By John O'Mahony
The decision of the Sharon government, with the backing of the USA and Britain, to impose on the Palestinian people an Israeli "solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will, if it goes ahead, lead to further generations of conflict between Israel on the one side and the Palestinians and the Arab world on the other.
Israel is to withdraw from Gaza, uprooting the Israeli settlements there but keeping military outposts. The major Israeli settlements in the West Bank, some of them deep in Palestinian territory, will stay. Israel will annex a sizeable part of the area on which a viable Palestinian state might have been established.
The Sharon plan will remove the possibility of an independent Palestinian state, leaving the Palestinians with only separated pockets of territory under ultimate Israeli control.
Thus the very possibility of a two-states settlement, with a Palestinian state alongside Israel, may be about to recede or even disappear.
Bush and Blair talk about Sharon's plan as part of the "roadmap" published 13 months ago. But Israeli annexation of the territory on which an independent Palestinian state would exist flatly contradicts the roadmap's explicit commitment to a Palestinian state on something like the 1967 borders. The roadmap promised "an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state end[ing] the occupation that began in 1967".
The assassination in the last month of two of the central leaders of Hamas points to an Israeli policy that now relies entirely on force to deal with its Palestinian enemies.
On one level, of course, Israel is entitled to defend itself against those who send suicide bombers into the cities of Israel, and the leaders of Hamas are therefore legitimate Israeli targets. But the political effect of killing these men inevitably works against the possibility of any Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
It commits the Israeli government to a policy of war and repression against the Palestinians - and as much of it as will be necessary to beat them down. That policy goes naturally with the decision to try to impose an Israeli-chauvinist "solution" on the Palestinians.
The blunt assertion by George Bush that there can be no Palestinian "right of return" to what is now Israel also hacks clumsily at the possibilities of peace.
The claim of the "right of return" for the four million descendants of the Palestinians who fled or were removed in 1948 from what is now Israel was always incompatible with the existence of Israel, as Solidarity has argued. The "right of return" has been understood by both Arabs and Israelis as a code term for the destruction of Israel. Palestinian and other Arab commitment to it implied unceasing war against Israel. Its removal from Middle East politics was a necessary condition for a stable Israeli-Arab peace.
However, in the negotiations that broke down three and a half years ago, to be replaced by the new Palestinian intifada, that claim was being parlayed into something like the "return" of a limited number of Palestinians and compensation for others - into something that did not imply the destruction of Israel. A formula of that sort was included in the Geneva Accord proposed by Israeli soft-leftists and Palestinian leaders last year.
Such "compromise" would not have satisfied such as Hamas, but it might have helped "lubricate" a settlement agreed between Palestinian leaders and Israel. All such possibilities have now been swept away, making any agreed settlement for the refugees greatly more difficult.
Implementation of the roadmap implied, as we said in Solidarity 13 months ago, the prior removal of the Sharon government by the Israeli electorate. Now the opposite has happened. Sharon, with the backing of Bush, has removed the roadmap.
However, a number of things are still not fixed and final. Sharon is definite about which West Bank settlements will remain - Ma'ale Adumim; Ariel; Gush Etzion; Kiryat Arba; and Hebron, where tens of thousands of Palestinians are held hostage to a few hundred Israeli settlers. It is still not entirely certain he can get his way.
It was always improbable, after 37 years, that all settlements would be removed, that the 1967 borders would exactly set the line between Israel and a Palestinian state. Sharon's claims go far beyond border adjustments. Pressure from the European governments which sponsored the roadmap, with its verbal commitment to a Palestinian state on something like the 1967 borders, could still limit the damage to the prospects of a viable Palestinian state by demanding the removal of some of the settlements.
The report in Bob Woodward's new book that Bush's "commitment" last year to the roadmap was only a political sop thrown to his political poodle Tony Blair will not help placate the USA's three partners in the roadmap "Quartet", Russia, the European Union, and the UN. They know that any possibility of "stabilising" the Middle East depends on a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians that has the support of at least a majority of the Palestinians and of other Arabs.
The labour movement in Britain should call Blair to account and demand that the British government refuse to accept the Sharon-Bush plan. The labour movements in the rest of the EU should press their governments to speak out.
Bush's endorsement must help Sharon "sell" his plan to Israelis and strengthen Sharon in government, at a time when he was previously under pressure. But the Israeli electorate has still to pronounce on the Sharon-Bush plan.
Even aside from any question of justice for the Palestinians, many Israelis will reject the plan because they know that it implies continuing long-term conflict. As the roadmap demanded the removal of the Sharon government if it were to have a chance to help reshape Middle East politics for the better, so the Sharon-Bush plan demands the continuation of the Sharon government in Israel, or another chauvinist government very like it. Israelis who want a just, or even a viable, solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, may be able to do something about that.
Two nations, two states!
Israel out of the Occupied Territories! Support the Refuseniks!
Picket outside the Israeli embassy, Kensington Court/High St Kensington
5.30-7pm, Monday 3 May
Nearest Tube: High Street Kensington
More details: 020 7207 3997