Tuesday, March 04, 2008

War was planned, but not everything is going according to US plans

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DIMITRIS CHRISTOFIS, in red tie, with Aleca Papariga of the Communist Party of Greece on demonstration against US occupation of Iraq.

THE Israeli-Palestinian conflict has entered another bloody downward spiral, with Palestinian dead in three figutes, at least half of them civilians, most killed in the Israeli offensive in Gaza though troops also shot demonstrators in the West Bank. The massive Israeli foray was supposedly to halt Palestinian rockets hitting Israel, but even as they were bombing Gaza, the first rockets reached Ashkelon: (a city in which incidentally I have familial connections to fear for, though also one which was once home to many Palestinian families who became refugees in Gaza).

A lone young Palestinian struck at the heart of the religious settler movement, the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva where Gush Emunim was founded, though regrettably the eight people he killed before being gunned down himself were only young students, rather than leaders of this violent movement. Regrettably too, Hamas publicly hailed this action, while our media rushed to depict mourning crowds - lead item on BBC news, though to be fair, Jeremy Bowen did manage to put it in context. Palestinians feel their children are killed without the world taking too much notice.

Any pretence that Israeli forces are targeting those behind the rockets was blown to pieces on the night of February 28th when Israeli jets destroyed the five-storey Gaza headquarters of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)with missiles. The building in Gaza City had been used for union-administered health care as well as organising. The attack killed one Palestinian and caused 37 other casualties, many of them children.

"The occupation doesn't need any justifications to commit crimes against Palestinians," said Nabil al-Mabhouh, acting head of the PGFTU in Gaza. But the building was targeted because "we at PGFTU are supporting the rights of tens of thousands of Palestinian workers."

The PGFTU has put out a call for solidarity, commenting "We call for an appropriate and effective response from the international trade unions and the International Labour Organisation to put compel Israel to compensate the PGFTU for the destruction of the Folk House in Gaza." Union leaders, take note. You may yet be asked to tell what you did during the agony of Gaza.

The Israeli offensive followed a threat by Israel's deputy defence minister that Palestinians would bring a worse shoah (the word usually used for the Holocaust) on themselves. But it also came after polls showing a majority of Israelis favoured taking up Hamas offer of a ceae fire and entering negotiations. Having ignored that wish, the Israeli government will no doubt claim public feeling over the yeshiva attack compels it to retaliate against Palestinians.


The Israeli military knows it can do what it wants, because behind it stands not only the Israeli government but the United States government and its allies. Far from restraining the Israeli rotweiler,
US Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice on her visit to Jerusalem was there to encourage it on, while calling upon Palestinian President Abbas to return to talks which he had felt bound to leave off with the onslaught.on Gaza and shooting of demonstrators in the West Bank.

Just how deeply the US administration and CIA has been involved in planning the bloodshed has come out in a report by David Rose, who acquired documents showing that US agents encouraged a renegade Fateh armed gang to stage provocations in Gaza, hoping it could lead to a Palestinian civil war in which Hamas would be crushed.

But despite what must have seemed a promising start, things have not developed according to plan. Hamas succeeded in holding power in the Gaza strip, leaving President Abbas with what authority he has confined to the West Bank - or those parts of it where the Israeli occupiers let him exercise it. The Israeli military has declared the Gaza strip "enemy territory" and is proceeding with its only answer, collective punishment and brute force. It has the superior fire power, of course, and can kill more Palestinians, but when this fails, what next?

Several developments in the world are not going according to plan. Even as Olmert was blaming Hizbollah and Iran for the latest rocket attacks, Iranian president Ahmadinejad was enjoying a red carpet reception in Iraq, greeted by President Talabani, proclaiming a "new era" of friendship between the countries. "Isn't it ridiculous that those who have deployed 160, 000 troops in Iraq accuse us of intervening there?", Ahmadinejad said in ariposte to the US and its allies. With the two countries cementing trade and development ties, the state visit has upset both US and British policy lines presenting Iran as the source of trouble in Iraq. By underlining the Iranian regime's support for Iraq's "stability" under a government that owes its place to imperialist intervention, and referring to its "happiness" when thousands of Iraqis have been killed or fled, Ahmadinejad might also have given champions of Iran's "anti-imperialism" pause for thought - if they are capable of such a faculty.

Another, perhaps more significant event, was the election in Cyprus on February 24 of President Dimitris Christofias, of the Working People's Progressive Party, AKEL. In the final runoff he gained 53 per cent, as against 46 percent for a Conservative. Founded in 1926 as the Communist Party, banned by the British colonial rulers before it re-emerged in 1944 as AKEL, this had long been the biggest party and had a third of the vote, but this was the first time it fielded a presidential candidate instead of being content to take the back seat.

Among supporters who flooded into Nicosia to celebrate the victory were Turkish Cypriots, who crossed over from the occupied North. This is part of the significance of Christofias' victory. In the first round he had beaten incumbent president Tassos Papadopoulos, who led a nationalist “no” campaign during the 2004 referendum, when 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against unity with the Turkish north. The Papadopoulos camp had campaigned on hard-line nationalism, calling the elections a second “referendum”.

When Papadopoulos was elected in 2003 he counted on distrust of the great powers imposing a Cyprus solution. But while using AKEL support he soon offered the US full use of Cyprus ports and airfields for the war on Iraq. .

Internally, he pursued right-wing policies such as forcing up the retirement age for public sector workers, and coupled with scandals, this led AKEL's working-class supporters to press their party to withdraw from coalition and hence, to its decision to stand its own presidential candidate..

AKEL is an old-style Communist Party in many respects, the kind we were told had gone away. Its London branch provided a proud number of volunteers to fight in Spain. I met AKEL members on a demonstration in London after the 1963 anti-communist coup in Iraq, and remember they still had time for Stalin, but not for the nonsense of a "peaceful road to socialism" -"that's the British party," they told me. Later when I worked at the AEI factory in Willesden I met a couple of lads from AKEL families - one of them became one of my readers on the paper round I did round the plant during my Saturday morning overtime.

Treated as an enemy by both the British and the Greek nationalist EOKA, AKEL kept its disciplined mass following back, never contending for power, but settling into a supportive role for others, and neutralism. The combined effort of a CIA-backed EOKA-B coup (supported by the Greek colonels) and the Turkish invasion for which it provided the pretext, carved up the island and made hard times for democrats.

AKEL still has red flags and portraits of Lenin at its headquarters, though like other European Communist Parties it has adopted an openly reformist agenda. But I can't help wondering whether it is the collapse of Stalinism that has freed the Cypriot party to think for itself, no longer trying to play second fiddle to whatever bourgeois party Moscow might regard as lesser evil. That and the pressure of ordinary working people who see Christofias as representing their interests, and the chance of peaceful coexistence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Christofias has promised to "manage capitalism, but in a more humane way". He has also pledged to work for reunification of Cyprus, but on the basis of agreement and equality of its peoples. Polls among Turkish Cypriots suggest many are ready to give him their support. He has also called for foreign military forces and bases to be removed from Cyprus. Whether NATO and the CIA will allow a Communist Party (reformed or not) to survive in office, let alone carry out its pledges, remains to be seen. But they will have the workers to reckon with if they don't, and hopefully not just in Cyprus. And that is not part of their plans.

AKEL website: http://www.akel.org.cy/

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