1. Our programmatic position on the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict is:
• A two-states settlement: self-determination for both the Palestinian and the Israeli Jewish nations — an independent Palestinian state, with equal rights, alongside Israel
• peace between the states in the region, notably, recognition of Israel in agreed borders by the Arab states and Iran
• equal rights, and national minority rights, for the Palestinian minority in Israel
• workers' unity across borders and national divisions
• a socialist federation of the Middle East, with self-determination for minorities like the Kurds and the Israeli Jews.
2. A peace settlement must also include provisions for the six million or so Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza who hold UNRWA refugee status, as descendants of the 1947-9 Arab refugees. The core provision is for an independent Palestinian state which offers them a homeland and citizenship. Though it is not in the gift of Israel or of the Palestinians to achieve this, socialists also advocate equal rights (to jobs, to citizenship, etc.) for the Palestinians who remain in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
3. In addition we advocate economic support or transfers to an independent Palestinian state. And, as we wrote in 2 Nations 2 States : "If the Palestinians win the right to have their own state, and Israel-Arab relations are normalised, that will create conditions favourable to a great increase in free movement of individuals between Palestine and Israel.
"Of course we are for that. Schemes have been put forward by the Israeli left and by Palestinian negotiators for negotiated numbers of Palestinians with family backgrounds in what is now Israel to be resettled there. Such measures are surely desirable, and they should involve as many people as possible."
Or as we put it in our 2002 Committee for Two States initiative: "We for a generous Israeli settlement with Palestinian refugees — a mutually agreed compromise between the two peoples."
4. We are working-class politicians, not diplomatic advisers, and it is not our business to craft diplomatic compromises. However, the Geneva Accord of 2003 (put together unofficially by people who had previously been official Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, and subsequently welcomed by the Palestinian Authority) gives some illustration of what is possible if the political conditions are created for diplomacy to work on a settlement.
5. With the present balance of forces and current political trajectories in Israel-Palestine and the wider Middle East, the prospects for our programme or for any other progress are bleak. Israel is governed by a hard-right nationalist administration, opposed to any "two states" settlement (other than maybe a caricature "two states" — calling the existing West Bank Areas A and B "a Palestinian state").
The larger Israeli opposition parties criticise Netanyahu but make no more promise than he does of progress to "two states".
The Trump administration has promised to announce a new "peace plan" which will drop the adherence to "two states" which the USA has had since the 1990s.
Despite extending the settlements in the West Bank and stalling diplomacy, Israel has retained or developed good relations with a number of regimes, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Russia.
The eclipse of the Palestinian left, the rise of Hamas, and its pressure on Fatah, also block the way to "two states".
Netanyahu has promised to annex Area C of the West Bank (60% of its land area, surrounding like a sea the 160 "islands" — cities, villages — which are Areas A and B). That would be a further obstacle to any democratic settlement.
6. “Standing Together” is a new group on the Israeli left, representing potential for a new Jewish-Arab social movement against the occupation, against racism, and for equality. It is imperative that we do all we can to support and link with it and other such movements as may arise. There remains a base for them, in the continuing though currently demoralised support for "two states" among both Israelis and Palestinians.
7. Should policies like Netanyahu's continue unchecked they may make a two-state settlement unworkable by hemming in, fragmenting, and reducing the Palestinian population in the West Bank so much that it can longer hope to win self-determination. That would be a historic tragedy. But it is one that, if it comes to pass, will take place through drastic changes over decades, not through continuation of present trends for a few years more.
8. At present the West Bank and Gaza still have a 90% Palestinian majority in their population. A democratic "two states" settlement is still demographically and logistically feasible. The chief obstacle is that the Israeli state holds very much the upper hand and doesn't want that outcome. Despite the real difficulties of negotiating with a Palestinian Authority which is heavily discredited and under heavy pressure from Hamas, an Israeli government could almost certainly get that settlement — including Arab states' recognition of Israel — if it made a strong effort to do so. The obstacle is political. And an Israeli polity which cannot be pushed to release its grip over the 90%-Palestinian-populated territories in return for security will most certainly not be pushed to accept a maybe-Palestinian-majority "one-state" settlement.
9. Western-left advocacy of the once-popular "secular democratic state" formula has waned in face of Hamas's obvious anti-secularism. Yet the program of much of the far left for Israel/Palestine remains (by implication, even if often they are unconfident to spell it out) for a single state in the territory marked out by the 1920-48 British Mandate. That is not only far less likely to emerge on any conceivable timescale than a two-state settlement. It is also a programme devoid of connection to any agency for carrying it out or in particular to any realistic effort for workers' unity. It won't happen this side of an epochal shift in the balance of military forces. It offers no foreseeable redress or improvement for the Palestinians.
A “one state solution” could only be achieved either by both peoples agreeing to give up any claim to distinct national rights, or by the conquest and subjugation of one people so that their national rights are definitively repressed.
10. Much of the agitation about Israel-Palestine since 2005 has been dominated by the BDS movement. Leaders of that movement such as Omar Barghouti explain in their own circles that the objective of the movement is to deny Israel's right to exist: "You cannot reconcile the right of return for refugees [one of BDS's three planks] with a two-state solution. That is the big white elephant in the room and people are ignoring it — a return for refugees would end Israel's existence as a Jewish state". ("Ending Israel’s existence as a Jewish state” here does not mean Israel becoming more secular or moving towards greater equality for the non-Jewish national minorities; it means the erasure of the right to self determination of the Israeli-Jewish national group.)
Officially, and in the minds of some supporters, BDS is agnostic on "one state" or "two states". Its logic, the unguarded comments of leaders like Barghouti, and its targeting of "boycott" not only to include but even preferentially to focus against more liberal and democratic-minded Israelis, tell us different.
This implicit, or sometimes explicit, prevalence of the “one state” programme over much of what is intended to be or promoted as Palestinian solidarity activity makes it urgent that we do what we can to assert a different political approach. Ours is based on the levelling up of social and national rights. The rival approach which says that all but trivial progress requires that the national rights of Israeli Jews be cancelled claims to be more radical. It is not. Inescapably it accepts continued cancelling-out of the national rights of the Palestinians for now and for the practical future, until its "reactionary utopia" of suppressing Israeli Jewish rights is realised.
11. The BDS movement proposes three demands, and says that Israel should be condemned as "racist" and boycotted until it concedes them. They are: ending the occupation of the West Bank, equality for the Palestinians within Israel, and the "right of return".
By Hamas, too, since 2018, "right of return" (to what is now Israel of descendants of 1947-9 Palestinian refugees) has been elevated to become a leading active contemporary slogan in a way it never was before.
12. 70 years after 1949, "right of return" has become a different issue from what it was then.
13. This "right of return" is not part of a program for a democratic settlement based on equality of national rights. It runs counter to it. In logic, and in the ideology of its chief proponents, it means collective repossession of the territory now Israel by Arab and Palestinian powers, with the Jews allowed to remain at best as a subordinate minority.
The "right of return", with its claim to ancestral land, is not part of the same discourse as freedom of movement, which is necessarily an equal right which does not privilege people on the basis of heredity. In fact, freedom of movement among the states in the Middle East will become possible only after "right of return" has faded into a marginal ideology.
The policy effectively pits the grandchildren of 1947-8 Palestinian Arab refugees against the grandchildren of Jewish refugees (including post-1948 Jewish refugees from Arab states, whose descendants are now more numerous in Israel than are descendants of the 1948 Jewish community there). Such a policy can not serve the cause of democratic reconciliation or workers’ unity.
The following paragraph was referred back to the National Committee for further discussion rather than being voted on immediately:
Despite being pushed by its proponents as “anti-racist”, the policy in fact belongs to a discourse that asserts inviolable claims to ownership of land based on ancestry, heredity, and genetics — a “we were here first/longest” approach to national rights.
14. We assert the classical “Leninist” approach to the national question — that all nations, i.e nations of people living today, have an equal right to self-determination and statehood.
The widespread attitude on the left, that Israeli Jews are an illegitimate presence in the region with no legitimate claim to national rights (or that, if they might in the abstract have had rights, they have forfeited them through misdeeds in the conflicts between them and the Palestinian Arabs) is a key part of the architecture of left antisemitism. This prejudice stems directly from Stalin’s anti-Zionist turn from 1949. Associated politics include a conspiracy-theorist approach to Zionism, and the implied hostility to the majority of Jews who feel some affinity, however diffuse, with Israel. Fighting for the left to adopt a two-states programme for Israel/Palestine is a crucial aspect of confronting left antisemitism.
15. As on every issue — Brexit, immigration controls, whatever — we adjust our arguments with individuals on Israel-Palestine so as best to develop the democratic and socialist impulses in their thinking and break up the reactionary ideologies which they have adopted. We should be as patient as necessary, especially with young and new activists, and simultaneously as trenchant and insistent as necessary.