Debate Part 2: Reply — Pandering to the “absolute anti-Zionists”

Submitted by Anon on 26 October, 2007 - 3:32 Author: Sean Matgamma

Dear comrades,

I want to discuss the “Letters from the Editors”, entitled “Nakba One, Two, Three?”, in the May-June 2007 issue of Against The Current.

It seems to me that one of the fundamental responsibilities of those who fight for a rational, working-class, socialist, and consistently democratic approach to the Jewish-Arab conflict is to work to counter the demonisation of Israel and the pervasive falsification of the history of the Israeli Jews, to banish it to the dunghill to which history has consigned the other products of Stalinism.

Your editorial letter manages to combine politics which I think correct — “two states” — with that grotesque misrepresentations of the issues and of the history which is typical of the bitter opponents of a two states solution. By unravelling the issues here, I hope to contribute to the work of separating out rational socialist politics on these questions from the poisonous nonsense purveyed by the kitsch-left.

I want to discuss your article for a number of reasons, but mainly because I find the mixture of elements in the article both strange and shocking, and also, perhaps, instructive.

In terms of hard political line, though it is to an extent buried and obscured by other elements, broadly speaking I agree with you. I agree with many other things you say too.

You say that “socialists and principled democrats must support... an independent Palestinian state... a ‘ two state solution’ ...” — that is, being for a two-states solution, you accept Israel’s right to exist. By implication, though you don’ t say it, and maybe wouldn’ t choose to say it, you accept Israel’ s right to defend itself.

You identify as “one of the poisoned fruits of 1967” “Israel... becom[ing] the prized strategic ally of the United States”. By dating that in 1967 and not earlier you implicitly cut away a large part of the myth-poisoned “history” propagated by the kitsch-left (in Britain anyway), which typically portrays the whole history of the Jewish community in Palestine as an imperialist conspiracy.

You say, I think rightly, that the Palestinian nation that exists now was forged in the struggle with the Zionists in the 20th century and “became an identifiably Palestinian nation in the course of the... crises of the twentieth century”. This recognition should make it possible to discuss the real history of the interaction of the two nationalisms. (Unfortunately, you do the opposite in your article).

You side with the weakest, with the oppressed — with the Palestinians. Of course I agree with you here, too. As James Connolly said well about those who fail to do that: “To side with the oppressor against the oppressed is the wisdom of the slave”.

You rightly add, “No solution... can occur except through the struggle to get the oppressor nation’s boot off the oppressed nation’ s neck”.

However, for Marxists, siding with the oppressed should not, and if we are committed to our own political outlook, cannot mean accepting and bowing down to the chauvinist and other myths about their own history held by the oppressed. Still less does it imply the role of succouring the oppressed and their unschooled sympathisers with myth-spinning and myth-guarding — and doubly less when those myths stand in the way of rational politics for the oppressed and their supporters.

It should not mean adopting the nationalism, or the chauvinism, of the oppressed. If it does do that, then not only do the Marxists in question fail to hold to an independent working-class line. They also muddle, weaken, or destroy their own capacity to think about the issues, and other issues, clearly and honestly.

As well as the fundamentally correct politics — two states, one of them Israel — your letter contains what is, for so small a space, a vast quantity of myth-spinning. I had to read your letter twice before I properly grasped what the hard politics under the conventional left glosses of history — with all due respect, Arab-Palestinian nationalist misrepresentations — were.

That may have been because of my incapacity to absorb what I read, but it wasn’t only that. The politics are obscured and half-hidden in the gross bias and misrepresentation which compose so much of your letter. Taking the points on which we agree as given, it is the elements of misrepresentation that I want to discuss. It shows up very clearly what is wrong with so much of the left on Israel-Palestine.

Some of the traits of your article may be the result of putting together a text agreeable to a number of editors with differing views. In principle there is nothing wrong with that — provided that the result is coherent, and not unprincipled for any of the participants. And provided that the result does not resemble a pantomime horse in which the two people encased in one skin are going in different directions. I think the politics of your letter — which, to repeat, I agree with — are seriously at odds with the version of history in it, and with the nods and bows to the views of people who erect politics opposite to yours and mine upon gross historical misrepresentation.

I approach the discussion, of course, from the perspective of Britain, where most of the would-be left is openly allied with Islamist clerical fascism and where the bourgeois liberals (the Guardian newspaper, for instance) are “soft” on Islamism. I understand that the political climate on this question is different in the USA.

My essential problem with what you’ve written is this. We are faced with recreating a rational left. We need a left that does not run away from reality; one that does not, instead of working to change reality — and it is usually instead — manipulate fantasies in its head. You do the opposite in your article.

Your blur and mis-state the issues as you survey the history, often by suggesting associations or implying cause and effect in a sense that is both wrong and grossly biased against the Jewish settlers and Israel. People of different viewpoints can read your assessments in their own different ways. That may indicate skill in drafting a compromise text, but it produces something that to the unknowing reader serves not to clarify and enlighten, but to do the opposite. Not to clear the way for your politics, but to bury them in a miasma of anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli nonsense originating with Stalinism.

You pay a mumbling lip-service to the poisoned mythology of the “absolute anti-Zionists” of the kitsch-left, who reject your politics (“two states”). Their historical mythology is at least in line with their policy of wanting the destruction of Israel. Yours is not only false in terms of history, but at stark odds with your own politics.

Sometimes facts are so wrapped up in the “tribute” you pay to conventional kitsch-left pieties that they are probably invisible to those who don’t already know those facts. For instance, take the number of Palestinian refugees in 1948. In the first two paragraphs, you say “around the same number”, “something over 650,000”, of people may have died in Iraq as a result of the US/ UK invasion.

That implies a number, but three paragraphs down you write: “Three generations after the expulsion from their homeland, among roughly six million Palestinians living in exile... many remain refugees or in officially ‘stateless’ status with few rights or security”.

Leave aside the fact that “expulsion” does not cover all the 700,000 or so who fled in 1948, during conditions of communal war and attacks by five Arab armies on the territory allocated to Israel by the United Nations. The idea that there are now six million Palestinian refugees or semi-refugees begs too many questions, and attributing all their plight to Israeli “expulsion” begs even more.

It is plain from your own description of the conditions where the Palestinians live “with few rights or security” that you know that the treatment of the Palestinians by the Arab states, too, has shaped the terrible and tragic situation in which the Palestinians find themselves. Palestinians have often been refused the right to work in Arab states. In both Jordan (1970) and Lebanon (1970s and 80s) large numbers of them have been butchered.

In reviewing a long space of history in which — as you plainly know — the policies of the Arab states have shaped the consequences of the population shift of 1948, to attribute to Israel all responsibility — except obliquely and gnomically — for the evils which afflict the Palestinians is not history, but political special pleading and scapegoating. Isn’t it?

And in your ruminations about the partitions of India and of Palestine, and the “ironic” coincidence of numbers between Palestine 1948 and Iraq 2003-7, you might have broadened your reflection to include another pertinent “around the same number”. Around 600,000 Jews fled from or were persecuted out of the Arab countries, to Israel, in the years after 1948.

You note and properly regret that “the Arab Palestinian nation was cheated of the state that was promised to it under the 1947 [United Nations] resolution”. By whom? Someone who doesn’t know would, from the whole tone and content of the letter, assume: by the Jews, or Israel. In fact the Jewish community accepted the UN resolution. After the 1948 war, Israel gained extra territory, but the bulk of the territory allocated to the Palestinian state was taken by Jordan and Egypt.

Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967 was the occupation of territory that had been Jordan’s for nearly two decades. I agree with you that Israel should give up that occupation immediately. But you think it is useful to let the story seem worse for Israel than the 40-year continuing occupation does? Why? You think the kitsch-left does not need to be told the truth? Why? You want to sing in consonance with the myth-addled kitsch-left? Why? You think you can best propagate your own two-states programme if you wrap it up in the poisonous historical myths of the Stalinists and the present-day absolute anti-Zionists whose programme of eliminating Isreal is the opposite of your own?

You half-apologise for your own “two states” politics with this comment on the Palestinian state projected in 1947: “however sad that solution would have been by comparison to the potential of a united democratic binational country”.

In this way you chime in with the opponents on the kitsch-left of a “two states” settlement: in a shamefaced sort of way you bow to (though seemingly without sharing) the idea that Israel is an illegitimate historical formation. That idea and the vicious historical myths on which it is erected serves to license the politics of all the “destroy Israel” left, and their projects of replacing it with something more to their taste.

Is it that you, or some of you, believe in a binational state settlement? Not just that (of course) it might have been better, but as something that might have been feasible? Surely it never was remotely feasible. Those who advocated it in the mid-1940s like Judah Magnes had little influence. As a proposed “settlement” to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, it did not deserve to have influence.

Suppose that somehow a binational Jewish-Arab state had been set up in 1948, something like the arrangement in Lebanon established in the National Pact of 1943. Surely such a binational state could not have survived the rise of Arab nationalism without collapsing into civil war as Lebanon did in the late 1950s?

Arab nationalism would not have arisen without the stimulus the Arab defeats in 1948 gave it? In the decolonising world of the 1950s, surely it would, maybe with some details and the tempo different.

Alternative history is tempting. I’ve read one effort at alternative history about what would, or might, have happened to the much-despised and ill-treated native Palestinian Jews if the Zionist colonisation had not happened — that in the period of the anti-colonial movements they would have been likely to reach a sort of nationalist consciousness of their own and revolt against their overlords.

The problem with “alternative histories” of the Middle East and repinings over the binational state “that might have been” is that they all start from or arrive at the idea that Israel is an illegitimate state, the root idea for all the poisonous vicarious Arab (or, now, Islamic) chauvinist nonsense that engulfs so much of the would-be left (and in Britain almost all of it).

The same is true of Hal Draper’s article on the 1948 war, some of which you reprint. Another largely forgotten fact — like the fact that the UN projected a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish one, and what happened to the territory allocated to the Palestinians — is that none of the Trotskyist groups, either in the USA or in Israel-Palestine, supported the Arabs in the 1948-9 conflicts. None of them, that I know of. The “orthodox” Trotskyists didn’t; and the “Other Trotskyists”, the Workers’ Party of Max Shachtman and Hal Draper, positively, though with important caveats, supported Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself.

Draper’s 1948 article, with its implicit idea that Israel, or working-class Israel, could play the sort of role in the region which France played in Europe for a while in the 1790s — that it could sink the national, cultural, and religious differences in an all-embracing anti-colonial battle, which it would spearhead — was the sheerest fantasy. He had imaginatively cut loose from all the circumscribing elements in the situation.

Attractive fantasy, yes. But it was a programme for a different Middle East, not for the real one. It became pernicious when the real Israel, the real Israeli Jewish people and the real Jewish working class, were afterwards condemned for not living up to the fantasy-Israel which in Draper’s utopia had replaced the real one.

I agree with you that the possibility of an independent Palestinian state is itself threatened with relegation to the museums of historical might-have-beens, and that therefore a solution is very urgent. But your way of putting things about “two states” (some sort of compromise formulation, I guess) gives away far too much to the malevolent political obscurantism of the kitsch-left. “So long as an independent Palestinian state remains the demand of the population under occupation, socialists and principled democrats must support this struggle for self-determination, whatever its constraints and limitations”.

Only because it is the majority view in the Occupied Territories? Not because it is the only conceivable arrangement that will secure the best that the Palestinians can hope for? And because it also offers justice to the legitimate claims of the Israeli Jewish nation too?

What if the Palestinian “population under occupation” were now in its majority to revert to the old slogan of Egypt and one-time PLO leader Ahmed Shukhairy — “Drive the Jews into the sea”? Would socialists and principled democrats then accept an obligation to support that? Would they then lose the moral or political right to do other than support it? That is what is wrong with your way of putting it: it implies that socialists and principled democrats do and must follow the majority view. No: we should make and argue for our own independent assessment of the situation, its possibilities, and what is desirable.

The PLO is for two states. What if it weren’t? Two states would still be the only democratic as well as the only conceivable solution. It was that before the PLO formally adopted it in 1988.

You express it as: “support this struggle for self-determination”. The struggle for a Palestinian state alongside Israel is the only conceivable form, and for socialists and consistent democrats the only supportable form, of Palestinian self-determination. Two states is the only practicable solution. There has been and is a Palestinian — and Arab, and Islamic — “struggle” against Israel which is not for two states and not for Palestinian self-determination, but which sets as its goal to forcibly deprive the Israeli Jewish nation of self-determination. Hamas, which won what you praise as “the free and transparent Palestinian democratic election of January 2006”, has that goal.

Because of the confusion on the left, two states needs to be advocated with conviction and, where necessary, with aggressive debunking of nonsensical alternatives. How would you answer someone who, following your own method here, insisted with you that Hamas won the election and therefore “the” Palestinian policy now is that of Hamas, “to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine”.

Either you would bow down to their reasoning, and apologise for having trifled with “two states”, or you would have to assert your right to think things through for yourselves. As it is, your way of presenting the issue, in terms that suggest that you root yourselves in an obligation to reflect or follow the Palestinian majority (at any time? That’s how I read it) contradicts your advocacy of two states. Two states — concretely, a sovereign, independent Palestinian state, in contiguous territory — will remain the only socialist and democratic programme for the Israel-Palestine conflict whatever the fluctuations in support for Hamas.

I agree with the first four paragraphs of your letter under the cross-head “Tragic Missed Chances”. In fact, it is well done: it cuts away the malevolent anti-Zionist mythology which mystifies and muddles the kitsch left. Both the Palestinian Arab and the Israeli Jewish nations were formed in the 20th century, in their mutual conflict (though of course the roots of Israel, the impulse to mass Jewish migration in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, were not only in Palestine).

Yet even here you weight the scales a bit. It was not just the interaction of an “indigenous Arab population” and “the intrusion of a colonial settler movement”. A proportion of the Arab population in, say, 1948, were recent incomers, attracted by the economic dynamism that came with the Jewish colonisation. There was a Jewish population before the Zionist incoming. A majority of the small population of Jerusalem in about 1900 was Jewish.

You describe the formation of Israel as the “desperate survivors of Nazi genocide... herded to Palestine against their own wishes” you should have added the 600,000 or so “herded” from the Arab countries to Israel. And going to Palestine was not against the wishes of the survivors of Hitler’s death camps who found themselves in the displaced persons’ camps after 1945. According to reports at the time, the big majority of such people wanted to go to Palestine, and nowhere else.

Your true picture of the interactive formation of two nations begs questions which you either don’t answer, or answer falsely.

Why, for instance, did the Jewish segment of 1930s and 1940s Palestine not have the right to receive people whom they thought of as their own, fleeing for their lives from Europe? Or to receive the survivors of the Nazi massacres languishing in DP camps? The same right as the Arab population surely had to “receive” Arab incomers in the 1920s and 30s?

All this is an example of true and urgent things you say being marred and mired and obscured by bias and prejudice — or the bows you make to bias and prejudice, for you are absolutely right that “any morally and politically viable analysis” must include recognition that “there are two peoples, two nations, living in historic Palestine”, that both have rights and must learn to accommodate each other — and that the Israeli Jewish nation must “get the oppressor nation’s boot off the oppressed nation’s neck”.

Historical demonisation of Zionism and Israel, or the echoes and smudges and half-revised residues of that demonisation in your letter, will not help either of those objectives. Very much the opposite, I believe.

All details aside, Israel can be made the villain of the long failure to reach a peaceful settlement between itself and the Arab states only from when Israel gained the predominant power. That is how things are now? Yes, though the failure — all in all, the defeat — of Israel in Lebanon last summer shows how relative and insecure that may be. But I agree that the responsibility of power puts the onus on Israel to sort out a settlement that is just to the Palestinians and liveable for both the Palestinians and the surrounding Arabs.

Israel deserves condemnation for not doing it — for its relentlessly savage treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and for its evident intention — and activity — to hold on to as much territory that was Palestinian before 1967 as possible.

But it is nonsense to read the present situation backwards through the many decades of the Israel-Arab conflict. The section of your letter where you do that is the least emancipated from the “all-powerful Zionist demon” Stalinist and now kitsch-left accounts of the history of Israeli-Arab relations.

Example: “In 1967, Israel deliberately provoked a war, the Arab rulers fatally fell for it, several Arab armies were destroyed...” Israel “provoked” a war and the Arab rulers “fell for it”? That account, I suppose, is a little better than the notion that in June 1967 Israel launched a treacherous surprise attack on Arab states which wanted nothing but peace, but it is as partial as a mother describing how her aggressive child got the worst of a fight.

“My Johnny did nothing. He was only acting as if he intended to kick the other boy in the crotch. Then the big bully, whose provocation he fell for, got a kick in first, and flattened him”.

In a world in which the then Egyptian-controlled Palestine Liberation Organisation still talked of driving the Jews into the sea, Arab leaders made war-mobilising speeches, Egypt ordered out UN peacekeepers which had been in place for a decade, and blockaded the gulf of Aqaba. Against that background, Israel struck first, devastated the military power of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, and occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and (until 1982) Sinai.

That Israel seized the chance to do to the threatening armies what it surely wanted to do anyway, and improved its victory by seizing the maximum of bargaining points, is true. That is the sort of thing that states in a condition of latent war with neighbours do, if they can. Audacity, ruthlessness, and motivation achieved results for Israel that surprised both sides.

Certainly Israel’s victory could not have been predicted. The Arab victories at the start of the 1973 war showed that the 1967 Israeli victories were not just a mechanical registration of the static strength of the powers involved; and Lebanon last summer disabused believers in the limitless power and self-sufficiency of Israel’s superiority in military technology.

To present 1967 as the leaders of the Arab dictatorships of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan being ensnared by Israel is perilously close to either an Israeli-chauvinist notion of an all-dominating ingrained superiority, or a paranoid vision that “the Jews” control everything. As you will know, segments of the anti-Zionist kitsch-left argue in a way that implies Jewish control over, or successful manipulation of, even the Nazis when they massacred Europe’s Jews — that is, over the Holocaust (Lenni Brenner, for instance; Jim Allen, in Perdition)..

The same when you discuss the aftermath of the 1967 war. What you write reads as if it was the Israeli government’s authorisation of the first settlements, in September 1967, that frustrated “the broad Israeli and international consensus” that “anticipated” Israeli withdrawal in exchange for a peace deal with the Arab states.

Such a deal was forthcoming from the Arab states? Surely it was not. It would have been forthcoming, and was deflected by the authorisation of settlements? To define the problem of the settlements as it has emerged over four decades — into a great power in Israeli politics — as already existing on that scale or anything comparable to it in the aftermath of the 1967 war is ridiculously anachronistic. (In 1972, for example, there were 800 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Today there are nearly 300,000.

The growth of the settler colonies was a result of the failure to reach an agreement after 1967, not the cause of that failure. No, saying that is not to justify the settlements! The point that matters here is that Arab — including Palestinian — unrealism and unwillingness to reach a modus vivendi with Israel have, in changing forms, been one of the great engines of Arab and Palestinian political destruction, back over many decades.

The settler movement, you write, is “the entrenched base for Israeli nationalist-religious fanaticism... [it has] poisoned Israeli-Palestinian relations, blocked the possibility for withdrawal and set in motion Israel’s slow-motion course toward national suicide”. True, I think. And successive Israeli governments of all colours authorised and encouraged the settlements. But all that grew out of a situation that the Arab states too, after 1967, shaped for Israel and for themselves.

You give the same sort of warped account of the 1973 war: Egypt attacked Israel not by any decision of its own, but only because the Nixon administration would not help it make peace. “Egyptian president Anwar Sadat sought US sponsorship for peace and Israeli withdrawal from Sinai; his snubbing by the Nixon-Kissinger administration led to the 1973 war”.

Your chronicle of fatal choices omits mention of the breakdown of the peace talks in 2000, which signalled the reverse of the seven years of tentative improvement after the Oslo agreement and the start of a succession of horrors that have engulfed the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. Nor do you even mention the Hamas-initiated suicide-bomb campaign in Israel which has had such a part not only in killing innocent people but in turning Israeli public opinion away from belief that peace is possible.

You describe Ariel Sharon’s soldier-surrounded visit to Temple Mount on 28 September 2000 as “touching off the Second Intifada” as if those who decided to respond as the Palestinian organisations did simply did not have a choice, instead of branding the actions of those responsible for the suicide bombs — as utterly self-destructive of the Palestinian cause as they were murderous of Israeli civilians.

You depict the Palestinian organisations as will-less, politics-free, forces which only react, mindlessly and automatically, to Israeli stimuli. To put it at its mildest, the ineptitude and incapacity of the Palestinian leadership was one of the elements shaping the last seven terrible years for the Palestinians.

The grounds for condemnation of Israel now are that, especially, as you say, after the proposals of the Arab League for peace, Israel is in a position to secure all its legitimate interests and to reach a just settlement with the Palestinians, and it does not do that. Israel and its international allies did not need to respond to the Hamas election victory in 2006 as they did. Israel should, I agree, be condemned for that.

And yet your account here too is seriously skewed. Hamas was the initiator and main perpetrator of the suicide-bombing campaign. It is a clerical-fascist organisation linked to others outside Palestine, a religio-political formation committed to the destruction of Israel. Even if we disagree with what Israel did, as you and I do — from what point of view did Israel not in principle have the right to respond to Hamas’s victory as to a declaration of war, as the victory of a movement that would turn what there was of a Palestinian state into an entrenched forward position from which to make war on Israel as soon as it could? What has the democratic character for Palestine of Hamas’s election got to do with that?

You invoke the right of the Palestinians to democratically elect any government they liked, and the right of the Palestinian nation to prepare for war against the oppressor. To do that, comrades, is automatically to conjure up the reciprocal right of those who are the intended target to resort to their own sacred national egotism. Isn’t it? How can it not be?

For the opponents of two states, the candid answer is: “No, Israel doesn’t have such a right. Israel, unlike other nations, has no rights”. And for you, advocates of a two-states settlement?

You do not even address the issue. I would condemn Israel for acting with unnecessary brutality: yes, Israel has acted to pulverise the Palestinians politically as well as to defend itself. But you do not deal at all with the character of Hamas or with what Israel might reasonably fear from Hamas-controlled Palestinian territories.

Finally, the worst and in my opinion the most confused segment of your letter is the one headed “Jewish supremacy”. Here, you have let yourselves get bogged in the hopeless mireland of “definition” of “Jews” and “Israel”. Here too, the result looks like a pantomime horse, with two or three people trying to take the outer skin in two or three different directions.

You write: “Israel’s right to exist is never posed like that of any other independent nation-state — on the straightforward basis that its citizens want it to exist. Rather, the demand imposed on the Palestinian people is unique, to ‘recognise Israel as a Jewish state,’ which has come to mean the unique historical privilege of their oppressors to establish unconditionally and forever a ‘state of the Jewish people,’ a Jewish-supremacist state, on the land taken away from them and in which non-Jews would never have full equal rights”.

However they define themselves, or some of them define themselves, or the constitution of the state defines them, there is as you yourselves say a Jewish nation in what 60 years ago was Palestine. Whatever frills and definitions are juggled with, that nation is what is being discussed in all talk of Jewish rights, and so on.

Plainly for socialists and principled democrats the Arab minority in Israel should have full and equal citizenship rights with all the other Israeli citizens, just as any national minority anywhere should have equal rights. That the Israeli Arabs, or some of them, will have, or can reasonably be expected to have (indeed, must have!), divided loyalties, is inbuilt in the situation, and will remain so at least until the Jewish nation’s relations with the Palestinians and other Arab nations are regularised and Israel is recognised. Those who fight for equal rights for Arabs in Israel should be supported. Yet here again you blur things seriously. As with any nation, the right to equal treatment for minority citizens cannot undo the right of the nation to self-determination. Unequal treatment of a minority cannot invalidate the right of the majority to self-determination.

You go on: “This special demand... forecloses the Palestinian right of return... This is not political recognition of a state, but rather a demand to surrender to racism. The former is legitimate and ultimately necessary, while the latter is unacceptable and repulsive. For socialists above all, and for partisans of the rights of the Palestinian people, it is essential to ‘recognise’ and insist upon the difference”.

With all due respect, this reads to me like political gobbledygook. It goes with a statement earlier in the text: “The underlying destruction of Palestinian society, in the absence of self-determination and denial of the principled right of return — remains as brutally unresolved as ever”.

As with so much else, it is unclear what you mean by “principled right of return”. You mean the right “in principle”? You recognise that, as distinct from “principle”, the actual “right of return” is incompatible with recognising Israel’s right to self-determination? That is what both advocates and opponents of the “right of return” have always understood — that its call for restoring the status quo is an alternative to the right of self-determination of the Israeli Jewish nation.

For its advocates, it is precisely a way of denying Israel’s right to exist. But you advocate a “two states” settlement, and recognise the right of the Israeli Jewish nation and state to exist! Yet at the same time you seem — it is not clear — simultaneously to brand insistence on the Jewish character of Israel as “racist”.

I repeat: however it “is posed”, what is in question is the national rights of the Jewish nation in Israel. Plainly those citizens do want Israel to exist. The fact that all Jews everywhere are defined by that Israeli Jewish nation as having rights in Israel has no bearing on that. The demand on the Palestinians and the Arab states is to recognise the existing Jewish nation state.

One of two things, either the Israeli Jews have a right to self-determination — “two states” — or they don’t. Implicitly you seem to say that they don’t, while explicitly saying that they do!

If the entire Arab minority in Israel do not want it to exist — I don’t know — then that could not bind the Jewish nation (four-fifths of the population). If the Palestinians outside Israel do not want it to exist, that could not bind the Jewish majority either. The idea that it could, applied to any nation but that of the Israeli Jews, would be dismissed out of hand as an absurdity, wouldn’t it?

Those who reject a two-states settlement and want some all-Palestine state (in the real world, an unimaginable one) whose precondition is the destruction of Israel (secular democratic state, binational state...) say that the boundaries between Israel and the Palestinians should not exist and should not be taken into account, and that the unit for “self-determination” is majority opinion across both nations. You want two states, and therefore logically you can’t see it like that. Yet you present it like that — from a viewpoint that is not your own and is not in consonance with your advocacy of two states.

What does “Jewish-supremacist state” refer to? Relations between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs? In practical terms, that resolves into the struggle within the Israeli state for absolute equality of all its citizens, Arabs and Jews, and into the demand for a secular, a consistently secular, state. But in your text “Jewish-supremacist states” seems also to refer to the “supremacy” within the 1967 borders of Israeli Jews over other people outside those boundaries — or else what can your talk of the “right of return” refer to?

Israel is a “Jewish-supremacist state” because it gives its national majority rights above the claims of other people, outside its borders, who think that the territory should be theirs instead? But that idea is implicitly to deny the right of Israel to exist.

It has to be one thing or the other: either the Israeli Jewish nation has the right to self-determination, or it does not. Two states means that it does. Fifty or a hundred years in the future, “two states” might evolve into a Palestinian state and, beside it, not a Jewish but a binational state. But right now, and foreseeably, two states means that Israel has the right to exist — a state which the Jewish majority can if it likes define as a state of the Jewish nation.

You are, comrades, either for two states — one of which is a Jewish state, however the Israeli Jews choose to define “Jewish” — or for the right of return (that is, for a Palestinian right to take away the Jewish character of Israel). You can’t be for both.

The Arab minority can and should demand full equality, but surely it cannot claim the right to deprive the majority of its right to define itself and its state. The existence of a minority cannot reasonably mean that the majority nation ceases to have the right to national self-determination (though it may well imply some special national-minority rights).

How can you combine two states, which means the right of the Israeli Jewish nation to a state (with these or those modifications), with what you write? And why is it “racism” for the Israeli Jews to want a Jewish state? Nationalism, particularism, patriotism, chauvinism, racism form a continuum: there are no impassable walls between them. But there is a distinction. And why is what is nationalism in, say, Germany, racism among Israeli Jews? Why does opposition to chauvinism, and championing of equality for Israeli Arabs, demand that we define Israeli Jewish nationalism as racism?

Here you glibly repeat the poisonous nonsense that Israeli Jewish nationalism is, per se, racism. What is in others nationalism (or chauvinism) — insistence on their own identity as against others’ — is in the Israeli Jews “racism”! But, comrades, then you, with your two states formula, partake of the Israeli Jews’ “racism”! The answer to what you call “racism” is a struggle within Israel for equal right for all who live there — not the destruction of the Jewish nation, or quibbling such as yours that confuses the issue.

Why opponents of two states define it as racism is clear: to rule it out of court, to brand it and bracket it as amongst the most evil things they know. Why do you, two-staters, do it? I suggest you are here incoherent and confused.

So also with the “right of return” for Palestinians. A Jewish state, under the will of its majority, by definition “forecloses the Palestinian right of return”. How could it not? Either the Israeli Jews have a right to a state or they don’t. “Right of return” has been understood by its advocates and opponents as a “demand” for the abolition of Israel as a Jewish state. That is what it means now, and it could not mean anything else.

Now, if such an unprecedented thing were to happen as the Jewish nation agreeing to Palestinian “return” — in real terms, to the organised resettlement of millions of descendants of Palestinians who fled in 1948 — and the Jews and the Palestinians could merge into a common peaceful citizenship of a common state, it would be wonderful. It would not be for socialists or consistent democrats to object. We are not the guardians of Jewish or of any other nationality.

But it is as inconceivable that the existing Israeli Jewish nation will ever agree to that as that they will dismantle their state and put themselves at the mercy of people and states with which they have been in conflict for not too far off a century.

The insistent demand that it should do so comes from peoples and states no less nationalistic, no less (at least!) religious-sectarian, and no less (if you insist on using that word) racist than the Israelis. It is a weapon of one side. Should we support such a demand or not? Logically, advocates of two states cannot.

It would be disingenuous to pretend that we support Israel’s right to exist, but oh — one detail! — we also want the right of “return” to the territory of the Israeli state for up to six million Palestinians. That is the demand for the abolition of Israel — the self-abolition, or, since that will not happen, for the conquest of Israel. It has never been anything else.

For sure, this stuff and two states are horses galloping in opposite directions. Of course, “non-Jews” — the six million Palestinians — “would never have full equal rights”, any more than citizens of Germany have “full equal rights” in the Russian Federation, or vice versa. Not so long as national barriers have not come down. We, as socialists, want them to come down: but voluntarily, not against the will of any nation participating in the union of the formerly distinct states.

Initially and for the foreseeable future, citizens of the Jewish state will not have full equal rights in the Palestinian state, and vice versa — though minority citizens in both states could and should have equal rights. The Palestinians in Israel already have a substantial part of the rights of equal citizenship — though they are entitled to more, and we should support them in fighting for it.

There was talk during negotiations a while back of some right of “return” for a token, emblematic number of Palestinians, combined with compensation for others. All such things would be for us to welcome. What supporters of two states should not do is turn themselves into advocates of an unqualified right of “return” for up to six million people, very few of whom now were born in the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

There is another issue here too. You say rightly that Palestinian self-determination is the precondition for progress on any level, and I agree wholeheartedly. “An authentic peace agreement, and above all as a choice made freely and with the nation’s dignity intact” (italics yours). Who would disagree? You then say that “Palestinian recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence would be altogether positive”.

“But such ‘recognition’ has no progressive meaning at all if imposed on imperialist terms, as an act of Palestinian defeat and ultimate humiliation. Not only wouldn’t it bring peace, but it couldn’t be considered morally or politically binding on a future movement. The delusion of ‘peace’ imposed by overwhelming fire-power is no peace at all”.

The sentiments are good, and the feeling in what you write is good too. But I don’t quite know what all this can possibly mean in relation to Israel-Palestine. What do you think are the chances of all or most Palestinians seeing an agreement, even one that gives them a genuinely independent state, as an absolutely voluntary agreement, free of defeat and “imperialist” and “Zionist” diktat?

A non-triumphalist style in which an agreement is “processed”, face-saving elements, are of course possible and desirable. But the issue here is more than pious hopes and wishful thinking and “nice-mindedness” in your letter. What you define as essential is, however tactful Israel or the USA might be, impossible — except to self-deluding or simply stupid Palestinians and their supporters.

Nothing is more certain than that there will be dissidents, irreconcilables, Islamists, who will denounce any agreement that leaves Israel in being as a sell-out, a humiliation, a degradation, etc. The long experience of Irish republicanism and its irreconcilables has a lot to say to the prospects in the Middle East.

Some of the irreconcilables will use terrorism, or support those who do. Even token recognition of the “right of return” will encourage such people to fight to give it their own meaning. Socialists should not make ourselves ideological outriders for the future irreconcilables.

It may well be that, just as our emphases are shaped by our circumstances in Britain, so also yours are determined by your circumstances in the USA — with the Christian Zionists, and the broad sanctification of Israel. But that can in the medium and long term be fought only on the basis of realism and of working-class political independent towards all nationalisms, including Palestinian nationalism and the much broader Arab-Islamist nationalism and chauvinism of which it is indissolubly a part. Future “population transfers” by Israel cannot be fought by rendering your advocacy of two states incoherent and oxymoronic, as you here.

Yours fraternally, Sean Matgamna

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