Middle East peace: One step forward, two steps back

Palestinian gunmen assassinated far-right Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evy Oct. 17, throwing U.S.-led peace efforts into turmoil. Palestinian President Yasser Arafat condemned the killing.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told an emergency security meeting 'everything had changed' as a result of Ze'evy's death. A political source said the easing in recent days of Israel's blockades of Palestinian areas would be rescinded.

Below is a story our correspondent Hans Lebrecht's posted Oct. 15, which provides background for the Ze'evy killing:



JERUSALEM - On Oct. 12, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon informed his 'kitchen cabinet' of his intention to ease some restrictions on Palestinians in the occupied territories. Armed blockades around towns and villages in some areas, which remained calm, would be eased, some roadblocks opened.

The areas within the Palestinian administered towns, mainly in Hebron, Jericho, Tul-Karem and Jenin, which Israeli troops had captured during the last few weeks, would be given back to the Palestinian Authority's security forces.

Unfortunately, the easing of these restrictions has not alleviated the Palestinians' plight nor ended the gross human rights violations committed by the Israeli occupation authorities.

The Palestinians will not be happily satisfied with Sharon's 'concessions' while the inhuman conditions and oppression of Israel's occupation will last. What is needed to calm the situation, to achieve peace, is not a little easing up of some of the latest oppressive measures, but a fundamental change of the Israeli policy.

Without Israel complying with the terms of the various resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, as long as Israel rejects complete withdrawal from the Palestinian territories conquered by force and occupied since June 1967, there will be no end to the Palestinian struggle for liberation.

However, even this ploy brought a storm of protest from Sharon's cronies, the right-radical coalition partners and some of his own Likud party colleagues, and was sharply censored by his army Chief-of-Staff, Brig, General Shaul Mofaz.

Already during that Friday cabinet meeting, when Sharon proposed putting his moderate changes on the agenda of the cabinet meeting two days later, the pretentious right-radical Mofaz, who is obviously preparing the ground for a post-army political career, sharply contested Sharon's decision.

Only a few weeks ago, Mofaz, without waiting for Sharon's okay, started to construct electrified barbed-wire fences and concrete walls to 'separate' Palestine from Israel, annexing some 10 percent of Palestinian West Bank territories. At that time, Sharon warned Mofaz, 'The State of Israel has an army, but the army does not have a state.' Only a week later, Sharon approved the fences and walls going up, cutting off chunks of territory from the Palestinian West Bank.

Then in the early morning hours of Oct. 14 Israel's security force, commanded by Mofaz, assassinated a Palestinian Hamas central figure, 33-year-old Abed Hamad, in front of his home in the West Bank town Qalqiliah. This has to be examined against the background of the Sharon-Mofaz ruckus.

Such a provocation might trigger retaliation by the extremist militant arm of Hamas, thus disrupting Sharon's plan to ease restrictions. Some political observers even raised the possibility that Mofaz and his followers, together with radical right-wing elements, might try their hand in a kind of military coup d'etat.

Sharon did not wait. He ordered the occupation troops to withdraw from the Palestinian Hebron Abu-Seneina neighborhood and other occupied areas in the West Bank. In Hebron, the withdrawing troops even clashed with rampaging Jewish settlers, who tried to prevent the retreat.

Only two hours later, two right-extremist cabinet ministers, Avigdor Liebermann and Rehavam Ze'evy, announced their intention to leave Sharon's government. The two parties they represent hold four seats in the 120-member Knesset (parliament).

Whatever happens, these developments are taking place in the shadow of the Bush administration's 'war against terrorism,' which could better be characterized as a war to secure oil and superprofits around the world, part of its ownn right-wing agenda.