The Internationalist  
June 2010  

For an Arab-Hebrew Palestinian Workers State
in a Socialist Federation of the Near East

10,000-plus demonstrators at leftist-led protest in Tel Aviv June 6 against 43 years of Israeli occupation
of Palestinian Arab territories and the May 31 Israeli commando attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

(Photo: Activestills)

The Israeli lockdown of the territories it conquered in 1967 leaves millions of Palestinians in enforced isolation. Turning Gaza into a giant Nazi-style concentration camp and the West Bank into a series of apartheid-like “Bantustans” is intended to induce despair, a feeling that all resistance is futile. Yet in 43 years the Arab population has not ceased to fight, and they are not alone. The Israeli massacre galvanized opposition to the blockade throughout the region and the world. More flotillas are on the way. How will Israel handle an Iranian flotilla, as Tehran has threatened – rappel down a rope with the Revolutionary Guard waiting at the other end? What about the boatload of German Jews, set to sail in July, coming to the aid of Gaza? Israelis with a sense of history worry that this could echo the 1947 Exodus clash in which British colonial authorities seized a shipload of Jewish Holocaust survivors, but lost the propaganda war. The liberal Zionist Ha’aretz (10 June) forecast: “The Gaza flotilla episode heralds the onset of a long, tense summer in the Middle East.” Earlier (1 June) it warned that “this could even end in a third intifada, or Palestinian uprising. In military terms, this can be considered a ‘life-altering event’.”

Once again, as in 1987-1993 and from 2000-2005, Palestinian youth with slingshots and stones could face off against Israeli troops with Galil assault rifles and armored bulldozers. But what has the IDF general staff (if not the “political echelon”) worried is that this time it could be in conjunction with widespread disturbances among Israeli Arabs. If it had to simultaneously put down protests on both sides of the Green Line,1 even the Israeli military juggernaut would be challenged. Even more importantly, unrest could spread through the region, particularly next door in Egypt, where strong man Hosni Mubarak is dying and his military-based regime is fraying. Since 2006 there has been an on-going strike wave by Egyptian workers, from textile mills to government services. Militant Egyptian workers have also taken up the cause of the besieged population of Gaza (see accompanying article, “Egypt: Mubarak Regime Tottering”). And the unrest in Iran, while temporarily suppressed by heavy repression, could spark an explosion of working-class struggle in the mullahs’ republic

But what of the working class in Palestine itself. Many on the left internationally see Israel as one solid reactionary mass, and there is no doubt that ever since the proclamation of the “Jewish state” six decades ago the Zionists have held total sway. (Prior to 1948, there was a history of joint Arab-Hebrew workers struggles in Palestine.2) However, the Arab minority in Israel of roughly 1.3 million people makes up almost a fifth of the population and tens of thousands live in cities with mixed Hebrew and Arab population (Jaffa, Acre and Tel Aviv). Moreover, there is still something of a left in Israel. A candidate of the Hadash slate and leader of the Communist Party received 35 percent of the vote in last November’s mayoral election in Tel Aviv.3

Arab and Hebrew protest against Israeli massace of Gaza aid flotilla in Haifa, June 1. (Photo: Activestills)

In response to Israel’s Gaza flotilla attack there was a general strike on June 1 in the Arab areas of the north as well as sizeable protests in Tel Aviv. On June 6, some 10,000 or more marched in a demonstration initiated by the Hadash electoral list led by the Israeli CP. Many of the marchers were liberal Zionists, particularly of Uri Avnery’s “Peace Now” movement, who simply want a different policy for the Israeli state. And the protests are still relatively small. But fascistic elements and right-wing West Bank settlers are widely despised in Israel, and most of population does not want to live in a permanent garrison state. A military debacle or widespread unrest that drains Israel’s limited manpower could produce cracks in the Zionists’ until now monolithic domination of political life.

Internationally, for decades most of the left in the West has basically tailed the dominant nationalist currents in the Middle East, in the name of building solidarity movements. When in 1974 Arafat’s Fatah, under pressure from imperialism, came out for a “two-state” position, tacitly recognizing Israel, the reformist left pretty much followed suit. Those Western leftists who liked to spice up their reformist “two-stage” politics with vicarious support for Guevara-style guerrillaism gravitated around the left nationalists of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). However, after engaging in a wave of indiscriminate terrorism (aircraft hijackings and bombings and the 1968 Lod Airport massacre in the case of the PFLP, and the 1974 Ma’alot school massacre in the case of the DFLP), these “rejectionists” ended up capitulating to Fatah. In contrast, authentic Trotskyists from the outset denounced the chimera of a Palestinian mini-state as a fraud.

When in 1993 under Bill Clinton’s aegis Arafat and Israel prime minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords setting up the Palestinian Authority, the opportunist left once again supported this, some singing hosannas, others more critically. But a decade later, as the disastrous consequences of the Oslo agreement became evident, with a powerless P.A. serving as window dressing for the Israeli occupation, much of the Western left switched back to the original PLO program, for a “democratic secular Palestine.” This is the position today of the British Socialist Workers Party and its erstwhile comrades of the International Socialist Organization in the U.S., as well as the view of much of the Palestinian intelligentsia in exile who have come to despair of the “two-state solution.”4 

Those calling for a “democratic secular” (and implicitly capitalist) Palestine propose to treat Israeli Jews as just another religious group, like Muslims and Christians. Aside from the fact that Israeli Jews are mostly not religious (they are overwhelmingly secular, and a majority don’t attend synagogue), this ignores the existence of a Hebrew nation which came into existence on the territory of Palestine. This mirrors a standard argument of right-wing Zionists, who deny that Palestinian Arabs are a nation. As in the case of many nations, the formation of Israel took place as a result of a historical crime, perpetrated by the imperialists, notably the United States, who refused to accept Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors after World War II.5 Yet under the hammer blows of  repression, two entities that in terms of common language, territory, economy, culture and history fully qualify as nations have been compacted on the territory of Palestine, and which for Leninists therefore have the democratic right of self-determination, that is, to a separate, independent state.

Under present conditions, the Hebrew population is unlikely to accept simply being a minority with democratic rights in a majority Arab Palestine: they would expect to be oppressed just as Israel has viciously subjugated the Palestinians over the past six decades. If multinational states like Belgium and Canada with different nationalities living largely adjacent to each other and with similar living standards are splitting apart as a result of nationalist tensions and national oppression, what are the prospects for a capitalist state in which two nations lay claim to the same territory, towns and even houses, and where the privileged minority long suppressed the impoverished majority? Those who call for a democratic secular Palestine under capitalist rule have in mind the example of South Africa, and many talk of “Israeli apartheid” today. But there is a crucial difference. In South Africa, white oppressors and the black, colored and Indian oppressed were part of a single nation, in Palestine there are two quite distinct national entities.

The only way that competing national rights and the national oppression of the Palestinians can be transcended in a single state is through a socialist revolution that utterly transforms the economy and society as a whole, and which is the product of a joint struggle by Arab and Hebrew workers. Such a revolution would have to transform the consciousness of the Hebrew-speaking population to be successful. It would also have to deal with sizeable numbers of Zionist butchers, fascists and dead-end counterrevolutionaries who will never be integrated into a society with a Palestinian majority. But it is important that justice be meted out to these criminals by their own people. If one can overcome the chasm in living conditions by vastly improving the lot of the oppressed majority, do away with segregation into separate communities, share scarce resources equitably, lay the basis for a full flowering of culture in both languages, then it is possible to overcome national antagonisms – but that is utterly impossible under capitalism.

Protest outside Israeli war ministry in Tel Aviv against flotilla massacre, May 31.
(Photo: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

In the 1940s, while the Stalinists of the Communist Party supported partition of Palestine and the formation of Israel, including bringing in weapons that were used to massacre and drive out the Arabs, the Palestinian Trotskyists opposed partition and called for joint revolutionary struggle against imperialism by Arab and Hebrew workers.6 Into the 1980s, the Spartacist League (SL) in the U.S. and its International Communist League (ICL) affiliates called for an Arab/Hebrew Palestinian workers state in a socialist federation of the Near East, as we in the IG/LFI do today. However, the SL/ICL today no longer raises the demand for a bi-national workers state. Declaring that the demise of the Soviet Union produced a qualitative regression in working-class consciousness, the SL/ICL evidently despairs of Hebrew-speaking and Palestinian workers constructing a common state. But what is the alternative? Two separate workers states in the same area? But how could class-conscious Hebrew workers smash the Zionist state except together with their Palestinian sisters and brothers? And after victory they separate?

The League for the Fourth International calls to defend the Palestinian people, not only against Israel, but also against U.S. imperialism, which finances, militarily arms and diplomatically props up the Zionist oppressors. We demand that Israel get out of all the territories occupied since the 1967 war (including East Jerusalem), and along with it must go the Zionist settlements on the West Bank, which serve a military function of subjugating the Arab population. Trotskyists oppose the existence of the Israeli theocratic state and all confessional or religion-based states: separation of church and state is a basic bourgeois-democratic gain, and a “Jewish state” in Israel just like an “Islamic republic” in Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, or a “Christian state” such as Vichy France, is inherently undemocratic.

The LFI also supports the Palestinians’ right to return to their homes and lands. But the forcible expulsion of Jews from Palestine today would also be criminal. Recognizing the right of self-determination for both Hebrew speakers and Arabs in Palestine, we note that the conflicting national claims of two interpenetrated peoples in the same small territory cannot be equitably resolved in a capitalist framework. Moreover, any Palestinian state must include present-day Jordan, an artificial country which was part of Palestine under the League of Nations mandate and where close to 2 million Palestinians live today, many still crammed into refugee camps.  If a Palestinian mini-state were somehow to be established alongside Israel, we defend the Palestinians right to be freed from occupation under the Zionist jackboot. But this would be an obstacle to resolving the national oppression of Palestinian Arabs, Therefore, we seek to build an Arab/Hebrew Trotskyist party in all of Palestine to lead the fight for a binational Arab/Hebrew workers state in the framework of a socialist federation of the Near East.

However, distant that prospect may seem today, it is the only basis on which Muslims, Jews, Christians, Druzes – not to mention Kurds, Zoroastrians and numerous other national and religious minorities throughout the region – can overcome sectarian divisions and live and develop in harmony. Achieving this is a vital task not only of Hebrew-speaking and Arab workers in Palestine, but of the world proletariat as we struggle to smash imperialism through international socialist revolution.

1 The armistice line established following the 1948 war, leaving the Zionists in control of almost four-fifths of pre-partition Palestine. In 1967, Israel conquered the rest, occupying East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

2 See our article, “Arab/Hebrew Workers’ Struggles Before the Birth of Israel,” in The Internationalist No. 9, January-February 2001.

3 Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) is an electoral list led by the Communist Party of Israel (the CPI or Maki, according to its initials in Hebrew), which holds four seats in the Knesset, mostly elected by Arab votes.  However, Hadash/Maki accepts the existence of Israel, set up by the Zionists as a Jewish state. This renders the CPI’s formal anti-Zionism moot, since in everything from citizenship criteria to the military draft and myriad other aspects of civic life, the Israeli state is inherently oppressive toward Arab citizens.

4 The United Secretariat (which masquerades as the Fourth International) is split between “two-staters” and “one-staters,” while both the Committee for a Workers International, led by Peter Taaffe, and Alan Woods’ International Marxist Tendency, accept the existence of Israel, and the latter entered the Israeli CP.

5 For example, genocide of the native population, slavery and theft of Mexican lands in the case of the United States; subjugation of the Scots, Welsh and Irish by England in the case of Britain; the slaughter of Occitans and Huguenots in France, etc.

6 See “The Fight for Trotskyism in Palestine,” in The Internationalist No. 12, Summer 2001.

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com