The Palestinians’ struggle – how can a state be realised?

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently discussed with Arab League officials on how they can revive the Israel-Palestine peace process. However, as Israeli governments have progressively increased the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, eating into the Palestinian territories, more and more people are questioning whether a viable Palestinian state next to Israel is now possible.

Some have shifted from the idea of a ’two states’ solution to join those who call for one state. But is a struggle for one state viable? What programme should socialists adopt today on the route towards a Palestinian state and the ending of this protracted national conflict?

Over four million Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza suffer acutely under Israeli occupation, with very high levels of poverty and unemployment. They are subjected to regular brutal incursions and missiles from the Israeli army to kill, maim and intimidate; over 6,500 Palestinians have been killed during the last 12 years. Desperate for relief from these nightmare conditions, Palestinians were inspired by the 2011 dramatic overthrow of Arab dictators in Egypt and Tunisia and hoped that their own struggle could be revived and advanced.

Demonstrations have taken place over the last two years across the West Bank, in solidarity with protests and hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners and against austerity measures. These included a 48-hour strike of Palestinian Authority (PA) employees in December to demand unpaid wages. Tear gas and batons have been used by the PA security forces against protesters.

Much of the anger at PA-imposed austerity is directed at the occupation. Nevertheless it’s also directed at Palestinian leaders who collaborate with the occupation; among the demands raised has been the ousting of PA prime minister Salam Fayyad and president Mahmoud Abbas, who have abjectly failed to advance the Palestinians’ interests.

Last October’s West Bank municipal elections showed declining support for Abbas’ Fatah party, with independent candidates doing well in major towns like Nablus, Ramallah and Jenin.

Protests have also taken place in Gaza recently, focused against cuts in foreign aid. There is widespread support across the Palestinian territories for an end to the separation between the Hamas-led Gaza administration and the Fatah-led West Bank, split since 2007. Under this pressure three reconciliation agreements have been signed since May 2011, but as yet with no return of a unified government.

Appeal to UN

Reflecting the population’s desperation and his own bankruptcy in improving its plight, Abbas last November asked the United Nations to upgrade Palestine’s UN ’entity’ status to a ’state’. Under pressure from below he used stronger language than before, referring to the “ethnic cleansing” in East Jerusalem and elsewhere.

He was granted an upgrade, to an ’observer state’ (ie non-UN member state) but welcome though this was to Palestinians, few saw it as anything more than the symbolic victory it was and a deserved international humiliation for the increasingly isolated Israeli ruling class. Only eight out of 193 UN Assembly countries joined Israel in opposing the resolution.

The Israeli government responded to the UN vote – with an approaching general election in mind – by withholding millions of dollars of tax due to the PA and announcing more settlement projects. There is already a record number of Jewish settlers – over 500,000 – but the proposed E1 housing scheme threatens to add to them by splitting the West Bank into two parts, north and south, and separating Arab East Jerusalem from the West Bank. Also planned are 2,610 housing units in between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Even PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat felt driven to respond: “Don’t talk about a two-state solution … talk about a one-state reality between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean”.

’Two states’ origin

Laying the basis for decades of bloody conflict, UN resolution 181 of 1947 was voted through to partition the Mandate of Palestine to create an Israeli state. Israel then seized more territory and ultimately complete control of the Palestinian areas through the 1948-49 and 1967 wars. Today nearly five million Palestinians are UN-registered refugees as a result of these wars, over three million of them in surrounding countries.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) decided in 1988 to abandon its unrealised demand for a Palestinian state with the pre-partition borders and instead called for a two state solution – Palestine next to Israel. This was based on Israel having the territory it had before the six-day 1967 war, which would leave the Palestinians with the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem as a capital, amounting to 22% of pre-1948 Palestine.

In the 1990s the PLO leaders went further and voted to accept Israel’s existence. Even the right-wing Islamist Hamas leaders, outside the PLO, while refusing to recognise Israel have at times referred to possible long term negotiated co-existence.

Capitalist failure

The struggles against austerity and for national liberation are closely linked, because neither can be fully successful without a fundamental change in society. Capitalism has proved to be totally incapable of ending the conflict over land, resources, markets, etc.

Western imperialism and the Israeli ruling class bear principal responsibility for the Palestinians’ suffering. But it’s also the case that the Arab capitalist elites have no serious desire to promote the interests of the Palestinian masses, because steps forward for the Palestinians would help to inspire a new wave of struggle by workers and the poor across the Arab countries – including repressed minorities – so threatening the elites’ wealth and privileges.

The Arab elites, including the wealthiest Palestinians, have more in common with the rich globally – not excluding those in Israel – than with ordinary Palestinians. They want to appear to help the Palestinian cause in order to boost their domestic support, while at the same time many of them engage in secret business deals with their Israeli Jewish counterparts and big business internationally.

No capitalist strategists globally are able to come up with a solution that will deliver a genuine Palestinian state and investment into it, while also satisfying their counterparts in the Israeli ruling class.

The Israeli capitalists have multiple reasons for preventing moves towards a genuine Palestinian state. These include not wanting a regime on their doorstep with arms and a claim on the land taken by Israel; the added competition they would face for natural resources, foreign investment and markets; the inspiration it would be to Israeli Palestinians to struggle for equality and for Palestinian refugees in surrounding countries to return; the inspiration to working class and middle class Israeli Jews and Palestinians to struggle for better living standards; and not least the inevitable outrage of the ardent far-right Jewish settlers and their supporters who regard ’Judea and Samaria’ (most of the West Bank) as for Jews only.

They often use every possible reason or propaganda ploy to delay negotiations, from the firing of rockets by Palestinian militias into Israel (whether the PA and Hamas are complicit in them or not) to demands that the PA must first recognise Israel as a Jewish state or homeland. US president Obama echoed this latter demand for the first time during his March visit to Israel, despite the fact that the PA leaders have long formally accepted Israel’s existence and their security apparatus has cooperated closely with Israel’s.

This doesn’t mean that in between periodical bouts of increased bloodshed in the conflict the Israeli leaders won’t shift and manoeuvre under enormous pressure internationally or in forced response to an inevitable future mass Palestinian struggle – or to pre-empt one. Entering sometimes into ’peace’ negotiations and occasionally feeling compelled to make some concessions have been a byproduct of the conflict to one degree or another.

The Israeli elite is highly alarmed about Israel’s international isolation and events in the region (the nuclear developments in Iran, change of regime in Egypt, civil war in Syria, anti-austerity protests in Jordan, etc) and many within it want to bolster their position and try to prevent a new Palestinian uprising by embarking on a new peace process.

However, at present they differ widely on what overtures to make, some wanting none while others argue strenuously for renewed talks with the PA. Former Shin Bet chief Yaakov Perry (now elected to the Knesset on the Yesh Atid party list) in January bluntly stated: “Are we on the edge of a third intifada? It is a real possibility because of the amount of despair coupled with the [political] stalemate” and he went on to warn that ’fundamentalist Islamic groups’ would seize the initiative if there is no peace process (Haaretz 13.1.13).

The recently formed post-election coalition government, still led by Netanyahu, has given former foreign minister Tzipi Livni the task of restarting peace talks. How farcical are Livni’s ’peace’ credentials, considering that she was foreign minister during the 2008/09 brutal onslaught on Gaza. She called November’s Palestinian UN move a “strategic terrorist attack”.

Nevertheless, she may feel compelled to preside over some concessions; and in the longer run a deal could possibly go as far as the granting of a Palestinian ’state’ of some type while capitalism remains. But it would be a state with its wings firmly clipped militarily and economically and wouldn’t satisfy the Palestinians’ yearning for genuine self-determination and raised living standards.

The Israeli ruling class made sure that the 1993 Oslo accords were not a route to genuine independence for the Palestinians. Right through that ’peace’ process the construction of Jewish settlements continued. In 1990, just before the process began, there were 78,600 West Bank settlers; this had doubled to 154,400 by 1997, just four years after the signing of the accord. Among the many restrictions and limitations, the 1994 Paris Protocol appendix subordinated the PA economy to Israel. The PA had to use the Israeli currency and buy water, electricity and petrol exclusively from Israel. VAT was pegged to the level in Israel and clauses on the right of the PA to trade internationally have been obstructed.

Mass struggle needed

The CWI in Israel-Palestine (Maavak Sotzyalisti/Nidal Eshteraki) and internationally – including the Socialist Party in Ireland – calls for the Palestinians to build democratically organised mass action. This is crucial for advancing their struggle and for much-needed defence, with the right to arms, against the brutal operations launched by the Israeli military and the murderous assaults by some of the rabid right-wing Jewish settlers.

Palestinians in the territories rose up as a mass in the first intifada that began in 1987, which led to the concession of the Oslo peace process and setting up of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. When that process not only failed to deliver significant improvements and a state but in many ways made the Palestinians’ situation worse, the second intifada eventually broke out, a movement that mistakenly moved away from mass action. Instead it was based on individuals and organisations resorting in desperation to undemocratically decided suicide and other attacks on Israeli civilians and other targets. Attacks on civilians are counter-productive because they strongly propel Israeli Jews away from supporting the Palestinian cause and into the arms of the propaganda of their right wing government. Their indiscriminate nature leads to a pointless loss of life of Israelis – including children and Israeli Palestinians.

Mass struggles could be organised against many targets, including the separation wall, blockades, land seizures, house demolitions and other aspects of the occupation. The Israeli ruling class greatly fears a determined, unified and escalating movement of Palestinians, as it wouldn’t be able to quell it by military means.
The Tunisian and Egyptian workers and poor showed how effective mass action can be, even though those revolutions have not yet gone far enough.

Along with struggles against the occupation, Palestinians in the territories face the necessary task of removing their pro-capitalist political leaders, whether Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad or other, as they are incapable of delivering decent living standards and national liberation. Grassroots committees need to be built, drawn from local communities, workplaces, colleges, etc, coordinating to build a new mass workers’ party capable of challenging and removing capitalism.

One state

While doggedly resisting the development of a genuine Palestinian state alongside Israel, a one-state ’greater Israel’ or ’Palestine’ encompassing the Israeli population and all the Palestinians in the territories and giving the latter equal rights to other Israelis is not seriously contemplated by most Israeli strategists. It would mean Israeli Jews becoming a minority – by around 2020 – in the state they have built as their own, originally as a Jewish safe-haven following the Holocaust.

With the occupation not seen as tenable indefinitely, former prime minister Ariel Sharon decided to cut across a slide towards a de facto single state by attempting a unilateral separation, precisely because of the developing demographic situation – the higher growth rate in the Palestinian population than in the Jewish population.

The overall dilemma for the Israeli capitalists – the national conflict and demographic trend – has led them to use military repression and their settlement and infrastructure programme to progressively confine the Palestinians to poverty ridden enclaves. Other outrageous ’solutions’ have been regularly discussed, especially by the most right wing politicians, such as handing repression of the Gazans to an Arab elite, annexation of the West Bank, or driving sections of the Palestinians out of Israel-Palestine altogether.

Contrary to their ruling class, Israeli Jewish workers have nothing to gain from the national conflict – a seemingly endless ’bloody trap’ for them. A majority genuinely support the idea of a Palestinian state next to Israel, at least to end the constant insecurity they face. But the idea of ’one state’ in which they would become a minority is an anathema to most of them too. They fear being discriminated against in the country they or their forebears went to as a Jewish homeland and made sacrifices for; ie the tables being turned on the present situation where it is the Palestinians inside and outside Israel who are discriminated against.

Demonstrating this stance, a survey last October showed that 69% of Israelis would oppose giving Palestinians the right to vote if Israel were to annex the West Bank.

Decades of conflict together with Zionist propaganda in Israel and blind-alley strategies by the Palestinian leaders have created huge obstacles to mutual trust, which will only be fully removed when imperialist interference and capitalism in the region no longer exist. In the meantime, socialists in Israel-Palestine and internationally, rather than dismissing the fears of Israeli workers – and of Palestinians too – about ’one state’, as some do, should help to expose the class division in Israel – the diametrically opposed interests of the working class and capitalist class. The Israeli working class has the potential power – through its key role in production – to bring the Israeli economy to a halt and Israeli capitalism to its knees.

Many Marxists opposed the creation of Israel in what was then the British imperialist controlled Mandate for Palestine, knowing that it would uproot Palestinians and fail to be a safe solution for Jews. But now that Israel and a fervent Israeli national consciousness have been established, that reality cannot be dismissed. An Israeli state with six million Jewish people and one of the strongest military apparatuses in the world, including nuclear weapons, can’t be defeated militarily by the Palestinians or the Arab states’ armed forces to impose a one-state solution or removal of Israel.

Route to a solution

While generally having better living standards than Israeli Palestinians (numbering over 1.5 million), there is widespread poverty and financial insecurity in the Israeli Jewish population. Waves of neoliberal attacks from Israeli governments have rained down, cutting services, jobs, rights and benefits.

As a result, in recent years there have been many protests and strikes by Israeli workers – Jewish and Palestinian – on social and economic issues. Workplace disputes have included struggles against privatisation, for unpaid wages and against low pay. Protests have also taken place against attacks on democratic rights, for instance against legislation preventing calls for boycotts.

In 2011 there was a vast ’tent city’ movement against the shortage and high costs of housing and against ’social injustice’ in general. This included demonstrations of unprecedented size for Israel, involving hundreds of thousands of people.

It is through the further development of such movements – next time armed with a programme for change and a call for a new mass party of Israeli workers – that the Israeli ruling class with all its brutality (not unique to the Israeli capitalists!) will be challenged and eventually removed.

Two states

As well as being able to adopt a programme for a democratic socialist society to serve the interests of ordinary Israelis, including the Palestinian minority, an Israeli new mass workers’ party will be able to demand the end of occupation and exploitation of the Palestinian territories. As part of this programme, the idea of two states would meet with much greater acceptance than one state by a majority of workers on both sides of the national divide. This is not to deny that there is presently widespread scepticism on whether it can be realised, following the many failed and destructive attempts by capitalist politicians.

Although only a small minority of Israeli Jews are today involved in active campaigning for a Palestinian state, there is questioning and unease in Israeli society about the occupation of the territories and a significant number of soldiers and reservists don’t want to be posted there. However, at the same time there is intensive propaganda from the Israeli government aimed at justifying a stranglehold on the territories for the sake of Israel’s security. Rockets from Gaza hitting Israeli towns are seized on as a reason to step up the repression, and the separation wall and restrictions on Palestinians’ movement and trade are declared necessary to protect Israelis.

But few Israeli Jewish workers want to live with a permanent state of conflict, so a combination of developments would be likely to bring most of them closer to directly aiding the Palestinians’ cause, including their own struggles against Israeli big business, a supportive approach to their struggles from workers in the territories and internationally, witnessing new mass struggles of the Palestinians and workers in other countries, and an end to indiscriminate killings of Israeli civilians by Palestinians.

Socialism

The adoption of a socialist programme on both sides of the divide would lay the basis for negotiations to be possible that would be spearheaded by democratically elected Palestinian and Israeli workers’ representatives capable of solving the issues that have been unsolvable under capitalism.

Socialist societies can’t be built on the basis of compulsion of either nationality; it is important to uphold an equal right of self-determination. It will be up to the workers and poor in the region to democratically decide the exact form of a settlement – the borders, access to water and other resources, how Jerusalem would encompass two capitals, the resourcing and organising of return of refugees, guarantees for the protection of minority rights, and other vital issues.

The ’facts on the ground’ imposed by the capitalist classes can be changed on the basis of democratic debate, consensus and guaranteed rights. Contrary to the massive obstacles under capitalism, it will be possible to arrive at agreement because improved housing and raised living standards could be given to all as a result of the increased productive forces unleashed under socialism – through public ownership and a planned economy, with the ending of unemployment.

The proposing of two states – a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel – is the route towards socialism that is most willingly listened to today, given the present situation. At any stage along the way or afterwards, on the basis of increased trust and confidence in mutual gains, living together in one state, as part of a socialist confederation of the Middle East, can be democratically decided.

Either way, through socialism the Middle East would be on course to be transformed from being the scene of one of the most protracted and complex national questions in the world, to one in which different nationalities can live harmoniously alongside each other, enriching lives economically, socially and culturally.