Tanks and Treachery in Palestine

Revolutionary Worker #1150, May 12, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

For weeks, the Israeli war machine rampaged through the West Bank. And the lives of the Palestinian people were torn up even more violently by the occupiers.

Entire blocks of homes demolished at Jenin refugee camp. In town after town, houses and government offices ransacked by the invading troops. Hundreds killed, thousands rounded up. Tanks destroying roads, water and electricity lines, and anything else in their way. Families confined inside their homes for days by curfews. U.S.-supplied Apache helicopters firing missiles into the casbah of Nablus, the town's historic center packed with markets and homes.

The whole world saw the horrifying realities of a brutal, humiliating occupation.

Now, the U.S. is said to be "stepping up its involvement" to oversee negotiations and push for "peace"--after the weeks of crimes and atrocities by Israel, the U.S.'s special armed agent in the Middle East.

What is this "peace" that the U.S. talks about?

It's a "peace" to keep Israel "secure" by keeping the Palestinians surrounded, ghettoized, under constant threat of Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships. A "peace" that means treachery to the dreams of a free Palestine.

This talk of "peace" is aimed at stopping the determined, heroic resistance of the Palestinians--which has inspired millions of people throughout the region and worldwide.

And the U.S. imperialist talk of "peace in the Middle East" is a move to create better conditions for their predatory moves and schemes around the world--especially their plans for a major war on Iraq.

The Israeli military offensive in the West Bank that began in late March started with the tank invasion of Ramallah and the cornering of Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority, in his compound. As Israeli troops kept Arafat and others prisoner, the occupation army systematically attacked all the major cities and towns in the West Bank.

Ariel Sharon and the Israeli government declared that the military operation--the largest Israeli offensive against Palestinians since the 1967 war--was a mission of self-defense provoked by suicide bombers. They claimed that their troops were out to "destroy terrorist infrastructure."

But in town after town, it was clear the actions of the Israeli military were those of an occupation army that acts with no justice--an army carrying out collective punishment against a whole people and commiting atrocities in an attempt to crush any resistance.

At Jenin refugee camp, home to 15,000 people, the occupiers met fierce resistance--a dozen Israeli soldiers were killed in one ambush. The Israeli troops attacked in a savage act of revenge, reducing the whole center of the camp to rubble and dust.

Israeli troops looted and rampaged through homes, shops, and Palestinian administration offices. At the Education Ministry, the soldiers took away school graduation records; at post offices, letters and stamps were destroyed. Men, and sometimes women, were ordered to report for "questioning." Some were blindfolded and tied up for days before being released; thousands of others were sent to an isolated military prison in the Negev Desert.

The reality--for anyone willing to see--was that Israel was on a mission to devastate Palestinian society on the West Bank and to deliver a message that Israel and its U.S. backers hold the fate of the Palestinian people in their hands.


As Israel carried out its operation throughout the West Bank, George W. Bush declared several times that he wanted Israel to pull back--and the Israeli tanks continued to roll. Bush also said the Israeli offensive was "justified self-defense," called Sharon "a man of peace," and blamed Arafat for "not doing enough" to stop the conflict. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell, on a supposed "peace mission," took days to reach Jerusalem--while Sharon's troops carried out more atrocities against the Palestinians.

U.S. officials claimed to be "frustrated" with Sharon for not acting on Bush's calls for a stop to the offensive. But it was hard for anyone to believe that the U.S. superpower could not force an Israeli pull-back if it really wanted. Without billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic aid each year, the state of Israel would not survive a day. In fact, even as Israel began the invasion of the West Bank, the U.S. began delivering the first of 24 new Black Hawk helicopters to the Israeli military.

What was being played out was the scenario of the attack dog that bites when its master tells it to sit. As Bush yelled "Sit!"--Sharon continued to bite. And this allowed the U.S. to claim a little public distance from Israel's vicious actions on the West Bank.

Now--after a massive Israeli military campaign that threatened the very survival of the Palestinian people--the U.S. is said to be "stepping up its involvement" by brokering deals between the two sides and reviving hopes of "peace talks."

At the end of April, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah visited Bush at his ranch in Texas for several days of talks. After the visit, U.S. officials said Bush and Abdullah had reached an informal agreement for a "division of labor"--the U.S. will talk "bluntly" with Sharon while the Saudis put pressure on Arafat, in order to move the two sides toward negotiations and "peace talks."

Several days after the Abdullah visit, the U.S. engineered an end to the siege at the Ramallah compound. Under the deal, Arafat agreed to send six men--who were among those besieged in the compound and who are accused by Israel of being wanted "terrorists"--to a Palestinian jail in Jericho. Their imprisonment would be "monitored" by U.S. and British security officers. Four of the men are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), accused in last October's assassination of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi. The PFLP had declared that the assassination of Zeevi--an extreme and racist right-winger who called for expulsions of all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza--was a response to an Israeli missile attack that killed PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa. The two others sent to the Jericho prison were Ahmed Saadat, current PFLP leader, and a PLO official accused by Israel of smuggling weapons into Palestine.

Sharon, for his part, agreed to allow Arafat out of the compound and to travel around. But Sharon also told the media that there was no guarantee Arafat would be allowed to return to Palestine if he traveled overseas and attacks against Israel continued. Israel is treating Arafat like a prisoner on parole--liable to be hauled back in or deported at any time.

Soon after the Ramallah deal, the Bush administration announced that the U.S. will join Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations to convene an international conference early this summer on "Middle East peace and economic reconstruction." While the U.S. gave little detail about the proposal, the media described the conference as an "ambitious effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Bush repeated his statement that the U.S. was commited to a "vision" of a Palestinian state. At the same time, he warned that Arafat must "step up" and "do more" to stop Palestinian attacks on Israel.

This demand that Arafat must "do more" is absurd--and both the U.S. and Israel know it. The just and courageous resistance of the Palestinian people against Israeli occupation is not something that can be turned on and off by Arafat or anyone else. The demand is even more absurd now, when the Israeli military has systematically dismantled the infrastructure of Arafat's Palestinian Authority, destroyed its police stations, and killed or jailed many of his lieutenants. And the deal that sprang Arafat from the Ramallah compound has stirred much anger among sections of the Palestinian people who see the handing over of the six men as a craven betrayal.

Behind the absurdity of the demand on Arafat is cold imperialist logic. After a bloody display of Israeli military in action, Arafat is being given "an offer he can't refuse." He must accept the "peace terms" as defined by the U.S.--which, at most, means a Palestinian "mini- state" that keeps the people locked up in a ghetto, bits and pieces of their homeland entirely at the mercy of Israeli power.

The U.S. demands that as a price for being allowed to head up any kind of a government authority, Arafat must act more ruthlessly as the warden over the Palestinian nation and effectively suppress the armed resistance against Israeli occupation and settlements.

And if Arafat is unwilling or unable to "do the job"? The threats are clear. The U.S. Senate and House recently voted overwhelmingly to pass resolutions expressing unqualified support for Israel, and the media described the votes as "putting pressure on Bush." The message: next time, the U.S. master may not be able to rein in the Israeli attack dog at all.

There are discussions of extreme "solutions." In April, in the midst of the West Bank offensive, Sharon brought into his cabinet an infamous religious fundamentalist, Effi Eitam-Fein, who advocates seizing Palestinian-controlled territory in West Bank and Gaza and expelling the people to Jordan. Dick Armey, the top Republican in the House, put forward the same "solution" in a cable TV interview.

As the diplomatic maneuvers and schemes go on in the halls of power, the Palestinian people continue to live under the gun. As we go to press, the Israeli tanks and troops have moved out of the center of most West Bank cities and towns. But occupation troops stand poised at the outskirts, and they continue to make constant raids into populated areas, killing "suspects" and destroying houses.


Beyond the immediate situation in Palestine, the U.S. talk of "peace" is connected to the intense and sweeping offensive that the U.S. government has launched since September 11 to recast power relations in significant parts of the world--focused especially on the oil-rich areas of the Middle East and Central Asia.

A key part of this U.S. offensive are the plans for a new war on Iraq. The U.S. has been working to build up pretexts for a war, readying the military, and trying to get allies on board the campaign.

But when the Israeli tanks rolled across the West Bank, huge protests erupted across the Arab world. Pro-U.S. regimes, especially Egypt and Jordan, were deeply shaken. Under these conditions, it became much more difficult for the pro-U.S. governments to endorse a U.S. war on Iraq.

So, the U.S. has felt compelled to "step in" more directly in the Palestinian conflict. Their biggest concern is that the tensions and stresses touched off by the clashes in Palestine could lead to bigger problems throughout the region when the U.S. carries out its plans to decapitate Iraq.

The U.S. imperialists hope that the appearance of "moves toward peace in Palestine" will cool down the region's tensions in the coming period--while the Pentagon builds up the stockpiles of smart bombs used up in the attacks on Afghanistan and the White House cobbles together alliances for the planned strike on Iraq.

In short, the U.S. talk of "peace in the Middle East" is a move to create better conditions for their next war in the Middle East. Their peacemaking is a cover for cold-blooded war preparation of the empire.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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