Sharon has failed in Gaza - The time is ripe to fight for the perspective of a workers' government

The Sharon government’s days are clearly numbered. His brutal two week campaign in Gaza has achieved the opposite of what he was expecting. The question is who and what can replace him? The alternative must clearly come from within the labour movement.

The Israeli army offensive that began on September 29 and was focused on the Jabalya refugee camp, the largest in Gaza, and the nearby towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya came to an end on Friday, October 15, at the beginning of Ramadan.

Dozens of Palestinians among them 10 children under 14 were killed and hundreds were wounded in the two weeks of the killings, following the deaths of two Israeli children in a Qassam rocket attack by the reactionary organization Hamas, in the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

In total, according to IDF statistics, 138 Palestinians were killed during Operation Days of Penitence. Of these, about 80 were armed men – including some 50 from Hamas, according to both the army and the Islamic organization. Another 10 were children under the age of 14, and of the remaining 48, the army said it has not yet verified how many were civilians.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said that 140 people were killed and some 500 injured during the operation; according to Palestinian and UN sources, the dead included dozens of civilians. In addition, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights charged that at least 80 houses were demolished, including 60 in Jabalya and 20 in Beit Lahia.

The withdrawal of the tanks and ground forces from populated areas in the northern Gaza Strip on October 15, put a temporary end to the bloodiest offensive in the area in more than four years of fighting. Israeli tanks and bulldozers have left behind them a wide strip of destruction, damaged houses, blown up water pipes and fallen electricity poles.

However, if Sharon thought that this operation would destroy the fighting mood against his plans in Gaza and would allow him to install a puppet government headed by Dahlan, he has been proven very wrong. Laila El-Haddad an Al Jazeera reporter inside Jabalya wrote from Gaza under the title: Jabalya defies Sharon’s military solution (Friday 15 October 2004):

“The Israeli onslaught has rained death and damage on the camp. UN schools, chicken farms, refugee shelters, hospitals, mosques and even a kindergarten in front of Riham’s home have been fair game for the ongoing Israeli operation codenamed Days of Penitence.

“On 4 October, one of the Palestinian victims of Days of Penitence was Islam Dwidar, just 14-years old. Dwidar was shot by Israeli snipers as she was baking bread with her mother.

“Innocent bystanders such as Dwidar account for roughly 41% of the 100-plus Palestinian fatalities inflicted by the Israeli army operation so far. About a third of them are children, according to an initial investigation by the Israeli human-rights group B’tselem.

“But the refugee camp is hardly wanting in defence tactics.

“All along the sewage-strewn streets of Jabalya are embers of dried weeds and burning tyres, whose smoke is used to cloud the view of the Israeli drones.

“At one place, camp residents have pinned up an enormous nylon tarpaulin, meant to serve the same purpose, as resistance fighters, toting Kalashnikovs and sporting crude face masks, warily roam Jabalya’s narrow alleys.

“The fighters do not seem concerned that the odds are overwhelmingly against them. The truth, they say, is on their side.

“ ‘Their military is strong, but we are confident that the weak in this case can defeat the strong. God will make us victorious,’ said one fighter and father of five. ‘We’ve been surprised by the amount of support we’ve received here by everyone in the camp’.

“Camp residents remain likewise defiant, despite the Israeli propaganda leaflets urging them to turn against the fighters, delivered to them through the same aircraft that play havoc with their lives.

“In Jabalya, the most densely populated place on earth, the Israeli offensive has a special significance. The camp is both home to the first Palestinian refugees, forced out of their land in historic Palestine in 1948, and the birthplace of the first Palestinian uprising in 1987.”

Thus, Sharon has managed only to stiffen the resistance of Gaza to his plan. Unfortunately due to the lack of a real opposition of the left in Israel to his plan, at this point only Hamas has gained from it. A statement by Hamas stated: “The organization declared that the withdrawal was ‘a serious defeat for the enemy’ because, ‘it did not manage to achieve its goal – stopping Qassam launches inside the Green Line’.”

While the Israeli army was pulling back late Friday (October 15), Palestinian gunmen in Jabaliya fired automatic rifles into the air. “This is a victory for the resistance and for the steadfastness of our heroic people,” said one militant, identifying himself as Abu Baker. Not only this but an Israeli company commander, whose name was not released, was accused by some of his soldiers of emptying an ammunition clip into the girl, Iyman Hams, after troops shot her when she entered an unauthorized zone near an army post.

The shooting set off a storm of protest in Gaza, where Palestinians accused the Israeli army of criminal conduct. It also sparked debate in Israel, with some commentators seeing it as a blow to the Israeli military’s moral standing.

Only a fool can believe that the Israeli army pulled back in order to respect Ramadan. In reality Israel Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon was forced to agree to end the two-week-old military offensive in the northern Gaza Strip, as the army generals began to realize that they were achieving the opposite result to that which they had expected. Instead of a broken spirit of the people of Gaza they are getting more resistance. Instead of strengthening P.M Ahmed Qurie the “moderate”, they were strengthening Hamas and even Al-Qaeda as the killing in Sinai shows.

Addressing this question, the Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, acknowledged that the Palestinian security forces had been unable to cope with the growing lawlessness in Palestinian areas since the Israeli raids began.

“Unfortunately, up to now the Palestinian security forces have not been able to control this situation and we bear a very big responsibility for this,” Mr. Qurei was quoted as saying in Al-Ayyam, a Palestinian daily. “There’s still chaos, still killing.”

The same message that Sharon is endangering Jordan came from Jordanian Foreign Minister Dr. Marwan Muasher who has warned the Israeli ruling class about their need to push ahead with the road map, and the imperialist solution of the two states, before it’s too late for the all the existing political order.

According to the daily Haaretz of October 18, Dr. Marwan Muasher, the Jordanian foreign minister, did not try to hide behind diplomatic language. “No,” he said, when asked, at the time of the opening of the Jordanian embassy in Tel Aviv, whether he thought this is how peace would look in 2004. “There is no question we are facing today a difficult political relationship,” he elaborated in a telephone interview from Amman. “It’s clear that we cannot just pretend nothing is happening with what is going on in the West Bank, with what is going on in Gaza... and with the course of the war... When we signed the peace treaty in 1994, we had expected 2004 to be a totally different era in the Middle East.”

A two-state solution, he explained, “is also a Jordanian national interest today. And this explains our strong commitment to all efforts aimed at arriving at such a solution, whether the Arab initiative or later the road map... Jordan is extremely concerned that another solution will be sought at its expense.”

Even the Israeli ruling class is beginning to be concerned with Sharon’s military adventures. It is of interest to read Aluf Ben in Haaretz, the mouth peace of the Israeli capitalists. The article, that appeared in the October 18 edition, reflects the growing idea among the ruling circles to go back to the idea of 1948 of dividing up the Palestinians among the Arab states:

“The continuing stagnation in the war with the Palestinians, the absence of a conclusion and the sense that there is no formula at hand for ending the hostilities are reawakening the question of the aims of Israel’s war.

“In these circumstances, the top military echelons are beginning to wonder whether it is correct for Israel to continue to insist on imposing a two-state solution, or whether its time has passed. Possibly the war is being conducted on the basis of an irrelevant paradigm, which was perhaps not practical even in the past.

“In the Israeli establishment there are not, of course, many supporters for the idea of one state for the two peoples, which would mean the end of Zionism. Instead, there are those who are proposing an opposite idea, ‘the regional settlement,’ which means abandoning the failed attempt to share the land with Arafat and his cohorts and a return to the solution of the 1948 truce agreements. Egypt will take the Gaza Strip, Jordan the West Bank and Syria the Golan Heights, and Israel will obtain stable agreements with the countries responsible in exchange for conceding the territories.”

Sharon’s government days are numbered. He is facing a growing opposition inside his own party and among the settlers who oppose his plan to leave Gaza for the West Bank. His only chance of survival is the support he can get from the Zionist left, from Peres, and the leaders of Peace Now.

Very soon we are going to hear from the leaders of the Zionist left the argument that to save Israel from the danger of the far right we must support Sharon. We can read it already in Haaretz:

Gideon Samet writes under the title Return of the Zealots and Siccari:

“The prime minister’s one and only political plan is stuck – not because he doesn’t want to carry it out, not because he doesn’t have a public majority, not because it isn’t vital. The disengagement plan is stuck because Israeli politics, in a drawn-out and destructive process, is deteriorating rightward. A quarter of the Knesset is extreme right. With the help of rabbis, self-appointed spokesmen for the Holy One, the French Le Pen option is accelerating right under the nose of a nation that thinks it can’t happen here. Attempt to pass the plan is therefore in itself a critical test case to find out if the country has gone crazy.

“If the plan is defeated, or its implementation is shelved, nothing afterward will stop Israel collapsing into the very worst condition. This would be a resounding victory for extremism and nationalist demagoguery, for messianism and xenophobia, which would destroy any chance of dealing with the war with the Palestinians.

“The details of the ultimate disaster are well-known. More blood. Lots of blood. Becoming an international pariah, as predicted in the Foreign Ministry’s own report. Don’t let the false prophets of the nationalist and religious Le Penism spread tall tales – it is not disengagement that is threatening to destroy the Third Commonwealth. A horrifying national crisis has already taken root because of the rising influence of the Zealots and Siccari of our time.

“Sharon woke up and is doing something against this trend, almost as best as he can, and with partial success. Those betraying his mission is the number two behind him in the popularity race to lead the state after him. How long will Benjamin Netanyahu play that despicable game of doing what he can to avoid announcing loudly and clearly his unequivocal support for the disengagement?”

However, the idea of supporting or even forming a coalition government with Sharon is not popular with the rank and file of Peace Now and it faces an opposition inside the Labor Party. At this point Histadrut chairman Amir Peretz, who brings to mind Lula in Brazil, is expressing the most vocal opposition to entering Sharon’s government because of its Thatcherite economic plan.

It is precisely for this reason that the ruling class does not like him. Haaretz wrote about him:

“As a national leader, Peretz is supposed to be (in the view of his supporters on the left) the spokesman of the weaker classes, Sephardim and minorities. But as of now, he is mainly an ally of the strong unions, particularly the large public monopolies. He does not raise a finger to end the exploitation of the public at large and of the national economy for which these groups are responsible. On the contrary: Peretz consistently defends their status and their interests. The big question is whether Peretz will succeed in breaking loose from the strong ties to these forces, if and when he achieves his goal of entering the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Peretz’s overall approach, as disclosed in recent interviews (for instance, in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz on October 15) is narrow and not in line with the interests of the state. The prime minister, who supported the finance minister in carrying out critical reforms and did not stand in the way of their implementation, as Peretz would have liked, is described as a ‘neutral robot when it comes to the economy’.

“Would prime minister Peretz permit the execution of those reforms that Benjamin Netanyahu will not have a chance to carry out? It is difficult to imagine him backing a finance minister who would want to take on the employees of the ports, airports, Israel Electric Corporation, Israel Lands Authority, Oil Refineries, the large banks – whether in order to make them more efficient, to reorganize and set their costs of employment at reasonable levels, or in order to privatize that which the state does not have to administer. Based on Peretz’s current positions, it is reasonable to assume that during his tenure as prime minister, the reform process would be suspended, the regime of distribution of support payments would be renewed and expanded, and the economy would begin to fall behind the rapidly changing, efficient economies of the West.

“But the immediate danger of placing Peretz and his trade-unionist, socialist image as the left’s candidate for prime minister is that he would scare off the middle class and centrist voters. Although these groups want a politically moderate candidate for prime minister, they do not want one with a radical economic and social outlook. In the wake of his candidacy, they would be liable to disperse between the center and the right, and some would find refuge in the Likud. Then who would fill the breach?” (Haaretz, October 19).

The problem with Peretz from the working class perspective is that if he should become the prime minister, he would do everything to please the ruling class and would carry out the same Thatcherite economic plan that he now opposes (again, like Lula once he came to power). However, at this moment in time he is expressing in a very deformed way opposition to the capitalist class. Thus, he is the only one we could possibly consider giving any critical support.

However, what we need is not to support Sharon in any form or shape, but to put on the agenda the perspective for a workers’ government that will put an end to the oppression of the Palestinians and the exploitation of the working class as a whole.

Peretz has become a point of reference also because of the abysmal state of the Israeli left. For example, even the Hadash-Ta’al faction in the Knesset has been coming indirectly to the aid of Sharon. In a move against the right that demanded a referendum on Sharon’s plan, it submitted a bill on Tuesday (October 19) which decrees that no referendum will be held on “issues that do not fall within [Israel’s] sovereignty and recognized borders.”

The point we have to stress is that from the working class perspective the Sharon government must go. But we have to struggle for a genuine left alternative. This can only be achieved by putting on the agenda the struggle for a workers’ government in Israel. There are no shortcuts. We must work for this perspective.