French Trotskyists debate Israel-Palestine

Submitted by AWL on 24 October, 2018 - 11:11

A debate is ongoing in the pages of French revolutionary journal Convergences Révolutionnaires, on the topic of Israel and Palestine. Convergences is the publication of the Étincelle group, with whom Workers’ Liberty has longstanding links.

An article by Pierre Hélelou and Gil Lannou, Israël-Palestine : une nouvelle donne [Israel-Palestine: a new situation], points out reasonably enough that the “embryonic Palestinian state, whether in the West Bank or Gaza, has been unable to live up to any of its promises and limits itself now to being a mere security apparatus, politically and financially dependent upon Israel and other states whose intentions are no better.

“The Israeli state, which de facto controls the whole territory, is structured around an army which has been corrupted by over 50 years of occupation of the Palestinian civilian population and cannot resolve the contradictions of the Zionist project”.

But it goes on to conclude with a call for a single binational state: “a single binational state is now the only solution which is acceptable, albeit not necessarily desirable, for all”, but then continues, puzzlingly: “a democratic binational state is impossible within the framework of capitalism and imperialism” and finishes by clarifying that this would have to be a workers’ binational state.

Odder still, while calling on Israelis and Palestinians to live together harmoniously in a single state, it also concedes that “the bloody division created by a hundred-year national antagonism will probably necessitate the creation of separate, Jewish and Palestinian, revolutionary parties.”

This is a mess. It doesn’t propose a policy for the here and now, or map out a path to resolving the conflict. This article confusedly wraps up by saying that the situation is essentially so dreadful that only a workers’ revolution and the creation of a workers’ state can resolve the conflict. Of course, a socialist revolution probably would resolve the conflict. But one won’t fall from the sky, and the lack of a democratic settlement of Israel’s war on the Palestinians is a roadblock to effective united workers’ action. And if national hatreds are so intense that a united revolutionary party would be untenable, then how could a single state work?

This kicks the question into the long grass of an indistinct revolutionary future: but the labour movement should advocate a democratic solution to the question now. Moreover, a “single democratic state” is not only “not desirable” for the Israeli people but, given the fact that since 1948 wars of conquest, tainted with genocidal intent, have been waged against Israel, it is not acceptable, and reasonably so. No nation with such a recent history of siege, ethnic cleansing and dread could reasonably be expected to voluntarily dissolve its state. In fact the only conceivable route to dissolving Israel, given that the Israeli people manifestly don’t want that to happen, is for Israel to be defeated in war and conquered.

In response, an activist called Belin writes that “it would be premature to conclude that for the Palestinian people, the old demand for ‘their’ own territory wiped clean of colonisation and the Israeli army is dead[…] “It is quite possible that the desire to free “their” territory (which has been ceded to them) of all the new Israeli settlements which have captured the best land, all the available water, and chopped up the West Bank with walls and private roads, could be the motor of the next revolts of the oppressed in Palestine. And these revolts may also turn on the corrupt cliques of the Palestinian Authority of the gang-leaders of Gaza who have taken power there.”

This is right. As opposed to constructing a vague and utopian scheme that could be realised either by genocidal war or not at all, Belin is looking at the present-day reality of Palestinian society and Israeli occupation. An independent Palestinian state would very obviously be a step forward and is also the most achievable next step, as its bare bones exist now. Flesh – life and democracy – should be added to them. The world labour movement should try to make this happen and socialist educators should advocate this path.

In his tone, Belin is hesitant, and he holds back from the conclusions that Workers’ Liberty would draw: that socialists should forthrightly campaign for an independent Palestine alongside Israel, the removal of the settlers, and reparations to the Palestinian state. Belin concludes, rightly, with a call for socialists to oppose the incipiently antisemitic politics that sees Israelis as uniquely, irredeemably reactionary and racist. Like Workers’ Liberty, Belin sees that there is a potential for socialist politics and working-class rebellion in Israeli society: “On the Israeli side, as well as the war against the Palestinians, the financial cost of Israel’s role as a regional gendarme weighs on the people. And the government’s propaganda about the ‘danger’ from the neighbouring states, especially Iran, feeds the far right as much as does its anti-Palestinian propaganda. But we saw, in the 1980s, a powerful movement in Israel against the Lebanon war. And as surprising as it may have seemed, the strongest strike wave seen in Israel in a long time broke out in the wake of, and in part in the image of, the Arab revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011.

“These examples show the advantages of class-based, internationalist politics, including in Israel.”

We can only agree.

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