Sharon's plans point to a civil war in Gaza

Sharon’s proposal to “withdraw” from Gaza do not represent a step towards a solution to the conflict in the Middle East, but rather hide manoeuvres on the part of the Israeli government. It is a cynical game played out at the expense of both the Israeli and Arab masses.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is in the news for his plan to disengage from Gaza by the end of the year, has just announced that he is considering restricting his disengagement plan to Gaza only, without a concomitant withdrawal from the West Bank, "in light of the growing opposition to the plan among Likud ministers."

This, of course has nothing to do with the opposition in the Likud party. Sharon knows that he can continue to be the Prime Minister as the Labour party would be happy to form a coalition government with him and his supporters. As the Foreign Minister Shalom Silvan told Army Radio on Thursday, "If the government votes in favour of the plan, National Religious Party and National Union ministers would resign [from the coalition], and this would lead to two alternatives: Labour joining [the coalition] or to new elections."

Sharon, and with him many others in the ruling circles, would love to leave Gaza, a small, extremely poor and the most overpopulated place on Earth. What he is concerned about is that the opposition, including Hamas that is very strong in Gaza, will rule the place once Israel pulls out.

According to an early draft of the plan published in Ma'ariv on Thursday, Israel may remain in three settlements in the northern Gaza Strip and in any case in a widened "Philadelphia Road" corridor on the border between Gaza and Egypt. On the other hand Sharon wants US recognition of the settlement blocs of Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, which Israel wants to annex.

Thus, Sharon's problem is not the opposition inside the Likud, the NRP, or the NU parties, but the White House that is worried that annexation of the settlement blocks will contribute to the growing instability of the region, especially at a time when the US is increasing its pressures on Syria to speed up the privatisation of the still nationalised economy.

On Thursday [March 11], Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East, David Satterfield, said that the US has not yet formulated a position regarding the disengagement plan, and will do so only after receiving more answers from Israel. However, he added, one of the biggest questions is the scope of the planned withdrawal in the West Bank, which America views as a necessary complement to the Gaza pullout.

While Sharon met Thursday [March 11] in Jerusalem with three American envoys that came to hear additional details of the disengagement, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also discussed the disengagement plan with senior American officials in Washington on Thursday. Mofaz met with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. According to "Haaretz"(11.3.04) "Mofaz told his interlocutors that American support for the plan is essential, because that will help Sharon to sell it to the Israeli public, as well as to the Palestinians and the rest of the world".

In the meantime the Palestinian Authority is begging for a second chance. It is promising Sharon that they will crush the opposition in Gaza but it demands in exchange that following the disengagement, Israel should allow Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to travel freely between Ramallah and Gaza, arguing that this is necessary for the PA security forces to assume control over Gaza once Israel leaves. Sharon so far has rejected this demand. He is of the opinion that Arafat and the PA's record is not very promising. They are unable to do the job they promise to do as was proven by the clear fact that they could not prevent the Intifada and once it broke out they were unable to crush it.

But the other main pillar of the imperialist order in the Middle East, the rulers of Egypt, has happily offered its services. Neither Mubarak nor his foreign minister expressed opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, as presented to them by Shalom. Egypt announced that it would be ready to change the deployment of its troops along the border with the Gaza Strip, if the Israeli Defense Forces pull out. Mubarak of course is covering up his agreement to support Israel against the Palestinian masses, by making statements that this disengagement must be part of the "peace road" leading to a mini Palestinian state.

This announcement came during a visit to the Egyptian capital by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who had a long and friendly meeting with President Hosni Mubarak, and later held talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Maher, and the head of the Egyptian security services, Omar Suleiman.

According to Mubarak, the redeployment would be designed to make sure that there is no weapon smuggling to assist the struggle against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. "We are active in the area today, uncovering tunnels", added the president, and "we will continue to do so in the future. We will make slight changes to the agreement", explained Mubarak, "and we will station border police, who have greater powers and more experience, there." (Haaretz, 11.3.04)

Mubarak told his Israeli guest, however, that Egypt would not take its troops into Gaza itself. "We have talked about this with the Palestinians," he said, "and we told them that they have to assume security responsibility there, with their own security forces."

This has been confirmed by the PA. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's security adviser Jibril Rajoub said in an interview that the Egyptians are willing to prepare Palestinians for taking over security responsibilities in the Gaza Strip should Israel pull out. Rajoub told the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam that this pledge was conveyed to the Palestinian Authority by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

Rajoub reported to the newspaper that Suleiman had "told president Yasser Arafat that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was committed to rehabilitating and training the Palestinian security services so that they could meet the demands of future developments", Rajoub stressed that Egypt "insists on withdrawal planned in coordination with the Palestinian Authority and says it is ready to help it in enforcing law and order in the event of a pull-out from the Gaza Strip".

The PA, for its part, is demanding several months' advanced warning, in order to prepare their forces for the IDF withdrawal. This position has been relayed to Suleiman. The only direct security involvement that Egypt is prepared to agree to would be helping to train the Palestinian forces and dispatching experts to advise the Palestinian Authority on preventing any opposition to Israel in the Strip.

Thus, anyone who has a head to think must realize that the present conflict is not between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but between the rulers of the US and its allies, the capitalist class in Egypt and Israel represented by Sharon and Mubarak, while the PA is begging to join them on one side. And while this terrible game is played out, the Arab and the Israeli masses are used as pawns to maintain this shaky political order based on capitalist exploitation.

The Marxists in Israel support the Palestinians’ right of self-determination and oppose the occupation. We want the Israeli army to withdraw from all the occupied lands. However, Sharon’s plan is not a step in the direction of giving the Palestinians the right of self-determination. Under the circumstances, if the Israeli army leaves Gaza it will lead to a civil war there between the PA and the Hamas movement, and within Fatah itself, to massacres similar to those that are taking so many lives of civilians in Iraq, and not to any form of genuine independence.

We have already the taste of what can come. Last Tuesday [March 9], a few hours after a group of masked individuals assassinated Khalil al-Zaben - a journalist who was close to Yasser Arafat and was one of the directors of his office in the Gaza Strip - a senior Fatah official in Gaza recalled the first days after the signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993.

Around that time, three of the best-known Fatah figures in the Gaza Strip, all of them identified with the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians, were assassinated: Assad Siftawi, one of the leaders of Fatah in Gaza; Mohammed Abu Sha'aban, the head of the Bar Association in Gaza; and Sha'aban's aide, Mohammed Kahal.

When Khalil al-Zaben, 59, was murdered last week, at the entrance to an office building in Gaza, he filled two roles. He was a journalist who wrote articles for the Palestinian News Agency and managed the Palestinian Authority's Internet e-zine A-Nishara, which mainly deals with settling accounts with Arafat's opponents, including the Islamic organizations, former prime minister Abu Mazen and Palestinian human rights organizations. Zaben was also Arafat's adviser on media affairs and human rights, and managed the chairman's office in Gaza.

His murder is attributed to the internal struggle within Fatah itself. According to the senior Fatah official, the continuing siege of Arafat in the Muqata and the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are giving rise to two main camps in Gaza, each trying to gain control. On the one hand, there is the former security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, who doesn't hold an official position but whose strength is based on the support of the Preventative Security unit headed by Rashid Abu Shabaq (the most organized and advanced of the security units) and on the backing of some of the armed groups in Fatah. This camp has held displays of force in the Gaza Strip in the past few months, sending a clear message to Arafat and to the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) that they have no hope of operating in the context of the Gaza Strip without Dahlan's agreement.

The opposition organizations in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, generally sit on the fence in regard to events in Fatah. Since the announcement of the disengagement plan, Hamas has made a point of attributing Sharon's decision to the armed Palestinian resistance and especially to that of its military wing. As for the Dahlan-Arafat contretemps, Hamas's media and public opinion tactic is to fan the differences within Fatah by creating an exaggerated picture, using posters and press statements and its web site. The organization's spokesmen, especially Ismail Haniya, the bureau chief of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, float old-new initiatives for a dialogue among the Palestinian groups, knowing that it's not possible at this time, but the idea scores points among the public.

Hamas is also contributing its share to the chaos. One night two weeks ago, a powerful bomb went off in the empty offices of the Hittin charitable society in Dir al-Balah. The society is run by former Hamas officials, and the bombers apparently wanted to stop its activity, which competes with Hamas.

What is required is not supporting the imperialists and their local servants, but an independent policy of the working class in opposition to the rulers who play with our lives. Short of a unified struggle of the Arab and the Israeli working class, leading to workers’ power, in the form of a socialist Federation of the Middle East, all these "peace plans", can lead only in one direction, to the deepening and widening of the oppression of the Palestinians and the continuation of the death trap the Israelis are caught in.