Palestine: New massacres follow Bush visit

On January 15, the Israel Defense Forces killed 17 Palestinians during incursions into east Gaza City. The IDF killed nine more in raids over the following two days. The attacks launched a new wave of Israeli violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) following the January 9-16 visit by US President George Bush to Israel, the West Bank city of Ramallah and other centres in the region.

The IDF strikes began the day after the first round of post-Annapolis final-status talks between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli negotiators. The initial attempts at talks following the US-sponsored November Annapolis "peace conference" faltered immediately due to the continuing expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the OPT.

Bush used his January 10 visit to Ramallah to pressure PA President Mahmoud Abbas to resume talks unconditionally. Meanwhile the Israeli government launched the IDF violence in the OPT and declared plans to build 1000 new Israeli homes in Abu Ghunaim, a district in occupied East Jerusalem. Hamas has called on Abbas and the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organisation to suspend negotiations with Israel in the wake of the massacres. On January 17, Abbas threatened to resign his presidency over the raids.

During his trip to the Middle East Bush announced his commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state in 2008 before his presidency comes to an end. His vision of a Palestinian state rejects United Nations resolutions calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees and doesn't include a viable Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. At a Ramallah press conference on January 10, Bush said there was a need to "reflect current realities" in defining the borders of a future Palestinian state. The US is proposing "land swaps" that will allow Israel to annex significant settlements in areas of the OPT in return for granting areas of Israel to a Palestinian state.

Regarding the crucial Palestinian demand of the right to return to what is now the state of Israel for the refugees of the 1948 and 1967 wars, Bush stated: "I believe we need to look to the establishment of a Palestinian state and new international mechanisms, including compensation, to resolve the refugee issue." He proposed an international fund for compensating Palestinian refugees in return for relinquishing their claims to the right to return.

Bush's visit to Ramallah was met with protests by Palestinian demonstrators, which were repressed by PA police officers.

Israel, the US and Fatah have joined forces in shutting out Hamas from the Annapolis conference and the subsequent negotiations. The three parties also agree on somehow wresting control of the Gaza Strip from Hamas.

Reuters reported on January 11 that an un-named senior US official said: "I don't think in the long-term the agreement is going to work if Hamas continues to control Gaza. We have repeatedly said the Palestinian Authority must resume its responsibility for Gaza as well, exactly how this is going to happen, I can't predict."

After Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, Israel and the US led a campaign of destabilisation against the new PA through an economic siege of the OPT, regular attacks on Hamas and PA infrastructure, and the funding and arming of Fatah. This culminated in a failed coup attempt by Fatah in Gaza in June 2007, during which Hamas successfully seized control of the tiny coastal strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians.

In September, the Israeli cabinet declared the Gaza Strip a "hostile entity" and voted to "restrict the passage of various goods to the Gaza Strip and reduce the supply of fuel and electricity". According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, since September Israel has restricted the goods going into Gaza to nine basic materials and have reduced medicines and food coming in from humanitarian convoys.

In 2006, before the September 2007 intensification of the siege of Gaza, the World Bank reported that the territory was experiencing the worst economic depression in modern history. Gazans remain sealed in their enclave with their civil infrastructure destroyed, power blackouts, food shortages and rising disease. More than 1 million people in Gaza are now dependent on food aid from international humanitarian organisations to survive.