Once again the Palestinian masses have reaped the fruits of their leaders’ capitulations to Israeli, U.S. and world imperialism, in the form of Israel’s bloody assaults on the Gaza Strip: bulldozer demolition of large numbers of homes in the Rafah refugee camp beginning October 10, deadly air-raid bombings of the Nusseirat refugee camp October 20. This is where the “road map” peace plan has led them.
No wonder more and more Palestinians are seeing through not only the hopelessness of pursuing “peace” with an oppressor determined to crush them, but also the foolishness of treating U.S. imperialism as a potentially neutral arbiter or anything other than the deadly enemy of the world’s oppressed peoples it is. This very correct understanding is what was behind the attack on the convoy of U.S. officials in Gaza October 15, just hours after the U.S. vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution which (mildly) criticized Israel’s assault on Rafah.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the U.S.’s “road map” plan to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict is in a “pause.” The rest of the world knows that it’s come to a dead end. And even though the initiative was an attack on Palestinians from the beginning, forcing their leadership to accept still further concessions to Israeli domination, it is Ariel Sharon and the Israeli government who have torpedoed the plan, with continual provocative attacks: building a “security fence” – the Israeli version of the Berlin Wall – to wall off the Gaza Strip; carrying out targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders, in particular of Hamas; openly considering the exile and even the killing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat; and qualitatively escalating the scope of the conflict by bombing a target deep inside Syria’s territory October 5.
The “road map” was destined to fail from the start. It placed the burden on the Palestinian leadership to do the impossible and crush the militant resistance of its own people to Israeli occupation. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have done their best to sell out the struggle over the course of decades, but even they know they cannot commit political suicide by initiating what could only become a Palestinian civil war.
That fundamental point alone guaranteed the failure of the plan. But beyond that, it was beset by further hopeless contradictions. While the Palestinians were forced to accept the plan fully and unconditionally, Israel only did so with a long list of formal reservations. While the “Quartet” of the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and the U.N. all endorsed the “road map” document, the agreement papered over differences on essential questions. Most importantly, the U.S. policy was and is to refuse to deal with Arafat and demand that he relinquish control to an even more accommodating – and weaker – leadership figure, while the E.U., Russia, and U.N. all maintained a policy of engagement with Arafat.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister from this spring until his resignation September 6, was the embodiment of all the contradictions of the road map plan. He was appointed by Arafat under pressure of a UN diplomat’s ultimatum, yet he was cast, especially by the U.S., in the role of alternative leadership intended to sideline Arafat. He represented the open renunciation of the Intifada and accommodation with Israel, yet Israel undermined him at every turn with its provocative actions and attacks that made it impossible for Abbas to maintain even a shred of credibility among Palestinians. Sharon put the exclamation point on that policy with an assassination attempt on wheelchair-bound Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin within hours of Abbas’s resignation.
Only the most naive believers in the road map peace plan could have seen Abbas’ political fate as a tragedy, but everyone can recognize his successor Ahmed Qurei as a farce. His calls for a cease-fire in late October, after all the bloody crimes Sharon has committed in just the past month alone, are both an insult to Palestinians and hopelessly out of touch with reality. Qurei’s disputes with Arafat over the Palestinian cabinet and control of security forces were a pale shadow of the same disputes Abbas had with Arafat. It is no surprise that Qurei has mostly gotten attention only when he threatened to resign.
There may have been ideologues within the Bush Administration who actually believed that the Palestinians could be forced to accept a leadership of open accommodation to Israel, in the same way that they saw the invasion of Iraq as the beginning of a dream of new governments openly accommodating to U.S. imperialism across the Middle East. But now that the road map has come to a dead end, the U.S. is falling back on a policy of support for all of Israel’s actions.
If the U.S. hedged its position ever so slightly when the issue was Israel’s threats against Arafat – vetoing a draft UN resolution criticizing Israel, but making clear its opposition to expelling Arafat – it has been even less equivocal in support of Sharon in the wake of Israel’s bombing of Syria. This time there has been no criticism from any quarter of the U.S. government, influential neo-conservative ideologue Richard Perle applauded the attack and said, “It will help the peace process,” and Bush himself re-inforced that message by calling the attack “essential.”
There is a parallel between the course U.S. policy is taking toward Iraq and toward Palestine and Syria, as its initial hopes and plans begin to unravel. The idea was to carry out the needs of imperialism by concealing an iron military fist in a “democratic” glove. As its plans go awry, the only answer U.S. imperialism has is more fist and less glove. It has to try harder to preserve the veneer of democracy in Iraq, for now. But the full support for Sharon’s open militarism against Palestinians and Syria, shows the direction of future U.S. imperialist policy toward the entire Middle East.