Sharon’s bloody war of reoccupation in the West Bank and Gaza has destroyed whatever hopes lingered for the ‘peace process’ in the Middle East. Many working people around the world will now be asking if there can ever be a lasting solution to the Palestine/Israel question.
Socialists believe there is an alternative to war and national oppression, but this can only come about as part of a united struggle by the working class of the region against capitalism and imperialism, as the history of the conflict has amply illustrated.
The modern state of Israel was created in 1948, when Jews fled the Nazi Holocaust and persecution to a new ‘homeland’ on what was then Palestine. The right wing Zionist leaders carried out the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, using brutal paramilitary methods and ‘terrorism’.
Initially, socialists opposed the formation of the Israeli state, pointing out that it would only be realised through the oppression of other peoples. Furthermore, as Leon Trotsky prophetically pointed out, it would be a "bloody trap" for the Israeli Jews themselves. The Israeli ruling class promised a "land of milk and honey" for its people, but have only delivered decades of crisis and wars, and in recent years, also economic decline.
One of the main reasons Israel has been able to survive is because of enormous economic and military aid from US imperialism, which sees Israel as its key client state in the strategically vital region.
Socialists call for the expulsion of imperialism out of the region, and for the right of self-determination of Palestinians. However, how can these demands be won?
One state or two?
We believe that it is incorrect to call for the replacement of the Israeli state by a ‘secular democratic Palestinian state, with rights for Israeli Jews’, as the PLO leadership used to, and unfortunately many on the Left internationally continue to do (and they do not always pay any reference to the rights of Jews).
The development over decades of a national consciousness amongst the Jewish population of Israel is a concrete fact that has to be taken into account. On the basis of capitalism, the Israeli population, with the backup of its large armed forces, would fight to the bitter end to prevent the liquidation of their ‘homeland’. Israeli Jews fear they would be outnumbered and oppressed in a Palestinian state.
On the other hand, to say to the long suffering Palestinians that they should accept minority status within a ‘democratic Israel’ is equally rejected. Given that a supposedly ‘independent’ Palestinian Authority has meant an actual increase in poverty and oppression, what chance would Palestinians have of justice and equality as a minority within the borders of a capitalist Israel?
A socialist confederation of the Middle East
Socialists therefore call for an independent socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel as part of a wider voluntary socialist confederation in the region.
This is not some abstract option, but the only practical solution that corresponds to concrete conditions and the consciousness of the Palestinians and Israeli Jews. In fact, the majority of the population in the West Bank and Gaza now supports the idea of a separate Palestinian state.
However, on the basis of capitalism the goal of a genuine independent Palestine will never be fully recognised, as the sorry and short life of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has shown. The Israeli ruling class and US imperialism do not want the creation of a truly independent Palestinian state, as they fear it would act as a radical rallying point for the poor and exploited throughout the Middle East.
The corrupt and despotic ruling elites in the Arab states, despite their fake support for Palestinian rights, also fear the establishment of an independent Palestine, seeing in it the beginning of the of end of their rule.
The struggle for a socialist Palestinian state and a socialist Israel allows socialist activists to win the ear of both Israeli and Palestinian working people, and to forge the unity of the oppressed throughout the region. This demand exposes the reality that there is no capitalist solution, and points to the conclusion that workers and youth need to build a class alternative to the bosses’ parties.
On the basis of building socialism – a society based on need not profits – Israeli and Palestinian workers can decide democratically, and without a hint of coercion or compulsion, the exact character and borders of a future society. The most contentious and sensitive issues, such as refugees, water and land rights, and the status of Jerusalem, can then be resolved.
Resources would be equally shared, as part of a planned economy, controlled and run by the working class. A socialist federation would see the free movement of peoples. A dramatic rise in living standards, including a massive house-building programme, would transform the issue of the right of Palestinian refugees to return. Jerusalem, today a disputed city, would probably be agreed as a ‘shared capital city’.
Only such a programme, allied to a common struggle on the economic and class issues, can offer a way out of the present grim cycle of wars and national hatreds.
This article first appeared in the Socialist, newspaper of the Socialist Party (CWI, England and Wales)