The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 68/No. 17           May 4, 2004  
Bush, Kerry back Tel Aviv’s settlement plan
(front page)
WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. president George Bush and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry have both endorsed Tel Aviv’s plans to permanently maintain some of the largest Israeli settlements in the West Bank and to refuse the right of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees to return to their land. Bush announced his support at an April 14 press conference here with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

Kerry immediately backed the Bush administration’s stance. “What’s important obviously is the security of the state of Israel, and that’s what the prime minister [of Israel] and the president, I think, are trying to address,” Kerry said.

Washington’s position further emboldened the Israeli rulers in their drive to deal mortal blows to the Palestinian national liberation struggle. Three days later, Israeli helicopter gunships assassinated Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the central leader of the Palestinian organization Hamas. Rantisi had taken the place in the Hamas leadership of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, 67, who was killed March 22 by Israeli forces.

In response to Rantisi’s assassination the Bush administration issued its standard statement of “concern,” calling on Tel Aviv to “consider the consequences of its actions.”

During an April 18 interview on NBC TV’s “Meet the Press,” on the other hand, Kerry fully backed Tel Aviv’s murder. Asked if he supported Rantisi’s assassination, Kerry said, “I believe Israel has every right in the world to respond to any act of terror against it.” He labeled Hamas a “terrorist, brutal organization,” and said that the group “has had years to make up its mind to take part in a peaceful process. They refuse to…and I support Israel’s efforts to try to separate itself and to try to be secure.”

During that program, interviewer Timothy Russert asked Kerry whether he supported Bush’s stand on the Israeli settlements. Kerry answered, “Yes.”

“Completely?” asked Russert. “Yes,” replied Kerry.

Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in the occupied territories to protest Rantisi’s execution.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Gideon Meir bluntly stated that this was not Tel Aviv’s first attempt on Rantisi’s life. “We tried to do it a few months ago,” he said. “This time we got him.”

Rantisi’s murder builds on Tel Aviv’s escalating assaults on Palestinians over the recent months, for which the Zionist regime has been getting a green light from Washington. In March alone, Israeli forces killed 73 Palestinians and demolished 118 of their homes, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Under Sharon’s “disengagement plan,” Tel Aviv would withdraw all of an estimated 7,500 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip along with military outposts, getting rid of the headache of trying to administer Gaza, while maintaining control of its borders, airport, and seaport.

Tel Aviv will also reportedly annex five large settlement complexes in the West Bank. These have been growing rapidly over the last decades into what Bush described as “large population centers,” approaching the size of cities in some cases. The five settlements now house some 55,000 people out of a total of 230,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

The settlements of Givat Zeev and Maaleh Adumim—with 10,000 and 30,000 inhabitants, respectively—are north and east of Jerusalem. Ariel, with 18,000, Kiryat Arba, with 4,000, and the smaller Hebron enclave of 500 are deep inside the West Bank. Their annexation, and the roads connecting them, would make a contiguous Palestinian territory impossible to achieve.

Sharon aide Raanan Gissan said the fate of the remaining 140 settlements in the West Bank would be decided in future negotiations.

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently finance minister, said Israel could now “fortify our hold” on settlements in the West Bank. He told Israeli radio that he would approve tens of millions of dollars for the settlements that would not be inside the miles-long “security wall” Tel Aviv is building. That wall cuts through the West Bank, virtually separating entire Palestinian villages.

The plan would also deny Palestinians the right to return to lands they were driven from leading up to and following the establishment of the state of Israel. These refugees would only be allowed to return to the Palestinian areas in the West Bank and Gaza.

Bush’s decision to back the plan gave a green light to Tel Aviv to continue its attacks on the Palestinian people under the banner of a “war on terrorism”—the code phrase used by imperialist powers from Washington to London and Paris to step up military intervention abroad and attacks on workers rights’ at home. In his opening remarks at the April 14 joint press conference, Sharon praised Bush for his “courageous leadership in the war against global terror.”

As Sharon looked on, Bush called the Israeli government proposal “historic and courageous.”Alluding to the administration’s so-called “road map to peace” in the Middle East, Bush told reporters, “There is a process that got stuck,” and “the Prime Minister steps up and leads.”

The U.S.-promoted proposal, which received support from European Union and United Nations representatives, aimed to derail the Palestinian struggle for self-determination with the promise of a Palestinian state in 2005 in exchange for a guarantee of the security of the Israeli settler-state.

Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders spoke out against Sharon’s plan. “The Palestinian people will not give up seeking their freedom and independence and a state with Jerusalem as its capital,” said PA president Yasir Arafat.

Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said, “These issues can be resolved only in the final status negotiations and by a decision by the Palestinian leadership.”

Speaking on behalf of the EU presidency, Irish foreign minister Brian Cowen opposed the proposal, saying, “The European Union will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties.” The West Bank and Gaza Strip were seized by Tel Aviv in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

“We welcome the Israeli proposal to disengage from the Gaza and parts of the West Bank,” said British prime minister Anthony Blair in a joint press conference with Bush on April 16. Blair did not join the U.S. president, however, in openly endorsing Tel Aviv’s opposition to the Palestinian people’s right of return, or Sharon’s insistence on maintaining the West Bank settlements.

Justifying the shift in Washington’s public stance, Bush told the April 14 press conference that it is “unrealistic” for Palestinians to return to their lands “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers.” A final resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue would only permit their settling in a Palestinian state, he said, “rather than Israel.”

Until now all “peace initiatives” proposed by the imperialist powers have refrained from explicitly denying the right to return. While Washington’s public stance has been to oppose the settlements, successive U.S. administrations turned a blind eye to their expansion over decades and de facto backed them through uninterrupted aid to Tel Aviv.

Sharon’s proposal to withdraw from the Gaza settlements and close down a few in the West Bank has drawn opposition from right-wing settlers. Among protesters gathered outside his residence in Israel on the same day as the White House press conference, one sign read, “Transfer Sharon, not settlements.” Sharon’s Likud Party has not yet voted on the proposal.

Pouring scorn on these critics, Sharon told columnists for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that Palestinians “have a better understanding” of the significance of Bush’s shift “than most Israelis. I said that we were going to deal [the Palestinians] a lethal blow, and they were dealt a lethal blow.”

Within hours of the press conference Israeli helicopters launched missile attacks in Rafah, a town in southern Gaza, wounding 20 Palestinians, reported the UK Guardian. Israeli military officials said they were looking for tunnels used to transport weapons across the Egyptian border to Palestinian fighters. Israeli troops have demolished scores of homes in Rafah over the past three years, the newspaper said.  
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