Against the Labour right's Israel-Palestine policy

Submitted by martin on 21 September, 2021 - 6:52 Author: Ben Tausz

Labour To Win – the joint right-wing faction formed by Progress and Labour First – proposed a “Two-State Solution” model motion for Labour Party conference 2021. No party affiliate or Constituency Labour Party has submitted it to the conference, but it may still be worth discussion.

Workers’ Liberty supports the demand for a free and independent Palestine alongside Israel – “two states”. Nevertheless, LTW’s motion must be opposed by all supporters of Palestinian liberation.

Any response to the situation in Israel-Palestine must start from a recognition that this is not a symmetrical conflict. The Israeli state is the main oppressor. It is occupying, colonising, and besieging Palestinian territory in Gaza and the West Bank, and that occupation is the central material driver of the conflict. The Israeli state’s capacity to inflict murderous violence vastly outstrips that of any Palestinian organisation.

By contrast, LTW fails to admit the imbalance of power or even name the occupation, instead discussing Israel and Palestine as if they were equal or equivalent belligerents in a conflict. No useful or positive path forward can be charted from such a refusal to acknowledge the fundamental realities of the situation.

The closest the motion comes to mentioning the occupation is when it touches on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Appallingly, rather than calling for the dismantling of these landgrab settlements as a necessary starting point for any remotely just peace, LTW propose that this “issue” be “resolved through mutually agreed land swaps”.

Mutually agreed land swaps will likely be part of any negotiated two-state peace, but it is outrageous to suggest that the starting point of such negotiations should be to reward the far-right settlers by ratifying their seizures. It is a stance that places LTW to the right of Tony Blair, whose policy was to base an agreement on the 1967 borders. Thus, the Labour right’s policy expects the Palestinians to simply concede the theft of this land, and to give up even more of their eroded territory if they want any of it back.

LTW goes on to call “for the terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to be removed from power in Gaza and disarmed in return for massive investment to improve life for citizens in Gaza”.

Every leftist should look forward to the day that Palestinian progressives defeat the far-right bigots of Hamas and IJ. But LTW’s motion doesn’t say who is to remove Hamas. There is no mention here of the struggles of Palestinian workers, democrats, feminists and so on – no suggestion of Gazan self-determination or self-emancipation.

Instead, via careful ambiguity, LTW implies a free pass to support Israeli military attacks on Gaza, as long as the Israeli state claims the aim is to combat Hamas. Which it always does claim, no matter how many civilians die, and despite the reality that most of the Israeli hard-right in power has no immediate interest in removing Hamas anyway – its continued rule is, cynically, quite politically convenient for them.

Moreover, the phrase suggests that the material aid that Gazans desperately need (and indeed are owed, as reparations) should be conditional on Hamas’s removal. LTW’s position writes off any duty to negotiate with the existing state in Gaza – while imposing no such precondition against the continued participation of far-right ethnic cleansers in Israel’s governments.

Next, LTW’s proposal rejects all “negative and one-sided” tactics. We oppose the blanket boycott of Israel pushed by the official BDS movement, but LTW’s stance goes far further. It rules out blocks on weapon sales to the IDF, or even Lisa Nandy’s moderate suggestion, backed by Starmer, of an embargo on goods produced in the illegal settlements. (Though this is unsurprising, given that we have seen that LTW says the settlements should be accepted as a done deal.)

Instead, LTW backs “practical schemes that build peace and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians”. Sounds nice. But there is no mention or support for the real grassroots movements of Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews, trying to do this. No mention of, for example, the social movement Standing Together, or the trade union WAC-Ma’an, bringing together working-class Jews and Arabs to fight against racism and the occupation and for their shared class interests. No mention of the Palestinian general strike earlier this year, and the limited but hopeful examples of Jewish-Israeli support for it.

There is no place in LTW’s policy for the desires, self-activity or agency of the Palestinian people standing for their own liberation, or even for those of working-class Israeli-Jewish allies supporting them. In classic Fabian fashion, the task of building a peaceful, freer, fairer future is not to be entrusted to the little people.

Instead, we are left with a nod to the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace and unspecified “solidarity” for sister parties. The drive regarding IFIPP is simply to channel some western money into funding some (inevitably top-down, even if well-meaning) NGO-type projects that will realistically not push towards a new political settlement. And the sister parties identified for support include Israeli Labor (with its current place in Naftali Bennett's coalition government and other collaboration with the hard-right, and little more than lip-service to Palestinian freedom) and Fatah (whose administration in the West Bank is deeply corrupt, repressive, and anti-democratic).

Thus, LTW’s vision of a two-state “solution” – with its silence on the occupation, its false symmetry, its softness on settler landgrabs and Israeli military assaults, and its lack of support for anything that would actually bring a peace settlement and an independent Palestine closer – has little in common with our policy.

We see the demands for an end to the occupation, reparations, and an independent Palestine alongside Israel, as the basis for a peace movement. The heart of that movement is assertion and resistance from below – social movements and workers’ struggles. And securing two states is not a “solution”, an end-point, but a stepping stone – a halt to the bloodshed, an extension of self-determination to both nations (as opposed to just one at present, Israel), and space to breathe and grow for progressive forces – forces that could lead the way onwards to a more unified future for the region.

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