Arabs, Jews and Socialism: 2. 'Secular democratic Palestine' or 'Two states'?

Submitted by martin on 20 June, 2019 - 11:38 Author: Sean Matgamna, Bruce Robinson, Martin Thomas, Clive Bradly, Bas Hardy, Rachel Lever, Robert Fine, Tony Greenstein, Moshe Machover, Fatah, DFLP, Arthur Bough, Lenni Brenner, Avraham Shomroni

The only answer: two states

John O’Mahony [Sean Matgamna], SO 233, 19.6.85

For about seven years Socialist Organiser editor John O'Mahony has held to a minority point of view among SO supporters in that he rejected the call for a secular democratic state in Palestine as unrealistic, and argued that socialists should advocate a solution to the conflict of Arabs and Jews in Palestine on the basis of two states. Here he outlines his views.

We have to support the Palestinians, as the oppressed, against Israel as the oppressor. However, what is our alternative to the existing situation of oppression?

The idea of a secular democratic state as a solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict is a good and attractive one in the abstract, but it is impossible to realise. These are distinct nations which have related to each other with bitter communal-national hostility or unrestrained war for 50 or more years (from the 1936 Syria-Palestine general strike and earlier).

The Jews occupy a distinct national territory (most of the area within the pre-1967 borders of Israel).

The secular democratic state as we have understood it involved the smashing and destruction of the Israeli state, an end to the Law of Return (which gives Jews everywhere in the world a right to Israeli citizenship), the return of the Palestinians to all the territory of Israel. All this was expected to enfold and merge the two peoples into a democratic secular state.

The attraction for us of the idea of a secular democratic state lay in its alleged ability to do justice to everyone concerned. The Jews would cease to be “Zionists". The Palestinians could return and either repossess or be compensated. The Jews would have equal rights to what they have created in the last 40 years.

It is plainly nonsense.

Nothing short of the complete, inevitably very bloody conquest of the Jews, and driving them out or slaughtering them, would be required to enforce it.

At the end of such a process, the last thing you would get would be the intermingling of the two peoples in one secular democratic state.

The idea of the secular democratic state is a mental construction incapable of realisation in our benevolent version of it. Since the PLO was reorganised in the late 1960s and the old "drive the Jews into the sea" leader Shukairy gave way to Yasser Arafat, the secular democratic state slogan has served fundamentally as just an Arab propaganda weapon in a conflict which could not conceivably, by the victory of the Arabs who supposedly fought for it, lead to the creation of a secular democratic state in Palestine.

A roughly equivalent project would be to amalgamate the German and French nations on the territory occupied by one of them. The difference is in the intense level of fear. grievance, and mutual animosity that exists between Jews and Arabs compared with French and Germans.

In reality. there are only two alternatives in the situation:

1. Drive out the Jews (that is, accept that that is what military conquest - "smashing the Zionist state" - would mean). Abandon any commitment to defend the rights of the Palestinian Jews. Or:

2. Create two states.

"Drive out the Jews" - most of them born in Palestine from parents the core of whom were refugees from racist persecution - has no place in our programme or world outlook. It is the programme of rampant Arab chauvinism.

That leaves the two states solution.

It would serve no purpose for us to try to define precisely where the borders would lie, or what precise relationships the two states would have with each other and with Jordan, the Lebanese communities. etc. (If it could be achieved, some form of federation of Israel, the Palestinian Arab state, Jordan and the component parts of Lebanon would seem to be the best framework with in which to solve such problems as economic viability. overlapping and intermingled populations, etc.)

The point of principle here is that there is no way other than the creation of two stales in Palestine to express the idea that the Palestinian Jews have the right to stay in Palestine, and at the same time to express and define the demand for the restoration of the national rights of the Palestinian Arabs. Full Arab restoration to all of Palestine is now impossible short of driving the Jews out.

This is a basic outline of my position. so I have not attempted to elaborate on any of the points made or to anticipate objections.

A single state is the best structure

Bruce Robinson, SO 233, 19.6.85

Bruce Robinson argues that a single democratic state in Palestine is the best framework to advocate; the collective rights of both Arabs and Jews can be safeguarded by some form of local autonomy.

The Palestinians suffer three aspects of national oppression. Firstly, they lack a territory in which to live as a nation. The areas from which many of them came in 1948 have since been settled and are now inhabited by an established Jewish population. Many Palestinians wish to return to live in those areas.

Secondly, the West Bank and Gaza Strip have since 1967 been under a military occupation by Israel, which has combined wide-ranging repression of the Palestinians with settlement of these areas by Israelis.

Finally, there is a 650,000 Arab population within pre-1967 Israel, who are discriminated against as second class citizens. In the northern parts of Israel in which they are concentrated, they form a majority in some areas.

As Marxists we are concerned to find a consistent democratic solution to national oppression which allows both national groups the fullest rights compatible with not oppressing anyone else. This is both because we oppose national oppression as such and because the divisions it causes prevent the development of class consciousness.

In most cases, we favour the right of the oppressed nation to secede and form its own nation state. In the case of Palestine, this approach is not possible because both nations lay claim to the same territory and if the Palestinians and Israeli Jews were to have a separate nation state it could only be by denying at least some of the national rights of the other group. This is both because of the large degree of intermingling of the population that exists and because the form the national question has taken in Palestine is that of driving out the indigenous population and settling the same areas.

Given this situation there are three possible approaches:

1) Choosing an arbitrary division - such as the pre-1967 Israel border, which either leaves minorities in both states who do not wish to be part of that state or can only come about with transfers of population.

2) Redrawing the boundaries to allow for example, those parts of pre-1967 Israel with Palestinian majorities to secede and join a Palestinian state.

3) Recognising that a democratic solution cannot be based on a territorial division of pre-1948 Palestine.

The first option would lead to both arbitrary borders and to continued national conflict. Given that Israel would remain the dominant economic and military power in the area and that in this option Israel would remain a Zionist state, a West Bank/Gaza state would either have no room for independent action and be subject to Israeli domination or very quickly come into conflict with Israeli "national interests", probably leading to war.

While it might provide an immediate solution for the Palestinians in the occupied territories, it is unlikely to lead to a long-term defusing of national conflicts.

The second option tries to solve the problem by giving both Palestinians and Israeli Jews the right to decide on which state they want to belong in. This option does not seem to deal adequately with the wish of many of the Palestinians to be able to live in the areas of pre-1918 Palestine from which they originally came. It is also not clear how the West Bank/Gaza state would be a step towards such a federal solution.

A common state - the third option - seems to me to provide the best structure for a long-term solution. Such a state would have to be based on a recognition and guarantee of the collective rights of both Arabs and Jews to maintain their separate identities. Such rights would include freedom of religion and language, control of education, etc. They could be implemented by a form of local autonomy where communities - whether Arab, Jewish or mixed - would have the power to decide freely on these issues.

A number of objections have been raised in this. Firstly, that it would fail because what both the Palestinians and Israelis want is their own national rights, including the right to separate territory. However, if that right can only be granted at the expense of the other national group's rights, then part of any process of solving the national conflict would require a recognition of this from both sides. The Palestinians would have to recognise the rights of the Jews in a Palestinian state and at least a large section of the Jewish population would have to break with Zionism and be prepared to give up the privileged position they at present enjoy vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

The overwhelming weight of the concessions have to come from the Jewish population - not surprisingly, given that they at present form the oppressor nation.

This may sound a distant prospect but the conditions under which a federal solution which includes a non-Zionist state for the Jews would come about would be very similar, while the short cut of the West Bank/Gaza state option would not come anywhere near to solving the problem.

This seems also to deal with the objection that a single state could only come about by a forcible integration of two nations. Any lasting solution would have as a prerequisite considerable reconciliation of the two peoples. No external force would be able to impose a solution.

Finally, we should re-emphasise that, while we defend the rights of the Jews, it is at present the Palestinians who are suffering national oppression. We have a duty to give them our unconditional solidarity in that struggle, whatever our differences on their tactics or long-term aims.

Merge oppressor and oppressed?

Martin Thomas, SO 233, 19.6.85

Some Socialist Organiser supporters who previously advocated a democratic secular Palestine have been convinced in the recent discussion that this formula is not an answer to the national conflict in Palestine, but rather a description of something desirable which might be possible after the national conflict has been resolved. Martin Thomas argues this view.

Generally no situation of serious national oppression can be resolved by proposing to amalgamate oppressor and oppressed nations on the basis of individual equal rights. To propose this in Palestine is to produce a democratic sounding formula which actually can only be a gloss for Israeli-Jewish subjugation of the Palestinian Arabs (in a Greater Israel) or Arab subjugation of the Israeli Jews (in an Arab Palestine).

Or else it is advice to the Palestinians to become super-internationalists, and then to wait until the Israeli Jews are also super-internationalists and they can live in harmony.

Paradoxically, the 'democratic secular Palestine' slogan actually denies the Palestinians' national rights as much as the Israeli Jews'. The slogan tells the Palestinian Arabs either to wait until the Arab states subjugate the Israeli Jews or to wait until the Israeli Jews become internationalists.

But Marxists should propose objectives for struggle to the Palestinians which they can win without having to rely on dubious external saviours or a miraculous change of heart by their oppressors themselves. That, to my mind, is a crucial argument for a two states position (whether simply two states, or coupled with a proposal for the federation of those two states, is a secondary matter).

The Palestinians can fight for their own state in part of Palestine, perhaps also linked to a revolutionised Jordan: they can fight for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, and for national minority rights (including the right to secession) for the Arabs in Israel.

They can - in principle - force such concessions from Israel. They do not have to emancipate themselves in advance from all national prejudice for such a solution to be possible.

The Palestinians could get a democratic secular Palestine - a real democratic secular Palestine, a real merging of the two nations - only by themselves first becoming pure-minded internationalists, and then the Israeli Jews freely agreeing to give a democratic Palestine to them.

Far from being a solution to the national question, the democratic secular Palestine is something which might be possible after the national question has (by some other means) been solved. You could almost say about it what Marx said about the “labour money” demand popular with socialists of his day: it can be realised only under conditions where no-one would any longer particularly want to raise it.

Transform Israel from within

Clive Bradley, SO 233, 19.6.85

Clive Bradley argues that support for an independent Palestinian state can and should be coupled with a political struggle within Israel against its discriminatory structures.

Our position should look something like this: We are for, here and now, the establishment of a Palestinian state. Such a state could be established on the West Bank and in Gaza if Israel was to grant these areas self-determination.

We are for a Palestinian state with no strings. We would be against, and if we had forces there, would fight against, any attempt to restrict or limit the real independence of that state - either by subordinating it to Israel, or to Jordan or to anybody else. We would oppose any conditions on the establishment of a Palestinian state that limited its independence. To say that we recognise Israeli national rights means one thing: we are not in in favour of forcing change on the structures the Israeli state through external military force. We are not in favour of an independent Palestinian state attempting (assuming - which is a daft assumption - that it was capable of it) to 'destroy Israel', to 'smash' the Zionist state from the outside.

Accepting Israeli national rights means that and that only. It cannot commit us to accepting that an inherently racist, discriminatory state is unchangeable. It cannot commit us to sacrificing the democratic rights of those many Palestinians for whom a West Bank/ Gaza state is no solution.

We are against conquering the Jews. We are not against transforming the Israeli state from within.

Israel the oppressor: Editorial introduction, SO 233, 19.6.85

The Zionist movement began as a Jewish response to anti-semitism in late 19th century Europe. The Zionists - mostly middle-class Jews - hoped to evade anti-semitism by creating a Jewish state elsewhere.

Marxists at the time condemned this strategy as utopian, a cop-out, and realisable only in alliance with imperialism.

But after the horrors of Nazism, Zionism became a mass movement among European Jews.

Over 30 years - 1918-1948 - the Zionists colonised Palestine, under British imperialist protection. Through deals with Arab landlords they pushed Arab peasants off the land. Through a policy of establishing an autonomous Jewish economy (Jewish labour only, Jewish produce only), they excluded the Arabs from employment.

Then in 1947-9 the Zionist settlers kicked off the British harness. The ensuing war, as Britain bailed out, drove out the majority of the Arabs, or panicked them into fleeing and then prevented them returning home. Some 800,000 Arabs were made refugees. A Jewish state was established over 77% of the land area of Palestine a country where in 1947 Jews had been only about a third of the population.

The Arabs remaining in the Jewish state - a sizeable minority, about 16% today - have been third-class citizens. Most of them lived under military administration from 1948 to 1966. Perhaps 70% of their land was confiscated under various pretexts.

Many state and quasi-state services and benefits are reserved to Jews only: for example, 92% of the land, controlled by the Jewish National Fund, is reserved for Jews only. Arab municipalities suffer discrimination as regards public services (electricity, water, etc).

Militant expression of nationalism - i.e. their actual majority politics - is forbidden to the Israeli Arabs. For example Israeli Palestinians who protested at the Sabra and Shatila massacres were jailed for demonstrating, inciting, stoning military vehicles, and "supporting the PLO".

In 1956, in 1967, in 1973, and again in 1982-5 Israel went to war against the neighbouring Arab states. In between times, Israel pursued a policy of massive reprisals for any Palestinian action.

In 1967 Israel seized those parts of Palestine which the Jewish forces had not conquered in 1948-9, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Another 350,000 or so Arabs were made refugees, many for the second time. (Another wave of some hundreds of thousands of second-time-over refugees has since been generated by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon). Since 1967 those Arabs who remain in the occupied territories have lived under Israeli military rule, without even the rights of the Israeli Arabs. Some 40% of their economically active population works in Israel proper, but they are not allowed to stay the night there.

Harassment and straightforward deportations have driven over half a million Arabs out of the occupied territories since 1967, but still some two million Palestinian Arabs out of 4 million Palestinian Arabs altogether live under Israeli rule as third-class citizens or fourth-class non-citizens.

The other 2 million are refugees, many of them still living in miserable refugee camps. Even there they are at risk from the Israeli military machine, as in Lebanon recently.

Yet the Israeli Jews are a nation - a nation whose rights must be taken into account for any progress to be possible. They have a national language, a national economy, a more-or-less defined national territory.

Despite the increasing use of Arabs as menial, low-paid labour, the Israeli Jews are a nation rather than an exploiting caste like the whites in South Africa. Despite the considerable power of Orthodox rabbis within the Israeli state, the Israeli-Jewish identity is national rather than religious. Many Israeli Jews are atheists or only nominally religious.

Israeli-Jewish national consciousness is generally an oppressor-nation consciousness, usually chauvinist, and often shot through with open racism.

However, these facts do not do away with the reality of the nation. A majority of Israeli Jews - 57% as of December 31 1981 - were born there. A majority of adults - 66% of over-20s - are settlers born elsewhere. But most of them came fleeing persecution - including the persecution under which the Nazis systematically murdered perhaps one third of all the world's Jews. Most of them individually have, and certainly the community is a whole has, no other homeland.

Before 1947 the Palestinian Arabs were, in their great majority, peasants. Like peasants elsewhere they were not able to create their own autonomous political leadership. They fell under the leadership of the reactionary Arab landlords and money-men. This gave their resistance to Zionist colonisation the form of wild outbursts of peasant fury, topped by chauvinist rhetoric and stained by anti-Jewish atrocities.

After their desperate and bitter rebellion in 1936-9 was suppressed by British and Jewish force, the Palestinian Arabs were politically exhausted for nearly 30 years.

Between 1947 and the late '60s the Arab states spoke in their name. In 1948-49 they talked bloodthirsty chauvinism - Azzam Pasha, general secretary of the Arab League, proclaimed: "This will become a war of extermination and an enormous massacre" - while actually fighting to see which state could grab most of Arab Palestine for itself. In 1967, again, the Arab leaders proclaimed that they would 'drive the Jews into the sea'.

Meanwhile these Arab states were mistreating and discriminating against the Palestinian refugees in their territory, sometimes carrying out or sponsoring massacres of them (Jordan 1970, Syria/Lebanon 1976).

Out of this experience the Palestinians emerged as an autonomous political force, with Fateh's takeover of the PLO in 1968-9. The social composition of the Palestinians had changed dramatically, and there was a new leadership. The old Arab-chauvinist rhetoric was replaced by the slogan of a secular democratic Palestine.

But the new leadership was and is a bourgeois leadership, attuned to manoeuvring with Arab states and imperialist powers rather than to any endeavour to unite Arabs and Jews from below. Its guerrilla attacks frequently hit civilian targets in Israel.

Thus the bitterness and despair - and on the other side, the spiralling chauvinism of Israeli-Jewish society - have not been ended.

What rights for Jews?

In May 1980 the editorial board of Workers' Action - one of the groups which founded SO in 1978 - discussed Palestine. The discussion was summarised in minutes taken by Martin Thomas. The issues now being discussed by SO supporters were spelled out clearly. Excerpts:

John O'Mahony [Sean Matgamna]: Think about the concrete implications of the secular, democratic state slogan for Palestine. It has no grip on reality. It's an ambivalent slogan, fundamentally wrong because it proposes the forcible integration of two peoples. The history of Zionist oppression is terrible. But forcible integration means forcible abolition of nationality, which is hardly possible. We're for a socialist united states of the Middle East, but we also need to uphold self determination. We don't need to question the sincerity of the Palestinians' declaration of not being hostile to Jews as such. But what is the logic of depriving the Jews of the right to their own state? It's inconceivable it will be acceptable to the Jews. Who's going to do the forcible integration? There is no force capable of making it happen. The only even conceivable method is conquest of Israel by the Palestinians and/or Arabs. A socialist revolution is more feasible than the secular democratic state.

The secular, democratic state slogan is not ‘algebraic' in a real sense, just ambivalent. It actually means just Palestinian nationalism. But the national rights of the Israelis must be part of our programme. A nation has been created - by terrible means perhaps, but it exists.

Our error: to identify with the oppressed (which is correct) but to go from that to identifying with their nationalist programme (which is wrong).

Our only real answer for the Palestinians consistent with the Israelis' rights must be some sort of partition. (Though I don't know what dividing line).

We've failed to distinguish between the historic reality of Zionism and Zionism as a political entity now. There is not just Zionism as an ideology but also the vicissitudes (i.e. recent history) of the Jewish people.

The USFI approach, which has coloured our attitude. is woolly sentimental third-worldism.

And what about the Jews in Israel who were born there? We can't visit the sins of their fathers on them. Parallels with South Africa, Northern Ireland, etc., do not hold up. Zionism is not fundamentally about exploiting Arab labour. And, if Northern Ireland were a homogeneous Protestant state, would we advocate military conquest of it?

I don't propose raising self-determination for the Israeli Jews now. But it should be part of our programme. Self-determination for the Palestinian people - does that include the right to determine what happens to the Jews? It seems to, so I'm against it.

Israel is a racist state? Yes it is. But aren't all states racist. What's different about Israel is the hostility to and driving out of the Arabs. But the major racist crime is now a fact of history.

Is a different Israeli state possible? Yes, it is possible: e.g. withdrawal to 1967 frontiers, etc.

Bas Hardy: John's attitude would amount to left Zionism. He approaches it entirely from the Israeli angle, not at all from the Palestinian.

John ignores the evolution of the PLO. Fatah states it “would help Jews any where if they faced persecution by racists''. It also recommends rights for the Jews and, e.g. Hebrew as an official language in a secular, democratic Palestine.

The PFLP say they don't think Israel is a nation - colonialism cannot be justified just by continuing a bit longer. Israeli workers, even, gain from their settler-state status.

These positions are completely different from the caricatures presented by John. There is even considerable racism within Israel against Oriental Jews. Yes, Jews were terribly oppressed. But that cannot justify their oppression of the Palestinian nation. If Israel were even curtailed as John indicates, then there would in any case be massive emigration.

Imperialism wants a Palestinian mini state. John's attitude is similar. And where are the Palestinian refugees to go?

Rachel Lever: The Israeli nation is not just some cultural society, but it has a big state apparatus, an expansionist logic, etc. Crimes of 30 years ago? There have been two wars and a lot of other crimes since. The crimes continue.

But John is contradictory. The Jews are supposed to be so backward that they will quit and go to New York rather than live together with the Palestinians. And at the same time the Israelis are presented as innocents, while the Palestinians are presented as likely to cut the Israelis' throats and drive them into the sea.

If the Israelis want to emigrate because they can no longer oppress the Palestinians, that is up to them.

Bruce Robinson: Is the secular democratic state feasible? Well, is John's proposed reformed Israeli state, e.g. within 1948 frontiers, feasible? And how would repartition help the struggle for socialism? It would increase tensions and conflicts.

The secular, democratic state is not, I think, utopian - it is an algebraic slogan for the national conflicts in Palestine. John seems to confuse the rights of the Jews in the area and their right to a state. And much of what he says about the changes in the nature of Zionism is a myth. Logically, John's position would lead to arguing the PLO should give up their struggle.

What we said in 1973

SO 233, 19.6.85

This is an excerpt from an editorial in the paper Workers' Fight, October 20 1973. It contains two political commitments - to the destruction of the Israeli state by external force, and to full rights for its Jewish population who inhabit it. Its author, John O'Mahony [Sean Matgamna], now argues that these two commitments are incompatible, rendering writing such as this politically incoherent.

A decisive and crushing defeat for Israel will be good news for revolutionary workers throughout the world, and for enemies of imperialism everywhere.

We say this knowing that the working class rules in neither Israel nor in any Arab country, and that on that level there is nothing to choose between them.

Yet the world's working class, including the Israeli working class though it doesn't yet know it, has an interest in the defeat of Israel and in the victory of the Arabs.

Israel is a pro-imperialist policeman in the Middle East, a bayonet permanently pointed at the throat of the Arabs and their desire to free themselves from imperialist rule. Israel is also a racist state.

The 'pampered child of imperialism' in the Middle East, the Zionist State of Israel, has by its very existence been the main force militating against the growth of independent working class consciousness in both the Arab and Jewish Middle East peoples. Only the defeat of Israel and the destruction of the Zionist state opens a way through the road block which Israel is for the Arab, and Jewish, masses of the area.

The open support of the British press for Israel has as its centrepiece defence of the "right of Israel to exist". That, for once, takes us to the heart of the question.

We are firmly opposed to the existence of Israel: we say it has no right to exist.

We are opposed to Israel's existence because its existence is inseparable from the oppression of the Palestinians, who have been driven from their homeland because, according to the way the Zionist state is constructed, they are racially unsuitable. Whilst the Palestinians are prepared to participate in a multi-racial state, the Zionist state is racially exclusive and must be destroyed before such a multi-racial state can be built.

The Jewish community has, of course, a right to reach an agreement with the Arabs, and the demand for the defeat of Israel is not at all the demand to expel or drive out her population. The only solution is to create a secular democratic state in which the Palestinians have full right to return to their homeland with compensation and full equality with Palestinian Jews.

But the existing exclusive Zionist state can only exist at the expense of the Arabs, in alliance with and under licence from their imperialist masters: such a state can never be even a normal capitalist state, because it is based on 'religion' and 'race' and deprives the Palestinians of the right to live in their own country, while every Jew in the world... is automatically a citizen of Israel…

How to unite Arab and Jewish workers

John O’Mahony [Sean Matgamna] and Martin Thomas, SO 234, 3.7.85

At the Socialist Organiser AGM on June 22-23 [1985], we discussed Palestine.

Until now SO has supported the slogan of 'a democratic, secular Palestine'. Some SO supporters still say we should call for a single state in Palestine, embracing Jews and Arabs; others argue we should propose an independent Palestinian-Arab state alongside a modified Israeli Jewish state.

The AGM felt that we weren't yet ready to take a decision, and so resolved to continue the discussion.

This week we publish a draft statement of the 'two states' position by John O'Mahony [Sean Matgamna] and Martin Thomas. Further contributions to the debate are welcomed, and will appear over the coming weeks.


The Palestine question mainly presents itself to working-class militants as follows:

a) 37 years ago a new Jewish state, Israel, was created in Palestine by immigrants from Europe, America and the Arab countries. The core of them were refugees from European anti-semitism, including survivors of the greatest racist crime in recorded history, Hitler's massacre of six million Jews. The Jewish state is heavily dependent on outside financial support and it functions as a satellite of US imperialism, though it has autonomous interests and projects of its own.

b) Most of the Palestinian people have been displaced, and transformed into refugees and stateless persons outside Palestine. The remainder are either an oppressed minority within pre-1967 Israel. or under military rule in the West Bank and Gaza.

c) A chronic national antagonism exists between Israeli-Jewish and Arab workers in the region, and between Jewish and Arab workers in Israel and in the Israeli-occupied territories. This antagonism has crippled the working class in the entire region for many decades.

Our problem is to explain and interpret these developments and to answer the question: what programme do socialists propose as a solution to the Jewish Arab antagonism in Palestine and in the region?

The most widespread left-wing reaction to the Palestine problem states or assumes that the Zionist enterprise was and is a 'conspiracy', and identifies Zionism totally with imperialism. General denunciation of 'Zionism' and 'Zionists' follows, in terms which imply that the 'Zionists' have no rights in Palestine except possibly individual rights.

Class considerations therefore give way to national/communal categories.

The Arab ruling classes have more than once massacred Palestinians, and willingly condemn them to be pawns on the political chessboard; but this outlook puts the Arab states on the 'progressive' side. The whole question is seen as a mere item in the struggle between progressive and reactionary, good and bad, camps on a world scale. The problem is thus defined almost as a conflict of good and bad peoples.

Against this, we assert basic Marxist working class ideas. Class is decisive. We approach all questions of national and communal antagonisms from the viewpoint of the class struggle, and of the working-class programme for solving such conflicts by way of consistent democracy.

The Palestinian Arabs are bitterly oppressed; but a Jewish nation exists in Palestine and has a right to continue to exist there, with national rights which irreducibly include the right to self determination on some territory of its own. We champion the Palestinian Arabs' fight against oppression and displacement on a programme not of the implicit or explicit denial of Jewish rights, but of compensation, restitution, division of the disputed territory, and conciliation.

We advocate the immediate creation of a Palestinian Arab state alongside an Israeli-Jewish state (a modified version of Israel). We advocate an end to all discrimination against the Arabs under Israeli rule. We advocate full and equal citizenship for the Arabs, and the right to secede to the Palestinian-Arab state of the majority-Arab districts in Israel.

Revolutionary militants must approach this question from two viewpoints simultaneously, and integrate those two viewpoints. We are against chauvinism and national exclusivism everywhere, whether in Britain, Northern Ireland, or Palestine, and the Palestinian Jews are chauvinistic and exclusive. We support those in Israel and the West Bank/Gaza who fight for Jewish Arab equality. But the ending of Jewish chauvinism and exclusiveness is not and cannot be, for us, a precondition for accepting that the Jews have rights in Palestine.

The Jews have the right to a certain portion of the territory of Palestine by virtue of the fact that they are there. and most of the Jews now there were born there. Their rights there cannot be made conditional on how they conduct themselves in that territory, any more than the vile racist immigration laws of Britain - which we fight and oppose, as some Israeli socialists fight and oppose the chauvinism of the Israeli Jews - nullify Britain's right to exist. (Or any more than the openly chauvinist line of the Palestinian Arabs' leaders up to the late 1960s could nullify the Palestinian Arabs' national rights).

We recognise the right to self-determination of the Israeli Jews; we support those in Israel who fight chauvinism and exclusiveness and advocate equal citizenship of Arabs and Jews; we advocate an independent Palestinian-Arab state on the best terms possible which are compatible with Israeli-Jewish national rights. All these elements must be combined into one coherent working class socialist viewpoint.


1. In general we support the oppressed Palestinians against oppressor Israel. We seek a solution which gives both Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews the right to a life as a nation.

2. The proposal to amalgamate the two Palestinian nations - Arabs and Jews - into a unitary democratic secular Palestinian state is unfortunately utopian. Such an amalgamation is impossible. National identity, and still less national oppression and conflict, cannot be conjured away; two hostile nations cannot be amalgamated into a single unit.

Where there is national oppression, the demand to forget national differences is usually a cover for the oppressor. A unitary Palestine - in the foreseeable future - would mean a state in which the Palestinian Arabs were oppressed by the Israeli Jews, if there were no outside intervention.

In fact the practical meaning and implications now of the Arab-nationalist slogan, 'democratic-secular Palestine', are: full conquest of the Israeli Jews by the Arab states. It is not a proposal for a democratic solution, but the cutting edge of Arab propaganda which would turn the Jews from oppressors into the oppressed.

A 'democratic, secular Palestine' is not an answer to the national question, but something desirable which might be possible in the distant future after the national question has (by some other means) been solved - indeed, after national identities and prejudices had begun to wither away. As a proposed solution to the Palestinians' oppression, either it tells them that they must themselves shed national prejudice, and then also convince their oppressors to do likewise - or it is an encoded term for full suppression of the Israeli Jews by the Arab states.

3. Immediately, we demand an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, in line with the right of self-determination of the people of those territories.

4. A Palestinian mini-state in the West Bank and Gaza could alleviate the situation, but the national conflict of Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews would certainly continue. A solution to that conflict demands a more far-reaching programme. Considered as a national territory for 4 million Palestinians, these areas - essentially fringe districts of the Israeli state - are very limited in size and resources. They could not provide an adequate Palestinian homeland.

5. Meanwhile some 600,000 to 700,000 Arabs would remain under Israeli rule. The Israeli Arabs consider - rightly - that they are part of the Palestinian Arab nation, that they have rights in the area where they live and have long lived, and that the territory of Israel cannot be considered the exclusive property of the Israeli Jews. The situation of the Israeli Arabs is thus not a separate 'minority question', but an integral part of the Palestinian Arab/Israeli-Jewish conflict.

We support the right of secession to the Palestinian-Arab state of the mainly Arab areas within present-day Israel (western and Central Galilee, Little Triangle).

Over one million Palestinians live in Jordan, forming half or more of the population there. They live under the rule of a monarchy artificially created by British imperialism, and propped up militarily and financially in succession by Britain and by the US and oil-rich Arab states. We support the overthrow of the monarchy in Jordan, and federation or merger between a Palestinian mini-state and a democratic Jordan.

6. If it can be achieved, a federal relationship (in the circumstances, necessarily a loose one) between the Palestinian Arab state and a modified Israel (or over a broader area), including agreements to defend the rights of the Arab minority and of Arab labour in Israel, will be preferable to Arab secession from Israel and full-scale repartition.

a) The two nations are at present heavily intermeshed (Arabs living in Israel, West Bank and Gaza people working in Israel, etc.) Full intermeshing is not possible in the short term, given the national hostilities. However, we should seek to minimise the separating out.

b) Economically, a larger unit is preferable. The present economic isolation of Israel from the surrounding countries is economically irrational and politically leads to dependence on the US, etc. Generally, the division of the Middle East into several, mainly small, nation-states boosts nationalist and communal narrowness, economic underdevelopment, and imperialist manipulation. A West Bank/Gaza state, or even a West Bank/Gaza state united with Jordan, would be extremely weak economically and thus would be forced into dependence on states like Israel (the main employer of West Bank/Gaza labour) or Saudi Arabia (the paymaster of the present Jordanian state).

Though our programme is a socialist federation of the Middle East, with self-determination for national minorities (Israeli Jews, Kurds, etc.), this should not contradict proposals for smaller federations, e.g. in Palestine.

c) Full-scale repartition would be bloody and almost certainly untidy, creating material for fresh conflicts.

For these reasons, advocacy of a federation would be advantageous for Jewish-Arab working-class unity. However, the 'two states' formula is not conditional on federation being possible. It is the irreplaceable first step to peaceful coexistence of Arabs and Jews in Palestine and thus to working-class unity.

Historic Zionism, 1897-1948, was reckless and devastating in its consequences for the Palestinian Arab people.

But we reject the idea that either historic Zionist or modern Zionism (i.e. pro-Israel Jewish sentiment, however defined) can be simply described as racist. The state of Israel is a state pursuing racist policies and heavily based on racist institutions. It was not and is not a racist conspiracy, but rather a product of many circumstances. To try to 'ban Zionists' is to try to outlaw the reflex nationalism of the mass of Jewish people, and it is thus in effect anti-Jewish.

In terms of political argument, however, we counterpose internationalism to Israeli-Jewish nationalism, and democracy to to Jewish sectarianism and Jewish supremacy in Israel (or any modified Israel). Within Israel (or any modified Israel) we argue for full individual rights and national minority rights for the Arabs; for an end to the ban on Arab labour in major industries; for an end to Israel's alliance with US imperialism and its role as a major military supplier to South Africa, Central American dictatorships, etc; for the full separation of religion from the state; for the dismantling of the specifically 'Zionist' features of the state (in particular, the set-up whereby quasi-state organisations, the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund, provide funds and services to Jews only); for the creation of a labour movement independent of the state and the employers.

We demand compensation from Israel and the US to fund the resettlement of the Palestinian-Arab refugees in the Palestinian-Arab state.

The repossession of all Palestine by the Palestinian Arabs is now impossible without suppressing the Jews; and the Israel Jews' national rights cannot depend on them ceasing to be 'Zionists' or agreeing to an unqualified right of resettlement in all of Palestine for Arabs. However, among the Israelis we would argue for immigration laws which would allow individual Palestinian Arabs to move in and out freely or to go and live there. Israeli-Jewish agreement to easy entry for Arabs would be an essential contribution to national reconciliation and working-class unity.

We explain to Israeli Jews that no nation that oppresses another can itself be free or secure, and that they can achieve peace, freedom and security only by a democratic attitude towards the Arab peoples - just as we explain to the Palestinian Arabs that any solution that would oppress the Israeli Jews would be regressive and reactionary,

8. While the Arab states have been victims of predatory attacks by Israel, they themselves are bourgeois or bourgeois-feudal states with expansionist and predatory ambitions. They have cruelly oppressed and more than once massacred the Palestinian Arabs. While in some circumstances we side with the Arab states against Israeli attack, we do not support the destruction of Israel by the military forces of the Arab states.

Democracy is only possible in a single state

Bruce Robinson, SO 238, 24.7.85

The Socialist Organiser AGM on June 22-23 decided to continue our discussion on Palestine. Until now SO has supported the mainstream Palestinian Arab slogan of 'a democratic secular Palestine' with equality for Jews and Arabs (Muslims and Christians). Some SO supporters now argue tor a separate independent Palestinian Arab state alongside a modified Israeli-Jewish state; here Bruce Robinson argues for a unitary democratic Palestinian state.

John O'Mahony refers sarcastically to our old position having an "alleged ability to do justice to everyone concerned", contrasting it to his approach, which starts from the real divisions that exist. Our approach, however, should be precisely that of what Lenin described as "consistent democracy".

Our job is not that of acting as diplomatic advisors to the Palestinians or arguing about which policy is most likely to be acceptable to the Israeli working class at present given their present consciousness and attitude to the Palestinians. We are only interested in the national question from the viewpoint of finding a programme that represents a real solution to the national oppression and thus removes it as an obstacle to class unity.

Lenin poured scorn on Rosa Luxemburg (who was opposed to Polish independence from Russia because, as a Polish Socialist she was frightened it would strengthen Polish nationalism) for emphasising that what was required was a "practical" solution to the national question.

"The whole task of the proletariat in the national question is 'unpractical' from the stand point of the nationalist bourgeoisie of every nation, because the proletarians, opposed as they are to nationalism of every kind, demand 'abstract' equality: they demand, as a matter of principle, that there should be no privileges, however slight. Failing to grasp this, Rosa Luxemburg, by her misguided eulogy of practicality, has opened the door wide for the opportunists, and especially for opportunist concessions to Great Russian nationalism".

John O'Mahony's position is similar to Rosa Luxemburg's, in that out of fears about the effects of the nationalism of the oppressed - the Palestinians - on the rights of the Israeli Jews, he looks for a practical solution which avoids challenging the privileges of the oppressor nation. It is an attempt to find a short cut to a solution without any fundamental changes in the relationships between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

His position amounts to saying that a solution will be achieved on the basis of the Palestinians giving up their unrealistic demands, so as to avoid having to face the thorny problem of how it is possible to break the Israeli workers from their current attitudes towards the Palestinians. John O'Mahony claims that any policy of a single state in Palestine must imply forcible integration of the two nationalities. Martin Thomas also seems to accept that the nations will want to hold on to their separation above all else, even if Israel was no longer a Zionist state.

The policy I am proposing is unlikely to recommend itself to the bourgeoisies of the Arab states, who either want a deal with Israel or are not in any position to impose a solution anyhow. (Even if they were, I would oppose it as there would be no way that they would impose an even remotely democratic solution). It is based on the idea that both sides would have had to move towards a recognition of the other's rights as a precondition of any lasting and fair arrangement.

John O'Mahony argues that two elements in the programme of a unitary state make its voluntary acceptance by the Israelis impossible. His first point is that a single state is in itself a denial of Jewish national rights and thus unacceptable. On this basis, however, for the reasons outlined above, no solution will ever be possible if one (or both) nationalities continue to claim an exclusive right to even a part of the territory. If the Palestinians were to give real guarantees of Jewish rights of the type I have already mentioned, such a claim would not be justified.

John O'Mahony's second objection is that the right of the Palestinians to return to any part of pre-1948 Israel means dispossession of the Jews currently living there and would be resisted. However, the right of return does not necessarily require the restoration of every square inch of land to whoever owned it in 1948. Obviously given the length of time that has passed, changes in the economic structure of the country, etc., this would be impossible.

What is at issue is a) the right of Palestinians to return to live in those areas; b) some form of compensation for land taken as part of an overall settlement; c) removal of some recent settlements. Of these, the third can be called dispossession - and it would also be required to set up a West Bank/Gaza state.

Both communities will have to make concessions for any solution to work. The Palestinians will have to recognise that moving towards their goals requires winning over a large section of the Jewish population. This in turn requires them to recognise the permanence of the Jews in the area and the collective rights which this implies. It probably also requires a change of tactics from one which emphasises guerilla action to one which puts more emphasis on political action and has an active orientation towards winning the trust of the Jews.

However, the main balance of concessions must come from the Israeli Jews as they are at present enjoying privileges as the oppressor nation. The national consensus across classes in Israel is not just maintained by Zionist ideology or an external threat, but also rests on the fact that all sections of society benefit from the present discriminatory and oppressive relationship to the Palestinians, e.g. access to better or more secure jobs, land, more extensive political rights. As in the case of Ireland, it is often those sections of the population for whom the relative privilege is smallest who cling to it most - in this case, the working class Oriental Jews.

What forces then will break out of the vicious circle of mutual antagonism between the Palestinians and the Israelis? In the short term, it is difficult to be optimistic, whatever position you hold. It is possible that the national conflict would only be ended as a result of successful social revolutions elsewhere in the region, though clearly we cannot advocate that all the parties concerned wait around before trying to find a means of coming together.

More positively, a number of developments have begun which undercut the basis on which Israel has been able to maintain 'national unity' in the past. The war in Lebanon has led to some questioning of Israel's claim to act militarily only in its own defence and to a war-weariness among some sections of the population. The economy is in more or less permanent crisis. The shift in US policy in the region lessens Israel's room for manoeuvre.

None of these developments necessarily mean a progressive shift in general attitudes towards the Palestinians, but perhaps a few cracks are appearing in the general acceptance of the national interest of Israel.

In such a situation it is difficult to assess what the effect of a Palestinian declaration of recognition of Jewish rights would have. It is however a precondition of any long-term progress.


1. A democratic solution to the national conflicts between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs can only take place within the framework of a single state. The intermingling of the two national groups is such that any territorial division would be unlikely to be democratic or provide a lasting solution to the conflict.

2. Such a unitary state would recognise and guarantee the collective rights and identities of both groups, including freedom of religion, language and education. These would be implemented by devolving powers in these areas to whichever level would assure the two communities best control of their own affairs with out imprisoning minorities. The Palestinians would have the right to live in any part of the state (which would cover the area of pre-1948 Palestine).

3. While defending the rights of the Israeli Jews, we recognise that at present it is the Palestinians who are the oppressed nation and give them unconditional support in their struggle against the Israeli state.

4. For a single Palestinian state to be realisable requires that at least a sizeable section of the Israeli population break from Zionism and the 'national consensus' currently existing in relation to the Palestinians. No solution is possible while the Israeli working class enjoys privileges at the expense of the Palestinians. Such a break will only come about if the Palestinians make it clear that they have no intention of suppressing the Jews and are willing to grant them the collective rights in a common Palestinian state.


The normal approach of Marxists to the national question has been to argue for the right of self-determination - that is, for the right of an oppressed nation to secede and form its own nation state. We generally support self-determination, not because we support nationalism or think that the nation state is the best political unit for socialism, but because it provides a democratic solution which ends national oppression and removes a divisive obstacle to developing class unity between the different national groups.

However the right to self determination cannot be applied where the two national groups are intermingled and both claim the same territory with some degree of legitimacy.

In Palestine there are no borders suited to a democratic solution based on separate states for the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians. Even if the present population were to fall into two distinct territories, there is still the problem of the Palestinians currently living outside pre-1948 Palestine who wish to return.

Of the Palestinian refugees about 10% lived in the areas which became Israel in 1948 prior to that date. Of these about half remain refugees. Many of those born in the camps since 1948 identify themselves as coming from the areas where their families lived before fleeing in 1948.

Whether all of the Palestinians would return to those areas given the choice or whether they would accept a West Bank/Gaza state is a debatable point. However, given that the process of settlement and colonisation of these areas has been the root cause of their national oppression, it seems to be that the demand for the Palestinian right to return to those areas must be granted as part of a democratic solution. (How this could be done is discussed later).

Given this population distribution and the precise form the national question takes in Palestine there are three different ways of dealing with the situation:

a) drawing boundaries which essentially maintain the existing majority-minority relationships using a recognised border, such as the pre-1967 one. This would mean either leaving minorities within the new states or some form of population exchange;

b) drawing new boundaries by allowing pieces of territory with a majority different to that with in the pre-67 borders to secede and join the other state (e.g. the areas of pre-67 Israel with Arab majorities):

c) recognising that a democratic solution cannot be based on a territorial division or redivision of pre-1948 Palestine.

The second position at least has the merit of recognising that the pre-1967 borders are undemocratic. If the national question in Palestine was merely one of national minorities wanting to form their own state or associate with another state, it would provide a feasible solution.

However, it does not take account of the odd features of the situation which come from Israel being a state based on settlement of an area, whose previous inhabitants have not disappeared, but still have legitimate claims to rights within the same area.

It is also difficult to see how a West Bank/Gaza state would be a step towards this solution. If a West Bank/Gaza state were to succeed in the aim of reducing national tensions. it would have to become the status quo for relations between the two peoples for some considerable period of time. While the Palestinians could in principle force concessions, including the right for Arabs in Israel to secede to the other state. who would be able to enforce it? Presumably the Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. How would this give the breathing space for reconciliation Martin Thomas talks of?

A common state would have to be based on and guarantee the rights of both the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians to maintain their separate collective identities, unhindered by the state and with control over those aspects of political life necessary to require them to do this. This differs from the classic conception of the secular democratic state as advocated by the PLO in giving collective rights to the Jews within a unitary state and offering such rights unconditionally.

Such rights would include freedom of religion and language, control of education, the rights of free political organisation etc. They could be implemented through a form of local autonomy where communities - whether Arab, Jewish or mixed - would be able to decide what provision would be made for these issues in their area.

Local autonomy is not however the cornerstone of my argument. It merely seems to be the most likely way of guaranteeing to the furthest possible extent the rights of both communities. Some rights, however, such as the right to use either language would have to be guaranteed by the central government. What is crucial is that the means exist for justice to be done within the framework of a single state.

The main argument against this has been that it ignores what is fundamentally at stake - namely, the rights of two nations rather than merely democratic rights.

It is suggested that real autonomy would lead to one or other nation wishing to secede from a united state. However there is no way that full national rights (which include the right to a territory) can be put into effect for either nation without it oppressing the other.

For what it's worth. I would recognise the Israeli Jews as a nation. However we should remain aware of some of the peculiarities of both national groups.

Firstly, the national consciousness of the Israeli Jews has until now been based on the Zionist ideology of the right to an exclusive Jewish state in Palestine, a state which has been based on settlement of the territory previously occupied by the Palestinians. Whether the Israelis feel themselves to be political Zionists in the full sense is irrelevant. Quite what form a Jewish national consciousness would take it the exclusivist, chauvinist and, usually, racist elements based on this ideology were to disappear (or even begin to break down) is highly problematic.

Secondly, the rights of the peoples of the area and whether they form nations or not cannot be asserted simply by reading off a set of characteristics (language, culture, economy, territory) a la Stalin of 1912 and seeing how well they fit. On this basis, one would have to reject the Palestinians' claim to be a nation on the grounds that they do not have - and never have had - a distinct national economy or historically well-defined national territory.

It is precisely the fact that the Palestinian question is not a straightforward issue of the rights of nations or national minorities which makes it so intractable.

Any programme we put forward must deal with three aspects of Palestinian oppression as well as the rights of the Jews. Firstly, they lack any territory in which to live. Secondly, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip they face a military occupation. Thirdly, within Israel the Arabs are treated as second-class citizens.

Will “two states” divide?

Robert Fine, SO 238, 24.7.85

I am particularly interested in the Palestine debate which I think is fascinating and on precisely the right terrain. 1 have been entirely supportive of the efforts of John O'Mahony and others to break from the common left position with its blanket endorsement of third world nationalism and its hints/ strains of anti-semitism. I am less enthusiastic about the proposed two-state solution, but I withhold judgement.

One aspect which disturbs me is what it entails for those consigned to live within the Israeli state. I think that we should recognise that Israel is not racist in an ordinary way. The idea of a Jewish state is not an ordinary nationalism. There has never been an adequate separation of church and state, for all the secularism of the Zionist movements, and this lack of separation has become much more pronounced. The exclusion of non-Jews from full citizenship rights is not an ordinary racism.

Obviously we oppose these things whether there is one state or two, but it seems to me that the latter option does not help. We have to consider in my opinion what a Jewish state implies not in abstract but as a present reality.

It is racist in an extraordinary way and undemocratic in an extraordinary way. Surely there is a potential among Jews fed up with the influence of religious orthodoxy, with militarism, with Jewish particularism, with siege mentality, etc., to tie their dissent to the dissent of Palestinians and others who bear the brunt of state and para-state repression?

Does not advocacy of two states cut across this unifying potential? Does it not, from the Jewish point of view, assume a static fixation with a Jewish state that for many is becoming more of a weight than a means of emancipation?

Are we not underestimating the effects of the gulf between the idea of Zionism and the reality of today's Israel on the consciousness of ordinary Israelis?

My own knowledge and experience of Israel - where most of my family lives - is well out of date now. I have not visited for many years and I have not studied developments in any detail beyond the Guardian and the Jewish Chronicle. But my strong impression - from friends, family and even the Jewish Chronicle - is that we would be foolish to underestimate the growing disillusion with the particularism represented by Israel.

Racism will remain until Israel is destroyed

Tony Greenstein, SO 239, 7.8.85

The article by John O'Mahony and Martin Thomas (July 3) calling for the establishment side by side with Israel of a Palestinian state, fails to understand the specific features of the Israeli state that prevents it from becoming a normal western capitalist state with a working class capable of moving from economic to political struggles.

Over 52% of the land of the West Bank has already been confiscated. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on settlements and the necessary infrastructure. There are already over 30,000 settlers and the West Bank is an integral part of the Israeli economy and a reserve of cheap labour.

How else than utopian can we term the call for a separate Palestinian State? No Zionist party in Israel, including Mapam - the so-called Marxist Zionists - supports such a state.

Precisely which forces in Israel would push for such a settlement? At least Arafat recognises that only the United States is capable of exerting pressure to achieve such a state as part of an imperialist solution to the Palestinian question, not that they display the least inclination to do so.

Such a state would become an Israeli Bantustan, in which the Jordanian regime held the whip hand. It would be dependent on the Gulf regimes and Israel economically and its first actions would be to crush the Left and Trade Unions in order to guarantee its existence. It would be a state where confessionalism reigned supreme. Surely the example of partition in Ireland demonstrates this?

Far from uniting the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian working class, it would erect state borders between them whilst providing the opportunity for mass expulsions from Israel and the opportunity to remove even the most marginal rights that Israeli Arab workers possess. It would reinforce the feeling of privilege and racist supremacy that Israeli workers possess.

O'Mahony and Thomas demonstrate that they don't really understand the nature of Zionism. Zionist settlement began in earnest after the First World War under the British Mandate and the alliance between the Zionists and British imperialism lasted until 1945.

It is factually incorrect to say that the core of the Israeli state when it was founded consisted of refugees from European anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. The latter came to Israel after its founding.

As Lenni Brenner and others have documented, the Zionists used these people as a battering ram to open the gates of Palestine to Jewish immigration whilst at the same time supporting immigration controls against Jewish refugees in the USA and Britain, just as today they oppose Soviet Jews settling in any other country bar Israel.

But what has this to do with the nature of the Israeli state! Did not the Plymouth Brethren feel oppressed when they colonised America? And the Australian settlers? And what about the pieds noirs in Algeria, amongst whom there was a far stronger Communist Party than ever existed in Palestine and some of whom had fought against Franco in Spain.

All that this demonstrates is how reprehensible colonialism and Zionism are, in that it creates racists out of the most progressive of people, including Socialists. And weren't the Afrikaaners the first victims of (British) concentration camps?

Instead of an analysis of how Zionism created a settler working class which never fought for its own independent class interests, we are told of a "chronic national antagonism" between Israeli Jewish and Palestinian/ Arab workers. Not a hint of whеrе this comes frоm пог аnу attempt to differentiate between the nationalism of the oppressed and oppressor.

The racism of Israeli workers derives from the settler colonial state they live in. It doesn't magically appear when different peoples come into contact. Until the Israeli state is destroyed, the racism and chauvinism of Israeli Jewish workers will remain, indeed іncrеаѕе if thеrе іѕ a rеpartitioning, and they will never go beyond a rudimentary economic class consciousness.

The same holds true of the South African white working class and the Loyalist working class.

Instead Israeli workers will cling to their privileges and see their main enemy as the Palestinians. It is little wonder that the Israeli working class has been unable to create its own independent trade unions, still less a Party, and instead is contained within Israel's largest employers' federation and economic empire, Histadrut.

I don't accept that a Jewish nation exists in Israel, but even if it did it would still be an oppressor nation like the Afrikaaners. It has no right to a separate portion of territory. What they do have is the right to live in a democratic secular Palestine and enjoy all the same religious cultural and individual rights as others.

The question of 'self-determination' of the Israeli Jews does not arise because they are not an oppressed group. They enjoy a high standard of living precisely because of the role that Israel plays in the Middle East. financed but not exploited by the USA.

The comparison between Israel and the British state is thereby false. Israel is a settler colonial state and has an expansionist and racist dynamic of its own.

In contributing to this debate we hope that Socialist Organiser does not abandon the fight against Zionism and go for a muddle-headed. middle of the road approach that tries to walk a tightrope between the oppressor and oppressor.

A socialist union of the Middle East

Moshe Machover, SO 240, 14.8.85

Moshe Machover, a founder member of the Israeli socialist organisation Matzpen and currently a member of the editorial board of the journal 'Khamsin', will be speaking on Zionism and Palestine at the Socialist Organiser summer school on August 23-26. As a summary of his views he has asked us to print the following article by himself and Abu Sa'id [Jabra Nicola], originally written in 1969 and adopted as a policy document by Matzpen.

The Middle East is approaching a crossroads. The four great powers are conferring in an attempt to reach an agreed "solution", which they will then proceed to impose on the inhabitants of the region, and which they hope will restore the stability that was shaken by the June 1967 war and its aftermath. Our aim here is to analyse the dangers which wait at this crossroads and which threaten the future of the revolution in the Middle East.

An important new protagonist has appeared on the Middle Eastern political stage: the Palestinians. True, they had taken action into their own hands a few years before the June 1967 war, but the real impetus came only after that war. The positive factor here is that Palestinian action has transferred a struggle formerly between governments into a mass struggle.

For nearly twenty years the Palestinians had been an object of history. passively awaiting salvation by the Arab states in general, or by the ″progressive" Arab states, in particular Egypt, under the leadership of Abdel Nasser. The 1948 war exposed the bankruptcy of the old middle-class and landowners' leadership of the Arab national movement. As a result, a new leadership - petit bourgeois in its class nature - came to the forefront; it overthrew the old regime in several Arab countries and scored considerable successes in the anti-imperialist struggle. But the June 1967 war revealed the limitations of this leadership: limitations resulting from its class nature and its nationalist ideology. Among other things it proved its total inability to solve the Palestinian question. Despite the Soviet support, Nasserism and Ba'athism are in a state of political bankruptcy.

Against this background the emergence of Palestinian mass struggle can be understood. As mentioned above, the emergence of this new factor is a positive phenomenon. But one can also discern a negative and dangerous trend in it. Some sections of the Palestinian movement have adopted the view that the Palestinian masses can and should ″go it alone" and solve their problem themselves, in separation from the all-Arab revolutionary struggle. Those who hold this view present the problem solely as a Palestinian one, which can be solved in a purely Palestinian frame work. The stick has not been straightened, it is being bent in the opposite direction.

The former passive attitude, hoping for salvation by others, risks being replaced by a narrow localist attitude. The only help which is demanded from the rest of the Arab world is aid to the Palestinian front itself. This attitude disregards the connection between the Palestinian struggle and the struggle in the Arab world as a whole, and it therefore advocates non-intervention in the internal affairs of the Arab states. The Arab governments encourage this attitude. The very mobilisation of the masses in Arab countries - even if only for the Palestinian cause - threatens the existing regimes. These régimes therefore wish to isolate the Palestinian struggle and to leave it entirely to the Palestinians.

The Arab governments both reactionary and progressive are trying to buy stability for their regimes with a ransom to the Palestinian organisations. Moreover, the governments want to use this financial aid to direct the Palestinian struggle along their own politically convenient lines, to manipulate it and to utilise it merely as a means of bargaining for a political solution acceptable to them. The Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian governments are mainly interested in regaining the territories they lost in the June war (and in thereby regaining their lost prestige and consolidating their authority), while the Palestinian cause is, from their point of view, only secondary, a means rather than an aim. This is what the Arab governments mean when they call for "liquidating the results of aggression."

Clearly, if the Arab governments achieve their aim (e.g. through the four great powers), they will be prepared to desert the Palestinians, and even to take an active part in political and physical liquidation of the Palestinian movement. The four powers will probably insist on this as a condition for a political settlement. As the consequences of the 1948 war provided the background for the downfall of the old national leadership in the Arab world and for the emergence of the petit bourgeois leadership - so the consequences of the 1967 war have set the stage for replacing this leadership by a new one, representing a new class.

Since the propertied classes proved unable to solve the social, political and national problems of the Arab world, it has become apparent that only the exploited masses themselves, under a working class leadership, are capable of solving their historic problems. But the existence of suitable objective conditions does not mean that this new leadership will automatically emerge. For this further requires a subjective factor - a political organisation with a revolutionary theory and a revolutionary all-Arab strategy.

However, it is precisely this need for political work and for an all Arab revolutionary strategy that is explicitly rejected by some important sectors of the Palestinian movement. They advocate the confinement of the struggle to the Palestinian front alone and its limitation to armed operations without a political programme. The balance of forces, as well as theoretical considerations, shows the impossibility of solving the Palestinian problem in a separate Palestinian framework.

What is the balance of forces? The Palestinian people are waging a battle where they confront Zionism, which is supported by imperialism; from the rear they are menaced by the Arab regimes and by Arab reaction, which are also supported by imperialism. As long as imperialism has a real stake in the Middle East, it is unlikely to withdraw its support for Zionism, its natural ally, and to permit its overthrow, it will defend it to the last drop of Arab oil. On the other hand, imperialist interests and domination in the region cannot be shattered without overthrowing those junior partners of imperialist exploitation that constitute ruling classes in the Arab world. The conclusion that must be drawn is not that the Palestinian people should wait quietly until imperialist domination is overthrown throughout the region, but that they should rally to the wider struggle for political and social liberation of the Middle East as a whole.

Just as it is impossible in practice to defeat Zionism without overthrowing imperialist domination throughout the region, so it is theoretically absurd to present formulas for solving the problem within the territory of Palestine alone: if one speaks about the situation existing before the overthrow of imperialism in the entire region - then the de-Zionisation of Israel and the establishment of a Palestine without Zionism is quite impossible. And if one thinks of the situation after the overthrow of imperialism - then what is the sense of a formula which refers to Palestine alone, without taking into account the necessary changes which would take place in the whole region?

In the last analysis, the formula that restricts itself to Palestine alone, despite its revolutionary appearance, derives from a reformist outlook which seeks partial solutions within the framework of conditions now existing in the region. In fact, partial solutions can only be implemented through a compromise with imperialism and Zionism. In addition, the solutions which are limited to Palestine, cannot grapple successfully with the national problem. The formulas which speak of an independent democratic Palestine all of whose citizens, irrespective of religion, will enjoy equal rights have two defects.

On the one hand, they imply the creation of a new separate Palestinian nation whose members do not differ from one another nationally but only religiously. The authors of these formulas are themselves aware of the absurdity of separating the Palestinians from the general Arab nation; they therefore hasten to add that "Palestine is part of the Arab fatherland". This looks suspiciously like the old slogan of "Arab Palestine" dressed up in new - and more nebulous - garb.

This attitude results from a misapprehension of the national problem in general and of Israeli reality in particular. It is true that the Jews living in Israel came to settle here under the influence and leadership of Zionism, and that they - as a community - have oppressed and are still oppressing Palestinians. But it is impossible to ignore the patent fact that today this community constitutes a national entity (which differs from world Jewry on the one hand and from the Palestinian Arabs on the other), having its own language and economic and cultural life. In order to solve the Palestinian problem, this community (or at least a substantial part of it) must be severed from the influence of Zionism and attracted to a joint struggle with the revolutionary forces in the Arab world for the national and social liberation of the entire region. But clearly this can not be achieved by ignoring the existence of that community as a national entity.

This problem cannot be solved within the narrow framework of Palestine. If one is thinking of a democratic state pure and simple - "one man, one vote" - then in fact it will be a state with a Jewish majority, and there is nothing to prevent it from being like the present state of Israel, but having a larger territory and a bigger Arab minority. If one is thinking of a binational state, then it will be an artificial creation separating the Palestinian Arabs from the rest of the Arab world and from the revolutionary process taking place in it. Besides, in a binational structure there are no inherent guarantees that one of the two national groups will not dominate the other. All this refers to proposed solutions which can be considered feasible within the present condition of the Middle East, i.e., which do not presuppose a comprehensive social revolution.

On the other hand, if one considers the situation which will exist after a victorious social revolution, after imperialism and Zionism are defeated, then there will not exist a separate Palestinian problem, but rather the problem of the various national groups living within the Arab world (Kurds, Israeli Jews, South Sudanese). This problem can be solved only by granting these nationalities the right to self-determination. Of course, recognition of the rights to self determination does not mean encouragement to separation; on the contrary, it provides the correct basis for integration without compulsion or repression. Moreover, self-determination in the Middle East is impossible so long as that region is under direct or indirect imperialist domination, but is possible only after it is liberated from all imperialist influence, i.e., after a victorious socialist revolution. In particular, this situation presupposes the overthrow of Zionism.

To sum up: The existing objective conditions enable and require the creation of a revolutionary mass movement, led by the working class, guided by a revolutionary Marxist theory and acting according to an all-Arab strategy, which will recognise the national rights of the non-Arab nationalities living within the Arab world and prove capable of attracting them to a common struggle for the national and social liberation of the entire region.

What is the “democratic secular state”?

SO 241, 21.8.85

Socialist Organiser supporters are debating whether we should continue to back the mainstream Palestinian slogan of a democratic secular Palestine, or instead adopt a policy which would allow for the existence of a modified Israeli-Jewish state along side a Palestinian state or a wider Arab federation. These two statements, from Fatah and from the more left-wing DFLP, summarise what the Palestinian movement meant by a democratic secular state when it adopted the slogan in 1969. [Fatah moved to back "two states" in 1988, and the DFLP floated a version of that idea in 1974].

Pre-1948 Palestine - as defined during the British mandate - is the territory to be liberated, the territory where the democratic progressive state is to be created.

The liberated Palestine will be part of the Arab homeland and will not be another alien state within it. The eventual unity of Palestine with other Arab states will make boundary problems less relevant and will end the artificiality of the present status of Israel, and possibly that of Jordan as well.

The new country will be anti-imperialist and will join the ranks of progressive revolutionary countries. Therefore, it will have to cut the present life-line links with and the total dependence on the United States. Therefore, integration within the area will be the foremost prerequisite.

It should be quite obvious at this stage that the new Palestine discussed here is not the occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip or both. The area of the homeland of the Palestinians usurped and colonised in 1948 is no less dear or important than the part occupied in 1967.

Besides the very existence of the racist oppressor state of Israel, based on the expulsion and forced exile of part of its citizens, even from one tiny Palestinian village, is unacceptable to the revolution. Any arrangement accommodating the aggressor settler-state is unacceptable and temporary.

All the Jews, Moslems and Christians living in Palestine or forcibly exiled from it will have the right to Palestinian citizenship. This guarantees the right of all exiled Palestinians to return to their land whether they have been born in Palestine or in exile and regardless of their present nationality.

Equally, this means that all Jewish Palestinians - the present Israelis - have the same right provided, of course, that they reject Zionist racist chauvinism and fully agree to live as Palestinians in the new Palestine.

The revolution therefore rejects the supposition that only Jews who lived in Palestine prior to 1948 or prior to 1914 and their descendants are acceptable.

After all, [Moshe] Dayan [minister of defence and [Yigail] Allon [deputy premier| were born in Palestine before 1948 and they with many of their colleagues are diehard racist Zionists who obviously do not quality for a Palestinian status, whereas newcomers may be anti-Zionists and work ardently for the creation of a new Palestine.

In the interview referred to earlier [published in al-Taleea, June 1969], Abu Iyad, one of the officials of Fatah, asserted that not only progressive anti-Zionist Jews but even present Zionists willing to abandon their racist ideology will be welcome as Palestinian citizens.

It is the belief of the revolution that the majority of the present Israeli Jews will change their attitudes and will subscribe to the new Palestine, especially after the oligarchic state machinery. economy, and military establishment are destroyed.

The call for a nonsectarian Palestine should not be confused with a multi-religious, a poly-religious or a binational state. The new Palestine is not to be built around three state religions or two nationalities. Rather, it will simply provide freedom from religious oppression of any group by another and freedom to practice religion without discrimination. No rigidification of religious lines is desired by the revolution. No hard and fast religious distribution of political offices and other important jobs is envisioned.

Furthermore, religious and ethnic lines clearly cross in Palestine so as to make the term binational and the Arab-Jewish dichotomy meaning less, or at best quite dubious.

The majority of Jews in Palestine today are Arab Jews - euphemistically called Oriental Jews by the Zionists. Therefore, Palestine combines Jewish, Christian and Moslem Arabs as well as non-Arab Jews (Western Jews).

The DFLP’s version

SO 241, 21.8.85

The struggle for a popular democratic solution for the Palestinian and Israeli questions to be based on the liquidation of the Zionist entity exemplified in all the government establishments (army. administration, police) and all the chauvinistic Zionist political and labour organisations. The establishment of a people's democratic Palestine state in which the Arabs and (Israeli) Jews will live without any discrimination whatsoever, a state which is against all forms of class and national subjugation, and which gives both Arabs and (Israeli) Jews the right to develop their national culture.

In accordance with the link of history and destiny that exists between Palestine and the Arab nation, the people's democratic state of Palestine will be an integral part of an Arab federal state in this area. The Palestinian state will have a democratic content hostile to colonialism, imperialism and Arab and Palestinian reaction.

The democratic solution put forward is capable of liberating the Arab and the Jew from all forms of chauvinistic (racist) culture - liberating the Arab from reactionary culture, and the Jew from Zionist culture.

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine calls on all the Israeli and Jewish elements and groupings who are hostile to Zionism and imperialism to support the above solution and participate in the common Palestinian and people's armed struggle for the implementation of this democratic revolutionary solution.

Unite Israel and Palestine?

Arthur Bough, SO 241, 21.8.85

Some comrades have argued that the "democratic secular state" cannot conceivably be made a reality. As an alternative they have put forward the idea of establishing a separate Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza. (and may be some parts of present-day Israel), and a struggle for a modified Israel in which the rights of the remaining Palestinians would be protected.

There are, however, more problems with the two state theory than with the Democratic Secular State. Firstly, the establishment of a separate state would be opposed not only by the Israeli State, but by the Jewish working class.

A basic right of a Palestinian State would be the right of a standing army. Imagine what fears Jewish workers would have about a Palestinian State on their doorstep which would no longer be restricted to launching guerrilla attacks like the PLO so far, but would be tooled up with all the military hardware of a fully fledged state.

Imagine their fears being heightened by the fact that some 700,000 Palestinians would still remain trapped inside Israel, still denied democratic rights, and that such a Palestinian state could hardly be expected to stand idly by when those Palestinians called on it for assistance.

In short whilst in principle the Palestinians could fight for the establishment of a separate Palestinian state, in practice there is no more chance of it being achievable than the Democratic Secular State. It also lacks a grip on reality.

On both sides would be capitalist states within which would be trapped national minorities. In Israel the racist, Zionist State would remain unchallenged, now with a large section of its most radicalised population, the Palestinian workers, hived off. With a new hostile neighbour on its border the Zionist State would be even more able to avert class antagonism by rallying Jewish workers around the flag. Mean while. the link between Israel and US imperialism would probably be strengthened.

On the other side of the border would be a feeble bourgeois Palestinian State, economically dependent on neighbouring Arab capital. Such a state could offer nothing to the Palestinian workers, and even less for the minority Jewish population trapped within its borders.

We have a duty to advocate a programme which is aimed not just at the Palestinian workers, but at the Jewish workers.

The first step in winning Jewish workers away from the Israeli state is to remove their fears. A basic position of any Marxist should be to say that we are opposed to any attack on Israel by the Arab States, and that we are opposed to the military campaign of the PLO other than where it is a matter of it acting purely as a self-defence squad against attacks by the Israeli State.

The military campaign of the PLO, like the military campaign of the IRA, is an alternative to political struggle, not an integral and subordinate part of it. It is a typical petit bourgeois strategy.

If the Palestinian workers were to approach Jewish workers on the clear basis that they opposed that military campaign it would open up a powerful opportunity for political dialogue. The Peace Now campaign showed that Israeli workers do not like being in a constant state of war.

That political solution has to be one that is consistently democratic, that provides for the rights of both nations to exercise considerable self-government in those areas where they constitute a majority, and which at the same time protects the rights of minorities. It requires the establishment of a federal United States of Israel and Palestine.

The Israeli state would obviously oppose such a solution, and so too, probably, would the bourgeois leaders of the PLO. Our job as Marxists, however, is to mobilise the workers of both nations against their respective bourgeoisies in the political struggle for the demand.

It is an algebraic demand - mobilising the workers without limiting in advance the scope and aims of that mobilisation. The demand for a United States of Israel and Palestine would have to be supplemented by other demands.

A Democratic Programme would have to be elaborated which would protect the rights of minorities. In addition we would need to raise various transitional demands such as the sliding scale of wages, disbandment of the standing army and establishment of workers' militias, a crash house building programme financed by a massive reduction in the military budget, so that the Palestinian refugees could be rehoused, etc.

Put in this way the Jewish workers could see that they did not need a massive military machine, that their living standards could be improved if they were to come to a political settlement with the Palestinians, and that their potential for winning such improvements would be considerably strengthened if the Palestinian working class was fighting alongside them.

The demand for a United States of Israel and Palestine, therefore, by focusing on the Palestinian and Jewish workers as the only force capable of resolving the problem, establishes the basis for deepening the struggle into one for socialism in accordance with the theory of Permanent Revolution. In contrast. both the Democratic Secular State and Two State solutions mirror the Stalinist stages theory. Both see the necessity of a first stage whereby a bourgeois democratic solution to the national question is achieved before "normal" class struggle can take place.

Israel can’t be reformed

Lenni Brenner, SO 252, 14.11.85

Socialist Organiser has been carrying a discussion on socialist programmes for the Israel/Palestine conflict. Here we print a contribution from Lenni Brenner, author of the recent books "The Iron Wall” and "Zionism in the Age of the Dictators".

The Palestine question is of the profoundest importance for revolutionary internationalists. "Israel" and a "democratic secular Palestine" are not squares on an American Monopoly game board. Human equality, legal, economic and social, is at stake. The slightest accommodation to Jewish chauvinism in Palestine will, inexorably, lead to similar capitulations in principle to communalism in other parts of the world.

Classic Zionism was unabashedly colonialist, and never concealed its aim of converting of Arab land into a Jewish state. However, lacking the power to seize Palestine on its own, Zionism perforce developed under the often grudging patronage of British imperialism, until it was able to take advantage of the unusual conjuncture of political factors in the post-World War 2 period to establish a racist regime. The near-Apartheid system in the territories conquered in 1967 is an extension of, rather than a departure from, the herrenvolk order created in 1948.

Can Israel be reformed? No. The Zionist state also discriminates against Jews. Jewish women cannot initiate a divorce, testify in such cases, or sit on the religious judicial benches, which have exclusive jurisdiction over all Jews in marriage matters. Nor can Harry Cohen - Hebrew for priest - marry a convert or divorcee.

For yea, verily, the Lord will yet restore His Temple in His holy city, and Harry, today a butcher-baker-candlestickmaker, would be defiled by sexual contact with such unclean creatures and couldn't perform the ritual animal sacrifices on that grand and glorious day. Their children would be bastards, and Zionism's medievalist rabbis will not marry them, year unto the tenth generation.

Anyone who expects a movement so fanatic in its official discrimination against Jews to ever grant legal equality to any mere Arab is a certified idiot.

There are those who would concede that Zionism is both sectarian and racist, but see an Israeli nation in place, and conclude that it has a right to its own state, sans racism.

To be sure, Zionism has created a Hebrew nation, and that nation, as with the Afrikaners, is entitled to linguistic equality. However no right of self-determination is acquired in today's world by conquering another nation, denying it self-determination in any part of its land, dispersing much of it. Savagely discriminating against the national development of the remaining natives, and then bringing in middle class Jewish bible-bashers from Brooklyn to usurp their remaining patrimony.

The Palestinian refugees were drive from their homes by rabid Irgun and Stern Gang murderers at Deir Yassin, and Haganah war criminals at Lydda. They and their descendants are fully entitled to return to every inch of their homeland and live there as equals.

Further: equality means that Arabs from the surrounding region have as much right to immigrate into the country as any Jew. But a Jewish state, Zionist or otherwise, would only have legitimacy for democrats if Jews are a majority within its borders. Eventually those borders would have only one purpose: to keep the Arabs from demographically annexing the country, which is exactly the situation today.

And in fact a successful revolutionary upsurge in the Arab world, which is an historic inevitability, would find itself in instant conflict with such a racist crusader castle, which cuts the territorial bridge between the Asian and African Arabs, and which is eternally linked to imperialism, because such a state, like the imperialists, will always be the sworn foe of Arab unity.

Those who call for a two state solution do so as a concession to the prejudices of the Jewish population. They forget that it is the oppressed who make revolutions, and that only a portion of the dominant caste in such striated societies as Israel, Ulster or South Africa will ever come over to the side of the oppressed, regardless of what assurances are given to them.

What demoralises the oppressed is always to be rejected and it is obligatory to stress that recognition of Israel can never be a Palestinian rallying cry.

The formula for success is an alliance of the majority of the Palestinians and the progressive Jewish minority. Without winning over that minority the Palestinians can never - repeat - never win.

But it must be clear to that minority that they must come over to the Palestinians and not the other way round. That minority must grasp that it is sociologically impossible for them to emancipate themselves from the sectarian and capitalist nature of Israeli society without that alliance.

There can be mo illusions: Israeli society is teeming with fanatics. The Hatikah and Florentine Oriental Jewish slums of Tel Aviv are the Shankill Road of Israel. Only a minority can ever be won over to the revolution from such reactionary po' white trash communities. The doctrine of equality is universal, but it is never universally received. Similarly, only a minority of the Ashkenazi intelligentsia - as with any intelligentsia - can be won over. The bulk of the educated will stay loyal to the system that gives them privileges, and the liberals amongst them will stay loyal to the Labour Party as the lesser evil.

About 20% of the Jews are religious fanatics and cannot be won over, except in the rarest cases. Even among the women, only a minority of progressive women can envision anything more enlightened than a Labour Alignment government, sans the Likud. That is to say that most liberal Zionist women are prepared to accept a government of the criminal party that took away the right of civil marriage which the state had inherited from the British Mandatory.

An alliance with the Palestinians, the 17% Arab minority of Israel's citizens, the Palestinians of the territories conquered in 1967, and the progressives of the surrounding Arab states, on a programme of a democratic secular socialist Palestine in a democratic secular socialist Arab Middle East, is the only way forward for the Jewish left.

But, in their July 3 Socialist Organiser article. John O'Mahony and Martin Thomas maintain that the implications of the slogan, 'democratic secular Palestine' are: full conquest of the Israeli Jews by the Arab states.

Which Arab states are they talking about? Egypt? Lebanon? Jordan? Morocco? In fact only a few Arab states can be thought of as resisting Zionism.

Libya, for one does not accept the slogan, it calls for an Arab Palestine, but it has no following among the Palestinians. Syria backs the Amal gangs against the Palestinians, and by now is opposed to Israel only in so far as it holds the Golan Heights. Algeria is nominally opposed to Zionism but the struggle is hardly a priority for the bureaucrats there.

And South Yemen says nothing that could be thought of as seeking a chauvinist solution.

Contrary to the two writers, in today's Arab world, the democratic secular notion is profoundly revolutionary in its implications, and an indictment of the bankrupt regimes. Within the PLO, we have seen the same phenomena.

The Arafat clique long ago abandoned the notion of a unitary Palestine, and for over a decade its entire diplomatic effort was on behalf of precisely the sort of mini-state Socialist Organiser's two writers so cherish. Now the full implications of Arafat's retreat on principle are clear: he is completely demoralised and hopes for nothing more than that Reagan will pressure Israel into agreeing to a bantustan firmly attached to the Jordanian police state.

There is no more communally oppressed group on this earth than the blacks of South Africa, yet the ANC is open to whites, unlike the PLO, or even its most left element, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, for all its Leninist pretensions. Everyone who is intimately involved with the Palestine question knows that the entire PLO is ideologically stagnant, and it can be said with certainty that it, or even its left wing, will remain stultified until they transcend their reflex nationalism, as have the black comrades within the ANC. All know this - except the two writers.

For they, in their own backwardness, have done nothing more than reinforce the dead end nationalism of both the Jewish and Arab left in Palestine. In so doing they have committed a grave disservice to them both, and not merely to them but to the international revolution. For every word they wrote against democracy and secularism and bi-nationalism was an argument against Marxism.

We are for democracy or we are for nothing. We are for secularism or we are for nothing. We are for the unity of the workers of both nationalities, and all nationalities, on the basis of an uncompromising solidarity with the oppressed - and no one else - or we are for nothing.

Lenni Brenner’s fake internationalism

Sean Matgamna (first published in the first pamphlet edition of Arabs, Jews, and Socialism)

The welter of empty phrase-mongering and senseless ultra-left sloganising in which Brenner's Socialist Organiser contribution indulges has so little grip on reality that you are naturally inclined just to shrug and get on with the real discussion of the real issues.

To unravel the tangled skein of weasel words, good aspirations, slogans, double standards and empty phrases promises to be both tedious and difficult, and also pointless. Yet it isn't pointless.

Brenner's two books on Zionism, and Jimmy Allen's use of Brenner's work as part of the basis for his notorious play Perdition have given Brenner a certain prominence in the discussion on the Middle East. And his incoherent sloganising in Socialist Organiser does, if you look at it closely, show up the school of thought of which he is so vociferous a representative.

The ideals of internationalism are essential to socialism. It must therefore go without saying that socialists are against Israeli nationalism, and that we condemn Jewish chauvinism and all its manifestations. So far, so good.

But Israeli nationalism does not exist in a vacuum. It is part of a network of interlocking nationalisms and national antagonisms. It is confronted by Arab nationalist chauvinisms which have taken as their goal the destruction of the Israeli state and nation. Any fair account of Israeli nationalism would therefore put it in its framework. The demurrals and condemnations would take account of the counter-nationalisms and condemn them also.

Not so with Brenner. He is scathing about the PLO. But where he concludes from his strictures on Israeli nationalism and chauvinism that therefore the national organism itself does not have a right to exist, he makes no such conclusions for Arab or Palestinian nationalism.

The "internationalism" is unequal and false because in practice the condemnation of Israel that flows for Brenner from his internationalist credo is absolute and mortal: the condemnation of the Arabs is a moral stricture only, and a series of admonitions. Brenner does not make his support for the Arab (or Palestinian) side conditional on them not being nationalists or chauvinists. They are the legitimate nation. The Jewish is the illegitimate nation. One lot of nationalists have positive rights, the other the right only to surrender and submit.

The PLO's old commitment to a "secular, democratic Palestine" is here used as a mechanism for having double standards. Brenner accepts the disguise of one of the competing nationalisms, a disguised and mystified version of its chauvinist demands. His internationalism is thereafter a club to bludgeon a way clear for Arab nationalism.

Human equality, legal, economic and social, is at stake", writes Brenner. "The slightest accommodation to Jewish chauvinism in Palestine will, inexorably. lead to similar capitulations in principle to communalism in other parts of the world".

"Human equality" does not exist between states and peoples. We want it to. How do we proceed? By advocating that all state boundaries and citizenships be dissolved, and all nations and nation-states abolished? No: we advocate the right or nations to self-determination, hoping on that basis to make the dissolution of national frontiers possible after a long period of reconciliation.

If all we can do in the face of the existing nationalisms and chauvinisms, with their deep material roots, is to preach internationalism and call for people to rise above national concerns, then our struggle is hopeless. In fact we do not pretend that it is possible to dissolve national distinctions immediately. or even after a socialist revolution. On the contrary. Why did the Bolsheviks have a programme on the national question for the USSR after the 1917 Revolution?

We have both a democratic and a socialist programme. We do not pretend rationalistically that national identity is a misunderstanding that can easily be dispelled. We ignore neither national oppression nor the fears of it.

Neither does Brenner. But he has a double approach. Towards the Israeli Jews he is a dogmatic, rationalistic internationalist, offering internationalism or nothing. Towards the Arabs he loses this rigidity, and becomes an enthusiastic advocate of the rights of oppressed nations. In effect his programme is Arab nationalism.

In Brenner's historical writings, the trick is to blame the Zionist movement - presented as some sort of diabolical power outside the ordinary Jewish people - for the Holocaust, as if the Zionists in Europe did not go to the death camps too. The argument ranges from the possibly reasonable point that if the Zionist movement had devoted all its energies to opening the doors of the USA, then that might have made a difference, all the way to the libellous nonsense that "the Zionists" would rather have the European Jews dead than have them go anywhere but Palestine.

The latter claim is backed up by grossly unfair use of quotations like a 1938 comment by Ben Gurion that humanitarian work for refugees must take second place to building the Jewish state in Palestine.

Ben Gurion was not talking about the Holocaust. He was a hard-headed politician convinced that there was only one real solution to antisemitism, and fighting for that. It is possible to disagree with Ben Gurion's objective, or condemn it outright - but you have to tell the most scandalous lies to pretend that Ben Gurion was condoning the Holocaust in advance.

In 1938 the Zionist leaders still saw events under Hitler in the framework of the worst previous Judaeophobia. They probably could not imagine what was to come, and in any case they can't possibly have know what was to come. Which Zionists would, with clear foreknowledge, have chosen the Palestine colony at the cost of six million dead? None of them did, and none of them saw the issue that way.

Brenner is effectively saying of Hitler's victims: "It was their fault, or at least the fault of their leaders. And, look, the Zionists (this time the entire Israeli Jewish nation, not only the Zionist leaders) are still pursuing the perverse racist doctrine which helped bring the Nazi catastrophe down on their heads. This can only be brought to a proper end if they consent to dissolve the Israeli Jewish nation or, failing that, they are overwhelmed".

This political programme, which implies the bloody subjugation or destruction of an entire nation, is dressed up and presented in terms of anti-nationalism and anti-racism.

Instead of arguing for Jewish-Arab working-class unity on the basis of an agreed democratic solution. Brenner relies on ultra-left fantasies, in which he talks vaguely about "permanent revolution" and an Arab conquest of Israel merging into or triggering the socialist revolution. While in fact what is proposed is just the conquest and destruction of one nation by another.

One of the things that makes this most disgusting is the way Brenner and others sift through some or the most terrible events of which we have detailed records looking for cheap political dirt. Did Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann in the late '30s ruminate out loud about the probable fate of the older layers of the Jewish population who remained in Germany and had little prospect of being able to make a new beginning in Palestine, saying that they would "perish like dust"? It seems he did.

Well then, grab hold of it and present it as if he was talking with full foreknowledge of the fate of the German Jews, and blame the kith and kin of the victims for the horrors!

None of this is serious history, and it is indecent politics. It is either dirty propaganda, or else it is hysterical "factionalism" against Brenner's Zionist opponents within the Jewish community.

The memory of Hitler's massacre of the Jews acted for a long time as a bulwark against antisemitism, forcing it underground. Even today, in most circles, it dare not bear its own name. It disguises itself.

The attempt to put part of the blame for the Holocaust on Jews does more than attempt to discredit Israel and to buttress the Arab chauvinist case that it has no right to exist in any form. It breaks down that bulwark against antisemitism.

On the left, Zionist complicity in the Holocaust is now increasingly an article of faith in a movement which has adopted an attitude of comprehensive hostility to Jews, in Israel and outside it, who will not "convert" to anti-Zionism and adopt the demand that Israel cease to exist.

There are striking parallels. "Holocaust Revisionists" of history say that the Jews didn't die in Hitler's death factories at all. The "blame Zionists" revisionists say: yes, they did, but they died partly because of the machinations of their leaders whose successors now rule Israel.

A candid antisemitism, indifferent to the massacre, might say: the Jews got what they deserved. The left "anti-Zionists" say: they got what their leaders decreed, or at least connived at. The different versions are, of course, not identical, least of all in their motives; but the parallel exists independently of anyone's good intentions.

Brenner's basic thesis presents the issues in terms of a world-wide Jewish conspiracy ("Zionism") - with the assumption that even when the Jews were being massacred in Central and Eastern Europe, the world-wide Zionist movement was still powerful enough to decide whether or not every other door would be closed to the Jews.

Logically you cannot separate this "Zionist conspiracy" view of reality from the Jewish conspiracy thesis of Hitler and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And many people who believe Brenner will not have the inhibitions of his Trotskyist and leftist dogmatism, and will make their own way "back".

That is one basic reason why the whole left "anti-Zionist" campaign against the Jews - yes, against the Jews - is part of a cultural ferment that can lead to full-fledged persecution of Jews.

Summer school debate

SO 242, 28.8.85

Moshe Machover, a founder member of Matzpen and now an editor of the journal Khamsin, spoke in the debate on Palestine. He was against both the 'democratic secular Palestine' and 'two state' formulas.

'Democratic secular Palestine' as an immediate or short term proposal is sheer fantasy. Moreover, it is not quite what it appears. The term secular implies a definition of the people involved as three religious groups (Christian, Muslim, Jewish), and thus denies the national identity of the Israeli Jewish or Hebrew nation.

In the long term, in the context of a socialist revolution in the whole region, the proposal for 'democratic secular Palestine' is pointless: for what reason should we insist on the territory of Palestine being a single and separate political unit in that context?

'Two states' could be a short-term proposal. But both states would be unviable fragments. Socialists cannot advocate this, even if we recognise that Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, and creation of a Palestinian state there, might ease the situation slightly.

We should have two slogans, Machover concluded: a socialist, Arab federation, with the right of self-internal for non-Arab minorities like the Hebrew nation; and, immediately, the right of self-determination for the Palestinians in those areas where they are a majority.

Brice Robinson argued for a unitary democratic Palestine. He accepted much of what Machover had said against the standard formula of a 'democratic secular Palestine'; but argued that, given the intermeshing of the two peoples, Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian Arab, no partition could yield justice. A democratic settlement would be possible only in a single state giving rights to both nations.

John O'Mahony agreed with the gist of what Machover had said, but argued that we must guard against putting off answers to national conflicts until after the socialist revolution. A socialist revolution can be made only by the working class; therefore any programme for socialist revolution in the Middle East must include proposals which can unite Arab and Jewish workers before the revolution.

Tony Greenstein of the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine said that O'Mahony's argument was "left Zionist". "The Israeli Jews are an oppressor community, like the South African whites or the settlers in colonial Algeria. There can be no solution until that colonialist presence is removed". That means not driving out the Jews but smashing the Zionist state and creating a democratic secular Palestine. It is possible only through a socialist revolution in the whole region.

Tom Rigby replied that Greenstein's method was similar to that of Militant: "socialism is the only answer". Except that Greenstein uses the formula "democratic secular Palestine" in place of "socialism", explaining as an answer to objections that the two are in practice the same.

Moshe Machover also spoke in a workshop on Zionism, and Dave Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists Group did a workshop on antisemitism.

Compromise for coexistence

Avraham Shomroni, SO 243, 12.9.85

Avraham Shomroni, UK representative of Mapam, an Israeli Socialist Zionist party, replies to Tony Greenstein's article in a recent issue of Socialist Organiser.

The discussion in Socialist Organiser has shown a welcome and helpful realisation that the problem of the Palestinians and Israel can be solved only by an awareness of the rights and needs of both contenders. Indeed, only if British socialists maintain an even-handed attitude can they play a constructive role in helping the sides to come together.

It is all the more sad therefore to see in your pages also the oft rehearsed outpourings of Tony Greenstein calling for the destruction of Israel with the complete denial of Jewish national rights (Socialist Organiser, 7 August).

None are as blind as those who will not see, but for the genuinely-concerned, some points are worth restating.

In complete contradiction to what Tony Greenstein writes, Mapam's position in regard to the Palestinian question has its roots in the long-held view that the historic Land of Israel is the common homeland of two peoples - the Jewish people returning and the Palestinian Arabs living there.

As socialists, in the 30s the hope was cherished that there might be cooperation with the Arab working class over the heads of their feudal rulers, but of course national solidarity always prevailed. Today, Mapam fully recognises the rights of the Palestinians to political, national sovereignty and in the wake of a peace agreement with Jordan and the Palestinians, the Palestinians themselves should decide whether they want an independent state, federation with Jordan, a theocracy, monarchy or what-have-you.

For Tony Greenstein to advocate a concrete solution on their behalf smacks of arrogance.

National liberation movements are, by definition, concerned about solving the problems of their own peoples in a given historical context. As the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, the Zionist movement is concerned with the Jewish problem, and Israel was not chosen arbitrarily by spinning a globe and blindly sticking in a pin.

Similarly, the national liberation movement of the Palestinians is not, primarily, worried about the needs of the Eskimos, Red Indians or Corsicans. This implies neither indifference nor opposition and has nothing whatsoever to do with racism.

The antagonism of the Jews and Palestinians is rooted in the fact that for close on a century they have been competing for the same plot of land with both sides having been oppressor and oppressed. On this it is worth quoting the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, who said that when two just causes meet there are two possible outcomes - tragedy or compromise.

In order to lessen the great tension which has accumulated, we need to separate; not 'it's all mine', not one instead of the other, but two peoples living side by side. As the dynamic of national conflict has brought increasing violence and hate, so we may hope that a dynamic of peace will slowly but surely engender co-operation and a feeling of security for all.

One of the proposals glibly propounded is that of a 'democratic secular Palestine' where Jews would also enjoy all the same religious, cultural and individual rights as others'. Is the experience of South Lebanon, where the PLO ruled for years over Shi'ites and others, to serve as an example? Where in the Arab world might we see such an example?

In fact this is a code which hides more than it reveals. Other codes like 'free trade' sound good because anything 'free' sounds attractive. In the case of the democratic secular state, the talk is of Christians, Muslims and Jews; the context makes it clear that here the Jews are considered, like the others, only a religious, not a secular, group. In other words, it is a cover for another national Arab state instead of the only national Jewish state in the world.

In utterly absurd contradiction of the situation, Tony Greenstein writes that “the Israeli working class has been unable to create its own trade unions, still less a Party". Similarly, to call the Histadrut “the largest employers' federation" is completely ridiculous, it being nothing of the kind.

The Socialist-Zionist movement, as part of the broadly based Zionist movement, has made great gains in giving the whole movement a socially positive content. New forms of social organisation have been evolved, with great measures of equality, self-management, welfare, mutual solidarity and direct democracy.

The kibbutzim have been strong, leading elements of the Israeli working class and the great economic enterprises created are the inalienable property of the organised working class and both a guarantee of the independence of the working class as well as a model sought by others the world over.

There is, of course, no totalitarian ideological consensus in the Israeli labour movement but a very vigorous (sometimes bitter) interplay of policies, which is an expression of the innate democracy of Israel

Much still remains to be struggled for, and the imperfections are many, but looking at the great British labour movement, who can say of it that all has already been won? There is still much to be learned from the lessons of the nationalisation of industry and the NHS, and the experience of the Histadrut enterprise with its bank and its great workers' sick-fund, which supplies up-to-date health service for the vast majority of Israel's Jewish and Arab population, may also serve British Labour to advance to a socialist society.

Changing our view

SO 243, 12.9.85

At a National Editorial Board meeting on Sunday September 8 [1985], Socialist Organiser decided to change its long-standing assessment of the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine and to adopt new proposals for solving that conflict. A motion advocating two states for Jew and Arabs in Palestine was carried against one calling for a single democratic state.

For many years the majority of Socialist Organiser supporters have subscribed to a version of the democratic secular state position - that the answer to the Arab-Jewish conflict is a single democratic state in which all are equal citizens.

Following a long and wide ranging debate - it began six years ago - Socialist Organiser has decided that the secular democratic state is an unattainable fantasy. The creation of such a state by amalgamation of the two bitterly warring peoples as equal citizens in a common territory is inconceivable.

Although the democratic secular state appears to offer reconciliation between the two peoples and therefore to point towards working class unity, in fact it does not and cannot do that. In reality it denies the national rights of the Jews.

The socialist revolution itself is much nearer than the merging of the national identities of the Jewish and Arab Palestinians in a common secular state. At best it is a consoling fantasy. At worst it is a propaganda weapon of Arab nationalists, the logic of whose position is the conquest and driving out of the Jews.

In reality there is a stark choice in Palestine. In broad terms only two solutions are possible. Either drive out (or massacre) the Jews, thus restoring the land to the Palestinian Arabs, or divide the disputed territory. This being so, the choice for socialists must be advocacy of compromise and division or redivision of the disputed territory. Despite the immense practical difficulties no other democratic or socialist solution is conceivable.

Rejection of Zionist expansion and condemnation of the Israeli treatment of the Arabs inside pre-1967 Israel and on the West Bank is common ground on the left; so should be rejection of the programme of Arab nationalism and revanchism in all its variants, including the democratic secular state which is understood by its Arab nationalist advocates as a Palestinian Arab state with no more than religious rights for Jews on a confessional basis.

Socialist Organiser continues to support the oppressed and displaced Palestinians in their struggle for justice - but we do it from our own class standpoint and programme, not by way of endorsing Arab nationalism and revanchism wrapped up in consoling fantasies. We support those Israelis who are fighting against the expansionism and chauvinism of the Israeli state, and for withdrawal from the West Bank.

But we insist that it is no part of a democratic or socialist programme for Palestine to call for or support the destruction of the Israeli Jewish nation - and this is what is implied in the slogan for the secular democratic state and is in fact its only real political content.

The discussion will continue in Socialist Organiser.

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