The presidential elections in the US will take place on November 2, and Bush is not doing very well. According to the latest opinion polls his popularity is sinking daily and if the elections were to take place today he would lose. Big surprise. The war in Iraq is becoming unpopular as the death toll is growing. As of Friday, January 23, 505 US service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. Of those, 349 died as a result of hostile action and 156 died of non-hostile causes. The British military has reported 55 deaths; Italy, 17; Spain, 8; Bulgaria, 5; Thailand, 2; Denmark, Ukraine and Poland have reported 1 each.
The US budget deficit has become a key issue for the American public in the U.S. presidential election, 2004. The record budget shortfall for the 2003 fiscal year ending September 30, had more than doubled from a deficit of 158 billion dollars in 2002 as military spending surged, partly to pay for the Iraq war operations, and as income from taxes declined. And the worst is yet to come as the the White House has had to admit that it expects a deficit of more than half a trillion dollars in 2004. But the electoral timetable is of course paramount. According to former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, the current vice-president Dick Cheney, had stated in a conversation with him, that in his opinion Reagan had proved deficits didn't matter. Bush's willingness to run up a huge deficit hides - as was also the case with Reagan - a right wing agenda to cut welfare. Clearly this spending spree does not benefit the working class and the poor.
The American economists claim that the economy is well on the path to recovery. However this is not what the workers and the poor are experiencing. As Louis Utchitelle wrote: "Output is clearly rising, and, normally, that would feed into both corporate profits and labor income. But while profits have shot up as a percentage of national income, reaching their highest level since the mid-1960's, labor's share is shrinking. Not since World War II has the distribution been so lopsided in the aftermath of a recession. The reasons for labor's poor showing are not hard to spot. The employment rolls are still smaller, by 2.4 million jobs, than they were at the recession's start in March 2001. Those who are employed are also feeling the squeeze, particularly the 85 million people who hold office or factory jobs below the rank of supervisor or manager. Their average hourly wage, $15.46, is up only 3 cents since July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That wage is rising at an annual rate of less than 2 percent, barely enough to keep up with inflation, mild as it now is. For a generation, we have permitted labor's bargaining power to deteriorate. Successive administrations - Republican and Democratic - have abetted the deterioration. Only in vigorous booms, like that of the late 1990's, have workers been in enough demand to give them bargaining power." (A Recovery for Profits, but Not for Workers, New York Times, December 21, 2003).
In such a period Bush needs all the help he can get and his soul mate Ariel Sharon is trying his best to support his old buddy. This is in part is what is behind Sharon's latest declarations about unilateral retreat, following the official collapse of the "Road Map".
The "Road Map" that was presented in the mass media as a plan for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict officially died last Thursday. The funeral took place in the office of Condoleezza Rice in the White House, during a nice little conversation between the US national security adviser and her aides and on the Israeli side, the prime minister's bureau chief Dov Weisglass, Ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon and the prime minister's foreign policy adviser, Shalom Tourgeman.
They are now speaking of a peace based on Sharon's readiness to give up so many concessions. For Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the death of the Road Map is a great political victory. The Map called for end to the Palestinian armed resistance and for establishing a mini-Palestinian state within temporary borders until the end of 2003, and for a final agreement by 2005. Sharon feared that the Road Map would impose an international agreement not to his liking. But this fear now belongs to the past. Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, is likely to be removed and Sharon will have a free hand.
In the past, Sharon spoke of several months of waiting, during which he would try to implement the Road Map, before finally abandoning it and going over to unilateral disengagement. In reality Sharon used delaying and evasive tactics, while he was careful to avoid any open conflict with the US administration. After the Iraq war, he gave in to American pressure and got the Road Map approved, conditionally, by the government But at the same time he was waiting for it to die. Now Washington is willing to discuss disengagement steps, on conditions that suit Bush who would then present Sharon's plan as a great step towards peace. Bush is now blaming the Palestinians for the failure of the Road Map, saying that there is nobody to talk to on the Palestinian side. A senior White House official last week compared Arafat to Robert Mugabe, the ruler of Zimbabwe, who destroyed his country and gave no hope to his people, as opposed to his South African neighbor Nelson Mandela.
In the meantime on Tuesday the so called Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia said that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate settlements in the Gaza Strip was "good news". "Of course, it is good news for us," Qureia told the Voice of Palestine radio, in his first public remarks on Sharon's announcement a day earlier. "We hope that Israel will withdraw from all Palestinian areas. Then there will be a real peace. Otherwise, the situation will remain as it is," he said.
Sharon now is presented as a genuinely realistic peace maker who has the courage to dismantle 17 Gaza Strip settlements as a first step towards peace. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said it was "encouraging that Israel is considering bold steps to reduce tensions between Israelis and Palestinians."
Sharon said the move should be made with the settlers' consent and the support of the American government. "We are talking of a population of 7,500 people. It's not a simple matter. We are talking of thousands of square kilometers of hothouses, factories and packing plants. There are people who are third generation there," he said.
Speaking on Channel Two television Monday night, Olmert Sharon, a close associate of Sharon, said that the evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip will commence in June or July of this year. "We have no interest in maintaining the status quo," he said.
While the right wing vowed to bring Sharon down, according to a Mina Tzemach/Dahaf public opinion poll published in Yediot Aharonot today, 59% of the Israeli public supports a unilateral withdrawal from all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, while only 34% oppose such a move. 57% of those surveyed said that they thought Sharon's motives in announcing the plan were purely diplomatic, while 24% said they were convinced the plan had been announced to divert attention away from the investigation into charges of corruption made against the prime minister and his sons.
What characterized the situation more than any thing else was the fatigue of both nations; the Israelis and the Palestinians are tired of the endless killings and the economic situation. The Occupied Palestinian territories are on the verge of a catastrophe, a result of extremely harsh military measures imposed by the occupying Israeli military forces since the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000, such as an extensive imposition of curfews, road closures, permit systems, security checkpoints, and back-to-back truck off-loading systems. Restrictions on movement mean that the economy has almost collapsed and many Palestinians cannot feed themselves.
This poll reflects this simple truth - Sharon is a tactician who knows how to use it. However his plans will lead to the same results of Oslo all the other schemes based on the continuation of the repression of the Palestinians. The actual plan of Sharon is to redraw Israel's borders to place parts of the country's Arab population under Palestinian control in exchange for settlements.
The idea threatened to arouse the deepest fears of Israel's Arab minority and drew immediate criticism from Israeli Arab leaders.
Most Palestinians citizens of Israel want to remain in Israel, both because of the higher standard of living and concerns that a future Palestinian state may not be democratic.
Roughly 20 percent of Israel's 6.6 million citizens are Arabs. Unlike their Palestinian counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel captured in 1967, Israeli Arabs have the right to vote.
In return, Israel would seek parts of the West Bank, where more than 200,000 Israeli settlers live. In the meantime Israel is going ahead at full speed with the building of the separation wall. In June 2003, the Israeli Government began a massive construction project, not within the borders of Israel, but within the Palestinian occupied territories. The Israeli Government claims that it is constructing a "security fence" necessary for the protection of its people from attacks and suicide bombings emanating from the West Bank. Palestinians call the barrier an "apartheid wall" ("the Wall") aimed at caging Palestinians into densely populated, Bantustan-like areas, while Israel annexes more Palestinian territory for Israeli settlements. The construction has affected over 65 Palestinian communities with a population of over 210,000. Palestinians are denied the right to travel outside of their towns and villages. It has resulted in the expropriation of their water resources and their agricultural land, and it prevents them from accessing medical facilities and their cultural and spiritual centers.
Israel's undertaking to curb the growth of settlements has not been implemented. On the contrary, settlements have continued to grow at an unacceptable pace. This phenomenon, together with the construction of the Wall, suggests that territorial expansion remains an essential feature Israel's policies.
The Wall's path does not follow the "Green Line". In fact, in some areas it cuts four miles into the West Bank and incorporates approximately half of the illegal Israeli settlement-colonies located in the West Bank. The result is that Palestinians are effectively cut off from their farmlands and workplaces, schools, health clinics and other social services.
Palestinians living between the Wall and the Green Line are especially isolated as they will be cut off from the West Bank entirely and will continue to be denied entry into Israel. Currently, over 11,000 Palestinians comprising 16 villages are located between the Wall and Israel. However, when construction of the Wall is complete, 70,000 Palestinians will find themselves in this "no man's land." Recently, the Israeli military has ordered the thousands of Palestinians living between the Wall and the Green Line to obtain permits to live in their own homes and to work their own farmland. At least 10% of the West Bank will be expropriated by Israel in construction of the Wall.
The wall is a concrete expression of the bantustanisation of the Palestinian areas in that it operates as a political strategy to divide the land, separating the Palestinian people into 5 barely contiguous cantons or 'bantustans'. Its function is to forestall forever the possibility of a viable Palestinian state and therefore hinder the capacity of the Palestinians to have a viable economy.
Right-wing Knesset members and ministers charged Sharon with creating "media spin" to divert public attention from the police investigations into his personal corruption. Sharon is scheduled to be questioned again on Thursday on his role in the so-called Greek island affair.
Deputy Education Minister Zvi Hendel (National Union) said, "The deeper the investigation, the greater the evacuation," a phrase that rhymes in Hebrew and which has become a catchphrase among settlers.
Representatives from the settlers' movement said they would increase pressure on the National Union and National Religious Party to bolt the government. Alternatively, the settlers said they would organize a list of 61 Knesset members to bring Sharon down and replace him with someone else from the Likud Party. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin of the Likud hinted Tuesday that right-wing ministers should consider resigning, following Sharon's recent declarations.
"Today we are at the moment of truth. This decision prevented me from joining the government. I knew what was ahead for the government, and I knew what the government could expect," Rivlin told Army Radio. He went on to say that Sharon had never been part of the Greater Israel camp. "Arik is a pragmatic politician who was educated on Ben-Gurion's legacy," Rivlin said
Sharon won a no-confidence vote in parliament by just a single vote on Monday, when hard-right allies staged a walkout. He told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in an interview published Tuesday: "I will not hesitate to set up another government," if his present partners do not support him. "Not that I am rushing to take such a step, but I have no intention of being at the mercy of factions... that won't permit me to handle matters of state."
Earlier Tuesday, Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres expressed his party's full support for Sharon's plan. Speaking at the start of a Labor meeting on his fate as interim party chairman, Peres congratulated Sharon on "adopting the policy of the Labor Party," but said that there had been no mention of Labor joining the coalition at a meeting between the two last week. Nor, said Peres, did the prime minister tell him anything about his plans for Gaza.
"If Sharon carries out his proposal I promise him our support in the Knesset, for as long as he travels on that path," the interim Labor leader said. Labor lawmakers hinted earlier Tuesday that if Sharon goes ahead with his plans to evacuate settlements in Gaza, the party would have little choice but to enter into a coalition government with him.
Sharon must be enjoying the news that his scheme is working so well that a leader of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad hailed the prime minister's declaration as one that "no doubt resulted from the greatness of resistance and steadfastness of the Palestinian people."
At the same time Hamas militant Sayed Seyam said that Sharon's plan "will not end the occupation," and added that, "as long as the occupation continues the resistance will go on." A statement that may indicate the acceptance of a mini-Palestinian state. As Trotsky once remarked the terrorists are liberals that carry bombs.
The question now is whether the left, and most importantly the Communist Party, will endorse Sharon as well. The fact that in the past the party endorsed the Oslo agreement and the Geneva Accords and it has also refused to condemn the Iraqi Communist Party that has accepted a position in the puppet government set up by the US, are reasons to doubt whether the leadership of the party will oppose Sharon's plan. It is very unlikely that the Party would be invited to join a Likud-Labour government, but it may end up as a loyal opposition to such a government.
For 57 years we have seen endless similar plans leading only to endless bloodshed. The present plan will lead to the same result. The only hope of getting out of this hell lies in the revolutionary struggle of the working class that would put an end to these deadly illusions in the power of the imperialists and their servants of all stripes to get us out of the death trap we live in. The class struggle in Israel is growing and in this struggle the working class will learn the necessary lessons that will lead to the social transformation of the capitalist system, the system upon which this bloody burlesque rests. But for this to happen the working class needs a revolutionary leadership. The road to building such a leadership passes through the struggle to return the Communist Party to the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky.