Israel is withdrawing its forces from Gaza, following a tentative truce with Hamas. The withdrawal, which began on Sunday evening, was proceeding gradually today. Israel and Hamas separately declared cease-fires on Sunday. The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that Israel does not intend to keep a military presence inside the Gaza Strip, nor does it aim to reconquer the territory.
In a recent article (The invasion of Gaza: what does it mean?- Part One and Part Two) I pointed out that the intention of Israeli imperialism was not to occupy Gaza but to inflict the maximum damage on Hamas, terrorise the population and then withdraw. This is what is now happening. Olmert told European leaders visiting Jerusalem on Sunday evening that Israel planned to withdraw all of its troops t when the situation between Israel and Gaza was "stable":
“We didn't set out to conquer Gaza, we didn't set out to control Gaza, we don't want to remain in Gaza and we intend on leaving Gaza as fast as possible", Olmert said at a dinner with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic. This decision will cause immense relief in Western capitals who, while publicly sympathetic to Israel's security concerns, were alarmed by the mounting number of civilian victims and the destabilising effects in neighbouring Arab countries.
Hamas’ empty boasts
The main losers, as always, are the ordinary people. In this devastating three-week war, terrible damage has been inflicted. The troops and tanks that poured into Gaza on January 3 have had two weeks in which to pulverise Gaza, which had been already badly damaged by a savage air bombardment. Now the shell-shocked Palestinians will have time to take stock of the situation. The war has taken a terrible toll on an already impoverished territory.
As Palestinians emerge from their hiding-places to survey wreckage of their homes, the last thing they will want is the renewal of the fighting that has already claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Gazans, and will claim more as the wounded die in the hospitals. The infrastructure of this desperately poor land has been devastated. Its government and administration are in ruins. Despite these evident facts, the head of the Hamas administration claimed a "popular victory" against Israel.” The enemy has failed to achieve its goals," Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech. Hamas's decision to call a truce was conditional on Israel withdrawing within a week. This was "wise and responsible," he said.
These brave words do not reflect the real situation. The Israelis are withdrawing because they have achieved their immediate goal, which I outlined in my article: “Their intention now is to make a limited strike that will seriously damage the fighting capacity of Hamas and kill as many of its leaders and militants before withdrawing, having inflicted maximum damage on the economy and infrastructure of Gaza that will take a long time to rebuild.” This is just what has occurred.
In an attempt to show that it was still capable of putting up some kind of resistance, Hamas fired about 20 rockets onto the Negev on Sunday, even when a truce was being announced to the world. But these were mere pinpricks and did not affect the plans of the Israelis in the slightest degree.
Ehud Olmert saw them – and the declarations of Hamas leaders announcing “victory” – for what they were: empty gestures. The Israeli Prime Minister declared the mission accomplished and who can doubt that he had good grounds for saying it, at least as far as the short-term military aims were concerned. The massive offensive that Israel launched with air, ground and sea forces on December 27 pushed all before it. Against the might of the Israeli state, small homemade rockets can have no real effect.
The Israeli decision to withdraw is not at all conditional on what Hamas says or does. Hamas has already said that it will stop firing rockets “when the last Israeli soldier has left Gaza.” But in reality it will be forced to stop. Its fighting capacity will have been severely damaged. Moreover, the sword of Damocles remains suspended over the heads of the people of Gaza. If there is a renewal of Palestinian rocket attacks, the Israelis will not hesitate to intervene again.
Israel still holds Gaza in an iron grip. Israel Radio reported that the Israelis would allow 200 trucks carrying humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. But this can be opened and closed, like a water tap, whenever Israel chooses. In the economic as in the military field, Israel holds all the cards.
What has been achieved?
So what has been achieved from the point of view of the Palestinians? At present Gaza’s situation vis a vis Israel remains precisely where it was before the conflict – a small and unviable state of 1.5 million people remains locked inside the strip by an iron blockade. Its economic life was being slowly strangled before the invasion. Now it must be completely wrecked. The outlook for these poor people is grim indeed.
According to the Palestinian Statistics Bureau, some 4,000 residential buildings were reduced to rubble during the conflict. Western diplomats have said it could cost at least $1.6 billion to repair the infrastructure damage in Gaza. "I don't know what sort of future I have now - only God knows my future after this," Amani Kurdi, a 19-year-old student told Haaretz, as she surveyed the wreckage of Gaza's Islamic University, where she had studied science.
Inside Israel, which lost the grand total of ten troops in combat (and three civilians in rocket attacks), the war was popular and bolstered the prospects of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak before the February 10 election. The war will have stirred up chauvinist feelings and increased the support for the right wing. This is shown by the opinion polls, which are predicting an easy win for right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Let us recall that he opposed Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza after 38 years, arguing that it would embolden Palestinian hard-liners.
The war has also undermined the credibility of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been attempting to negotiate peace with Israel. It has deepened the bitter splits that already existed among Palestinians, who feel depressed and disoriented.
During talks with Egyptian mediators, Hamas officials demanded the opening of all Gaza's border crossings for the entry of materials, food, goods and basic needs. It is probable that some concessions will have to be made on this issue. France, Germany, Britain, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic (which currently holds the presidency of the EU) have called on Israel to open Gaza's borders to aid as soon as possible.
Olmert said Israel wanted out of Gaza as soon as possible and his spokesman, Mark Regev, said "enormous amounts" of aid could be allowed in if the quiet holds. But there will be conditions, as we already see from these words. “If the quiet holds” means: as long as Hamas is neutered and rendered impotent as a military force.
For the past weeks the Western governments have been content to stand by, wringing their hands and weeping crocodile tears while the people of Gaza were being subjected to a vicious bombardment. The simple fact is that these governments – and those of the so-called moderate (that is, pro-American) Arab states – wanted to see Hamas smashed and were in no hurry to stop the Israelis from carrying out this bloody work on their behalf. But now that the Israeli military machine has achieved its ends and decided to withdraw, a flurry of diplomatic initiatives has been commenced. The United States, Egypt and European countries are all striving for peace. That is to say – they are striving to prevent Hamas rearming.
That is the condition that the Israelis will demand, and are determined to get. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter threatened a military response to any renewed flow of arms into the Gaza Strip, saying Israel would view such smuggling as an attack on its territory. Therefore, we can expect to see as yet unspecified measures to stop Hamas smuggling weapons across the Egypt-Gaza frontier, a matter that the Cairo will be delighted to help bring about – if it can. Dichter told Israel Radio: "That means, if smuggling is renewed, Israel will view it as if it were fired upon."
Israel and Obama
The timing of the withdrawal is significant and confirms what I wrote in my article. In that article I explained that the Israeli ruling class attacked Gaza before Obama replaced George Bush on January 20, as a message to Washington not to reach any agreements with the Arabs that might not be to their liking. Having made their point very eloquently, they now withdraw so as not to cause unnecessary embarrassment to the man in the White House.
This was admitted by the Haaretz Service and News Agencies, which wrote yesterday: “Israeli officials have said that troops would withdraw completely before Barack Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday as the new U.S. president. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been publicly announced.” (my emphasis, AW).
The U.S. President-elect is to be sworn in on Tuesday. Everyone now looks to Barack Obama to solve this problem. But then, everyone now looks to Barack Obama to solve all the problems in the world. This would be a somewhat difficult task for the Almighty himself. Obama believes in the Almighty, but is already explaining to the people of the USA that he lacks the power to deliver miracles. This is unfortunate because miracles are exactly what are expected.
"The goal remains a durable and fully respected ceasefire that will lead to stabilisation and normalisation in Gaza," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. A spokeswoman for Obama said he welcomed the Gaza truce and would say more about the Gaza situation after he is inaugurated. Obama’s main priority is to bolster his position at home by pulling US troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. He needs to do this (and to make other popular gestures) in the first period of his administration, in order to prepare the ground for the deep cuts in living standards that he will be obliged to carry out later. His presentation of a wreath to honour US war dead a few days before his inauguration was no accident. He is saying to the US public: “Bush got you into this war. But don’t worry: I will get you out of it!”
However, as I explained in my article, in order to get out of Iraq, the Americans will have to talk to Syria and Iran, and in these negotiations (which will be conducted behind locked doors, far from the inquisitive eyes of public opinion), the fate of the Palestinians will be decided. The invasion of Gaza was part of these negotiations, which resemble a game of chess in which whole nations are disposed of like mere pawns, in order that powerful states can obtain their main goals.
The Palestinian people must not expect anything from “friends” like Obama or the governments of the European Union. Still less can they expect from “friendly” Arab governments who either fear the Palestinians because they are arousing the masses in their own countries, or else are using the Palestinian cause as a pawn in a diplomatic game of chess.
The Palestinian problem will not be solved by firing rockets or sending suicide bombers to blow up buses in Israel, as advocated by Hamas. Nor will it be solved by Abbas, who, under the guise of negotiating peace, is preparing to sell out to Israel and the imperialists. The problem can only be solved as part of the revolutionary struggle of the masses to overthrow the rotten pro-western Arab regimes and establish workers’ and peasants’ governments in the Middle East.
Just as the national problem in Russia was solved when the workers and peasants took power, so in the Middle East, the national question of the Palestinians, Kurds and other oppressed peoples can only be solved through workers’ power and a socialist federation. The only way to challenge the might of Israeli imperialism is to split the worker away from Zionism, and that can only be done on the basis of revolutionary class politics. Any other road will only lead to an increase in national hatreds, chauvinism, new massacres, wars and bloodshed. The Palestinians in the past had a socialist tradition. Today that tradition is the only salvation!
London, January 19, 2009