Bush gives Palestinians

A road map to oblivion

by Pete Brown


The road map in context
Civil war as the road to "peace"
Bourgeois trends
Israeli peace moves: "Let them eat bricks"
Prospects for the peace plan

. Earlier this year there were handshakes between the leaders of Israel, Palestine and the US. This has now been replaced by more rounds of Israeli bombing raids and Palestinian retaliations. Talk about a future Palestinian state has been replaced by an international debate over whether Israel has the right to kill or deport Yasir Arafat. Israeli settlements are being expanded in the occupied territories. The Israeli wall around the occupied territories grows longer every day. Bush's "road map for peace" is in tatters. All the promises for the Palestinians have been shelved. At the moment, all that is left of the road map is the demand that the Palestinian Authority install a leader satisfactory to Israel and the Bush administration, a leader whose job would be to suppress all Palestinian resistance to Israel. Why have things developed this way?

. President Bush launched his "road map to peace" in Mideast summit meetings the first week of June. The Bush administration and all its imperialist hangers-on, political and journalistic, portrayed this as a breakthrough based on Bush's New Order in the Middle East. The Bushies liked to say "the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad"; with this slogan they maintained that Palestinian resistance was largely an extension of Saddam Hussein, and the removal of Hussein's regime would eliminate one of the main instigators of trouble in Israel/Palestine. With Hussein removed, Bush thought this would be a good time to get a Mideast peace deal done. But this won't be an even-handed deal, not by any means; Bush plans to make the Palestinian people eat crow, and if they don't submit gracefully, to bring peace to Israel on a pile of Palestinian corpses.

. The road map is not a unilateral plan of Bush, or the US, alone. It was swapped around and approved by the UN, the European Union, and Russia as well. So it's a fully multilateral imperialist plan. But everyone agreed that the plan needed a full-court press by the American president to get implemented. So Bush made a special trip to the Mideast to meet with leaders there and push them on board. Since then Bush has dispatched Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice on visits to the area, and also sent a special commission of US envoys to oversee the plan's implementation.

. So what's new about the road map? What makes it different than previous imperialist-sponsored Mideast plans that have fallen to pieces? To answer that, we have to distinguish between what's being marketed as the big selling point for the Palestinian masses, and the reality of the new situation in the Mideast. For the Palestinians, what's being offered is the promise of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. By signing on to this peace plan, Israel and the US officially accepted the right of a Palestinian national state to exist. And the plan calls for this state to be established at a definite time -- two years from now, in 2005. Further, the plan calls for definite steps to be accomplished before then in order for this state to come into being: that Israeli and Palestinian forces will disengage, that Israeli forces will withdraw from the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Authority (PA) will be re-established as the authority in these areas with its own security forces, etc. This is why the plan is being advertised as a road map -- because it provides a destination (an independent Palestinian state) and a route to get there.

. Previous plans such as the Oslo peace accords of 1993 did not spell out the final destination with such clarity. Nor did they provide a timetable. The Oslo agreements concentrated on setting up a structure of negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians. Oslo set up the PA as a quasi-state structure but beyond that stipulated only that final solutions depended on negotiations between Israel and the PA. When Israel refused to offer anything except a small checkerboard bantustan as a Palestinian state, negotiations eventually broke down.

. Now a new carrot is being offered to the Palestinians: the promise of their own state in just two years. And Bush says it will be a "viable, contiguous" state. But this state will still be completely subordinate to Israel, will not be allowed to have armed forces that could defend itself against a foreign enemy (such as Israel), and will have its borders and customs controlled by Israel. The PA leaders agree to these conditions and will try to convince the Palestinian masses to accept them, but many of the main sticking points of previous peace plans remain as obstacles. The question of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, the actual borders between Israel and Palestine, the question of water rights -- the road map does not settle these questions any more than Oslo did. Like Oslo it calls for these issues to be settled through negotiations, but does not lay down any guidelines aside from the time limit of 2005.

. Some of the more immediate issues of contention, such as Israel's detention of thousands of Palestinians and Israel's construction of a wall of separation in the West Bank, are not addressed at all by the road map. Israel is "expected", Bush officials say, to make some concessions to the Palestinians to make their lives easier. But there are no obligations under the road map as formulated by Bush and accepted by Israeli prime minister Sharon. By the end of August Sharon's refusal to make any significant concessions on these issues, combined with Israel's continuing raids and "targeted killings", produced a new outburst of violence and put Bush's road map on life support.

The road map in context

. Many liberals welcomed Bush's road map as a recognition of the need to do something about the Palestinian problem. During Bush's first two years in office Democrats criticized him for not being engaged in the Mideast and not pushing any new peace proposals. With his summit meetings in June Bush became fully engaged. But Bush and Sharon will not accept a Palestinian state that is not thoroughly subordinate to Israel. And even if Sharon adhered to the road map and reduced his murderous attacks on Palestinians, any happiness produced by such a peace would be short-lived without a real movement on the underlying issues. And if Sharon's attacks are simply replaced by civil war among the Palestinians, with the PA leaders doing the bidding of Israel, this won't mean a genuine peace either.

. Israel and its imperialist backer, the US government headed by Bush, have agreed to allow a Palestinian political entity to exist, but only if that entity carries out security activities for Israel. The road map guarantees the need for harsh repression by the Palestinian government against its own citizens, since Israel will probably refuse to budge on any of the longstanding issues, and this is bound to create ill will and continued calls for armed resistance to the Israelis. This is hardly a genuine peace plan, which would require full recognition of Palestinian self-determination and a fair and just settlement of the issues. This would require the creation of a new unitary state in the area of Israel/Palestine, a non-theocratic, secular state in which both Arabs and Jews could live as equal citizens. Such a state would recognize the right of return of the Palestinian diaspora as well.

. But Bush's road map does not envision anything like a just settlement of the issues. The zionist state of Israel was fostered by Western imperialism at the expense of the Palestinian people, and Bush continues that policy in his road map. Bush's plan recognizes and supports Israel's right to exist as a racist, theocratic state. It supports Israel's expansionism by not spelling out the demand for Israel's settlements in the occupied territories to close, for Israel to withdraw from Jerusalem, for Israel to stop stealing water from the West Bank Palestinians, etc. Bush knows that the Israelis will continue to press the Palestinians on these and other issues, and because of their superior economic and military power they will continue to make inroads on them, to change facts on the ground in their favor regardless of formal agreements with the Palestinian Authority. So Bush's road map, while throwing a bone to the Palestinians with the promise of a state in two years, continues the imperialist policy of supporting Israeli expansionism.

. Some organizations in the American left such as the Stalinist Communist Party USA and the Trotskyist Spartacist League are opposed to the idea of a single, democratic, secular state in Israel/Palestine. The Stalinists of the CPUSA have a tradition of being overt zionists, at least since 1948. They will criticize certain excesses of the Israeli leaders, but basically they accept the idea of a Jewish state. The Spartacists too support the idea of a separate state for Jews, though they prefer to call them "the Hebrew-speaking nation". The Sparts cover up their pro-zionist position with theoretical verbiage about the impossibility of achieving perfect equality under capitalism and the possibility of "reversing the terms of oppression. " They worry that if the Palestinians were to achieve their national rights in a unitary state, this might "reverse the terms of oppression" against the Jews. This would happen, say the Sparts, because "perfect equality" is impossible under capitalism; either the Palestinians would become the oppressors, or the Palestinians would continue to be oppressed by the Jews. Under a thin veneer of socialistic phrases, this is just nationalist propaganda about how different peoples cannot live together in peace, and zionist propaganda about how horrible the Palestinians are.

Civil war as the road to "peace"

. Bush's road map is actually a plan to give peace to Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, the same sort of peace plan that has been promoted by Western imperialism for the last 55 years. Bush thinks his big-stick diplomacy, backed up by recent victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, will convince the Palestinians to give up their intifada. The governments of Syria and Iran are being threatened by Bush to scale back their support of Palestinian armed groups -- or else. In Palestine, Bush demanded that the PA set aside Yasir Arafat and select a new leader more amenable to U.S pressure. Eventually the main organizations of the PA agreed to this, and in March installed Mahmoud Abbas as a new Palestinian prime minister. Abbas brought with him a new chief of security, Muhammad Dahlan. Dahlan set to work with American and Egyptian advisers to create a Palestinian security force designed to enforce the kind of peace demanded by George Bush and Ariel Sharon. This was to be a peace imposed on the Palestinians by force, with Dahlan's security forces crushing anyone who contemplated armed action against the Israelis.

. Step 1 of Bush's road map calls for the Israelis to withdraw their troops from areas of the West Bank and Gaza that it invaded and reoccupied in 2002-03, when Sharon was launching his destructive raids. Security in these areas was to be turned over to PA security forces headed by Dahlan and Abbas. Then the PA was expected to take over the same activities previously carried out by Israeli troops. Not only that, they were expected to do even more to protect Israel, because Bush and Sharon demanded that the PA dismantle Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Al Aksa Martyrs. This is a task that Israeli troops have been famously incapable of doing for the past three years. They have rounded up and detained over six thousand Palestinians, and killed over two thousand, but these organizations have continued to carry out armed actions against Israelis both in the occupied territories and inside Israel itself. Al Aksa Martyrs was only founded after Sharon's invasion began, in the spring of 2002; so not only did his invasion fail to crush the armed militias, it actually produced more of them.

. This is the task assigned to the PA by Bush and Sharon. Using their knowledge of the Palestinian community, and the small arms provided by the US and Europe, the PA leaders are expected to root out the militia organizations that Israeli troops, backed by tanks, jet fighters and helicopter gunships, never could. As a first step Abbas got the armed groups to agree to a 90-day cease-fire beginning June 29. But even before that agreement was announced US and Israeli officials declared it would not be enough, that Abbas must go further and round up all the militia groups' weapons and arrest their leaders and activists. Abbas was trying to bring in the armed groups peacefully, to get them to lay down their arms and join the PA as constituent political parties. But in numerous statements American and Israeli officials insisted it would not be enough for the militias to observe a truce; the organizations themselves must be smashed, "the networks dismantled. " This is a recipe for civil war among the Palestinians, as the US and Israeli leaders know full well. The leaders of Hamas and the other groups are not going to peacefully hand in their weapons to the PA and willingly march into jail cells. But Bush and Sharon insisted that Abbas carry out this suppression of Hamas and the other groups as the first step in the road map.

. So the road map is actually a plan for fratricidal civil war among the Palestinians. Instead of Israelis fighting Palestinians, the plan is for the Palestinians to fight among themselves, with Israel reaping the benefits. PA leaders nervously admit they are in danger of becoming known as a "second SLA" (South Lebanon Army, the surrogate force of fascist mercenaries used by Israel in its invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon).

. The only difference between Bush and Sharon was over timing. Sharon insisted that Abbas attack Hamas right away, while Bush was willing to give him some time to prepare, at least until the 90-day truce expired in late September. But the truce actually ended in late August, as Hamas and the other militias called it off after a series of Israeli raids and counterstrikes by Palestinians. Violence was renewed on both sides, with Hamas carrying out a horrific bus bombing in Jerusalem and Israel using helicopter gunships to murder Hamas leaders (and anyone standing nearby). Sharon's troops stepped up their raids on Hamas hideouts, reoccupied areas of Gaza and the West Bank they had withdrawn from, and renewed military checkpoints. At this point the road map, for all practical purposes, hit a stone wall. The only way Abbas could revive it and regain favor in the eyes of Bush and Sharon was to immediately attack Hamas.

. But Abbas could not move against Hamas unless he could consolidate all Palestinian security forces under his control, and Yasir Arafat refused to agree to this. A power struggle broke out between Abbas and Arafat, and on September 6 Abbas resigned as prime minister. Within a few days Arafat appointed a new prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, speaker of the Palestinian parliament. But the same issues that hounded Abbas out of office are hanging over Qurei as well. Israeli leaders deride Qurei as a creature of Arafat. To try and prove them wrong, Qurei tried to consolidate Palestinian security forces under his control, just as Abbas had tried to do, in order to ready a unified attack against Hamas. But again Arafat refused to allow this, since Arafat does not accept the civil war strategy. So by mid-September Israeli leaders were reduced to screaming hysterically against Arafat, threatening to deport or kill him, and Bush's road map to peace was in tatters.

Bourgeois trends

. For their part the leaders of Hamas are preserving an uneasy relationship with the PA leaders. Neither side wants to put itself in the position of being the first to spill Palestinian blood in a civil war everyone will regret. But it's unlikely Hamas will consider dismantling its militias. Prior to the first intifada, which began in December 1987, Hamas leaders restricted their organizing activity to Islamic education, charities, etc. But with the burst of militant activity in 1987-89, Hamas leaders put themselves forward as guerrilla organizers. Especially since the Islamic guerrillas of Hezbollah forced Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon, Hamas has promoted its armed actions as the crux of the Palestinian resistance.

. Hamas is a backward fundamentalist trend. Like Islamic fundamentalist groups in other Arab countries, Hamas wants to recast society along reactionary religious lines by reviving Islamic law and enforcing feudal customs. Despite its charitable work among the poor, it represents another bourgeois nationalist trend, similar in that regard to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. But it represents the most backward and oppressive section of the bourgeois nationalists.

. Aside from its relief work among the people, Hamas' main appeal among the masses is that it seems to take a less conciliatory stand toward Israel and Western imperialism than the secular PA leaders. But its tactic of suicide bombings directed at Israeli civilians is particularly repulsive and shows its callous attitude toward ordinary working class people. The tactic does gain notoriety, but not sympathy and support, from the working people of other countries. Yet the more Arafat and other PA leaders have adopted a conciliatory stand towards Israel, the more popular Hamas has become with its public stand of defiance. Support for it from ordinary Palestinians is due to their desperate desire to see someone stand up to Israel and US imperialism and avenge the daily slaughter of Palestinians.

. Absent a working class revolutionary stand, Palestinians are batted back and forth between these bourgeois nationalist trends. The bickering bourgeois trends shows the need for Palestinian working people to develop their own trend independent of the conciliators and the terrorists, to build a revolutionary movement with mass tactics. Such tactics would promote unity of the Palestinian toilers and draw them further into the struggle by opposing religious sectarianism and backwardness (e. g. , toward women). Such tactics would support and promote the goal of a democratic, secular Palestine in which Jews as well as Christians and Moslems would have the right to live and exercise their religion. Such tactics would support and promote specific working class demands such as for jobs and social insurance. Such tactics would also support and promote the organization of the worker and peasant masses in trade unions, co-operatives, political organizations, etc.

. We cannot specify in advance the whole range of actions Palestinian resistance should undertake. Mass actions against zionist aggression take many forms, from groups of stone-throwing youths, to armed guerrilla actions, to unarmed individuals confronting Israeli bulldozers. But overall such actions should be directed toward progressive goals, and not to undermining class solidarity between the Palestinian masses and the workers of Israel and other countries.

Israeli peace moves: "Let them eat bricks"

. Bush's road map called for reciprocal moves by both sides. As the Palestinians called off their attacks on Israelis in July, and Abbas prepared his offensive against the militias, Israel was supposed to be disengaging from its war against the occupied territories. The road map called for Israeli forces to withdraw from areas of the West Bank and Gaza they occupied in the last year and a half, to refrain from further attacks, to ease restrictions on Palestinians' travel and take down checkpoints, to freeze settlement activity, and to dismantle settlers' outposts set up since March 2001. So how did the Israelis do in keeping up their side of the bargain?

. Sharon made a few barely symbolic gestures in all of these areas. Israeli troops made a well publicized withdrawal from northern Gaza and the West Bank town of Bethlehem, but they camped out around the town, surrounding it and separating it from the rest of the West Bank. And dozens of other West Bank towns remained occupied. A few checkpoints were taken down, easing Palestinian travel, but the vast majority remained, and at the end of August new ones were put up. Israeli troops dismantled a few ragtag Israeli settler outposts, but scores of them remained, and some of the ones dismantled were quickly rebuilt by nearby settlers. As to the freeze on settlement activity: Sharon interpreted this to mean construction of wholly new settlements was prohibited, but construction inside the claimed borders of established settlements was allowed; so the Israelis went ahead with new construction on older, established settlements, and Israel's colonization of the West Bank continued. Bush did not challenge Sharon on this interpretation of the freeze.

. There are two other major issues that Palestinians cited as grievances against the Israelis: the continued detention of some 6,000 Palestinians the Israelis rounded up in sweeps last year, and Israel's construction of "the wall", a barrier separating West Bank Palestinians from Israel. These issues were not specifically addressed by Bush's road map, but the plan did call for "confidence-building measures", so Palestinians demanded that Sharon do something about these issues if he wanted to show any interest in peace. Here again Sharon made a symbolic gesture, releasing a few hundred prisoners, but the vast majority remained in jail. As to the separation wall, Sharon was not even interested in gestures; he insisted that construction of the wall would continue.

. The last week of July Abbas traveled to Washington, where he met with Bush and complained to him about the prisoners and the wall. Supposedly the wall's purpose is to protect Israel, but it's being built on the West Bank side of the border, not the Israeli side. The wall cuts through Palestinian territory, dividing towns and separating farmers from their fields. In some places the wall is not at all close to the border, curving into West Bank territory to place more land under Israeli control. It completely surrounds the Palestinian town of Qalqilya, allowing access to the rest of the West Bank only through one opening guarded by Israeli checkpoints. Final negotiations over a border between the West Bank and Israel have not yet begun, but construction of this wall will probably be cited as a de facto border by the Israelis. Their construction of the wall is no doubt designed to be creating facts on the ground that will allow them to seize large chunks of West Bank territory and annex them to Israel. Bush agreed with Abbas that construction of the wall was creating unnecessary problems for his road map, and he called on Israel to cease construction.

. But a few days later Sharon arrived in Washington. At a news conference at the White House Sharon bluntly declared that construction of the wall will continue. Bush, standing next to him, shut his mouth and looked stupid. The next week Bush tried to get back at Sharon by issuing press leaks about possibly putting financial pressure on Israel. Bush administration people sent out some trial balloons to the press saying they are considering cutting back aid to Israel by the amount spent by Israel in building the wall. This would only be a few million dollars, out of the billions annually sent to Israel. But right away supporters of Israel in Congress, especially Democrats, jumped all over Bush for suggesting such a thing. The result was an agreement between Bush and Congress that a new chunk of money, nine billion dollars in loan guarantees, would be handed over to Israel, but Israel would have to "account for" the amount spent on the wall. Meanwhile Bush has not dared to issue any further criticisms of the wall.

. Besides the Democrats, Bush also has to deal with strident pro-Israel sections within his own party. Tom Delay, the Republican House Majority Leader, recently went on a cheerleading trip to Israel where he spoke to the Knesset (parliament) and challenged Bush's aim of a Palestinian state, deriding it as a "state of terrorists. "

. Summing up Israel's adherence to the road map, we can say Sharon's government made a few symbolic gestures, but for the most part Sharon's attitude toward the Palestinians is "let them eat bricks. " The detainees remain incarcerated, and the general population still remains occupied, detained, stopped at checkpoints and getting walled in. Meanwhile construction of Israeli settlements continues, with Israel creating more facts on the ground to support their claim to ownership of most of the West Bank. Under the truce Palestinian armed groups ceased almost all attacks on Israelis for six weeks, but Israeli raids against the armed groups continued. The Israeli takeover of the West Bank is being extended, and Palestinian civilians are constantly harassed and threatened with arbitrary arrest. A number of times at these checkpoints a trigger-happy Israeli soldier has shot up a car he suspected of "not looking right. " Bush only meekly suggested to Sharon that he make more concessions to the Palestinians, while towards Abbas (and now towards Qurei) Bush continued to demand the opening up of a bloody civil war.

Prospects for the peace plan

. So what are the prospects for Bush's road map? Will it bring about peace in Israel/Palestine? As can be seen from the way it's being implemented, the road map is not a plan for peace between two nation-states. It's a plan to crush Palestinian resistance while Israel continues its expansionist drive. What gave the plan some life for awhile was the truce accepted by Hamas and the other militia groups. But Sharon refused to make any grand gestures or concessions to win a longer lasting peace. The Israelis even insisted on keeping Yasir Arafat a prisoner in Ramallah, bottled up in a bombed-out compound, even while Arafat was striving to accomodate himself to the peace plan. Abbas had nothing to show for his efforts, while Israel continued its encroachments on the West Bank and its harassment of Palestinians. Bush wanted the road map to remain viable for at least another year, until after the presidential elections. But Colin Powell himself said the issue of the wall, by itself, was likely to prevent the road map from getting beyond the first step, and at the end of August the road map appeared dead.

. But assuming, somehow, that Bush revives the truce and that Israeli troops did withdraw from most of the West Bank, what would the next step in the road map involve? At that point the two sides would enter final negotiations, and they would be facing the intractable issues that sank the Oslo accords. Take the issue of right of return: this has been the major issue since 1948, when Israeli army terrorists expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Israel in an ethnic cleansing campaign. Palestinians demand, rightfully, the right to return to their homes inside Israel. But the Israeli leaders have always refused to consider this. Bush may get PA leaders to accept some miserable compromise, giving the Palestinian refugees a small amount of money as compensation, but the Palestinian masses will not accept this. Already there have been mob attacks on Palestinian politicians who suggested discussing giving up the right of return.

. Or take the issue of Jerusalem. Israel's seizure of this city is a major affront to the Arab world. PA leaders may be willing to accept some symbol of Arab presence in Jerusalem -- say, flying a Palestinian flag outside Al Aksa mosque -- but this will hardly satisfy the hundreds of thousands of Arab residents of the Old City. From his side, Sharon has staked his political career on seizing and holding Jerusalem under exclusive Israeli control. The Israelis have constructed a ring of new settlements around Jerusalem, cutting off the Old City from the rest of the West Bank and creating a majority of their own citizens in metro-area Jerusalem.

. The issue of the settlements is closely tied to Jerusalem. Sharon may be willing to close a few of the more far-flung settlements, but he will not give up any of the ones surrounding Jerusalem. These are now well established towns in their own right. And this also involves the issue of final borders. For Israel to take in all of metro-area Jerusalem, with its settlements, the border will have to be extended into large chunks of West Bank territory and incorporate hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into Israel. And this is leaving aside the issue of the wall and the land grab Israel is carrying on in the northern West Bank.

. Meanwhile the Israelis are openly declaring their intention to continue their racist, expansionist policies. While Sharon was in Washington meeting with Bush in July, the Knesset passed a resolution declaring that the West Bank is not an "occupied territory" -- in other words, they consider it part of Israel. They also declared that all settlements in the West Bank should remain, and they denied any Palestinian right of return. This was passed under the leadership of Sharon's son. Meanwhile Israel's minister of housing has announced plans to build 12,000 new housing units in the occupied territories, and also announced a new financial incentive plan to encourage Israelis to move to the settlements. These financial incentives are an important motivating factor for many new settlers, since many poor and working class Israelis are being decimated by the Sharon government's economic austerity policies -- cutting pensions and welfare payments, privatizations, etc. Sharon is driving poor working-class Israelis into destitution while he spends hundreds of millions of dollars building, enlarging and protecting settlements on Palestinian land.

. Also, on July 31 the Knesset passed a law denying Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens the right to apply for Israeli citizenship themselves. This is a doubly discriminatory law, first because it discriminates against Israel's Arab citizens, who are the most likely ones to marry Palestinians. About 18% of Israeli citizens are Arabs, and a number of them are married to Palestinians. Second, the law is discriminatory by denying Palestinians the right to apply for citizenship while members of other nationalities are still free to apply. In the past Palestinians who married Israelis could at least apply; the process was long and rarely approved, but in the meantime they could legally reside with their spouse inside Israel, obtain a work permit, etc. Israel's Arab minority has also been subjected to harsh repressive measures, beyond Israel's normal discriminatory policies, in recent months, with leaders of legal Arab political parties arrested and charged with having ties to terrorists.

. This is the problem. As long as you have a racist, expansionist state harassing and attacking the Palestinians on a daily basis, there cannot be peace in Israel/Palestine. PA leaders may try to get the Palestinians to accept some miserable bantustan as their "state", but they are unlikely to swallow it. Bush and Sharon will push the PA to launch civil war, to drown the Palestinian opposition in a bloodbath. But this is more likely to sink the peace plan itself. But the collapse of the road map will not mean the end of Palestinian resistance to zionism and imperialism. <>

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