How settlers and the IDF carve up the West Bank

Submitted by Matthew on 16 December, 2010 - 10:53 Author: Sacha Ismail

Between 22 November and 2 December, nine members, supporters and friends of the AWL took part in a solidarity delegation to Israel and Palestine, visiting Palestinian resistance organisations, Israelis supporting them and workers’, youth, women’s, anti-occupation and solidarity organisations in both countries. Sacha Ismail discusses some of the political impressions he had during their visit.

Firstly, I want to first discuss the ways in which Israel is undermining the emergence of a two-state settlement.

One thing leftists in Britain often argue is that a two-state solution could be no different from a series of Palestinian bantustans controlled by Israel. When you go to the West Bank you see all the ways in which it would be different.

The West Bank is currently divided into three zones; only 20 percent is under full Palestinian control. 60 percent is under the control of the Israel in terms of both “security” and administration. That amounts a constant regime of harassment and intimidation against Palestinians, for instance in terms of arbitrary house demolitions, one of which we witnessed.

There are checkpoints all over the place; tens of thousands of workers have to go through these to get to work, and tens of thousands who previously worked in Israel now cannot get there and have lost their jobs.

Israel controls Palestine’s borders — and in the case of Gaza this amounts to an ongoing siege.

There is the Wall, which is not simply a barrier preventing free movement of people, but a way of seizing resources in the West Bank — for instance land and artesian wells — and economically and socially strangling many Palestinian villages. This is vividly demonstrated by the fact that the course of the Wall is almost twice as long as the 1967 border.

Then there are the settlements — and this is one of the crucial points, perhaps one which we in the AWL have not emphasised enough.

There are now hundreds of thousands of settlers in the West Bank; settlements are expanding and new ones being built all the time. In fact, building has continued even during supposed settlement freezes. And beyond the “official” settlement-building process is a process in which far-right Israeli youth set up new encampments, often in violent conflict with the IDF, which then become accepted after they have existed for a time.

The settlers do not just seize territory; they also monopolise resources, for instance water. They control the access of Palestinian towns and villages to these resources. As a result, more and more Palestinian centres are being depopulated.

All this is what prevents the emergence of a genuinely independent Palestinian state.

It’s worth thinking about the apartheid comparison. We have argued, rightly, that Israel is not an apartheid state but a mini-colonial power. The Israelis are not a narrow caste but a nation with the whole spectrum of social classes — working class, bourgeoisie, intermediate layers — and therefore the right to self-determination. But the society which is now developing inside the Occupied Territories, as opposed to Israel itself, is something like apartheid.

In the long term, such developments might make a two-state settlement unviable. I don’t think they do, now, because the distinction between “metropolitan” Israel and the territories it occupies — between the two nations, Israel and Palestine — still holds. But what follows from that is that one of our top priorities has to be oppose the settlements and highlight the damaging role they play.

In principle, there is no reason why Jewish people should not remain in an independent Palestinian state as equal citizens. And in fact, dismantling the settlements would not be easy — the largest, Ariel, has over 150,000 inhabitants. In practice, however, I think they will have to be dismantled for Palestinian self-determination to become a reality. Certainly that was the view of Israeli leftists we spoke to.

Israeli and Palestinian left

Both are operating in extremely difficult circumstances, and are on the defensive.

In Palestine, you have the growth of the religious right — Hamas, but also beyond that jihadist groups which Palestinian leftists compare to al Qaeda. The left parties, which in any case are more left-nationalist than socialist in the sense we would understand, are weak, disoriented, and discredited by the collapse of Stalinism.

At the same time there is a vibrant Palestinian “civil society” fighting against the odds — the trade unions, but also for instance women’s and now LGBT movements. They were thrown back by the chaos of the Second Intifada and Israel’s military repression, but they are using the relative calm and stability since 2006 to rebuild and renew their struggle. Solidarity with these forces is also a priority.

In some, although conditions within Israel are easier, the Israeli left is more marginalised.

The failure of the Oslo process, the increasing shamelessness with which Israel’s military power is exercised, the expansion of the settlements — all these things have poisoned Israeli politics, undermining the left and the peace movement and boosting the right. At present, anti-occupation demonstrations are small; even the movement against the Gaza war in 2009 mobilised only 10,000 or 20,000, rather than the hundreds of thousands seen in previous anti-war movements. And the settlers are at the core of a growing religious-nationalist bloc in Israeli politics. Former Knesset member Uri Avnery, who we interviewed, said that many of the forces on the right of the Knesset would be described as fascist if they were in Europe.

Of course, that is all the more reason why the Israeli left and peace movement, and particularly the radical wing of the peace movement, the anti-occupation wing, need solidarity.

There may also be long-term trends at work which may undermine the right in Israel. At the Workers’ Advice Centre, Roni Ben Efrat talked about the economic processes which are undermining the traditional bases of Zionism — since Israel’s turn to neoliberalism, the limited degree of social democratic security enjoyed by most Jewish workers has largely disappeared.

In this context, the idea that the Israeli workers enjoy some super-privilege distinct from that of any working class in an imperialist centre is nonsense. In fact, the mass of the Jewish working class is being more and more impoverished and proletarianised.

This has already resulted in the growth of small unions independent of the Histadrut and also some odd phenomena — for instance the support from traditional Likud supporters from the slums of south Tel Aviv for Hadash's mayoral campaign - Hadash is a broader group linked to the Israeli Communist Party - which won 34 percent of the vote. In the future these trends may split Israeli politics wide open.

Solidarity and boycotts

The British government is currently altering legislation which has allowed campaigners to bring war crimes prosecutions against Israeli politicians and generals. Adam Keller from Gush Shalom told us that he thought opposing and stopping this legislation could make a real difference in terms of saving Palestinian lives.

It is possible that the Palestinians will soon seek recognition for an independent state at the UN, regardless of negotiations with Israel. We should be putting pressure on our government to recognise Palestinian independence.

But solidarity with the Palestinian and Israeli labour movements and left is of course the top priority for us.

I think the AWL’s case against boycotts of Israel — particularly academic, cultural and labour movement boycotts, but boycotts of Israeli goods too — holds. These boycotts will undermine the Israeli left and peace movement, do little to help the Palestinians and shade into anti-semitic campaigns, even though many Palestinian activists emphatically do not intend them that way.

I think boycotting the settlements is a different issue. The settlements are radically illegitimate in a way that Israel itself is not. We should do everything we can to undermine them. And this is possible — lists of settlement goods are widely available, and there are some very high profile cases such as the Ahava “Dead Sea” beauty products range produced in the West Bank settlement of Mitzpe Shalem.

Of course we should be careful not to play into the hands of the “boycott everything Israeli” lobby, or to think boycotts, rather than positive solidarity, are the most important method of struggle. But that should not stop us having our own independent view of the settlements boycott issue.

• Watch this space (in the new year) for more published reports of the solidarity delegation and details of solidarity initiatives.


Submitted by DB on Fri, 17/12/2010 - 14:37

This is a very good report -- thanks for posting it. AWL has always been spot on to promote solidarity between Israeli and Palestinian workers and to oppose the anti-Israeli chauvinism embodied in the politics of reactionary "anti-imperialists" like Hamas and Hizbollah, and their supporters on the UK left. In the tradition of Marxists like Maxime Rodinson (whose work I was pleased to see featured on this site a few months ago) I also think AWL's position of 2 states is a fair one, although not always articulated in the correct way. Part of the problem was that the AWL focussed so much of its attention on defending Israeli self-determination and condemning the Islamists (and their supporters) that its supposedly "Third Camp" position often appeared to have morphed into a "First Camp" pro-Israeli ruling class one, with far more blame apportioned (or influence attributed) to the Islamist-inspired elements of the Palestinian resistance than to the Israeli politicians, military and settlers who provide the main practical barriers to the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. I think Sacha is right to say that it is such issues as these that "we in the AWL have not emphasised enough". I hope there'll be some debate in the AWL as to why this has been the case.

It's interesting that Alan Johnson's overview of Hal Draper's position on Israel/Palestine appears on the front page of the site at the moment. My understanding of Draper's view was that it was similar to Rodinson's, except the latter possibly influenced the former in moving to a more critical stance on the foundation of Israel in line with the leftist zeitgeist of the mid-to-late twentieth century. Rodinson argued (as a European Jew himself) that the creation of Israel was understandable, if not desirable. He was a key figure in convincing left-wing "intellectuals" after 1967 that Israel was a colonial settler state and not necessarily a beacon of progress and civilisation where a more advanced working class would take the first steps to socialist consciousness in the Middle East. But crucially he did argue that the Israeli people now constituted an established nation whose rights to self-determination were unquestionable, therefore advocating cross-national unity between Israeli and Palestinian workers. In spite of this, and like Draper, he still talked "tough" on Israel in a way that I'm sure would offend Sean Matgamna -- he denounced its rulers, its military, its settlers etc. for their dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948 and after, but that didn't lead him into support for the Middle Eastern despotisms which surrounded it, nor the Islamist forces mounting in and around Palestine itself.

Contrast much of this with Sean's response to Johnson's overview of Draper, which seems to me to characterise some of the best but also the very worst of the AWL's general attitude (or at the very least rhetoric) on Israel-Palestine (See it here). The usual scorn and invective is poured upon advocates of a bi-national or a single democratic state resolution to the problem, as Matgamna appears to suggest with complete and utter certainty that advocates of these propositions are essentially arguing in favour of genocide, and that a 2-state resolutiion is the only resolution any true socialist could ever conceivably support, regardless of the situation on the ground: indeed, settlements are not mentioned at all, not even once. He repeatedly reminds us that there can be "no rerunning of this history to get a better result..."

But I think Sacha Ismail's report is a good antidote to this. When you look at a map of Israel-Palestine in 2010, you realise how increasingly difficult a 2-state resolution will be to realise. Obviously, the more things continue as they are now, the more likely a 2-state resolution is to end in the same kind of apocalyptic scenario which the AWL likes to attribute to its opponents on the left. But my point is that even now Israel will have to make big concessions for this to work -- Sasha, for example, suggests the dismantling of a 150,000 population settlement; but is this not a "rerunning of history to get a better result"? How will it work? Who will have the political will to do it? Will the settlers dismantle voluntarily (unlikely given their right-wing political persuasion) or will a future Israeli government have to use coercion? Will it be strong enough? Could it even result in civil war? And what role will the Palestinians then have in this conflict? Given the situation with these settlements, would these kind of concessions and conflicts be any worse than those that would have to come about to achieve (for example) a single bi-national state? I'm not so sure -- I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Finally, I'm also in agreement with Sacha on the question of boycotts -- they are a tactic, not a principle, and should be carefully targetted if they are to be effective; boycotts of Israeli goods are neither justified nor probably effective, but there's a sound case for saying that boycotts of settler goods probably are.

Thanks again. DB.

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