Tag Archives: Israel

Joining forces against war and expulsions

Milton Keynes Hands Off the People of Iran and the local Stop the War Coalition group joined forces for a meeting on the threat of war against Iran reports Dave Isaacson (this report was originally published in the Weekly Worker).

Moshé Machover (left) and Dave Isaacson at the meeting. Photo: © Brian Robinson.

Comrades from the Hands of the People of Iran campaign in Milton Keynes have responded to the recently escalating sanctions and war threats against Iran by working closely with the local Stop the War group to build opposition to any imperialist intervention. We worked together to organise a joint Hopi/STW public meeting to discuss these issues on Monday May 28.

Over 20 people attended, which for a town such as Milton Keynes is reasonable. The meeting was addressed by Israeli socialist Moshé Machover, who is also a member of the Hopi steering committee. He gave an excellent opening, looking at the reasons why policymakers in the US and Israel want to see a change of regime in Iran and why some actively favour the methods of war to achieve such an aim. Moshé examined the long-term strategic interests of Zionism in Israel in particular. He argued that these interests flow from the fact that Israel is a certain type of colonial settler state, based upon the total exclusion of the indigenous population, to the extent that this can be achieved (unlike some other settler states such as South Africa and Algeria, where native peoples were needed for their labour-power).

With Israel’s determination to scupper any hopes that Palestinians have for an independent sovereign state on the one hand, and the Zionist nightmare of ‘demographic peril’ (the fear that the growing Palestinian population will increasingly outnumber Israelis) on the other, the very presence of the Palestinians is intolerable to Zionism. Comrade Machover explained that the solution that many Zionists have longed to put into practice is to simply expel the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza: ie, ethnic cleansing.

Indeed the current Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is on record telling students in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in November 1989 that “the government had failed to exploit politically favourable situations in order to carry out ‘large-scale’ expulsions at times when ‘the damage would have been relatively small. I still believe that there are opportunities to expel many people’.” Israeli provocations that lead to a regional conflagration involving Iran and the US could create just the “politically favourable situation” Netanyahu wishes for – a sideshow while they ethnically cleanse the Palestinians.

Moshé’s talk was well received and there were some very interesting questions which prompted further discussions on issues such as the current conflict in Syria, Israel’s own development of a nuclear arsenal, and an assessment of the Occupy movement. One speaker expressed scepticism about the scale of the ethnic cleansing Moshé argues Israeli politicians would like to carry out. He felt that such a thing would just not be acceptable in this day and age. Moshé responded that it is precisely our job to make sure that such acts are made unacceptable, and indeed made impossible, through our collective opposition. To achieve such aims we need political organisation and a programme.

Everybody I spoke to left feeling that the meeting had been a success. Everyone took home Hopi literature and many bought a copy of the Weekly Worker or of Moshé’s new book – Israelis and Palestinians: conflict and resolution. As well as Hopi and STW, the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign branch was also present with a stall. These are all good signs that people are taking the issues seriously and want to learn more.

As Moshé explained at the end of the meeting, this summer is a particularly dangerous one for the Middle East. We must keep a close eye on the situation and do all we can develop the ideas and organisation we need to pose an internationalist and socialist alternative to imperialism and Zionism. Hopi is very clear: we stand in solidarity with the Iranian people – not their regime – and oppose all sanctions and war threats. In Milton Keynes we will continue to work closely with the local STW group (which incidentally displays none of the sectarianism towards Hopi that we have experienced at a national level). It is also worth mentioning our gratitude to Milton Keynes trades council, an affiliate of Hopi, who financed the meeting with a £100 donation.

Audio files of the opening speech and answers to questions at the meeting are available to listen to on the HOPI website. Thanks to Brian Robinson for producing the recordings.

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War threats intensify

It is clear that the Obama administration is preparing US public opinion for war, writes Yassamine Mather (first published in the Weekly Worker)

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Israel: ready to attack

 

On Saturday April 14 Iran will attend talks with six world powers. The US has indicated this is Iran’s “last chance” to avoid military intervention and the Obama administration is taking very specific demands to the talks as preconditions for further negotiations: for example, Iran “must immediately close” a large nuclear facility allegedly built underneath a mountain if it wants to avoid a devastating strike.

Other “near term” concessions to avoid a potential military conflict include the suspension of high-level uranium enrichment and the surrender by Tehran of existing stockpiles of the fuel, according to senior US officials. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton made the usual noises about time “running out for diplomacy”, while expressing “doubts” about whether Iran has any real intention of negotiating a solution. In other words, preparing US public opinion for an attack that is possibly already scheduled.

The preconditions put Iran’s Islamic government in an impossible situation and, although Tehran might use the talks to buy more time, accepting such conditions would represent such a terrible humiliation that it would be tantamount to political suicide for a dictatorship whose unpopularity continues to rise. But, there again, the US is hardly aiming to make life easy of the theocracy. In Tehran, some senior clerics are hoping that the 12th Shia Imam will make his reappearance even sooner than they are apt to predict.

As for Washington, in an election year the Obama administration has decided it cannot afford to look “weak” on Iran, as the Republican right ups the pressure for military action. To add to the pressure, the US navy has announced the deployment of a second aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, to the Persian Gulf region, where it will join the USS Abraham Lincoln. This will increase its ability to launch a massive air war on Iran at short notice.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Centre for Research on Globalization quoted political analyst Ralph Schoenman to the effect that Nato and the US are arming Israel with missile capacity in relation to a “projected and planned attack upon Iran”, According to Schoenman, Italy’s sale of 30 M-346 training jets to Israel is part of these preparations. And the Israeli military has gained access to airbases in Azerbaijan, according to Mark Perry of the journal Foreign Policy:

“Obama administration officials now believe that the ‘submerged’ aspect of the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance – the security cooperation between the two countries – is heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran … senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran’s northern border.” One “senior administration official” is quoted as saying: “The Israelis have bought an airfield … and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.” [1]

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz is even more terrifying: “The roulette wheel continues to spin and the ball falls into a different numbered slot every time. Following defence minister Ehud Barak’s estimate that around 500 Israelis will be killed in the event of a counterattack by Iran, Israel air force performance analysts have recently published a study calculating that around 300 Israelis will die if Israel launches a war against Iran.” The paper criticises the Israeli government for its “obsession” with an Iranian “hypothetical nuclear bomb”, allegedly “forgetting the threat” of Iranian and Syrian chemical weapons. It calls on Netanyahu to protect Israeli citizens against an Iranian assault: “So, dear Bibi, ahead of the hot summer, we’ve got a tiny request. Give us gas masks.” [2]

For most Iranians the war has already started. After months of denials the ministry of oil admits that Iran’s export of crude oil has dropped sharply even before the EU embargo from July has officially started. Insurers are showing growing reluctance to cover tankers carrying Iranian oil and refiners are said to be “increasingly wary” of crude from the country because of the threat posed by sanctions. China, India, Japan and South Korea are the four biggest buyers of Iranian crude in Asia, and all of them have cut imports.

However, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, remains in denial, claiming this week that the country has enough capital reserves to go “two to three years” without selling oil. It is difficult to believe such claims, when the government’s efforts to improve the plight of the currency so clearly failed – the Iranian toman dropped to half of its value against the dollar in January 2012.

Iran’s car manufacturing industry is also facing a serious crisis after Peugeot Citroen, fearing the enforcement of US-led financial sanctions, stopped its trade in February. Iran was Peugeot Citroen’s second-biggest market in 2011 in terms of trade volume. However it came under increasing pressure after a US lobby group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), called on the US Congress to investigate the French car company’s transactions with the Islamic Republic.

In addition, top financial institutions such as Société Générale and the Rabobank Group have stepped back from business with Iran in recent months, fearful of political risk and logistical difficulties covering every aspect of financial transactions (including areas not directly affected by sanctions). Smaller banks that are willing to continue business with Iran demand much higher fees. According to the Wall Street Journal, “firms and other intermediaries still brokering these trades are charging more than 6% per transaction for legitimate trade deals with Iran, on top of traditional banking fees … Other institutions involved in financing legitimate trade with Iran declined to speak on the record, saying they feared publicity could lead the US treasury to increase its scrutiny of their US-dollar operations.” [3]

The response from Iran’s pragmatist capitalist ayatollahs is clear: let us resolve our differences with the US. This week former Iranian president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani criticised the country’s current foreign policy – in particular the absence of formal diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States. In an interview with the Iranian International Studies quarterly journal, Rafsanjani stressed the importance of direct talks with the US.

Rafsanjani said that in a letter to ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he had urged the former supreme leader of the Islamic Republic to “resolve” seven outstanding issues while he was still alive, one of them being the poor state of US-Iranian relations: “I wrote that our current approach, which is to not talk or have any ties, cannot continue. The US is the world’s leading power. What is the difference, in our view, between Europe and the US, or between China and the US, or between Russia and the US? If we negotiate with them why can’t we negotiate with the US? Holding talks doesn’t mean we’re surrendering.” [4]

Iranian allies?

The Iranian regime, the Shia occupation government in Baghdad and Iran’s allies in the Lebanese Hezbollah are all following events in Syria with great concern. The fall of the Assad regime would be a serious blow to the Shia camp and Tehran feels more and more isolated in a Sunni-dominated Middle East. For the last three decades much of the Arab media has blamed Iran for meddling in internal Arab affairs – not only in Iraq, but also in Lebanon and Bahrain.

In Palestine Hamas has distanced itself from both Iran and Syria. Strengthening its relations with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, it has denounced the Syrian regime’s crackdown on its opponents and stated that it would stay ‘neutral’ if Israel attacked Iran. As a result of this shift Hamas is now getting a highly negative press in Iran, which hopes that at least it will be able to rely on Hezbollah. However, even there the relationship is not what it used to be.

In June 2011, Lebanon’s new prime minister, Najib Mikati, formed a government in coalition with Hezbollah. While Israeli and US officials are keen to exaggerate the role of Hezbollah, the reality is that financial, political and therefore military power remains firmly in the hands of Christian and Sunni parties. Iranian finance might have helped Hezbollah set up a social-service network in the Bekaa valley, allowing it to recruit fighters and acquire an arsenal of rockets, but there is no comparison between this and the multimillion-dollar investments by Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries in Lebanon.

Hezbollah was set up in 1983, under the Iranian ‘reformist’ premiership of Mir-Hossein Moussavi (currently under house arrest) and some Hezbollah leaders have longstanding relations with Iranian clerics and revolutionary guards currently out of favour in Iran because of their support for the ‘reformist’ movement. In fact, wary of the instability in Tehran since 2009 and a slashing of Iran’s annual budget for Hezbollah by 40% in early 2009, Hezbollah has been forced to impose austerity measures, reducing salaries and staff numbers and placing many construction projects on hold. In addition the party is being challenged at home by the indictment of several of its members for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

All in all, Hezbollah is not as powerful as the US and its allies claim and, although in the event of a military attack on Iran it will do what it can to support a Shia ally, the organisation is not in a position to prove an effective deterrent to military attacks. This is why raising false hopes about the ability of Hamas or Hezbollah to stop an attack on Iran is so misplaced.

Genuine solidarity with the people of Iran has to come from anti-war forces beyond the Sunni-Shia divide in the Middle East. We in Britain and elsewhere need to raise awareness of the current situation in Iran and the region so as to build an effective anti-war campaign. Next weekend’s school organised by Hands Off the People of Iran in London will be an important part of such an effort.

Hopi’s opposition to war and sanctions, as well as to the Islamic Regime, is attracting new support in Britain and abroad. Iranian comrades in Canada joined the anti-war protests last month in Toronto, where Hopi posters were prominent, and this prompted discussions and debates with the Canadian anti-war alliance. When I debated James Clark of Toronto Coalition to Stop the War in a TV broadcast, he agreed with many of the points we have raised over the last few years. A further debate is planned and we hope to make similar interventions in Vancouver and Montreal. Hopi’s principled position is also supported by a number of Iranian leftist activists in Chicago and Washington. Over the next few weeks we intend to widen our activities in North America – opposing war, while building solidarity with Iranian workers, students, the women’s movement and Iran’s oppressed national and religious minorities. The April 21-22 London school will hopefully feature an online session to coordinate solidarity with activists in North America.

In France the collective around the journal Carré Rouge has played an important role in introducing Hopi to the French left. Translations of many Hopi articles in both the printed and online versions have helped us gain supporters in the French-speaking world. We hope this cooperation will lead to Hopi meetings in France and Belgium.

Marathon support

This Sunday, April 15, 40 runners representing Workers Fund Iran will take part in the Vienna marathon to raise money for the charity.

Workers Fund Iran was set up in December 2005. It aims to reduce and relieve poverty amongst Iranian workers (employed and unemployed), who are victims both of the economic policies of the Iranian government and the sanctions imposed by imperialism. It aims to put at the centre of its activities the need to rebuild international solidarity – directly, with the workers of Iran. WFI is involved in many fundraising activities to support its work, ranging from social gatherings to solidarity cricket. Yet another WFI tradition is perhaps the ultimate test: marathon running. Last September WFI participation in the Berlin marathon raised well over €500.

Over the last few years Workers Fund Iran has sent funds to a number of working class families, including contributing to the medical expenses of a well known trade unionist, and helping with the housing costs of a number of working class families particular badly hit by the poverty that is affecting large numbers. Of course, WFI has very limited resources. However, every penny collected in the UK is sent to Iran – the charity’s administration and management is run on an entirely voluntary basis.

As the war threats intensify, it is more important than ever to extend our solidarity. Please be generous in your sponsorship of our runners. Go to https://www.charitychoice.co.uk/workers-fund-iran-11724/donate, where your contributions will be gratefully received.

Notes

1. www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/03/28/israel_s_secret_staging_ground.

2. Ha’aretz April 8: www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/a-tiny-request-on-the-eve-of-an-iran-war-1.423197.

3. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303299604577323601794862004.html.

4. http://en.irangreenvoice.com/article/2012/apr/04/3586.


Iran: all options remain on the table

Rhetoric about Iran is all too reminiscent of the prelude to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, warns Ben Lewis (first published in the Weekly Worker)

On Monday February 20 parliament debated the prospect of military intervention against Iran. This against a background of increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the United States and Israel, as well as the recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The debate was initiated by Conservative MP John Baron, perhaps the only Tory MP who opposes an attack on Iran. His motion was simple and straightforward: “This house believes that the use of force against Iran would be wholly counterproductive and would serve only to encourage any development of nuclear weapons; and calls upon the government to rule out the use of force against Iran and reduce tensions by redoubling diplomatic efforts.” Malcolm Rifkind, Tory chairman of the intelligence and security committee, moved an amendment that completely changed its content. The amendment deleted everything except “This house” and replaced the rest of Baron’s motion with: “… supports the government’s efforts to reach a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue through a combination of pressure in the form of robust sanctions, and engagement led by the E3+3 comprising the UK, US, France, Germany, China and Russia; and recognises the value of making clear to Iran that all options for addressing the issue remain on the table”.

It was perhaps no surprise that a cross-party consensus quickly formed around the Rifkind amendment, which was passed by an overwhelming majority of 285 to 6. Those who voted against the amendment were Labour MPs John McDonnell, Paul Flynn and Dennis Skinner; Jonathan Edwards of Plaid Cymru; Mark Durkan of the Social Democratic and Labour Party; and Baron himself.

That meant, of course, that an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs lined up for war. Michael McCann deserves particular mention: “diplomacy and sanctions should not be our only options – nothing should be ruled out”. Diane Abbott, who has often spoken out against war and occupation, voted for the Rifkind amendment: ie, in favour of “robust sanctions” and against clearly spelling out that military intervention was off the cards. But then Abbott is now one of Ed Miliband’s shadow ministers.

It would appear that we are now closer to some sort of strike against Iran than we have been for quite some time. Reinforcing the sense of urgency, Baron reminded us that, given “tough new sanctions, state-sponsored terrorism and naval forces in the Gulf”, this “may be the only opportunity” to debate Iran before an Israeli air-strike, perhaps even a “regional war”.

Baron’s speech in support of his motion criticised “yesterday’s failed policies” of “sanctions and sabre-rattling”. Contrary to the stated aims of those supporting them, he said, sanctions and threats of military action only had the effect of strengthening the regime, particularly the “hard-liners”. He also did a good job of pointing out the shortcoming of the IAEA’s report on Iran, highlighting that there is not a shred of “concrete evidence” of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. Given the utter disaster that ensued following the questionable evidence concerning Iraq’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003, we should be very wary of another disastrous war, said Baron. His request to foreign secretary William Hague to say where the evidence of Iranian nuclear weaponry could be found in the IAEA report fell on deaf ears.

That said, his case was significantly weakened by the fact that he questioned whether Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had actually called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” – apparently, the complexities of Farsi might mean that he was simply calling for “regime change”. The problem with this kind of apologia for the theocracy’s impotent rhetoric is that it buys into the ‘logic’ of the warmongers in Israel, the US and the UK: if the mullahs do want Israel “wiped off the map”, they must be prepared to launch a nuclear strike on that country, which means they must be developing the ability to do so, which means other Middle East powers will rush to develop nuclear arms themselves, which means there will be a “second cold war”.

Anti-war case

As Hands Off the People of Iran supporter John McDonnell was able to point out, the notion that the current sabre-rattling results from Israeli fears of a nuclear holocaust is frankly absurd. While it is “open to doubt” that Iran is close to having nuclear weapons, the issue “is really about nuclear capability – which is a threat only if one believes that nuclear weapons will be used”. And no-one does really believe that. If we are anxious about nuclear proliferation, he said, we have to “start with the root cause”, which is “Israel illegally gaining nuclear weapons”. The way forward had been spelt out by former British ambassador to Iran, Richard Dalton, said McDonnell, when he called for a “nuclear-free zone across the Middle East”. But that would mean facing up “the issue of Israel holding nuclear weapons”.

Comrade McDonnell pointed out that he is no friend of the regime: he has consistently tabled motions supporting campaigns like those of the Tehran bus workers and against the persecution of film director Jafar Panahi. But sanctions and the threat of military action “are strengthening the hard-liners in Iran and hurting the Iranian people, who are desperate to throw off the yoke of that theocracy”.

Sanctions represent “a siege of Iran”, which means we are “already at war by proxy”. As a result, Iran’s currency is collapsing, imports of grain are drying up and “people are becoming impoverished”. This is hardly “undermining the regime”. On the contrary, it is “hardening support for it by giving it the excuse that an external enemy is causing the impoverishment and hunger”.

Finally he referred to Israel’s “own domestic political agenda”: the “crisis atmosphere suits Netanyahu and the hawks who surround him”. Which was why there have been “covert military actions” carried out by organisations and individuals trained by Mossad. These acts “have prompted more terrorism around the world through Iran-sponsored attacks”, while the Israeli-sponsored “cyber-war” has “provoked even more retaliation”.

However, the eight-hour debate was dominated by the ratcheting up of threats. Labour MP Michael Mann was keen to draw on the example of Nazism and portray Ahmadinejad as the new Adolph Hitler. Apparently a recent conversation with one of his constituents who was present as the Nazis marched into Vienna had reminded him of Edmund Burke’s vacuous remark: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Absolutely sickening stuff.

With those on the ‘opposition’ benches going to such hawkish lengths, Rifkind’s case for leaving “all options open” sounded highly restrained by contrast. He made the rather odd point that if Baron’s motion were adopted then this would, paradoxically, increase the likelihood of military intervention against Iran. Why? Well, the Israelis would feel deserted by their allies and thus compelled to act unilaterally. At this point, John McDonnell intervened with a timely and well-aimed question: what sanctions would be imposed on Israel, were this to happen?

None, of course. In fact an Israeli strike might not be such a bad thing: “The Israelis acted unilaterally against Iraq when they removed the Osirak reactor, and both the western world and the Arab world breathed a huge sign of relief. It would ultimately depend on how successful the Israelis could be, and that is a separate question.”

That said, for the most part both Rifkind and foreign secretary William Hague were particularly keen on stressing two things: that the US was the “key country” in thinking about these questions (ie, the US will ultimately decide, and Britain will follow its lead) and that they would, of course, prefer a “peaceful” solution based on sanctions and “dialogue”: ie, negotiations with a pistol pointed at the head of those on the Iranian side of the table. After all, diplomacy requires “carrots and sticks”.

Rifkind stated that if it did come down to US-sanctioned military action, the “adverse consequences” would only be “relatively temporary”, with “short to medium-term” effects for a “few days, weeks or possibly even months”. The alternative, however, was the “permanent” prospect of an Iranian state with nuclear weapons. The circumstances under which such ‘pre-emptive’ military action might take place were, of course, a “military question” that should not be discussed in parliament.

According to Hague, “Our quarrel emphatically is not with the Iranian people” – although it is fine to wreck their lives through sanctions, it seems. No, “we want them to enjoy the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as we do and to live dignified lives in a prosperous society”. But “the Iranian government’s current policies endanger the interests of the Iranian people themselves, as well as undermining global security”.

This government celebrated the Arab spring a year ago by sending a delegation of British arms dealers around the Middle East – led by the prime minister – so they could ply their wares to a series of dictators. David Cameron showed himself more than willing to continue selling rubber bullets, tear gas and heavy arms to Kuwait, Bahrain and Yemen immediately after his visit to Egypt in February 2011. Weapons to be used against those fighting for some sort of “dignified” existence in the face of “appalling” abuses of their human rights.

Behind all the delusional, self-righteous crap, though, lies an undeniable drive to war. Labour rebel Paul Flynn made the obvious point that the debate and the rhetoric deployed by the politicians has a distinct feeling of 2003 about it. This should be of enormous concern to all of us committed to any notion of democracy and progress in the Middle East and beyond. Almost 10 years on, and after the trail of death and destruction in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, our rulers are now contemplating a repeat.

We must do our utmost to oppose any such intervention. What is more, we must highlight the real motives behind the rhetoric: the US, through its main regional ally, Israel, is attempting to regain full control over a region that is going through extremely rapid change. We need the biggest, most militant and most daring show of opposition to their project. At all times we must expose the duplicitous lies of ‘our’ leaders and strengthen the force that can stop wars and a further descent into barbarity: the international working class movement.

ben.lewis@weeklyworker.org.uk

Israel: proving Euripides right

We are now seeing the beginning of the end of the Zionist state, writes Tony Greenstein


When news came in, in the early morning of May 31, that two members of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla had been murdered, I posted a message to various pro-Palestinian email lists saying that people should be aware that this might just be a hysterical reaction to the boarding of the six ships by Israeli armed forces. As the morning went on and the death toll climbed, however, it became clear that something terrible and tragic had occurred.

I have to confess that I still find it hard to believe that the elite Shayetet 13 navy seals were so panicked that they ended up murdering nine international members of a flotilla of ships delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza. I am comforted in my original reaction by the opening to Robert Fisk’s article in The Independent, ‘Western leaders are too cowardly to help save lives’: “Has Israel lost it?”[1] What is clear from those who are now being released is that people on all six ships were roughed up by the Israeli military and clearly the intent was to teach them a lesson.

Yet Israel’s savage reaction to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla makes no sense. Of course, the BBC has done all it can to promote Israel’s hasbara (propaganda) videos purporting to show that, far from being the aggressor, Israeli troops were the passive victims of a premeditated and unprovoked assault by members of the Mavi Marmara lead ship. Apparently, despite Israel being one of the most heavily armed states in the world, it was unable to take control of six unprotected vessels from unarmed or spontaneously armed civilians without massive use of violence.

Since those on the ships – they included Kevin Ovenden of Respect and Sarah Colborne of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – had been denied any access to the media by Israel’s jamming of the airwaves, the BBC was happy to use carefully chosen and edited Israeli videos. It is strange, of course, that despite having themselves launched such a fierce attack with knives, metal pipes and guns, all the dead seem to come from the flotilla! But like those who killed themselves in Guantanamo no doubt they had a suicide urge. The reaction on the street, however, is one of overwhelming repugnance at the cold-blooded murder of members of the flotilla.

The attack on the convoy is yet another serious political mistake by the Israeli state. First we had the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, then the 2008-09 attack on Gaza and now the murder of internationals. Although the 10,000 tons of aid that were being brought in was but a fraction of what was needed, politically it hit a very sore nerve. It was the equivalent of the mouse cocking a snook at the cat. Damn it, Israel controls Gaza, by air, land and sea, and it is certainly not going to tolerate a bunch of subversive internationals thinking that they can just sail through the blockade.

A cleverer regime might have worked out that a few boats were not going to make much difference. The mainstream western media had been completely ignoring their progress. Indeed some of us had been bombarding the BBC with emails asking why they did not consider it newsworthy. But we did not take into account Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right government. To them the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was intolerable.

The incident provides us with an example of how our rulers are far from invincible – they have feet of clay. A starvation siege that has lasted three years is now no longer tenable. Both Hillary Clinton and William Hague have now come out against the blockade (as I write, New Labour has kept silent!).

Like all settler-colonial regimes, Israel has perfected a well-developed sense of paranoia. Using the memory of the holocaust, it has convinced itself that, whatever the situation, it is the victim. When Palestinians go and get themselves killed by Israeli soldiers, it is the latter who are traumatised. Indeed that is what the Zionist left blame the Palestinians for. Taking away their humanity by forcing them to kill and maim and engage in passions such as hate.

If anyone is under any illusions as to the nature of the Israeli regime, then one can consider the deliberate firing of a teargas canister at an American student, Emily Henochowicz, on June 1.[2] Not only is the Israeli state becoming more violent, but it is less and less concerned with who knows. It is also openly restricting what few democratic rights its own citizens, especially if they are Arabs, possess.

The Netanyahu government has in particular, in recent months, targeted NGOs and voluntary organisations and charities which support the Palestinians. It has done this with respect to both Israeli and non-Israeli organisations. It has changed visa regulations to make it more difficult for internationals to be present in the West Bank. Those there without a permit are ‘infiltrators’.

But, like the proverbial bull in a china shop, Israel’s leaders appear oblivious to the likely reaction of those around them. And when their actions are met with hostility it is all down to anti-Semitism! But now the US’s favourite dictator and one of its most abject collaborators, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, has been driven to open the borders of Rafah to Gazan inhabitants, thus achieving exactly what members of the Freedom Flotilla set out to achieve, albeit at a heavy price.

For its part, Turkey, a key member of Nato, protested vigorously at the murder of its nationals. Historically it has been Israel’s most important ally in the region, part of what was known in Ben-Gurion’s time as the Peripheral Alliance, whereby Israel leapfrogged its hostile neighbours and formed alliances with the next concentric circle – Turkey, Iran, Ethiopia and Morocco. Now Israel has to rely on collaborationist regimes that have no base in the populace.

It is often difficult, when you are caught up by events, to see where the historical process is leading. Nonetheless I will make a prediction. We are now seeing the beginning of the end of the Zionist state. We already have significant sections of world Jewry that are distancing themselves from a state which bears the major responsibility for any upsurge in anti-Semitism. It is clear, despite their propaganda and support from the BBC and western media, that people do not believe Israeli lies any longer. We even have indications that western leaders are beginning to tire of Israel’s antics – Zionist leaders are admitting that it is becoming “less of a strategic asset to America”.[3] In fact it is now threatening to become a liability.

In Israel the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ do not have the same meaning as they do in most countries. This too is typical of a settler-colonial country. It is no accident that Histadrut, Israel’s scab ‘union’, has issued a statement giving full support to Israel’s military action against the flotilla and blaming the organisers of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla for what happened. But historically the Labour Party, Mapai, has distinguished itself from Likud by its slavish support for the alliance with the USA. Revisionism, personified by Menachem Begin, was always willing to be more critical of this relationship and try to stretch it to the limit. This is what Netanyahu is doing and I suspect that the USA will be looking for means to remove him, as they effectively did Yitzhak Shamir over 20 years ago.

The problem now is that Mapai and the traditional Zionist left has all but disappeared as a political factor in Israel. Those whom the gods seek to destroy they first drive mad. It would seem that Israel’s leaders are determined to prove the truth of Euripides’ statement.

Notes

  1. The Independent June 1.
  2. See azvsas.blogspot.com/2010/06/evidence-that-attack-on-gaza-freedom.html
  3. See ‘Israel less of an asset for US’ Jerusalem Post January 6: www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=177136

Lowkey at today’s Gaza Freedom Flotilla massacre protest

Milton Keynes Stop the War meeting – March 30th

stwc_logoMilton Keynes Stop the War are holding a public meeting at 7.30pm on Monday March 30 at Heelands Meeting Place, Glovers Lane, Heelands, Milton Keynes. A speaker from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign will speak on ‘What next in Gaza?’, plus Carol Turner of Stop the War on the group’s campaign priorities. MK Communists urges local people to attend and build a vibrant local Stop the War group with principled politics at its heart.

Breaking the chains of Zionist oppression

Moshé Machover

Moshé Machover

A resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be achieved within the confines of ‘historical Palestine’. Moshé Machover calls for a socialist approach

This article is not written as a polemic against Zionists, social-imperialists and purveyors of similar reactionary ideologies; nor is it aimed at a broad liberal or progressive audience. It is addressed specifically to genuine socialists. I can therefore take certain things for granted.

I will take for granted the analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I have expounded elsewhere: especially in my 2006 Amiel and Melburn Trust lecture.1 But I would like to elaborate on the second part of that lecture, which dealt all too briefly with resolution of the conflict.

I will also take it for granted that we socialists reject not only any ideology of colonisation and oppression, but also all nationalism – including the nationalist ideology of an oppressed people struggling for national liberation. This latter precept, while accepted in principle by all genuine socialists, is not always adhered to in political practice.

It is all too easy to slide from support for a national liberation struggle – which is our unwavering duty as socialists – into accommodation with the bourgeois or petty bourgeois nationalist ideology of the leadership of that struggle. Wishing – quite correctly – not to appear patronising by preaching from afar to the oppressed masses on how to conduct their struggle and presenting them with a pre-packed programme, socialists often forego an independent critical socialist viewpoint and are content to tail behind this or that brand of radical nationalism.

Independent positions such as those advocated in the present article, which were formerly held and defended by significant sections of the revolutionary left, have been abandoned or simply forgotten. They need to be reaffirmed.

Principles

Let me start with the least controversial part: the principles on which a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based, the minimal conditions it must satisfy.2

The most fundamental element in a genuine resolution of the conflict is removal of its fundamental cause: the Zionist colonisation project must be superseded. This means not only de-Zionisation of Israel, but also repudiation of the Zionist claim that the Jews at large, constituting an alleged ‘diasporic nation’, have a special right in – let alone over – the ‘land of Israel’. For this claim amounts not only to a retroactive legitimation of past Zionist colonisation, but, in effect, demands an acceptance of an alleged persisting right to future ‘ingathering’ – which implies further colonisation and expansion. Such an impossible claim precludes a true resolution of the conflict.

This fundamental negative condition must be supplemented by the following positive ones.

First and foremost, equal rights. This includes not only equal individual rights for all, but also, no less important, equal collective rights – national rights, for the two national groups actually involved: the Palestinian Arabs and the Israeli Hebrews. We must insist on this as a minimal necessary condition because socialists cannot ever tolerate any national privilege, any national inequality.

Second, the right of return: recognition of the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, to be rehabilitated and properly compensated for loss of property and livelihood. This is so self-evidently just that it needs no elaborate justification. Indeed, the only argument voiced against it is that it would jeopardise the ‘Jewish character’ of Israel, or, in plain language, its ethnocratic constitution as a settler state. But to accept this argument would amount to capitulation to Zionist ideology.

How can these principles be implemented? What political framework will be needed for this?

In addressing these questions I do not presume to offer the Palestinian masses unsolicited advice as to what they should be struggling for. I do not propose to emulate the habit of some leftist sects of acting as self-appointed vanguards, dispensing from afar off-the-peg, one-size-fits-all programmes to movements who have not asked them for this service.

But socialists cannot be content with echoing demands raised by this or that Palestinian national leadership. We must perform our own independent analysis of the problem and come to our own conclusion as to which resolution of the conflict we ought to uphold and which demands we should raise.

In particular, it is incumbent on us to be clear as to the relationship between the liberation of the Palestinian Arab people and the struggle for socialism. Are these two separate issues or are they connected; and if so, how?

From one state to two, and back

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was originally created in 1964 by the League of Arab States, and was an empty shell manipulated by the Arab regimes until February 1969, when it was taken over by Fatah (Movement for the Liberation of Palestine), led by Yasser Arafat. Under Arafat’s chairmanship, the PLO became an umbrella body of the secular Palestinian liberation movement, including Fatah and several other smaller groups.

From 1969 until 1974, the PLO unambiguously called for the liberation of the whole of pre-1948 Palestine – including not only the West Bank and the Gaza Strip occupied by Israel since 1967, but also Israel itself – and establishing in it a unitary “secular, democratic state”.

However, from 1974 the PLO began to shift its position, and by the 1980s accepted a so-called ‘two-state solution’: an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank (including the eastern part of Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, which would exist alongside Israel. Thus the PLO was resigned to giving up – at least for the foreseeable future – the Palestinian claim over 78% of the territory of pre-1948 Palestine, and making do with the remaining rump of 22%.

This led eventually to the 1993 Oslo accords between the PLO and Israel. These accords reflected the enormous disparity in the balance of power between the two sides. Although the impression created was that they would lead to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, this was not actually stated in the text, and in fact Israel made no such commitment. The accords merely established a ‘Palestinian Authority’ and Israel accepted an obligation to a staged withdrawal from an unspecified part of the territories it occupied in 1967. Agreement about the final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the issue of the Palestinian refugees was deferred to a later date.

In the meantime Israel retained control over the vital water resources of the whole of Palestine, including the parts from which it would withdraw. It also retained control over the population of the areas administered by the Palestinian Authority: it continued to exercise a veto over who would count as a legitimate resident of these areas. Most crucially, Israel made no commitment to halt its colonisation of the occupied territories. In fact, the colonisation of these territories (except for some areas administered by the Palestinian Authority) continued apace and even accelerated during the years of the ‘Oslo process’.

Already before the assassination of Itzhak Rabin (November 1995), Israel had been stalling in fulfilling its part of the bargain and had made no further withdrawal from the occupied territories. After his assassination, the Oslo accords became a dead letter. The Palestinian Authority was reduced to impotence and its only remaining role is to police the Palestinian population on behalf of Israel.

The Gaza Strip has now been turned into the world’s largest open prison; and the ever accelerating Israeli colonisation of the West Bank has cut it up into a series of separate Palestinian enclaves surrounded by blocs of Israeli settlements.3 As there is little likelihood that any Israeli government in the near future will be willing and able to reverse these facts on the ground, there is no longer any realistic prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state with true sovereignty even on the remaining 22% rump of Palestine. Any so-called Palestinian state that may be created in the present circumstances will in effect be no more than a series of Indian reservations, under total Israeli domination.

This has led a growing number of Palestinians to revert to the idea of a unitary state in the whole of pre-1948 Palestine.

The Palestine box

Most socialists around the world – just like most liberal supporters of Palestinian rights – have been content to uphold either one of these slogans: some call for a ‘two-state solution’ in a partitioned Palestine, with a Palestinian Arab state alongside Israel; whereas others call for a ‘one-state solution’ in an undivided Palestine.

Supporters of either formula generally fail to think carefully through such questions as to whether, and under what circumstances, their favoured ‘solution’ is likely to be implemented in a way that provides a genuine resolution of the conflict. They are content to stay at a high level of abstraction.4

Thinking abstractly, it is indeed quite possible to visualise a just and equitable resolution in a ‘two-state’ as well as a ‘one-state’ framework.

As for a ‘two-state’ framework, it would have to be very different indeed from any settlement that has even a remotely serious prospect of being implemented in the short or medium term. What is currently proposed and desultorily negotiated by the powers that be as a ‘two-state’ set-up is really nothing of the kind. It is more like one-and-a-quarter states: a dominant Israel, possessing the lion’s share of the land, controlling virtually all the vital water resources; and a disconnected set of Palestinian enclaves incapable of more than token sovereignty. This would provide no possibility for implementing the Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homeland. Nor would it address the racist nature of Israel: an ethnocratic Jewish state in which the Palestinian Arab minority (comprising about one fifth of the population) is severely discriminated against and under-privileged.

But, of course, it is possible to visualise a totally different picture: two states of comparable size and equitable shares of resources, in which the Palestinian refugees attain their due rights, and national equality is implemented.

As for a ‘one-state’ framework, it is not currently a realistic option – except in the present extremely oppressive form in which one state, Israel, rules the whole of Palestine, with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under military occupation.

But again it is possible to visualise a very different ‘one state’, in which the conflict is truly resolved. Some people have indeed attempted to produce a detailed blueprint of this kind, including a draft constitution of a future undivided Palestine.

Here it must be pointed out that the “secular, democratic state”, as proposed by the PLO in 1969-70, would not provide a genuine lasting resolution of the conflict. Some of those who repeat this formula as a mantra do not stop to think about the strange and apparently redundant combination, “secular, democratic”. How could a democratic state be anything but secular? Surely, a theocratic state cannot be democratic. But the bourgeois nationalist Fatah ideologues who coined this formula meant something very specific by the adjective “secular”. What it was intended to convey is the vision of an Arab Palestine, in which ‘Jews’ (along with Christians and Muslims) would be accorded equal individual status and freedom of worship as a religious denomination, but would not be recognised as a nationality. This was the meaning encoded by “secular”: it was counterposed not to ‘theocratic’, but to ‘binational’.5 So the formula was designed to evade the reality of the Hebrew nation.

However, it is quite possible to imagine an undivided Palestine in which both national communities are recognised and enjoy equal collective rights as such.

An instructive analogy

In my opinion both formulas – the so-called ‘two-state solution’ and ‘one-state solution’ – are misguided, and socialists should refrain from echoing either of them.

In arguing for this thesis I would like to invoke an analogy. I do so not to clinch the argument: analogies cannot settle anything conclusively. Rather I hope that it will make it easier for socialists to follow the analogous logical structure of my argument.

All genuine socialists (which of course excludes Stalinists) understand that the slogan of ‘socialism in one country’ (Russia) was disastrous. In fact it was used as cover and justification for some of the most monstrous atrocities of the 20th century; but even without having foreknowledge of this, it was a grave error for socialists to uphold this slogan when it was first raised.

But why? What was wrong with a vision of a socialist Russia, even if it was isolated? Surely, socialism in one country is preferable to no socialism anywhere?

Well, of course, there was nothing wrong with that vision as such, and it would have been very good to achieve socialism even in an isolated Russia – if such a thing were possible. But it was not possible; it was from the start a purely utopian formula, and because of this any attempt to implement it was bound to end disastrously.

Socialism in one country, Russia, was a doomed utopia for two inter-connected reasons.

First, the socio-economic level of development and the balance of class forces within the Russian empire were adverse to the establishment of a socialist order there.

Second, capitalism is in any case a global system, which cannot be overthrown in a single country, but only – at the very least – in a large region of the world.

Now, the analogous argument I wish to put forward is that both the ‘two-state solution’ and the ‘one-state solution’ to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict are fundamentally flawed. Although each of them, in a suitable version, may present an acceptable and even attractive vision, they are equally abstract and utopian, because no just and lasting resolution of the conflict is possible within the confines of pre-1948 Palestine. Whether repartitioned into two pieces or reconstituted as a single piece, the Palestine box itself is not a container within which the conflict can be justly and lastingly resolved. This is so for two interconnected reasons.

First, the balance of power within pre-1948 Palestine – between the two nationalities, the Hebrew settlers and the indigenous Palestinian Arabs – is adverse to any just resolution of the conflict.

Second, in any case the conflict is deeply imbedded in the regional context of the Arab east, and cannot possibly be resolved in isolation from it and in the absence of a profound transformation of the entire region.

Internal balance of power

Let me put it very bluntly. Socialists must not accept without protest, let alone uphold, any unjust arrangement or project. But proposing a just blueprint that is purely utopian is of little use, and may well be irresponsible.

So it is incumbent on anyone proposing a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to provide, or at least to outline, a strategy for getting both nationalities to abide by it. By far the more problematic is the stronger side, the Israeli Hebrews.

In a much-quoted account, Thucydides reports the Athenians’ chilling remark to the Melians: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” We may question the second half of this statement if it means accepting oppression without struggle, without resistance; even the weak can take defensive action. But the first half is undoubtedly true.

How may the Hebrew nation, or a majority of it, be induced to give up its present oppressive privilege and overwhelmingly dominant position? What means of coercion or persuasion, what combination of pressures and promises, what sticks and carrots can achieve this?

Sadly, no such combination exists; no sufficient means are available within pre-1948 Palestine, which is at present entirely under Israeli rule.

In order to make this point clearer, let me contrast the situation there with that in South Africa towards the end of the apartheid era. Elsewhere I have analysed the differences between the two models of colonisation and settlers’ state in terms of their fundamentally different political economies.6 This underlying difference has entailed profound consequences regarding the balance of power.

South-African colonialism, based on exploiting the labour-power of the indigenous people, resulted in the settlers emerging as a quasi-class of exploiters, a small minority of the total population. The oppressed were the overwhelming majority. The liberation movement did engage in some armed resistance; but this did not play a critical role in ending apartheid. In a sense, it did not need to. The huge numerical superiority of the non-whites was in itself a massive, if implicit, threat that the settlers could not indefinitely ignore or hope to defeat. Moreover, the latter depended on the labour-power of the former. Despite the pretensions of apartheid, the colonial conflict was internal, within the South-African socio-economic system. Economically, the settlers could not exist on their own. Thus they were vastly outnumbered by a population that could not indefinitely be suppressed but was economically indispensable. In this situation, the settlers’ leaders could not refuse the generous deal offered to them by the liberation movement.

In contrast to South Africa, Zionist colonisation deliberately chose not to rely of the labour-power of the indigenous people; instead they were to be excluded and whenever possible ethnically cleansed. As in other countries where a similar model of colonisation was pursued, the settlers emerged not as a relatively small quasi-class but as a new settler nation, with its own class structure similar to that of other modern capitalist societies.

During the 1947-49 war, the majority of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants of what became Israel were ethnically cleansed, so that within the green line (Israel’s de facto borders from 1949 to 1967) Palestinian Arabs are a minority (at present about 20% of the population). In the entire area currently ruled by Israel, there is rough numerical parity between the two nationalities: the Israeli Hebrew settlers and the indigenous Palestinian Arabs.

Israel has been colonising the best lands in the occupied West Bank, whose Palestinian Arab population has been isolated in several enclaves. Israeli policy aims to contain and control these, as well as the separate, densely populated enclave of the Gaza Strip. Wherever possible, this is done by proxy, using a compliant elite of collaborators. The people confined in these enclaves have little or no economic leverage against Israel, as they play no significant part in the Israeli economy, except as a captive market.

The prospect facing these enclaves is, at best, to be declared a nominal ‘Palestinian state’; at worst, Israel will use any suitable opportunity to ethnically cleanse them.

To a considerable extent, Israel has been able to externalise its conflict with the Palestinians, so that it can be managed using its vastly superior physical force. Palestinian resistance – whether armed or non-violent – may be able to put up a defensive struggle, but on its own it has no realistic prospect of inducing Israel to give up the Zionist colonising project and share Palestine on equal terms, be it in two states or in one.

Given the great disparity of internal forces, a major section of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois Palestinian leaders have put their hope and trust in external pressure, to be applied on Israel by the big powers. Actually, the only big power that could conceivably apply decisive pressure on Israel is the US, the hegemonic world force, whose influence in the Middle East is unrivalled, and on whom Israel depends for vital economic, political and military support.

As advance payment for pressure on Israel, these Palestinian leaders have sought American patronage and have become US camp followers. But the returns have been very meagre indeed. This is no accident: Israel is the main henchman of the US in the Middle East, a junior partner and regional enforcer, which helps to keep the regimes of the Arab east in abject subservience to American imperialism.7 Given this relationship between the US and Israel, the former may prevail on the latter to make a few relatively minor concessions; but these will fall far short of giving up Israeli domination and accepting Palestinian rights, without which the conflict cannot be resolved.

It is impossible to escape the conclusion that all schemes for resolving the conflict within the narrow confines of Palestine are exercises in futility. They are also historically myopic.

Creation of the Palestine box

Palestinian bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalist ideology fetishises the Palestinian homeland as a lost paradise, to be regained. But the prosaic historical fact is that Palestine, as a separate entity, is itself a major part of the problem. The nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe, occurred in the 1947-49 war, with the botched partition of Palestine. But its roots go back to the imperialist creation of Palestine in two earlier acts of partition. This half-forgotten history is of crucial importance, and I must recapitulate it briefly.

From late antiquity until World War I, ‘Palestine’ – from the Latin Palæstina – was a term used almost exclusively by European Christians.

During 12 centuries of Muslim rule,8 Palestine did not exist as a distinct geographic or administrative, let alone political, entity. It was an integral part of Syria (al-Sham); even the name Filastin (Arabised form of Palæstina) was very rarely used.9 In the final period of the Ottoman empire, roughly the southern half of what would later become mandate Palestine was a separate district (sanjak) of Jerusalem, directly under the Sublime Porte in Istanbul; the northern half consisted of two districts, subdivisions of the province (vilayet) of Beirut. All three districts, together with what are now Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, were part of a single country (eyelet): Greater Syria or ªam (pronounced Sham).

Following World War I, the British imperialists reneged on their promise to allow the former Arab provinces of the defeated Ottoman empire to unite (as demanded by the nascent Arab nationalist movement). Instead, they and the French imperialists carved up and rearranged the former Ottoman possessions according to their own interests and designs. In particular, Greater Syria was partitioned – in 1922 the League of Nations was ‘persuaded’ to grant France a mandate over the northern part (present-day Syria and Lebanon); while Britain was granted a mandate over the southern part, which was christened ‘Palestine’. (‘Christened’ is apposite here, as the name, and the very concept of a country of this name, was part of a European Christian tradition, not a local one.)

This was the first fateful partition. But at that point Palestine still included also a sizable, albeit mostly arid, territory east of the river Jordan – Transjordanian Palestine.

It is important to note that the resolution of the League of Nations, adopted on July 24 1922, granting Britain a mandate over Palestine, specified explicitly that Britain was to facilitate Zionist colonisation. In the text of the resolution, the Balfour Declaration was quoted verbatim. In fact, the whole text reads as though a principal purpose of the mandate – and by implication the creation of the country referred to as ‘Palestine’ – was the establishment of a Jewish ‘national home’.10

However, article 25 of the mandate makes an exception of Transjordanian Palestine: there “the mandatory shall be entitled, with the consent of the council of the League of Nations, to postpone or withhold application of such provisions of this mandate as he may consider inapplicable to the existing local conditions …”

Based on this exception, the British secretary of state for the colonies, one Winston Churchill, partitioned Palestine in May 1923.

This was the second act of partition. The Transjordanian part was made into a separate emirate (principality) of Transjordan under Britain’s protégé, Abdullah bin al-Husayn. This is the present kingdom of Jordan. The remaining (Cisjordanian) part – consisting of only 22.6% of the short-lived greater Palestine – to which the mandate’s provisions of Zionist colonisation fully applied – was henceforth referred to exclusively as ‘Palestine’ tout court. That imperialist creation, carved and trimmed expressly as the domain of Zionist colonisation – existed as a single country, under the British mandate, for a mere 25 years: 1923-48. Ironically, this is what is sometimes referred to, with astonishing lack of historical awareness, as ‘historical Palestine’!

The nakba of 1947-49 is indelibly seared into Palestinian collective memory. But the ad hoc imperialist territorial arrangements that were imposed on the region a mere generation earlier and that prepared the ground for the nakba should also not be forgotten. Talk of ‘historical Palestine’ tends to foster the false impression that it was an authentic entity, sanctified by long duration.

Arab national unification

So the creation of Palestine was part of the imperialist dispensation following World War I, which deliberately prevented the unification of the Arab east, thus reneging on promises made by Britain during that war. A divided Arab world suited the interests of the imperialist powers: a divided nation is easier to dominate and exploit.

A divided Arab nation is also a vital interest of the Zionist project; and it is this common interest that lies at the basis of the close alliance between Zionism (and the Zionist state) and its successive imperialist sponsors and senior partners. This was clear from the very beginning. In his famous article, ‘The iron wall’ (1923), the rightwing Zionist leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky, wrote:

“Arab nationalism sets itself the same aims as those set, say, by Italian nationalism before 1870: unification and political independence. In plain language, this would mean expulsion of England form Mesopotamia and Egypt, expulsion of France from Syria and then perhaps also from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. For us to support such a movement, even remotely, would be suicide and treachery. We are operating under the English mandate; in San Remo France endorsed the Balfour Declaration.11 We cannot take part in a political intrigue whose aim is to expel England from the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf, and totally annihilate France as a colonial power.”12

Preventing Arab national unification has been a cornerstone of Israeli political-military strategy. This is why Israel did its damnedest to defeat secular Arab nationalism, led by Gamal Abd al-Nasser, who had raised the anti-imperialist banner of Arab unification, enthusiastically acclaimed by the Arab masses.

In reflecting on the “Sinai campaign” – Israel’s name for the 1956 Suez war – David Ben-Gurion, then, as in 1948, Israel’s prime minister, wrote:

“Another aim of the Sinai campaign was to diminish the stature of the Egyptian dictator, and the importance of this should not be underestimated. Being in charge of security since before the foundation of the state, one grave worry preyed on my mind. We know about the inferior state and corruption of the Arab rulers, which is one of the main causes of their military weakness.

“But I was always concerned that there might arise an exceptional man, as there had arisen for the tribes of Arabia in the seventh century, or for Turkey following its defeat in the First World War, Mustafa Kemal, who uplifted the spirit of the nation, increased its self-confidence and made it into a fighting nation.

“This danger still persists, and it seemed as though Nasser was that man. It is no simple matter that in various Arabic-speaking countries the children hold his portrait aloft. And diminishing Nasser’s stature is a great political deed. His stature has been diminished in his country as well as in the other Arab countries, and in the Muslim countries and throughout the world.”13

In actual fact, Israel failed to achieve this aim in 1956, but tried again and succeeded in 1967.

However, the failure of petty bourgeois Arab nationalism to unify the Arab nation cannot be entirely blamed on Israel. The experience of the short-lived and ill-fated attempt to unify Egypt and Syria – the United Arab Republic (UAR), 1958-61 – illustrates the inability of the Arab middle classes to lead a truly democratic, lasting unification.14

Thus national unification, which in Europe was achieved by bourgeois revolutions, remains to be accomplished in the Arab world (along with other democratic tasks) by a future revolution, to be led by the working classes.

Unification is prescribed not only by past history, by the fact that the Arab world constitutes a single, albeit diverse, linguistic-cultural domain, whose cultural unity is already a reality, greatly reinforced by modern media of communication. It is also a vital economic necessity, as the Arab world in its present divided and fractured state suffers from an uneven distribution of population and resources, which need to be brought together to provide the basis for balanced development, realising the enormously rich potential of this region. By the way, in the coming era of gradual depletion of light and easily extracted oil, the value of the region’s large remaining deposits will go on increasing.

It is, of course, impossible to foresee the exact form that Arab national unification may take. But some general predictions can be made. It is quite clear that a democratic Arab union must be fairly decentralised and have a federal structure, with a suitable measure of local autonomy. This is so for two reasons.

First, notwithstanding all the historical, linguistic and cultural features common to the entire Arab world, there is in it a great deal of local diversity, on which a centralised state structure cannot be superimposed democratically. For this reason, too, the union may have to take the form of a confederation linking two distinct sub-federations: one of the Arab east (Mashreq) and the other of the north African Arab west (Maghreb).

Second, there is a great disparity in population size between the various Arab countries. The population of Egypt alone is 82 million (and counting …) – constituting about one third of the population of the whole Arab east. The population of Sudan is about 40 million. Thus roughly one half of the population of the Arab east (and about one third of that of the entire Arab world) is concentrated in and around the Nile valley. On the other hand, some Arab countries, with their own dialects, customs and history, have small populations. A centralised state structure would therefore be unacceptably lopsided – overwhelmed and dominated by one great population centre, and inevitably resented by other regions. The miscarriage of the ill-conceived UAR is a cautionary object lesson.

Framework for resolution of the conflict

A successful Arab revolution, and the national unification that it must bring about, offers the one prospect for changing the balance of power, radically redressing its present inequality. It is Zionism’s nightmare.

The settler state will no longer be facing a fragmented Arab world, ruled by corrupt and abject elites subservient to Israel’s own imperialist patron. Instead, it will find itself in the very midst of – and almost surrounded by – a united Arab nation. The enormous energy latent in the Arab masses will have been released and mobilised in solidarity with the captive Palestinian section of the Arab nation. The closest and most ardent ally of the Palestinian masses is the great Egyptian working class, as well as the working classes of Iraq and other Arab countries. This giant, unchained, will be a formidable force.

It is not a matter of dealing Israel a decisive military defeat. Even if this were possible, it would not by itself bring about a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We know from historical experience that a defeated nation which is offered no better prospect than extirpation or subjugation can go on resisting almost indefinitely. That would not resolve the conflict: merely invert its terms.

Nor is an actual shattering military defeat necessary for fatally undermining the Zionist project. Rather it will be sufficient to achieve a position of equilibrium, when Israel is no longer a hegemonic local power able to dominate the region. When this point is reached – well before crushing Israel militarily can even be contemplated seriously – the Israelis, and primarily the Israeli working class, can be attracted by an offer they would be foolish to refuse: since you cannot beat us, join us and share with us in the great things we can achieve together.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can then be resolved by accommodating both national groups within the regional federal union. The Palestinian Arab people will take its place alongside the other components of the Arab nation. And the Israeli Hebrews can be offered equal membership with full national rights, on similar terms to the other non-Arab nationalities located within the Arab world (Kurds, south Sudanese).

Will the disposition envisaged here be a one-state or two-state set-up? It will be both and it will be neither. It will be a one-state set-up – in the sense that both national groups will be accommodated, as federated members, in one state. But that one state will not be Palestine: it will be a regional union. And it will be a two-state set-up in the sense that each of the two national groups will have its own canton (in the Swiss sense) or Land (in the German federal sense), where it constitutes a majority of the population.

However, no purpose will be served by interposing between these cantons and the federal state an intermediate political entity – let alone one whose borders are those of the so-called ‘historical’ Palestine, created by the British imperialists in 1923. The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not recreate that ill-starred territory as a unitary or binary entity, but will supersede it – as it will also supersede the Zionist state of Israel.15 The true liberation of Palestine cannot be accomplished short of a regional revolution – which will liberate ‘historical’ Palestine by consigning it to history.

As for borders, it would a pointless, premature exercise to attempt to draw them now; but they need not coincide with any demarcation lines that have existed so far. When the time comes, they will be determined democratically, according to the operative economic, demographic and administrative considerations.

It may be objected that this vision puts off the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a distant time horizon. If so, the ‘fault’ lies not with the vision, but with objective reality. Short cuts proposing liberation within the box of Palestine are illusory.

This is by no means a predicament unique to this conflict or to the Middle East. Revolutionary socialists surely realise that the most fundamental problems in all part of our present-day world, including some conflicts that inflict untold suffering and stunt many millions of human lives, can only be resolved by a socialist revolution that cannot triumph in a single country. Easy fixes are an ideological con; and short-cut solutions are a reformist illusion.

And in the meantime …

This does not mean that we have nothing to do now but wait with folded arms for a regional revolution led by the working class.

An immediate task is to mobilise solidarity and support for the Palestinian people’s struggle against the extreme oppression and atrocities to which it is subjected.

In the short and medium term, this is essentially a defensive struggle, but vitally important for all that. What is at stake is no less than preventing the worst: ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian Arab people, which remains a strategic aim of the Zionist settler state. World public opinion, civil society everywhere, must be mobilised in defence of the Palestinian people, by subjecting Israel to boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions. Socialists have a special role in mobilising the workers’ movement to lead this campaign.

The demands to be raised in this campaign are: an immediate and unconditional end to the Israeli military occupation; and removal of all impediments preventing the exercise of Palestinian self-determination.

A further demand is the abolition of all discrimination against the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, and turning it from an ethnocratic Jewish state into a democratic state of all its citizens.

It would be unrealistic to expect these demands to be satisfied to a truly significant extent so long as the present balance of power is not radically changed. Any Israeli military withdrawal is likely to be nominal rather than real. And any Palestinian independence or autonomy is unlikely to be more than a sham. Also, so long as Zionism is not overthrown, Israel will continue to be discriminatory. Nevertheless, raising these demands is important – as a benchmark against which to measure and criticise actual conditions.

Beyond these demands, socialists must proclaim and uphold the principles (outlined earlier in this article) that must govern any genuine resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: de-Zionisation; equal individual rights for all; equal national rights for the two national groups directly involved; the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.

Finally, Arab and Israeli socialists have a special historical responsibility. A revolution does not happen by itself; and when it does break out it can take a disastrous turn if it is hijacked by regressive forces. In order to ensure that an Arab revolution can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the benign way envisaged here (along with the other great problems of the region), we must start working and organising now in a democratic and non-sectarian way. We must closely coordinate our thinking, strategy and activity; and form organisational links on a regional scale, prefiguring the future in the present.

Notes

1. Israelis and Palestinians – conflict and resolution, downloadable from www.amielandmelburn.org.uk/trustinfo/conferences.htm or www.iran-bulletin.org/palestineisrael.htm
2. See ibid section 2.1.
3. See website of the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B’tselem. For maps: www.btselem.org/English/Maps/Index.asp; and analysis: www.btselem.org/english/Settlements/Map_Analysis.asp
4. One of the rare exceptions is Jack Conrad’s ‘Zionist imperatives and the Arab solution’ Weekly Worker January 22. Conrad supports a two-state configuration, but in a very different form from that proposed by the US-led so called ‘international community’; and he addresses the question of the circumstances and forces needed for implementing it. See www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/753/zionistimp.html
5. See ‘Towards the democratic Palestine’ Fateh (English-language newspaper published by the information office of the Palestine Liberation Movement), Vol 2, No2. This official programmatic article explicitly rejected the idea of a binational Palestine as a “misconception”: “[t]he call for a non-sectarian Palestine should not be confused with … a binational state”. Moreover, the article stressed that “[t]he liberated Palestine will be part of the Arab homeland, and will not be another alien state within it”; and looked forward to “[t]he eventual unity of Palestine with other Arab states”.
6. See Israelis and Palestinians – conflict and resolution, op cit.
7. For a brief account of Israel’s services to US interests,  see appendix of Israelis and Palestinians – conflict and resolution,  op cit.
8. From 630 to 1918, interrupted by Christian Crusader rule from 1099 to 1187.
9. Thus, for example, the great 14th-century Arab traveller, Ibn Battutah, does not mention Palestine by that name, although he visited it. He refers to Gaza as “the first of the towns of  Syria on the borders of Egypt”.
10. Of course, the British imperialists had larger strategic reasons for wishing to rule that country.
11. This refers to the San Remo conference of April 1920, in which the victorious imperialist Entente powers (Britain, France, Italy and Japan) decided the fate of the Middle East.
12. Quoted in Israelis and Palestinians – conflict and resolution, op cit.
13. D Ben-Gurion Al mah lahamnu, madu’a pinninu, mah hissagnu (What we fought for, why we withdrew, what we achieved), pamphlet published by central committee of Mapai, March 1957. Mapai is an acronym for the Hebrew name used at that time by the Israeli Labour Party.
14. For a brief outline of this abortive attempt and the causes of its failure, see J Conrad op cit.
15. Of course, there is no reason why the Palestinian-Arab canton should not be called ‘Palestine’ and the Hebrew canton ‘Israel’. Both names have been used in antiquity for variously and variably defined domains.