Israel — Provocation disguised as retaliation
by Richard Becker Why would the Israeli Government led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon attempt to assassinate a leader of a major Palestinian resistance movement just days after the start of a new US-sponsored "peace process"? After all, wouldn't such a move guarantee a new round of attacks inside Israel? And together, couldn't these developments signal the end of Bush's "road map" before the journey had even gotten underway? On June 4, President George W Bush had flown to Aqaba, Jordan, to meet with Sharon and the new Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas. The meeting was heralded as the beginning of a new day for the Middle East. Bush's "road map" was unveiled in the aftermath of the US military victory and occupation of Iraq. In the first two-and-a-half years of his presidency, Bush had refused to speak to any PNA leaders, while meeting on eight occasions with Sharon. The US decision to open new negotiations now was based on two factors. On the one hand the Palestinian resistance has not been broken, despite overwhelming Israeli repression backed by the US. On the other, the defeat of Iraq has weakened the Arab world as a whole and further isolated the Palestinians, as well as the Arab states which are resisting US domination of the region. The "road map" offers very little to the Palestinians while demanding that they make enormous concessions, concessions viewed by many Palestinians as constituting the termination of their national cause. The Palestinian "state" supposedly agreed to by Sharon and Bush would emerge in 2005. But Sharon's office has leaked maps of the "state" that it envisions to the Israeli media. It is comprised of four pieces of disconnected territory; about half of the West Bank and Gaza. The West Bank and Gaza were conquered by Israel in the 1967 war, and together make up only 22 percent of historic Palestine. Sharon stands for Israeli domination of all of historic Palestine. His position remains unchanged from those expressed in a July 21, 2000, interview with the Jerusalem Post, several months before he became Prime Minister. In the interview, Sharon called for Israel to "retain greater Jerusalem, united and undivided ... under full Israeli sovereignty". This refers to the Palestinian Old City and all of the surrounding areas that Israel illegally annexed after the 1967 war. "Israel will retain under its full control sufficiently wide security zones — in both the East and West. The Jordan Valley, in its broadest sense, as defined by the Allon Plan, will be the eastern security zone of Israel." In July 2000, Sharon called for large areas of the illegally occupied West Bank to be annexed. Today, his government is building a 200-mile-long militarised wall through the West Bank, surrounding the main Palestinian populated areas. "Jewish towns, villages and communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as access roads leading to them ... will remain under full Israeli control", Sharon continued in the 2000 interview. "Judea and Samaria" is the Israeli settler name for the West Bank. "Israel does not accept under any circumstances the Palestinian demand for the right [of refugees] to return. Israel bears no moral responsibility for the refugees' predicament." "Israel must continue to control the underground fresh water aquifers in western Samaria [the West Bank] ... The Palestinians are obligated to prevent contamination of Israel's water resources". "All the territories under control of the Palestinian Authority will be demilitarised. The Palestinians will not have an army, only a police force. Israel will maintain complete control of the whole air space over Judea, Samaria and Gaza." With only 6.5 million people, Israel possesses the world's fourth or fifth most powerful military, thanks to the unparalleled support it receives from the Pentagon. Why Sharon agreed The only change in Sharon's position since his July 2000 interview is that now he is willing to say the words "Palestinian state". Even this came as a big shock to many in his extreme right-wing government and its popular base. A heated exchange took place inside the Israeli Government before acceptance of the "road map" was narrowly approved. Why would Sharon now agree to even a truncated Palestinian state? First, there was heavy pressure from Washington. The Bush administration is seeking to use the conquest of Iraq as a springboard for the reorganisation of the entire Middle East. The dismantling of the Palestinian Resistance is seen as a necessary pre- condition for the extension of Washington's hegemony over the Middle East. The "road map" is conceived of by the administration as a means to liquidate the Palestinian struggle. Sharon, like all Israeli leaders, knows that directly defying Washington is not advisable, particularly given the immense and indispensable aid that flows to Israel every year from the US. Secondly, if the "road map" process goes forward, Sharon intends to annex half of the West Bank and to relegate the Palestinians to disconnected chunks of land, surrounded by Israeli military power. Under such circumstances, the Palestinians would in reality become "self-governing" labour colonies for Israeli big business. Sharon sheds Israeli blood Sharon has long been practised in the art of derailing peace negotiations, while making it appear that the other side is to blame. Or, at least in making it appear that way to the US public, the only foreign opinion that really matters to Israeli leaders. Just days after the Aqaba summit, the Israeli military carried out an attempted assassination by missile of Dr Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, leader of the political wing of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. The attack on Rantisi was supposedly "retaliation" for an attack on Israeli occupation troops at the Erez Crossing in Gaza. In the battle that followed, five Israeli troops and five Palestinian fighters had been killed. Resisting occupation forces by armed means is legal under international law. Rantisi has long been the primary political spokesperson for Hamas, and has lived openly in Gaza. This was the first known targeting of Rantisi by the Israeli military and secret police, who have assassinated hundreds of Palestinians in the past three years. The timing of the hit on Rantisi, which had to have been approved by Sharon, is more than suspect. The assassinations of Palestinian leaders in the past have invariably been followed by retaliation attacks in the streets of Israeli cities. Killing or attempting to kill a Hamas leader of Rantisi's stature, Sharon knew, would quickly be followed by an attack inside Israel, and the wait was not a long one. The next day, June 11, a bus bomb in Jerusalem killed 17 Israelis and wounded more than 70. The following days saw several more deadly Israeli missile attacks in Gaza. In the 10 days after the June 4 summit, more than 60 people were killed and hundreds wounded, the majority Palestinian. Why would Sharon want to see Israeli blood shed? Because he well knows that Palestinian casualties by themselves are never sufficient for racist US officials and media to declare that the peace process has been aborted. "Derailing the peace process" requires Israeli casualties, and Sharon was only too glad to accommodate. A main Israeli tactic was called "retaliation". In response to recently expelled Palestinians coming across the borders back into their homeland, the Israeli army (IDF) would carry out large-scale attacks and massacres. "Retaliation" was really provocation; the intent was to get Jordan or Egypt to react militarily to the massacres, which could then be used by Israel as a pretext for a new war of conquest. "Major Ariel ('Arik') Sharon, the Israeli officer who came to embody the 'retaliatory policy,' was placed in charge of the new Unit 101, designed especially for such actions. On October 14, 1953, Unit 101 attacked Qibya, a small border village, and wiped out its population of more than 60 people. Many of the villagers were burned alive inside their homes. There were no IDF casualties." (From Righteous Victims, Benny Morris, Knopf Publishers, 1999, New York, pp. 277- 8) Sharon was then the "favourite officer" of Israeli General Moshe Dayan, later Defence Minister, who was a major proponent of the "retaliation" policy. The Israeli Government continued with this policy leading up to the 1956 Suez war, when, in alliance with the British and French imperialists, they temporarily conquered the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. Bush, the Democrats & Sharon The motivation for the attempted assassination of Rantisi was so transparent that even Bush issued a mild criticism of the Israeli action as "troubling". Leading Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, issued a criticism, too — not of Sharon, but of Bush. Thirty-four Democrats signed a letter to the President saying that they were "deeply disturbed" by his criticism of Israel. By that time, the White House had changed its tune, as well, and issued calls for the wiping out of Hamas and the entire Palestinian Resistance, whom it labels "terrorists". Virtually the entire spectrum of the Palestinian Resistance have joined together in rejecting the "road map" and pledge to continue the struggle. Elias Rashmawi, a spokesperson for the Free Palestine Alliance-US, said of the plan: "The road map is the ultimate formulation by the US to fully end all forms of resistance and fragment the Palestinian national unity. "In reality, this is a 'security plan' designed to destroy resistance on all fronts".
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