From A World to Win News Service

The Politics of Israel's Murder of Rantissi

Revolutionary Worker #1239, May 9, 2004, posted at

We received the following from A World to Win News Service:

19 April 2004. A World to Win News Service. "A real opportunity for progress towards peace in the Middle East"--this is what George Bush called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's scheme to pull Zionist settlements out of the Gaza Strip while consolidating those on the West Bank. What kind of "peace" these men planned together at their Washington meeting was made plain only two days later when Israeli missiles slammed into the car carrying Dr. Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, leader of the Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, killing him and two bodyguards near his home in Gaza. This "targeted killing" came three weeks after Israel's murder of another co-founder of Hamas, the blind paraplegic Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. It signalled that Israel is deadly serious about its often-stated threat to eliminate the entire top leadership of Hamas, and raised the spectre that Israeli hit squads may even go after Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat himself.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians poured out onto the streets of the Gaza Strip for Rantissi's funeral on Sunday, promising a "volcano of revenge." Tens of thousands demonstrated in Palestine's largest cities. Protest erupted throughout the Arab world, from the streets of Rabat in Morocco, to Beirut, Kuwait, Cairo and Amman, Jordan, where tens of thousands chanted "Death to America!" In the West Bank city of Nablus, a large effigy of George Bush was burned, reflecting the near universal sentiment that Bush had the blood of both Rantissi and Yassin on his hands.

Though the Israeli government calls these assassinations "targeted killings," according to the Palestine Committee on Human Rights 40% of those killed are in fact people who just happen to be nearby, many of them children. The PCHR has calculated that the Israeli military has assassinated some 340 Palestinians in this way between September 2000 and early March 2004.

Jibril Rajoub, the National Security Advisor for the Palestinian Authority, which usually does its utmost to hold open every possible avenue for cooperation with the U.S., told the media that "it is not possible for Israel to kill Sheikh Yassin and Abdel Azziz al-Rantissi without having received a green light from the American administration." Indeed, Bush had bluntly clarified U.S. policy when the U.S. vetoed a UN Security Council motion to condemn Yassin's murder. Now, after Rantissi's assassination, Bush once again asserted Israel's right to "defend itself against terrorism"! When asked whether he condemned the assassinations, U.S. Democratic Party presidential candidate John Kerry, who has already supported Israel's apartheid wall as an "act of legitimate self-defense," told a television interviewer, "I believe Israel has every right in the world to respond to any act of terrorism against it," in an almost exact echo of Bush's statements.

For U.S. imperialist politicians of any stripe, no matter what Israel does, it is always "legitimate self- defense." This is based on the understanding shared by all U.S. imperialist leaders that Israel is a pillar of the U.S. power structure in the Middle East. It receives almost 40% of total U.S. military and economic aid--billions of dollars every year. It is the faithful guard dog that over decades has beaten down the threat of Arab nationalism, particularly in Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Any threat to Israel is a threat to U.S. imperialist interests, which means that threat must be labeled "terrorism."

The Western media almost universally portray Rantissi as a "terrorist mastermind," utterly ruthless and uncompromising. In fact, Rantissi seems to have felt that the Israeli armed forces could not ultimately be defeated on the battlefield, and recently he stated his offer of "a 10-year truce in return for withdrawal and the establishment of a [Palestinian] state." This was Sheik Yassin's position as well. Despite this, the Israeli rulers showed them no mercy. The Israelis continue to argue that one of the main reasons for adapting Sharon's unilateral plan is that they "have no Palestinian interlocutor" --even while they make the assassination of existing Palestinian leaders part of official state policy.

Hamas has treated Sharon's Gaza plan as a concession to the Palestinian struggle. But while an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza might create openings for Hamas there, overall the goals of the plan are dangerous and ugly. There are only 7,500 Jewish settlers in Gaza and they are difficult and expensive to defend. For instance, it requires an entire battalion of Israeli troops to defend the 60 families in the settlement of Netzarim. This plan reflects that the U.S. and Israeli rulers have their eyes firmly on the prize: giving up the sop of the settlements in Gaza in order to strengthen Israel's grip on a large chunk of the West Bank, which has far more settlers (230,000) and is more prosperous, easier to defend, and strategically and ideologically valuable to the Zionists. Bush agreed to pay Israel to transfer the Zionist settlers in Gaza to the West Bank. Israel has announced that it intends to keep permanent control of Gaza's boundaries with Israel on the north and east, and Egypt to the south, as well as its seaport and even its airport. This is not a plan for turning over Gaza to the Palestinians, but for making it even more of a prison for them. Whether or not Palestinians ever get any kind of state at all, both the new plan and the murders of Rantissi and Yassin show that the "peace" that the U.S. and Israel seek requires nothing less than crushing the Palestinians.

Bush's declaration of support for Israel's right to settlements in the West Bank marked a new phase in U.S. policy. Until now the U.S. has at times paid lip service to international opinion and law holding that Zionist settlements in the land it occupied in 1967, the West Bank and Gaza, are illegal. Under U.S. protection, Israel has long flouted the Fourth Geneva Convention (which states, "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies"), as well as UN Security Council Resolution 242 against Israel's occupation. But no previous U.S. president has dared openly turn his back on all this. Further, Bush took another new step by unambiguously declaring that the U.S. rejects the right of Palestinian refugees driven out of Israel to ever return to their homes. Both the disposition of the Jewish settlements and the Palestinian right to return are key parts of the so- called road map process brokered by the U.S., UN, Europe and Russia, and so were supposed to be subject to negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. Bush and Sharon have now unilaterally wiped them off the agenda.

The Zionist rulers of Israel have long sought to bury any talk of the right to return of the Palestinians and succeeded in putting this off in the road map process till the final stage. Bush has now given them the go-ahead to drop this entirely from the negotiations process. Like Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, who tries frantically to rub out the "damned spot"--a bloodstain--that stands as a constant reminder of the murderous crime underlying her present position, the imperialists and Zionists want to erase all reference to the original theft of Palestinian land and the violent expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948-49 that is at the origin of the state of Israel. As the article "The Unquenchable Fire in Palestine" in the just-released issue of A World To Win states, "At the heart of the problem the Zionists face is the fact that theirs is an oppressive settler colonial state erected on another people's land, and the sons and daughters of that original refugee population, numbering some 10 million today, still harbour a deeply felt dream of reclaiming their homeland--and this is especially true of the millions still in refugee camps.. Any agreement that signs away the right to return and formalizes the subordination of the Palestinian people in a mini-state could never bring peace."

The very terms on which Zionists argue are revealing. They contend that if the Palestinians were allowed to come home to what is now Israel, and if the West Bank is eventually labeled a Palestinian entity that is not part of Israel (no matter how much it is under Israeli military, political and economic domination), Jews would become a minority in Israel itself and the country could no longer be "democratic." But the question of whether a majority people becomes a minority or vice versa is only relevant when one people wants to rule over the other. This shows yet again that there is no democratic solution except a multi-national secular state.

Hopes had been expressed in many quarters that the increasing difficulties the U.S. imperialists are encountering in Iraq would somehow force them to be "more reasonable" with regard to Israel. This latest Bush-Sharon plan shows that the U.S. imperialists are unrepentant and as determined as ever to pursue their dream of unchallenged and unchallengeable global empire. The Bush regime has openly argued that the road to what they call peace in the Middle East does not pass, as many would have it, through Jerusalem, but through Baghdad. In other words, it will not come from a peace achieved through Israeli concessions to Palestinian demands (such as the sharing of Jerusalem, instead of its complete appropriation by Israel), but a radical reconfiguration of the Middle East through direct U.S. intervention. The U.S. (and Israel) clearly believe that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has fundamentally shifted power relations in the region in such a way that they can drop some past pretenses of a willingness to compromise and impose their will more openly and aggressively.

Just as, for instance, in the Iraq war the U.S. put aside the grand coalition approach it had adopted in the Gulf War under Bush the father and waged "pre-emptive war," now in the context of Israel, Bush junior and Sharon are putting aside the long-standing policy of paying lip service to UN resolutions, multilateral structures involving the Europeans and Russia, and negotiations with Arafat. Instead they are imposing a unilateral pre-emptive solution concocted in Tel Aviv (and Washington).

Sharon once said of the Palestinians, "They have to be beaten so that they get the idea out of their minds that they can ever impose an agreement on Israel that Israel does not want." That is the message of the murder of the Hamas leaders, who sought just that--to make Israel accept compromises it does not want. For Israel and its American backers, it is not just Hamas but the entire Palestinian people--and the people of the world and to some degree even rival imperialist powers--who had to be taught a lesson.