the barbarism of the Israeli government. However, the key question for the left is, as ever, one of programme. Depressingly the Socialist Alliance has not yet seen fit to issue a press release on this crucial question. Pleasingly debate has begun to take place on the SA's email discussion list, but the positions of some comrades still bear witness to the economistic weakness of the left on the national question, and questions of high politics more generally. The Socialist Alliance should be taking the lead in putting forward a programme of consistent democracy that will unite the peoples of the Middle East. While it should acknowledge the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle for their national and democratic rights, it should also recognise the rights of the Israeli jewish nation, including the right to their own state. Support the stand by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and other secular Palestinian forces for a democratic two-state settlement. Oppose the anti-semitism of Hamas and their call for the destruction of Israel. James Mallory