By Dan Katz
Israeli finance minister Meir Sheetrit has announced that a long-awaited government austerity plan will be voted on in the Knesset (parliament) on Wednesday 30 April. The plan will mean an 8% public sector pay cut and thousands of jobs losses.
The Histadrut union federation will hold a general strike on Wednesday 30 April if the plan goes ahead. The strike will involve civil servants, local authority workers, workers in state-run firms and some private-sector factories.
Israeli Labour Party Chairman Amram Mitzna has said that if government-union negotiations fail he will support the strike.
Mitzna has also spoken out against prime minister Ariel Sharon's attitude to the Palestinians. He said if Sharon was serious about peace through the so-called US "road map" plan, then a peace coalition would need to include the Labour Party. The "road map", apparently, advocates some sort of Palestinian state by 2005.
The US is expected to publish the plan after the Palestinian Legislative Council approves the government of prime minister-designate Abu Mazen. The PLC is due to vote on Wednesday 30 April on the new cabinet.
An opinion poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), conducted 3-7 April, shows Palestinian support for the appointment of Abu Mazen as prime minister at 61%. His personal popularity is only 3%. Yasser Arafat continues to be the most popular leader, running at 35%. West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, currently on trial in Israel, is second most popular with 20% support.
The poll also shows that 81% of Palestinians believe there is corruption in the institutions of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and a majority-86%- supports political reforms.
Arafat's Fatah, at 26%, is still the most popular political grouping, followed by the Islamist group, Hamas, at 17%. Total support for Islamists (including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others) stands at 29%, compared to 25% last November.
A Palestinian majority of 65% supports reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis after a peace agreement is reached. A majority of 71% supports mutual cessation of violence. But in the absence of mutual cessation, 57% continue to support armed attacks against Israeli civilians inside Israel. Support for attacks on soldiers and settlers stands at more than 90%.
Palestinian support for peace and reconciliation is remarkable in the context of their increasing impoverishment. A World Bank report, Two Years of Intifada, Closures and Palestinian Economic Crisis, released mid-March, suggests that 27 months after the outbreak of the second intifada, 60% of the population of the West Bank and Gaza live under a poverty line of US$2 per day. More than 50% of the work force is unemployed. Physical damage resulting from the conflict amounted to US $728 million by the end of August 2002.
Between June 2000 and June 2002, Palestinian exports declined by almost a half, and imports by a third. Investment shrank from an estimated US$1.5 billion in 1999 to US$140 million in 2002. Overall national income losses in just over two years have reached US$5.4 billion, the equivalent of one full year of national income prior to the intifada.
As a result of rising unemployment, reduced demand, and the government of Israel's withholding of taxes collected on behalf of the PA, monthly revenues dropped from US$91 million in late 2000 to US$19 million today. A collapse of the PA has been avoided by donor support, which totals US $1.1 billion over the last two years. 75% of this has come from Arab countries.
More than half a million Palestinians now depend on food aid. Per capita food consumption has declined by 30% in the past two years.
Road to nowhere
Any "Palestinian state" contained in the "road map" to be published by the USA this week is likely to be little better than a bantustan.
The anti-war movement should mobilise now around the simple demand for Israel to get out of the Occupied Territories and let the Palestinians form a state of their own with the same rights as Israel.
The socialist answer to the crises of the Middle East is a democratic, socialist federation of the region, using the massive oil riches for the common good, and the right to self-determination for every nationality, including Palestinians, Israeli Jews and Kurds.