Once again, the Middle East "peace process" hangs by a thread. The recent riots and gun battles throughout the West Bank and Gaza, which left hundreds wounded and a number dead, reveal the enormous frustration at the results of the "peace process" and the failure to end years of Israeli occupation.
Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to confront Israeli troops, amid tear gas, rubber bullets and stones. The focus for the demonstrations was the Palestinian demand for the release of 230 men held in Israeli jails.
In Ramallah, Palestinians shot at Israeli soldiers, the first exchange of gun fire between the two sides in three and a half years. Even Palestinian police were engaged in a shoot out. At the same time, Ehud Barak delayed a decision to transfer an Arab suburb of Jerusalem to the control of Yasser Arafat's fledgling Palestinian Authority. He is now insisting that the handover must wait until peace is restored in the West Bank and Gaza.
The peace talks are again in crisis, with Arafat's chief negotiator pulling out of the talks. Meanwhile the nationalists are threatening to break with Barak's coalition government. The meagre concessions made by the Israeli government to the Palestinians were due to the enormous pressure exerted by American imperialism. The United States, which used Israel as a bulwark against the Arab Revolution in the Middle East, now wants to broaden its base to include some of the Arab powers. This can only be achieved by forcing Israel to make concessions. But these "peace process" concessions are too little to satisfy the aspirations of the Palestinians, and too great to satisfy the Israeli establishment. The question of Jerusalem, the borders of a Palestinian state, the fate of the refugees, etc., are enormous obstacles that they are unable to resolve.
The real feeling of the Israeli ruling class were revealed when Brigadier General Shlomo Oren, head of Israeli security in the West Bank, said that he would use Cobra attack helicopters to bomb Arafat's fortified compound if he did not take immediate action to end the protests.
On a capitalist basis, there is no way out for the masses of the Middle East. Even the ordinary Israelis are caught in a trap. The foundation of the state of Israel was supposed to guarantee peace, security and prosperity. This has proved an illusion as the events of the last 50 years have demonstrated. They are no nearer peace and security.
The present situation brings this home. The results of the "peace process" on the ground have been negligible, and have served to fuel the mass protests sweeping the occupied areas. Despite pleas from Arafat for an end to the violence, the demonstrations continue. "Down with the olive branch, long live the rifle," chanted the protesters.
There is growing disillusionment with Arafat, who has failed the masses, and has set up a corrupt and incompetent authority. He is desperate for a compromise with the Israelis, but any such deal will never satisfy the needs and wishes of the Palestinian people. In a telling comment, Kanaan al-Jamal, who works for the negotiations department, stated "These people believe they should start a new intifada."
Feelings are running extremely high. There is no mood to compromise. "We don't follow orders from anyone," said Ali Abu Khader, 19. "Mr Arafat wants to protect people but he doesn't understand that this is a popular revolution."
However, the only road to peace in the Middle East is one that is based on the unity of the Arab and Jewishworking class. The ruling cliques that dominate the reactionary regimes of the area, which are fostered by imperialism, can offer no solution. Only by the workers overthrow of the reactionary Arab regimes and the coming to power of the working class in Israel, can a socialist federation of the Middle East be formed where the rights of all national groups would be respected. On a capitalist basis there can only be war, violence and insecurity.