Middle-East crisis hotting up
Yasser Arafat says he will proclaim an independent Palestinian state on September 13, whether Israel likes it or not, provoking a storm of diplomatic activity in Tel Aviv, London and Washington. The declaration, made by the 129-strong Palestinian parliament endorsed Arafat's proposal for a state which would claim authority over the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip, even though over 60 percent is still occupied by Israeli troops and hundreds of thousands of Zionist settlers. Arab Jerusalem would be the Palestinian capital and its borders would be those of the 1949 Armistice line which prevailed until June 4, 1967 — the day before the Israeli invasion which seized the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. "There will be a battle for Jerusalem", Palestinian Communications Minister Imad Faluja warned. "No Israeli may live in the occupied territories and we will not allow the settlers to return to their homes." Israel has warned that its response would be to annex the Jordan Valley, the Zionist settlements and what it calls "Greater Jerusalem" if Yasser Arafat goes ahead with his threat. But the "old man" of the Palestinian national movement has said all this before. No-one knows whether Arafat is again bluffing to get the "peace process" going again or whether he's now resigned to a new period of confrontation with the Israeli occupiers. It's certainly being taken seriously in Tel Aviv. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak flew into London to try to get Tony Blair to put pressure on Arafat to back down. He then dashed to Paris to meet President Chirac to make the same plea. And US President Bill Clinton convened an emergency Middle East peace summit to head off the crisis. In London Barak was giving away nothing. "I hope, of course, that everything will be decided in negotiation", he said outside No l0. "I made it clear... that if unilateral steps will be taken by one side, we will have to respond with our own unilateral steps", he added. According to the Israeli media, Barak is prepared to return 80 percent of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian National Authority, while the rest would be "leased" or annexed by Israel. Few Palestinians believe even this — and in any case everyone knows the 20 percent Tel Aviv covets includes "Greater Jerusalem" and the Jordan Valley. And nothing is being said about the plight of the millions of Palestinian refugees who have been promised nothing at all. Arafat is under increasing pressure from the Palestinians under his authority and the much larger refugee community across the Arab world to stand up to the Israelis. Israel has sent three extra battalions into the West Bank backed up by tanks, helicopter gunships and a new "gravel gun" designed to disperse crowds.
* * *New Worker, paper of New Communist Party of Britain