Israel/Palestine: How can a Palestinian state be achieved?

ON SATURDAY, 18 March thousands will march through the streets of London to protest at Sharon’s and the Israeli state’s murderous assaults on the Palestinians.

In the Socialist Party we are campaigning to make sure the largest possible numbers attend Saturday’s protest in order to demonstrate forcefully the outrage felt by the majority of ordinary people in Britain to Sharon and the Israeli state’s war on the Palestinians.

At a time when Sharon’s bloody war machine is looming over the Gaza strip it is vital that British workers mobilise to show their solidarity with the Palestinians and to put maximum pressure on Sharon and imperialism.

Palestine is an issue that affects the whole world, and British socialists should comment on the prospects and programme of the Palestinian struggle, just as the Palestinian masses have the right and duty to comment on our struggles.

Can the imperialist powers provide a solution?

IMPERIALISM CANNOT deliver national liberation for the Palestinians, as the failure of the Oslo Accord so graphically demonstrated. On the contrary imperialism, both in the past and today bears the main responsibility for instability and the oppression of national rights in the Middle East.

Because the region is so strategically and economically important to the imperialist powers they have always been particularly quick to defend their interests by deploying the tactic of divide and rule and by backing dictatorial regimes.

Some commentators, unfortunately even including Robert Fisk, one of the best journalists writing in the capitalist press on the Middle East, have in despair at the current situation suggested that US and UN troops should intervene to find a solution. This is utterly utopian. Any intervention by imperialism would ultimately dramatically worsen the situation.

US imperialism has seen Israel as its client state in the region since Israel’s inception, it was an imperialist wedge against the threat of socialism and the Arab revolution.

Whilst US imperialism also leans on the conservative, right-wing Arab regimes to varying degrees at different times, Israel remains their primary point of support in the region. What is more, Bush and his cohorts are currently amongst the most crudely pro-Israeli of any US government.

In reality the US government gave Sharon the green light for the slaughter of the West Bank. Bush initially gave open support to Sharon’s action by declaring that Israel had “the right to defend itself”.

One Israeli minister has reported that, whilst Vice-President Dick Cheney publicly called for peace on his visit to Israel, behind the scenes he called for even more repressive measures against the Palestinians than the Israeli government.

Bush and Co.’s attitude stems partly from domestic electoral reasons in the run-up to November’s elections, but is primarily a reflection of US imperialism’s overwhelming arrogance following their victory against Afghanistan.

The Bush government imagined that by allowing Sharon to go ahead in the West Bank it would be possible to ‘pacify’ the Palestinians leaving the US free to concentrate on attacking Iraq. Unsurprisingly, this strategy has blown up in their faces.

The huge demonstrations of the Arab masses in solidarity with the Palestinians, and the consequent terrified pleading by the leaders of the Arab regimes, has forced Bush to at least try and rein Sharon in. He has failed miserably.

Meanwhile, the European imperialist powers, terrified of the consequences of developments in the Middle East, are campaigning more strongly than Bush for a “viable Palestinian state”. They decline to say what this actually means.

This is because they have no answers on the central issues of contention – the right of return, Jerusalem, water rights and land rights. In reality a so-called Palestinian state under capitalism would be a tiny impoverished statelet, its borders decided by Israel probably on more unfavourable terms even than the Oslo Accord.

Genuine Palestinian statehood would threaten the power, prestige and profits of the capitalist elite in the Middle East and of imperialism. It would fuel the national aspirations of other nationalities and minorities in the region.

It could also develop into a radical alternative for the Arab masses to the corrupt pro-imperialist regimes in the region and would therefore be a threat to imperialism’s strategic and oil interests.

How can the Palestinian struggle be taken forward?

THE PALESTINIANS are facing constant oppression and the likelihood of repeated bloody occupations and incursions by the IDF. They are in a desperate situation.

The Palestinians clearly have the right to armed self-defence against the IDF onslaught. However, attacks on Israeli civilians are counter-productive because they drive the Israeli working class into the hands of their own worst enemies; Sharon and the most reactionary elements of the Israeli ruling class.

It is the Israeli ruling class not ordinary Israelis who are responsible for the nightmare situation faced by ordinary Palestinians.

Of course, the Palestinian people can’t postpone their struggle until most Israeli Jews accept the need for a genuine Palestinian state. But as well as organising mass opposition to the occupation, the Palestinian struggle needs to help undermine the support of Israeli Jews, particularly the working class, for Israeli capitalism and all that goes with it. The Palestinians will not win the right to self-determination by military struggle alone.

A successful struggle requires a mass movement of the Palestinians under the democratic control of elected popular committees of struggle. Palestinians have the right to resist arms in hand.

But at the same time mass demonstrations and solidarity appeals to the Israeli conscripts in the occupied territories would have an effect on sections of the conscripts and on the Israeli working class as a whole.

What attitude should socialists take to Israel?

AFTER THE barbarism of the holocaust during the Second World War Jews fled to what they regarded as their homeland. However, the new Israeli entity was achieved on the basis of the forcible removal and dispersal of the Palestinian population – a crime initiated by the Israeli elite for which both the Palestinians and ordinary Israeli Jews have had to pay in blood for ever since.

Genuine Marxists opposed the establishment of Israel, recognising that it was built on the suffering of the Palestinian people, and moreover would become a bloody trap for the Israeli Jews. However, Israel is now in existence and over time the population have developed a national consciousness.

Given this, to deny the Israeli Jews the right to their own nation, is a violation of the right to self determination. Moreover, it is unachievable given the military backing of US imperialism from the Israeli state.

There is an historical logjam. Just as the military might of Israel cannot crush the Palestinians’ unquenchable desire for a state, the Israeli Jews’ national consciousness could not be destroyed. On the contrary many would be prepared to fight to the death to protect their homeland.

However, this does not mean that the Israeli population is one undifferentiated mass or that large sections of Israeli society, particularly the working class, cannot be won to supporting genuine national self-determination for the Palestinians.

In fact the paradox of this tragic situation is that there have never been better opportunities to win over sections of the Israeli working class. More than 1,000 Israelis have refused to serve in the Occupied Territories. Last weekend a highly significant 100,000 people demonstrated for peace in Israel.

At the same time the working class in Israel is facing vicious cuts in their living standards comparable to those the British working class faced under Thatcher. The latest round of government cuts amounts to $1.5 billion.

Such is the anger of the working class that the leader of the Histradut trade union has been forced to threaten a general strike against the cuts in the midst of Sharon’s onslaught on the Palestinians.

Therefore it is completely incorrect to say of the Israeli Jewish working class, as John Rose did in the Socialist Workers Party monthly magazine, Socialist Review: “Sadly, privilege and ideology have always sealed these workers off from the traditions of internationalism and socialism.”

In fact, in the Liverpool dockers’ strike the Israeli dockers in Haifa took some of the most determined international action in support of the strike.

However, whilst the potential to win the Israeli working class over to the need for Palestinian self-determination undoubtedly exists, in the current situation a siege mentality exists on both sides.

The Palestinians are under occupation and face daily slaughter. At the same time millions of Israelis feel that their right to exist both as a nation in their own state and as individuals is under threat. Without an alternative, the bloody and brutal cycle of conflict will continue.

Many on the British left argue that the only possible solution is one state – “a secular, democratic Palestine in which Jews and Arabs can live together on the basis of freedom and equality.” (Socialist Worker 20.04.02)

The Socialist Workers Party argues that this can only be achieved by mobilising the “weight of the Arab world” behind the Palestinians. This only emphasises how impossible it would be to convince the Jewish working class that such a state would mean “freedom and equality” for them.

On the contrary they would see such a state as being built on the bloody destruction of their homeland, within which they would become the oppressed minority.

For the Palestinians to achieve victory it is essential that they split the majority Jewish working class from Sharon and the Israeli ruling class. This can only be done by supporting the existence of two states – Palestinian and Jewish – on a socialist basis, as a part of a voluntary confederation of the Middle East with democratic national rights for all minorities.

Under capitalism any so-called Palestinian state would be at best a new version of the Palestinian Authority. However, the overthrow of the rotten capitalism regimes and the coming to power of democratic socialist governments would create the basis for genuine negotiations between the two peoples.

It would be possible to begin to negotiate a solution to even the most intractable problems. For example, the right of return is ruled out on a capitalist basis, and, even if it were somehow to be implemented under capitalism, would only be a mirror image of what the Jews did to the Palestinians in 1948.

However, a socialist Middle East could provide the full economic and social resources to absorb the millions of Palestinians who would be given the right of return and guarantee increased living standards for the whole population.

That is why the building of strong working-class movements on both sides of the national divide in Israel and Palestine, committed to a socialist programme, is such an urgent task in the region.

  • The immediate withdrawal of all Israeli forces from all Occupied Territories – Gaza and the West Bank. Stop the aggression against the Palestinians.
  • A mass struggle throughout the region against imperialism and capitalism – the root cause of the conflict.
  • The right of Palestinians to resist the Israeli occupying forces. For a mass struggle to fight for genuine national and social liberation. For the establishment of popular, democratically controlled grass-root committees to provide leadership to the struggle. The right of these committees to provide democratically controlled armed defence.
  • The mobilisation of workers and youth internationally to aid the Palestinians’ struggle for democratic, national and social rights and for a socialist solution in the Middle East.
  • The right of Palestinians to self-determination, including an independent state. For a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel, as part of a voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East, with full rights for minorities.
  • An end to Sharon’s war of re-occupation and his reactionary, capitalist government. An end to the use of Israeli soldiers as cannon fodder by the Israeli ruling class and army generals. For the right of all conscript soldiers and reservists to refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories.
  • A united struggle by Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinian workers, youth and community activists against Sharon’s aggression and the occupation. End institutionalised racism and discrimination towards Israeli Palestinians. For a struggle of the Israeli working-class – both Jewish and Palestinian – to overthrow capitalism.
  • A struggle by the masses of the Arab states against the corrupt, reactionary, capitalist ruling Arab elites. For a socialist Middle East.

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May 2002