Bush's Middle East plans in meltdown

Ian Donovan looks at the failure of the US president's so-called 'road map to peace'

As predicted by many observers, including in this paper, Bush’s ‘road map’ - the blueprint for a captive pro-US, pro-Israeli Palestinian bantustan in parts of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip - is in deep trouble.

First we have the breakdown, deliberately provoked by the Israeli government, of the fragile ceasefire declared by the Palestinian militant organisations - principally the islamist-nationalist Hamas - and the plunging of the territories back into despair, rage and the quest for vengeance against Zionist crimes. And to add to Bush’s Middle Eastern problems there has been the escalation of violence in Iraq - some of it directed at the imperialist occupiers; some of it involving provocative and vicious mass murder by shadowy bombers. Iraq’s most senior shia cleric, Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, along with nearly 100 shia worshippers at the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, fell victim to a powerful car bomb.

Such has been the impact of these cumulative events that Bush, who previously appeared odds-on to be re-elected in the presidential elections in November next year, now looks distinctly vulnerable.

A range of dire possibilities have opened up before the Bush administration. It is not only political-military reverses that threaten them in this situation, but also potentially economic repercussions as well, with the projected cost of occupying, ‘pacifying’ and rebuilding some semblance of infrastructure in Iraq being of the order of many tens of billions of dollars.

No wonder the Bush administration has now let it be known that it wants the United Nations to have a ‘role’ in administering (and more importantly paying for, both in terms of funding and supplying cannon-fodder) the occupation of Iraq - previously this suggestion was dismissed as akin to treason.

The whole caboodle - the seeming failure of the ‘road map’, the bloody mess the coalition has made of Iraq - threatens Bush with dire consequences if he cannot find some way to pull his chestnuts out of the fire.

The Hamas ceasefire (followed by those of the smaller Islamic Jihad and the secular nationalist armed group known as the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) in the occupied territories, which lasted a few short weeks, was deliberately undermined by the Sharon government continuing to engage in ‘targeted killings’ (political assassination) of militants while the ceasefires were in place. Irrespective of the deeply reactionary components inherent in Hamas’s islamist politics, no armed organisation of an oppressed people, of whatever political stripe, could possibly accept a ‘ceasefire’ when the other side feels completely at liberty to continue its selective assassinations.

During the period when the militias were on ceasefire, Israeli forces killed two leading Hamas activists - Hamis Abu Salam and Faiz al-Sadar - on August 8 in Nablus. In response, Hamas and the Al Aqsa brigade engaged in two attacks that killed one Israeli soldier and one civilian is a shopping centre. Then on August 14 in Hebron, Israel killed Mohammed Sidr, a leading Islamic Jihad militant. The response this time, on August 20, was a deadly suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus, killing 20 Israeli civilians and injuring many more. The final act in the destruction of the Hamas/Jihad/Al Aqsa ceasefire came on August 21, when the Israelis killed a very senior Hamas leader, Ismail Abu Shanab, in a rocket attack on a car in which two others were also killed.

Attacks on Israeli civilians, such as the Jerusalem bus bombing, are of course indefensible and should be condemned outright. Just as much as the killings of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli occupation forces, whose toll has been several times that of Israeli civilian casualties during the second intifada. It is also obvious that the Israeli government, with the blessing of Bush, knew full well that the response to its continuation of political assassinations during the ceasefire would lead to such consequences. By demanding repression by the Palestinian Authority against Palestinian ‘militant’ organisations even during a ceasefire, repression that even US-client Palestinian prime minister Abu Mazen found politically impossible to carry out, this so-called ‘peace plan’ effectively authorised the wrecking of the Hamas/Jihad ceasefires by the Israelis.

This fact alone exposes the reactionary nature of the ‘road map’ in providing political cover for Sharon’s real programme of ensuring that the Palestinian Authority is a dead duck and, eventually perhaps, expelling the Palestinians en masse from the territories, particularly from the West Bank. The Sharon regime refers to the West Bank in its official propaganda as ‘Judea and Samaria’ - ie, sacred Jewish territory - even as it pretends to negotiate peace. The extreme chauvinist language of the Israelis brings to mind the designation of Kosova as the sacred Serbian province of ‘Kosovo and Metohija’ by Milosevic’s genocidal thugs, as they prepared the mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from that territory in the late 1990s.

In this context, the relevance of the assassination of Abu Shanab, in supposed ‘retaliation’ for the Jerusalem bus-bombing, becomes clear. From the point of view of an Israeli regime that was trying to salvage some kind of peace accord, this act was positively senseless.

It does, however, make perfect sense if the Israeli aim was to destroy once and for all any prospect of negotiations with Palestinian militants. For Abu Shanab was the architect of the Hamas ceasefire. Somewhat unusually for a leading member of Hamas, an organisation which generally indulges in fiery Arab nationalist rhetoric about ‘freeing’ all Palestine ‘from the river to the sea’, Abu Shanab was on public record as advocating a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine question.

While the official line of Hamas is to continue fighting until Israel is destroyed and replaced with a Palestinian islamic state, Abu Shanab talked openly of accepting a two-state solution - at least for the time being.

“Let’s be frank,” he told the Jerusalem Post, “we cannot destroy Israel. The practical solution is for us to have a state alongside Israel. When we build a Palestinian state, we will not need these militias. All the needs for attack will stop. Everything will change into a civil life.”

Interviewed by Ted Koppel of the American ABC News channel in June, he insisted that Palestinians were willing to stop all kinds of violence in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal. Surprisingly, perhaps, he looked towards the US to facilitate that process.

The Israeli regime responded to such reportage with the cynical comment that “As a group, as a leadership of a terrorist organisation, beyond individual differences they are all responsible and participating in the planning” - which of course is generally true for armed organisations of whatever stripe (The Guardian August 22). This ‘the only good one is a dead one’ ethos only makes sense if the Sharon regime is itself utterly opposed to any two-state solution.

In reality, its programme is one of creating the political conditions for getting rid of the Arab inhabitants of the occupied territories altogether. In this context, such measures as the building of the ‘security wall’ - effectively annexing outright to Israel considerable chunks of West Bank land in the name of keeping out ‘terrorists’ - looks like only the start. Settlements beyond the wall will continue - no doubt the wall will be moved as appropriate to annex more and more Palestinian territory. Thus, towards the ‘road map’, there is very little diplomatic ambiguity left in the stance of the Israelis. Sharon has effectively buried it, and there is little that Bush can do about that other than echoing Israeli denunciation of Hamas for ‘terrorism’.

Communists welcome the seeming collapse of the ‘road map’ as at least an exercise in some honesty. It was always obvious that, for all their democratic pretensions and their talk about ‘human rights’, the imperialists are not remotely interested in equal rights or justice for the Palestinians, least of all a viable Palestinian state with real political independence and freedom of action.

In reality, the programme of two states is a transitional, democratic demand that belongs to a programme of the working class: a concrete step towards the dissolution of the murderous national hatreds and antagonisms to which the Zionist project has given birth in the Middle East. The fact that even elements of Hamas stand higher than the Zionists on the terrain of democracy speaks volumes for the reactionary, oppressive and predatory nature of Zionism as a political programme.

Hamas is a mutant-nationalist organisation whose ‘charter’ contains a fair-sprinkling of mumbo-jumbo hosannas to allah, as well as a peculiar combination of fairly accurate denunciations of the Nazi-like treatment of Arabs by Israel. But it also contains citations from the anti-semitic tsarist tract The protocols of the elders of Zion, together with claims that Arabs have fallen victim to the imaginary conspiracies laid out in that reactionary and libellous forgery.

The latter belief is a sign above all of the backwardness that Zionist oppression has bequeathed to many on the receiving end of its terror and abuse - this piece of irrational demonology was a commonly held belief among the European bourgeoisie before World War II, not simply among the followers of Hitler. Now it is utterly discredited - except among many victims of Israeli terror. Though even the ‘from the river to the sea’ Hamas ‘charter’ calls for toleration of all religions (including Judaism) under a ‘liberated’ islamic Palestine, the growth of such reactionary beliefs among the victims of Israel only gives emphasis to Trotsky’s prediction that the Zionist project would create a death-trap for Jews.

The only road to liberation for the Arabs, and to real peace and security for the Jewish population of Israel also, lies through the crystallisation of a class axis of struggle in the Middle East. This concretely will involve Israeli and Arab workers struggling to uphold each other’s rights to equality and nationhood - with of course the bulk of the onus being on the Israeli workers, given that ‘their’ state is a monstrous oppressor of the Palestinians.

This must involve a rebirth of a genuine communist movement among both peoples, and complete class independence from all the various treacherous schemes periodically hatched by the imperialists, the Israelis - and indeed the various local reactionary Arab regimes as well.