This Labour decision was not so left-wing

Submitted by AWL on 19 October, 2021 - 4:16 Author: Martin Thomas
Palestine flags at Labour conference 2019

The Israel-Palestine composite passed at Labour Party conference is widely considered a victory for the left, like other policy votes there. In fact it is not.

It includes no solidarity with democratic and socialist forces on the ground, such as the Jewish-Arab movement Standing Together in Israel and trade union and other groups.

Instead it looks exclusively to big-power “sanctions” “against actions by the Israeli government that are illegal according to international law”.

It is not for us to object to diplomatic leverage such as that from the USA which pushed Israel to withdraw from Sinai in 1957 and again in 1979-82, or to be unhappy if Joe Biden applies leverage against the Israel’s currently-mooted plans for fresh settlements in the West Bank which would cut off the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa and block Palestinian traffic between northern and southern parts of the West Bank.

But in the end a democratic settlement depends on forces on the ground. A policy relying entirely on the virtuous big powers applying pressure is naive. Also, Britain, unlike the USA, is in no position to exercise much leverage.

The resolution can be taken as tacitly accepting that the aim of the leverage is a two-states settlement, as is Labour Party policy. But it doesn’t say so. It has blurred wording about “return of Palestinian people [amended from ‘the Palestinian people’] to their homes”. Blurred, so it means little. If it meant anything it would mean expulsion of Jews from houses built on the sites of villages and districts from which Palestinians fled in 1948, and the cramming of ten times as many Palestinian people, descendants from 1948, into reconstructions of the poor and cramped housing of peasants of 70-odd years ago. Not progress.

Many of the delegates who voted for it will also have voted for a (failed) reference back on the National Policy Forum report which declared that “insisting [on] a two-state solution... demonstrates... arrogance”.

Against that, the reference-back talked about self-determination in general, as if that general term somehow supersedes “two states”, in other words self-determination for both nations, Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian-Arab. Yet upholding self-determination for both is a precondition for, rather a contradiction of, a possible future free decision by the two nations to merge, or a free socialist federation in the wider region.

The reference-back alludes to “other political options.. to realise... aspirations”. Yes: Israeli chauvinists realise their aspirations by suppressing Palestinian self-determination. Hamas seeks to realise its aspirations by overrunning Israel with an Islamic state in all the pre-1948 British Mandate territory. But socialists should stand against both.

As for “Christian Arabs and atheists” - does the writer think no-one can be Palestinian unless they are Muslim? Are they unaware that atheism is historically common among ardently nationalist Israeli Jews?

The recital of Israel’s misdeeds at the start of the motion is off-kilter.

No clear statement that the fundamental misdeed is the occupation of the West Bank and the denial of Palestinian self-determination. Instead, a run-through of the recent grievances of Hamas: the Israeli military action at the Al-Aqsa mosque, the assault on Gaza (without mention of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians which triggered it), and the “forced displacements from Sheikh Jarrah” (it may not “stick”, but the latest Israeli Supreme Court decision offers the Palestinian residents of the disputed houses long-term protection from displacement in return for making a token payment).

Not all anti-capitalist denunciation is left-wing. Nor is all anti-Israel denunciation.

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