How to argue for “two states”

Submitted by AWL on 20 March, 2008 - 4:23 Author: David Kirk

The editorial on the crisis in Gaza in Solidarity 3-128 seemed to have some faith in the Israeli government’s ability to bring about a two state settlement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It appealed to the Israeli government to use a proportionate response to attacks and to live up to its democratic ideals. It also talks of a limited level of military response to Hamas’s rocket attacks as being unobjectionable self defence.

This view entirely fails to represent why and how socialists should support the self determination of peoples. In Israel and the occupied territories there are two people seeking self determination and independence. In this situation the socialist response must always be to support the self-determination of both peoples while defending the rights of minorities. This is related to the class struggle because if a people have won self determination, the working class of that country are able to face their own capitalist class head on in the fight for a workers’ state. However since the ultimate aim of socialists is working class power, meaningful self determination must be achieved at the behest of the workers not at their expense.

Israeli society is a class society like any other and its government represents the interests of Israeli capital. It spouts the language of freedom and democracy while attempting to starve and bomb the people of Gaza, conscripts young Israeli’s into the armed forces and treats Israeli Arabs like second class citizens. None of this is particularly out of the ordinary for a bourgeois state.

Meanwhile the Palestinian people in the occupied territories are subject to two chaotic semi states. They have to suffer the corrupt feudalism of Fatah on the West Bank and the vicious attempt at a theocratic regime by Hamas in Gaza. Neither Fatah or Hamas are capable of realising the self-determination of the Palestinian people.

Many on the left see the carnage and oppression of Gaza and feel Hamas should be supported because they are striking a blow against Israel. However the rule of Hamas in Gaza is at the expense of the only force that can fight consistently for democracy, secularism and self determination: the labour movement.

Meanwhile western liberals put their faith in Ehud Olmert’s government agreeing to a comprehensive multilateral peace process. This is unrealistic since Israel holds most of the cards and Fatah holds none. Even if Hamas and Fatah come to an agreed negotiating position, and a less hawkish Tel Aviv government is willing to talk, the result will entrench the reactionary elements in power.

Israel is a highly militarised state which cannot be brought to the table by woefully feeble rockets or murderous suicide bombers. Only the Israeli peace movement and the workers have the ability to stop the slaughter and help the Palestinian people win their freedom. Workers’ action against the armament industry, against conscription and against the settlements could force the carnage to end.

Cathy Nugent replies:

David misrepresents the editorial in question, seems confused about some issues about the “two state” demand, and makes an unthought-out objection to Israel’s right of self-defence. Unfortunately he does not properly elaborate on this point, but I’ll deal with it first.

All individuals, peoples and nations have — in the abstract, or in principle — the right to self-defence. To deny that to Israel would be to make Israel a special case. This is the argument on parts of the left and in western anti-Zionist campaigns — unlike any other country in the world Israel’s people must “grin and bear” whatever suicide bomb, mortar shell or homemade rocket is lobbed at it, because, as the argument implicitly goes, it is a “bad nation” with no right to exist. Nobody says that, but that is what the argument come down to.

Or alternatively every military act by Hamas is a pure, totally justifiable one of self-defence.

I do not think we want to make those arguments. We therefore have to accept that Israel has the same right of self-defence in principle as anyone other country.

David may not object to the principle, I don’t know, but he does object to the idea of Israeli military action against the rocket attacks.

The article actually says Israel has the right (in principle) to attack those who set off rockets, the Hamas fighters. It is not for us to tell the Israeli army how it might stop Hamas rockets. It might mean military action, it might not. But we categorically deny, argue against and condemn, anything that would do, as Israel does, cause indiscriminate harm to innocent civilians. That alone was the point of the article: to contrast Israel’s hypocrisy about self-defence with the tragic results of its actions.

In any conflict or war, socialists would judge what interests are being fought for, how they are being fought for, and work out a precise attitude accordingly. Surely by saying very clearly that Israel’s “self-defence” response is entirely disproportionate and basically wrong — the word we use is obscene: it would have been hard to have put it more strongly — the editorial shows that Israel’s actions are not only about self-defence!

But the editorial is making limited points — to condemn Israeli atrocity, to point out how appalling Israel’s actions are. It is legitimate to write an article with a limited scope. Of course the article could have gone on to point out what Israel is trying to do in Gaza — essentially destabilise Hamas — but that was, I repeat, beyond the scope of the article.

Nowhere does the article say that the current Israeli government is likely to bring about a two states solution! We deny it: we say it only pays lip service to the “two states”.

The article simply makes the true statement that Israel has the power (that is the potential) to achieve a peace settement in the Middle East quite easily. Of course it has!

Israel has the key to change. Israeli willingness to withdraw to the 1967 borders is the prerequisite of everything.

This has been tragically true for some decades now and both sides have been very much closer to settlement than they are today. That is one of the reasons why this Israeli government still has to pay lip service to “two states”.

What then on the whys and wherefores of the “two states” demand?

David may very well be right in a pessimistic assessement. And maybe only major class struggle, or a huge growth in internal Israeli opposition, or some unforeseeable dramatic change in big power political will, can put a democratic settlement back on the agenda. But it is not true that such a settlement could never happen outside of major class struggle or the near prospect of socialism. It may take that, but we do not know.

Even if there is very little prospect for a two-states settlement right now, does it mean that we should oppose negotiation? David implies yes — such talks right now will only “entrench the reactionary elements in power”.

No! Firstly any change in the status quo — that for instance brought about a ceasefire and/or serious negotiations, an influx of medicines and fuel to Gaza — would be better for the Palestinians, would be at least a respite. If the welfare of the Palestinians is our concern we would have to regard that as a good thing.

We also continue to advocate negotiation and two states because it is an essential and enduring part of a democratic settlement in the Middle East.

We did not in fact call on the Israeli government in this article to implement two states. But we might do in other articles, just as Israeli socialists and democrats do. Why? Because we want to make propaganda for that democratic demand.

David seems to have caught something of the anarchist infection of socialists today — the idea that we cannot or should not call on bourgeois governments to implement democratic demands, because they are bourgeois, unlikely to implement the demand, would implement it badly and it is not in any case their demand to implement.

In fact socialists have always made such “calls” and made demands on bourgeois governments, and in many dreadful circumstances — in order to organise movements of opposition, to cohere groups of people who share our basic politics, because these demands/calls have the potential to create mass movements, or because under pressure bourgeois governments do act.

All these potentials still exist in Israel-Palestine, even with a weakened, split and, in part, reactionary Palestinian national movement; even with a lying and reactionary Kadima party in power in Israel. They exist because the majority of Israelis and Palestinians still want a two states solution. That is why we ought to continue to pose that demand wherever and whenever we can.

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