John Pilger once made an excellent documentary called Palestine is Still the Issue. The news that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is seriously ill, and has had to be flown for treatment to a Paris hospital, is a reminder that Pilger was right.
For the past three years Arafat has been in a wretched situation, hemmed in by Israeli troops and confined to an office in his headquarters in Ramallah.
His plight has been a symbol of the more general condition of the Palestinian people. Now Sharon’s highly controversial policy of unilaterally pulling out of Gaza would leave the bulk of the Jewish settlements on the West Bank untouched.
And, to weaken the powerful opposition to this policy from the settlers and the Israel right, Sharon has authorised a ruthless military campaign in Gaza that has left dozens of Palestinian civilians dead, many of them children.
This grim story is inseparable from the broader history of the “war on terrorism”. In the immediate aftermath of 11 September 2001 a rattled George Bush affirmed his support for a Palestinian state.
The so called road map to a final settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict was a crucial element of the package that Tony Blair used to sell the invasion of Iraq to his backbenchers.
In April 2004 Sharon flew to meet Bush in the White House and publicly tear up the road map.
The moment it ceased to be respectable for any Labour MP to continue supporting Blair came a few days later, when he stood beside Bush in the White House Rose Garden and denied that the US and Israeli governments hadn’t just betrayed all the promises they had made to the Palestinians.
Blair is carrying on with the same flim-flam now—10 Downing Street put the story round the House of Commons that, if re-elected, Bush would make achieving a Palestinian settlement one of his main priorities. Now one should never underestimate the gullibility of Labour backbenchers, but you would have to be really stupid to believe this.
No previous US administration has so closely coordinated its strategy with that of Israel.
At a certain level this is quite rational. The global resistance to American imperialism isn’t merely a response to the invasion of Iraq and the armed insurgency it has evoked.
Opposition to this new occupation merges seamlessly into fighting the old one that began with the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, and was greatly extended by the seizure of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.
One person who understands the connection very well is Osama Bin Laden. In his latest video broadcast he says that the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 was inspired by the Israeli bombardment of tower blocks in Lebanon during the 1982 war.
Jason Burke commented in the Observer, “The reference to the Israelis and to 1982 in Lebanon, when Palestinians were massacred in the Sabra and Shatilla camps and Hizbollah launched its campaign to bomb the Israeli forces out of the country, resonates in the Middle East. It is also a fresh attempt explicitly to bind Bin Laden to the Palestinian cause.”
It is impossible to say whether Arafat’s illness represents his final political eclipse. Over the years he has made some quite disastrous choices. In particular, in signing the 1993 Oslo agreement, he bound the Palestinians to a peace process that would at best deliver the facade of a state while leaving Israel dominating what was once their land.
But, by refusing to accept the wretched land deal offered to him by Bill Clinton at Camp David four years ago, and by hanging on under siege in Ramallah, Arafat has preserved himself as the embodiment of the Palestinian people’s national aspirations. It is for this that he has been demonised by Bush and threatened with assassination by Sharon.
The Palestinian people are defiantly enduring the barbarities to which the Zionist war machine has subjected them.
They have shown that Palestine is still the issue.