Two nations, two states and class politics

Submitted by Anon on 20 February, 2005 - 3:53

By David Merhav

Hardly anyone opposes Sharon’s disengagement plan in Israel. Opposition comes only from the right. Even the left of the Communist Party and the other Marxist, Trotskyist and anarchist groupings favour silence rather than sharp criticism.

The truth is that most people in Israel and Palestine are completely tired of terror, counter-terror and the ongoing bloody warfare of Israelis against Palestinians, and Palestinians against Israelis. So many Israelis and Palestinians now let the leaders do everything they want or can in return for peace or a ceasefire. Whatever may be the content of this peace, a “friendly” capitalist one or just a “cold” ceasefire, most of the people really do not care.

Thus, a Peace Index survey, conducted by the Peace Now movement on Monday 31 January and Tuesday 1 February, shows overwhelming support for political negotiations with the Palestinian side, along with an increased belief that such negotiations could lead to peace. A majority of Jewish Israelis also think that the new Palestinian leader Abu Mazen is making a sincere effort to end terrorism and has the ability to do so or at least to reduce it substantially.

In the Arab sector, optimism is very high: 94.5 per cent favour negotiations and 78 per cent believe in the chances of their bearing fruit.

So why should socialists who support the two states solution oppose a summit which declares a ceasefire and mutual, formal approval of this formula? Because we have a duty to tell the truth, and the truth is to be found in the details.

Uri Avnery, the leader of Israel’s most active peace movement, Gush Shalom/Peace Bloc, wrote in a recent letter: “Now, both sides are exhausted. Palestinian suffering is manifest. Israeli suffering is less obvious, but, nonetheless, real. Both sides need the ceasefire… But a ceasefire is only an interlude, not peace itself. If wisdom prevails in Israel (since it is the stronger side) negotiations for a final settlement will start at once, with the general aim agreed in advance: a Palestinian state in all the territory of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.”

Avnery concluded: “If wisdom does not prevail… this ceasefire will end up like many before: just an interval between two rounds of fighting. We are faced with a road sign pointing in two opposite directions: one end directed towards peace, the other towards the next violent confrontation”.

Avnery’s voice is a minority one.

More typical is the attitude of Janet Aviad, one of Peace Now’s veteran leaders (a movement that was built by Israel’s United Workers Party, the late Mapam, during the 1982 War in Lebanon): “We must continue to push the idea that disengagement is only one phase in a much wider diplomatic process… We also have an immediate role to play in demanding the evacuation of outposts and stopping building on settlements.”

Less optimistic voices are raised concerning the disengagement within the Israeli left. Lately, hundreds demonstrated against the annexation of the territories between the Green Line and the fence. They demonstrated on the last day of 2004 against the uprooting of the olive trees of Jayush village and the building of a large new settlement there. This is being done under the guise of enlarging an existing settlement (Tsufin).

The Sharon government is engaged now in a frantic effort to fill the territory between the Green Line and the fence with new settlements, in order to annex it de facto to Israel. It must by now be clear to everybody that the wall/fence has only one real purpose: to annex more territory. As Gush Shalom has said: “Sharon’s ‘disengagement plan’ is but a diversion, designed to draw the attention of the Israeli public and the world away from this big operation.”

No one really knows what might be the end of the negotiations and talks held between the Palestinians’ newly-elected leadership and the newly-born Unity Government headed by Sharon’s neo-liberal and ultra-chauvinist Likud party and Shimon Peres’s degenerated Labour party. No one knows whether Abu Mazen will be able to maintain a ceasefire that is based on the ridiculous formula of a divided mini-state promised to the Palestinians by the Bush administration, the formula known as the Road Map. Or whether he will lose control.

No one really knows how Sharon, who sided with the settlers against Rabin and now faces threats of assassination, will be able to evacuate the extreme settlers from the robbed Palestinian lands without a bloody civil war and the total collapse of Israel’s army due to sharp disagreements between rightist and leftist soldiers on the legitimacy of Sharon’s evacuation plan. The extreme right has already launched a vicious, brutal and violent campaign against the government and the supporters of the negotiations with the Palestinians.

What we do know is that most of the Palestinian and Israeli masses do want self-determination in two separate states, based on partition of Palestine between the two nations. The question, however, is who can achieve such an outcome?

Neither Sharon nor Abu Mazen will be able to force the Islamists to accept an agreement based on this historic compromise between the two nations, and the Jewish fundamentalists will not surrender without a bloody civil war. Furthermore, the Road Map aims to create a “democratic” occupation.

The democratic face (elections, parliament, summits, dialogues) will not mean real Palestinian liberation from the ongoing Israeli occupation. The opposition of the Palestinians to a “democratic” occupation will be quite similar to the opposition expressed by the ANC to the plan of bantustans in South Africa.

The Bush administration may try to maintain a peace by arming and financing the ruling classes and elites of the area, but any “peace” won’t last long unless the drive for peace is rooted among the masses.

The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin could not gain a true peace due to the ongoing bloodshed of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the settlers. The principled, financial and political aid given to Rabin by the Clinton administration did not prevent a Jewish bigot killing Rabin, after a murderous and vicious campaign launched against him by the parties of the right, and diverting the political and regional situation into the point of mutual bloodshed. Neither Netanyahu nor Barak, who Prime Ministers after Rabin’s assassination and Peres’s failure to win the elections of 1996, could or wanted to lead a principled drive for peace.

The chauvinist Palestinian leadership, headed by the late Yasser Arafat, who tailed the radical Islamists, did absolutely nothing to help the peace camp in Israel get popular support.

The treachery of the social democracy in Israel, adopting a neo-liberal economic policy, pushed many working class militants into the hands of the right. Arafat permitted a bloody terror that targeted innocent Israelis, and managed to help his historic rival, Ariel Sharon, to become a Prime Minister. The question is why the Palestinians refused to accept the offers given to them for the decade passed since Rabin’s assassination, and why the Israelis did not propose a fair and just peace agreement that could gain mass support among their Palestinian brothers and sisters. Furthermore, many initiatives toward peace — the most well known is the one signed in Geneva by former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin (now the leader of the social-democratic Yahad/Meretz party) and some Palestinian leaders — failed to gain the people’s support.

The peace plan promoted by the ruling parties in Israel is accompanied by a serious threat to the remnants of the Israeli welfare state. As Haaretz puts it: “The treasury has been cracking down on fraud and reducing the scale of support, which did reduce the number of people signing up for the service. But while such measures may have reduced the treasury’s bill, they did not address the core problem.”

The core problem is unemployment.

Strike action has been threatened and taken in many sectors.

Does anyone really believes that the Israeli labouring masses will join a campaign for peace against the fascist right in Israel, at the same time as the Labour party joins Sharon’s government, the tiny social-democratic Yahad/Meretz party gives Sharon a chance to pass his anti-working class budget in the Knesset, and the Communist Party backs Sharon in the Knesset’s committees?

“The socialist revolution is the only realistic solution of the Jewish question. If the Jewish workers and peasants asked for an independent state, good, but they didn’t get it under Great Britain. But if they want it, the proletariat will give it. We are not in favour, but only the victorious working class can give it to them.” These words were written by Leon Trotsky on 15 June 1940.

In 1932–3, Trotsky discussed the “Jewish problem” with Class Struggle, an American Marxist publication.

He was asked about his attitude to Palestine as a possible Jewish “homeland” and about a land for the Jews generally? Don’t you believe, he was asked, that the anti-semitism of German fascism compels a different attitude to the Jewish question on the part of Communists?

Trotsky replied: “I do not know whether Jewry will be built up again as a nation. However, there can be no doubt that the material conditions for the existence of Jewry as an independent nation could be brought about only by the proletarian revolution. There is no such thing on this planet as the idea that one has more claim to land than another.”

A programme for a two states solution can be based only upon transitional demands and class analysis of the situation. It is totally impossible to recruit the workers in Israel and Palestine to support the end of the ongoing bloody wars in their country unless they see a peace proposal that includes socialistic elements.

Socialism does not mean an end to the state of Israel, or an end to the Palestinians’ wishes for national liberation. It means that the masses will be won to struggle for peace upon a socialist basis. It means that the workers will see a common future in two separate nation-states.

It is impossible to retain support for peace while the US and Israel only wish to see a “democratic” or “humanistic” occupation, and while Abu Mazen receives bribes of many tens of millions of dollars in return for a continuous ceasefire, to back a camouflage of national independence and peace.

A real democratic approach should be based on the form of two states and on the content of workers’ control, socialist economy and workers’ democracy. Form cannot be separated from content and it is the role of genuine socialists to recruit the masses for the cause of peace, Jewish-Arab fraternity and mutual respect, upon the socialist programme modelled by Leon Trotsky and his followers in the Workers’ Party, the Independent Socialists and the AWL.

A slogan of “Two nations, two states” can win massive support only if it is based on the class interests of the majority: the Arab and Jewish toilers.

Anti-semitism, adaptation to Arab nationalist chauvinism, adoption of Sharon’s plan or lack of criticism in relation to the prevailing Zionist tendencies in Israel’s labour movement — all these reflect an ideological weakness rather than revolutionary clarity.

David Merhav is a member of the Israeli Labour Party and the social-democratic Israeli group, Yesod. Yesod is a tendency of socialists, Marxists and social democrats, active in the Labour Party’s left wing, organised around the One People fraction in the Labour Party.

The One People fraction is organised around Amir Peretz MP, a trade union leader. The fraction recently entered the Labour Party and got seats in the party’s Central Committee, but has refused to join the government and resolved to continue struggling against the ultra-capitalist policies carried out by it.

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