Middle East: An absurd spiral of violence

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Recent developments in the conflict between Israel and the various Palestinian factions, who have also been at each others’ throats, have reached the height of absurdity. What’s striking is the way that the different bourgeoisies involved have been pushed by the force of circumstances to take decisions which are altogether contradictory and irrational, even from the standpoint of their short-term strategic interests.

When Ehud Olmert offered his hand to the president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, along with a few concessions to the Palestinians such as the withdrawal of a number of roadblocks and the promise to unfreeze 100 million dollars in the name of ‘humanitarian aid’, the media immediately began talking about the revival of the ‘peace process’. Mahmoud Abbas has certainly tried to cash in on these offers in his competition with Hamas, since the aim of these pseudo-concessions was to show that his policy of cooperation with Israel could bring advantages.

But it was Ehud Olmert himself who largely sabotaged any common approach with the president of the Palestinian Authority when he was compelled by the pressure from the ultra-conservative factions in his government to renew the policy of implanting Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and to step up the destruction of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.

The accords between Israel and Fatah resulted in Israel authorising Egypt to deliver arms to Fatah in order to give it an advantage in its struggle against Hamas. However, the umpteenth Sharm-el-Sheikh summit between Israel and Egypt was totally overshadowed by the new military operation by the Israeli army in Ramallah on the West Bank and by a renewal of air-raids in the Gaza Strip in response to sporadic rocket fire. So the message about wanting to revive peace talks was rather drowned out and Israel’s intentions look very contradictory.

Another paradox is that at the moment that Olmert and Abbas met, and just before the Israel-Egypt summit, Israel announced that it possesses nuclear weapons and made open threats about using them. Although this warning was directed essentially against Iran, which is trying to attain the same status, it goes out indirectly to all Israel’s neighbours. How were the latter to start negotiations with such a belligerent and dangerous power?

Furthermore, this declaration can only push Iran to push on further in the same direction and legitimate its ambitions to becoming a gendarme and a protector of the region, resorting to the same logic of ‘deterrence’ as all the great powers.

But it’s not just the Zionist state which is acting in this way – it looks as if each protagonist has lost its compass.

Abbas for example has taken the risk of unleashing a test of strength with the militias of Hamas and has poured oil on the fire by announcing his aim of holding elections in Gaza, which could only be seen by Hamas, which was elected only last January, as a real provocation. But this test of strength, which has also taken the form of bloody street-fighting, was the only way that the Palestinian Authority could try to break out of the Israeli blockade and the freezing of international aid in force since Hamas came to power. Not only has the blockade been a disaster for the local population, which has been unable to go to work outside the areas boxed in by the Israeli army and police; it has also provoked the strike by 170,000 Palestinian civil servants in Gaza and the West Bank who have not been paid any wages for months (especially in vital sectors like health and education). The anger of the civil servants, which extends into the ranks of the police and the army, has been exploited both by Hamas and by Fatah as a means to recruit people for their respective militias, each one blaming the situation on the other, while children between 10 and 15 are being enrolled en masse as cannon fodder in this murderous conflict.

Hamas meanwhile has been trying to take advantage of the confusion by negotiating directly with Israel for an exchange of prisoners, proposing to swap the Israeli corporal captured last June for some of its own activists.

The bloody chaos that has come out of a year’s explosive co-habitation between the elected Hamas government and the president of the Palestinian Authority remains the only prospect. Given this suicidal policy, there should be no illusions about the truce agreed at the end of the year between the Fatah and Hamas militias. It will certainly be punctuated by murderous confrontations: car bombs, street battles, kidnapping, all of it sowing terror and death among the already impoverished population of the Gaza strip. And to cap it all, the Israeli raids on the West Bank or the brutal searches of the Israeli army and police mean that children and school students are regularly being killed in the crossfire, while the Israeli proletariat, already bled white by the war effort, is subjected to revenge operations by Hamas on the one hand and Hezbollah on the other.

At the same time, the situation in South Lebanon, where UN forces have been deployed, is becoming increasingly uncertain. Instability has increased since the assassination of the Christian leader Pierre Gemayel. There has been a major demonstration of force by Hezbollah and other Shiite militias, as well as by the Christian faction led by General Aoun who has provisionally rallied to Syria, besieging the presidential palace in Beirut for several days, while at the same time armed Sunni groups were threatening the Lebanese parliament and its Shiite president Nabil Berri. Tension between the rival factions is reaching a peak. The recent general strike in Lebanon – which seems to have been originally a response to austerity measures by the government – was hi-jacked by the warring factions who look to be hell-bent on renewing the process of ‘Lebanonisation’ which ravaged the country in the 1980s. As for the UN mission disarming Hezbollah - no one takes that seriously.

With Afghanistan and Iraq in an even more disastrous situation, the whole region is descending into a terrifying and irrational spiral of violence. Like the war in Somalia, it provides us with a warning of the future: allow capitalism to continue, and it will destroy the very bases of social existence. Wm, January 07 (Adapted from anarticle in International Review 128)