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Palestine and Israel: two states is no solution

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The latest pamphlet from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) group argues for a “two states” solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

It says this is the “only solution that takes account of the rights of both sides in the conflict, and therefore it is the only rational, just and progressive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

The authors support “an independent Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel”, and emphatically defend the right of Israel to exist in areas where the Israeli Jews are a majority.

There is an immediate problem with this argument. The Israelis created a majority Jewish population in Palestine by forcibly expelling Palestinian Arabs in 1947-9 and denying them and their families the right to return to the territory of their origin.

At the same time, under the Law of Return, Jewish people of any nationality are entitled to Israeli citizenship upon arrival in Israel, even if they have never been there before.

This racist citizenship law is fundamental to the maintenance of a Jewish majority population in Palestine. If the Palestinians were allowed to return, then under any democratic system they would understandably and justifiably vote against being consigned to the status of second-class citizens and therefore against the state defining itself as specifically Jewish.

This historical reality has to be the starting point for any socialist response to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians is not simply the product of a bad policy pursued by reactionary right-wing governments. It arose directly as a result of the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

The only way Israel could create a Jewish majority population on its territory was to drive out millions of Palestinian people, prevent them from returning, strip them of land ownership, and wage a series of bloody wars against any Palestinians that resisted.

It is the continuation of this policy that leads to the forcible settlement of Palestinian land on the West Bank today, complete with bulldozings of Palestinian homes, discrimination in access to water supplies and a regime of permanent military repression.

This is not some bloody aberration but the logical and necessary extension of the principles that underlay the foundation of the Israeli state.

The only just solution must encompass equal citizenship rights for Jews and Arabs and the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their land of origin. This means a state in which Jews and Arabs are equal, not a state that defines itself specifically as “Jewish” or “Arab”.

The continued existence of an Israeli-Jewish state, even alongside a Palestinian state, would depend on the maintenance of racist citizenship laws and the exclusion of millions of Palestinians from the territory. Far from providing the basis for a lasting peace, this could only condemn the region to further cycles of repression and war.

As if to prove the point, the AWL pamphlet quickly finds that support for a Jewish state in Palestine requires it to defend Israel’s racist citizenship policy. The author of most of the articles in the pamphlet, Sean Matgamna, accepts that the return of the Palestinians would challenge the foundations of Israel’s Jewish identity – so he rejects their right of return. In the pamphlet’s introduction, written on 19 October this year, he describes the demand for the Palestinians’ right to return to Israel as “collective resettlement in the territory now occupied by the Israeli Jews, most of whom were born there”.

In a subsequent article, “The Origins of the Conflict” he explicitly rejects the Palestinians’ right to return: “The ‘right to return’ in its straightforward sense is the demand that the events of the 20th century in Palestine be undone, that the film of history be rolled backwards. It is inconceivable that the Israelis will voluntarily agree to this. The demand that it should is at best the demand that the Jewish state should cease to conceive of itself as a Jewish state – not just get out of the West Bank and Gaza, and cease discriminatory or chauvinist practices, but cease to be the state of the distinct Israeli-Jewish nation. It is no more realistic than the call that the British, French, German or Irish states should cease to be British, French, German or Irish, a call quite distinct from the justified one that they should let in far more refugees and migrants. The ‘right of return’ therefore, in practice, comes down to the ‘demand’ for the conquest and destruction of Israel.”

This is an extraordinary passage to have been written by anyone claiming to be a democrat, let alone a socialist.

In the first place, Matgamna admits here that the democratic right of the Palestinians to return to the territory they lived in 50 years ago stands in contradiction to the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine. How then can he expect a lasting peace on this basis? How can there be a “rational, just and progressive” solution or a lasting peace if millions of Palestinians are excluded? This argument merely proves that the whole idea of a two-state “solution” is utopian and reactionary.

Also clear from this passage is that AWL actually prefer the rights of one group over the other – the “right” of the Israeli-Jewish people to preserve a majority secured through war, land seizures and racist laws takes precedence over the right of more than three million refugees living in squalor in Lebanon, Jordan West Bank and Gaza to return.

The reason given for this is that every nation, like France, Germany, Ireland and so on, has the right to national self-determination and that this must encompass the right to a state of its own. The pamphlet says that to refuse this right to the Israeli Jews is to single them out as having lesser rights than other nations. It says, “the hidden assumption is that the Israeli Jewish nation is an illegitimate nation, and therefore does not have the same rights as other nations.”

This is a dangerous and dishonest argument. Of course there are no “illegitimate nations” – the very idea could only be raised by a national chauvinist or racist. But there is a difference between a nation and a nation-state, and the state of Israel was created in very specific circumstances – the driving out of millions of Palestinians and the conquest of their land. Revolutionary socialists are not proposing to invert that crime and drive out the Israeli Jews, just to allow the Palestinians to return.

Instead of starting from this legitimate democratic national right of the Palestinian people, AWL starts from the idea that the right to a nation-state is an abstract good, one to supported in all situations. By contrast, revolutionary socialists support the right of self-determination only where it is not exercised at the expense of the rights of another nation.

The “right” of white South Africans to a state did not take precedence over the right of the majority black population to vote. Why should the right of the Israeli Jews to a state take precedence over the rights of millions of Palestinians?

Even the example about Britain, France, Germany or Ireland used by Matgamna backfires. France is not Israel. But if “France” had been created 50 years ago by the dispossession and driving out of millions of its original inhabitants who were of a different nationality, if those original inhabitants still lived just beyond its borders in refugee camps, if those people were in permanent rebellion and insurrection demanding their rights, then socialists in “France” and elsewhere would certainly advocate their right to return.

And if some of the “French” settler majority complained that this would violate their “right” to a nation-state, revolutionaries would expose this argument as a justification for racism and colonial conquest, not as some expression of “French” democracy.

Just how far AWL is prepared to pursue this argument is revealed in a breath-taking passage in an article entitled, without apparent irony, “Unravelling the Issues”. Here the demand for the right to return of the Palestinians is presented to the pamphlets mainly British readers in the following terms:

“...the real equivalent would be if many tens of millions of people, almost as many as the population of Britain, just across the Channel, were claiming a collective right to ‘repossess’ Britain.”

This example is obviously supposed to frighten us out of supporting the Palestinians’ rights by placing the reader in the position of Israelis who view the Palestinians with hatred and fear? It tries to appeal to the reader’s sense of national insecurity – a despicable thing for any socialist writer to do. Above all, it shows how shallow the writer’s sense of internationalism really is. For what if it were a valid comparison?

If Britain had forcibly expelled and dispossessed “tens of millions” fifty years ago, and they were living in refugee camps just across the channel, then revolutionary socialists emphatically would support their right to return, and if that meant this island could no longer describe itself as a “British” state, we wouldn’t care.

Genuine internationalism means supporting an end to all oppression on the grounds of nationality, not declaring that recent national and colonial conquests should be treated as final accomplished historical facts just so the victors can maintain their supremacist nation-states.

AWL’s “killer argument” in support of the two states solution is that the largest Palestinian organisation, the PLO, also supports it. This is true – but it is a result of the PLO leadership’s fatal policy of compromise with Israel and their abandonment of the historic rights of their own people.

The PLO under Yasser Arafat has persistently accommodated to Israel, handing over the names and addresses of Palestinian radicals to the Israelis even during their campaign of assignations, allowing the Israelis to wriggle out of every one of their obligations under successive peace treaties, demanding an end to Palestinian resistance in favour of continued talks that yield nothing and utilising their position within the Palestine National Authority to demobilise mass resistance while the leaders enrich themselves and persecute their opponents.

A Palestinian state existing alongside Israel would be like the PNA today – a powerless Bantustan, leaving all the real control and might in the hands of Israel. That is why the task of revolutionary socialists is not to devise ever more “Marxist” excuses for Israeli domination of the region, but to fight for a genuine, lasting solution.

This is not, despite AWL insinuations, a policy of “driving the Jews into the sea”, but a socialist republic with no single religious or national allegiance, one in which Arabs and Jews live together as equal citizens. The only force that can bring it into being is the working class, peasantry and urban poor of the Middle East.

The longer the Palestinian left equivocates on this issue, the more likely it will be that the PLO’s failings will drive the heroic youth of the Intifada into the arms of the Islamists like Hamas, who do not oppose the reactionary solution of driving out the Jews.

As Karl Marx said, a nation which oppresses another can never itself be free. For as long as there is a racist and discriminatory Jewish state in the Middle East, the consequences will be disastrous for the Palestinians and the Jews alike.