Israel’s media spin-doctor Benjamin Netanyahu, no doubt inspired by the gung-ho rhetoric that bolsters President Bush’s ‘war on terror’ could confidently compare Yasser Arafat to Osama bin Laden. A Bush spokesperson was heard to impart to the world’s media: “ Israel has every right to defend itself and the president understands that.” And these statements appeared to be the go ahead for all and sundry to launch verbal attacks upon the people of Palestine, lumping them, no questions asked, in with the Taliban.
The usually moderate EU demanded Ariel Sharon use the iron fist treatment and the ever cautious Tony Blair, who weeks earlier castigated his foreign secretary Jack Straw for linking Islamic terrorism with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, duly expressed his sympathy for Israel.
The prevailing view from the West was that Israel’s retaliation be applauded. The domestic voice of caution was all but muted, with Sharon insisting Israelis learn lessons from the US in the wake of September 11th and refrain from criticisng his policies, and only the boldest of journalists were prepared to set the crisis in a historical context and to point out that if Israel’s attacks upon Yasser Arafat’s compound were a response to the Hamas suicide bombings, themselves a retaliation to Sharon’s state assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Haroud, then militant Palestinians would soon respond in kind.
This said, from within the Israeli government there has arisen the ‘voice of reason’. Sharon’s foreign minister Shimon Perez and his colleagues in the Labour Party boycotted a vote calling upon Arafat’s administration to be labelled ‘an entity supporting terrorism’ and have cautioned Sharon that the fall of Arafat would pave the way for the ascendancy of Palestinian extremists.
For Sharon’s part, we can only despair at his belligerent game plan. He is obsessed with the demonisation of Yasser Asrafat, keen to lay all of Israel’s problems at his feet. In a televised address to Israelis, he declared: “Arafat is responsible for everything that happens here.” And he remains keen to weaken and marginalize the Palestine Authority. However, experts agree that taking the Palestine Authority out of the equation makes it harder for Arafat to subdue the very militants he is charged with rooting out. Moreover, the PLO recognises Israel’s 1967 borders and its ‘right to exist’. Hamas does not, demanding the total destruction of the Jewish state. Neither can Hamas and the PLO be said to be on speaking terms. The former is an organisation of Islamic militants that came to prominence in 1987 as a rival to the PLO, even finding a sponsor in an Israeli state which hoped it would undermine the influence of the PLO, the latter a secular organisation and one that sprung directly from the frustration borne of a failed peace process.
Israel, the US and its allies appear reluctant to acknowledge the causes of the current intifada. The fact is that the Palestinian people are a second class People denied many of the rights of Israelis. Palestine seemingly exists as a number of impoverished ‘third world’ Bantustans inside of an advanced industrial nation whose inhabitants have a high standard of living. The hardship of the Palestinian people is perhaps unparalleled in the Middle East. Palestine’s GNP has fallen by 35% in the past year, unemployment is above 40% and the average income per head of the populations of Gaza and the West Bank is almost one-twelfth of that enjoyed by Israeli people. Palestinians have endured restriction on their movement – guaranteed under previous peace agreements – and arbitrary arrests. The violence witnessed by Palestinian youths on an almost daily basis has induced in many symptoms similar to those suffering Post traumatic stress disorder.
Perhaps Palestinians can be forgiven for having nurtured a hatred of Israel, for this is a hatred that has arisen out of their daily experiences and it stands as an indictment on the Israeli state that so many see no alternative but to resort to horrendous acts of suicide.
Israel of course does not act alone. Its policies are carried out with the full support of the world’s only superpower. It exists as a subsidiary to the US government, surviving as a military outpost of the US, armed to the teeth with weaponry its much larger neighbours can only dream of. Its mission to counter the emergence of any Middle Eastern radicalism that would threaten US control of the region’s oil, which is itself an important source of the control of the world economy.
The future certainly looks bleak for Palestinians. Bush’s ‘war on terrorism’, his determination to suspect any Islamic state with September 11th - note his determination to link Somalia, Sudan and Iraq with those attacks on the US – has given new life to the cause of Israeli hawks, led by a president still waiting to find out if he is to be charged with war crimes for orchestrating the 1982 of the massacre of the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Nonchalantly lobbing missiles at Arafat’s compounds, police stations and security posts, blind to caution, Sharon risks bringing about the demise of Arafat and the Palestine Authority and paving the way for the ascendancy of a more desperate foe in the shape of militant Islam, with whom no peace deal will be struck. With most Arabs finding a common empathy with the Palestinian people, should Sharon take one step to far, invading the West bank and Gaza and, imposing direct rule in response to a militant Islamic blowback, the resultant conflagration would blaze across the Middle East and burn for years.
As socialists, we are prepared for any scenario for we are aware of the lengths the defenders of capitalism will go to secure their interests. If the future of US oil interests in the region meant that Islamic fundamentalism had to be prodded in order to provoke a reaction to justify a massive US response, then Palestinian’s Islamic militants will be prodded. History is littered with the pretexts for war in the name of profit.