Palestine: New Israeli coalition spells no change on occupation

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

On 8 May Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made the surprise announcement that his Likud party had formed a coalition with Kadima, a centre-right breakaway from Likud, and that elections planned for September were cancelled. The new coalition has an overwhelming majority of 94 out of the 120 seats in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. Shaul Mofaz the leader of Kadima is now deputy prime minister to Netanyahu and part of the government’s Security Commission that oversees Israel’s military actions.

Mofaz and Kadima are portrayed in the mainstream media as being from the centre ground of Israeli politics and so are expected to have a moderating effect on Netanyahu, specifically in relation to possible military action against Iran. Mofaz has lined up with most of Israel’s military class in opposing any military action at the present time, against Netanyahu’s threats of an imminent military strike. The present head of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), Benny Gantz, also supports diplomacy over military action, declaring that he thinks Iran is ‘rational’ and is not constructing a nuclear weapon. Both the current and former heads of Mossad oppose military action, as does the former head of Shin Bet who argued that an attack on Iran would accelerate rather than prevent its development of nuclear weapons. In the end, the determining factor in any Israeli attack on Iran will be the position of the US, and at present deepening and extending economic sanctions on Iran is President Obama’s preferred political strategy.

Domestic politics within Israel provide the motives for forming the coalition. It enables Netanyahu to undermine the influence of the ultra-orthodox religious parties in his existing coalition and also their growing influence within Likud, and to tackle their exemption from military service – over 60% of ultra-orthodox males do not engage in any work, spending their days studying religious tracts. For Kadima it was simple: accept the invitation or, according to polls, lose 25 of their 28 Knesset seats in a fresh election.

However the media portrays him, Mofaz is no moderate. He is a retired General, a former head of the IDF and a former Defence Minister under Sharon.  He was in charge of the IDF at the beginning of the Intifada in 2000 and he directed the brutal assault on Jenin in 2002 which saw over 50 Palestinians killed as the refugee camp was virtually demolished. The coalition government is united on most policies and it will not alter one bit in its racist and barbaric policies towards Palestine.

Settlement construction continues to advance in the West Bank; at the end of April Netanyahu established a special ministerial committee to get round legal barriers and provide the necessary permits to legalise three settlement ‘outposts’: Bruchin, Rechenim and Sansana. On 10 May it was announced that building plans had been approved for the Gilo settlement in the West Bank that will increase its size by 2,242 housing units. On the same day Israeli troops threatened people in Yatta, south of Al Khalil (Hebron), distributing notices ordering people to evacuate the area within a month so that Israeli forces could demolish their homes and property. The area has been designated by Israel as a military zone.

On 14 May the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported the Israeli destruction of humanitarian efforts and structures in the West Bank, many of them funded by the European Union. The report stated that 620 structures, 62 funded by the EU, had been demolished in 2011, including homes, water cisterns and farm buildings built with European money. On the same day the EU issued its own report, which warned that the acceleration of settlement construction, evictions and house demolitions in East Jerusalem, settler violence and worsening conditions for Palestinians in most of the West Bank ‘threaten to make a two-state solution impossible’.

Palestinian hunger strikers win concessions from Israel

On 14 May the representatives of the approximately 2,000 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike agreed to end the strike in return for various concessions from Israel. The majority had commenced their hunger strikes on 17 April but two prisoners, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, had gone without food for 77 days and were close to death. The main demands of the prisoners were for an end to administrative detention which gives Israel the power to imprison Palestinians indefinitely without trial, an end to the extensive use of solitary confinement against prison leaders and the right to family visits. The previous hunger strikes by Khader Adnan and Hana Al Shalabi, which had led to their eventual release from administrative detention, gave the impetus for the mass hunger strike. The deal was brokered by Egypt with the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel, Yasser Rida, reportedly presenting the agreement to the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike committee in Ashkelon prison, Israel.

The agreement reached was, in the words of Qaddoura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, satisfactory in the present circumstances:

‘[It] doesn’t meet all of our expectations, let alone our aspirations. This is a bitter struggle between two unequal parties and our brothers (the prisoners) in the Zionist bastilles and dungeons have made maximum efforts to obtain a semblance of condi-tions that would grant them some dignity and human decency. Any concession we extricate from Israel’s parsimonious hands is an achievement... No one is euphoric or ecstatic, but at least some of prisoners’ demands have been met, Israel is an enemy, not a friend, and we should not expect our arch enemy to behave charitably towards us.’

Israel has agreed to allow family visits for prisoners from Gaza; these visits were stopped in 2006 after the capture of Gilad Shalit by the Palestinian resistance. It has released some, but not all, prison leaders from solitary confinement and agreed to present evidence if administrative detention orders are renewed after six months. Israel guaranteed to release both Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh but only when their current terms of administrative detention ended. Only days before reaching the agreement Israel extended, for the fourth time, the administrative detention of Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member Nayef Rajoub. This will make a total of two years incarceration in an Israeli prison without trial. At present Israel holds 26 members of the PLC without trial.

The prisoners have won a victory by resisting to the very limits of their lives but we know the word of Israel is not worth the paper it is written on. More battles will come and we need to build real solidarity with the Palestinian movement on the streets of Britain and the world.

Victory to the Palestinian people!

Boycott Israeli goods!

Isolate the racist Zionist state!

Bob Shepherd