The return of the one-state solution
At a recent forum about the oppression of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel, a Fatah supporter scoffed at those of us who argued that we should be fighting for one, democratic, secular state in the whole of Israel as “unrealistic”.
He argued that sometimes we have to accept what is “realistic”; we need to make compromises in order to take a step towards the ideal goal of our struggle.
He argued that we should aim for two states, with the racist state of Israel existing alongside a Palestinian state.
This would be a step towards an integrated nation in which Arabs, Jews and others live as equals because a Palestinian state could negotiate on an equal footing with Israel.
I must say I felt that time had stood still for over twenty years. These were the arguments hurled at us in the 1980s as Arafat, head of Fatah and the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), steered the Palestinian liberation movement to take just these steps.
Those of us who were later to found Socialist Alternative argued that this would only end in disaster, that it would take us further from, not closer to liberation. We were attacked by all and sundry on the left, including other socialists.
We were accused of trying to impose our “Western” agenda on the Palestinians, jeered for not uncritically falling in behind the PLO’s strategy. Supposedly, only the Palestinians could know the correct road to their liberation.
These denunciations reflected either opportunism: the idea that socialists should tail behind popular – but mistaken – leaders, not argue for strategies to win a struggle.
Or they were the result of a rejection of the Marxist understanding of imperialism and the role of Israel within it.
We argued that Israel could only be established on the dispossession of the Arab population, invoking the racist assertion that Palestine was a land without people.
And it had no viable economy without massive aid and military backing by the major imperialists. Therefore by its nature it is a thoroughly aggressive, racist state.
Diane Fieldes, a regular contributor to this magazine, spelled out our arguments in an article in December 1988. She pointed out that Israel was by then the fourth most powerful military power in the world by virtue of the massive military and economic aid the US had poured into it since Israel demonstrated its military usefulness in disciplining the Arab regimes in the 1967 war.
Fieldes’s article was prompted by a declaration by the Palestinian National Council a month earlier in which they accepted Israel’s right to exist and a separate Palestinian state comprised of only the occupied territories and the Arab sector of Jerusalem. The PNC accepted UN resolutions 242 and 338, which make no mention of Palestinian national rights.
And, argued Fieldes, “they cannot. The existence of the state of Israel and Palestinian national rights are counterposed. That’s why Israel and the US have continually demanded acceptance of these two resolutions as a precondition for any negotiations on the Palestinian question.”
She pointed out that accepting two states means accepting the dispossession of the nearly one million Palestinians who were driven from their homes to establish Israel, and summed up what the PNC’s declaration represented:
“a retreat from the struggle for national liberation. It is part of a process of substituting accommodation with imperialism for resisting it.”
Today, many supporters of the Palestinian struggle understand that the aim of two-states is not realistic, is not a solution, but is in fact completely unrealistic. They now recognise that Israel has created facts on the ground that make two states completely unviable.
Even Le Monde Diplomatique, the respectable French monthly magazine of world affairs, has published a map in its 2009 edition of the Atlas du Monde Diplomatique called “An Inverted World”. It clearly illustrates how the Palestinian areas are fragmented by Israeli settlements, checkpoints and barriers and how impossible any kind of viable Palestinian state is.
However many of those who recognise these facts have only come to this position because of the experience of these last twenty years. So revisiting the arguments made by those of us who, as Marxists, opposed the two-state “solution” over twenty years ago, is not to score points. The debates then point to important lessons for today.
The tragic history of the Palestinians starkly illustrates the need for a Marxist understanding of imperialism, because instead of wasting long years in so-called “peace processes” that have trapped the Palestinians in a never-ending world of double-speak and hypocrisy by Israel, the US and its Western backers while Israel created these facts, the Palestinian movement and its supporters could have spent them fighting for the only realistic goal: one, democratic, secular state in the whole of historic Palestine.
In 1988 Fieldes pointed out, in reply to our critics, what was true then and remains so: “the point on which [the two state solution] falls apart is the very question of realism”.
The PNC’s declaration was greeted by the imposition by Israel of a curfew in the occupied territories, the banning of all singing, dancing, shouting slogans or lighting fireworks. The penalty for raising the Palestinian flag was five years imprisonment.
Yitzak Shamir – former member of the terrorist Zionist Irgun and Stern Gangs which played a key role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the late 1940s – as Prime Minister in November 1988 made quite clear the Zionist attitude to any Palestinian state in his response to the PNC: “Nothing will change. We will not negotiate.”
Eventually Israel was pushed into what was called a “peace process”, but those who supported it would have been advised to heed these responses.
The disastrous Oslo “peace process” from 1993 to 2000 was actually a process to prevent peace. This farce eventually gave a Palestinian Authority supposed “autonomy” over only 17.2 per cent of the illegally occupied West Bank and 58 per cent of Gaza.
The Israeli army only withdrew to the illegal Jewish-only settlements, the population of which had doubled during the process, leaving the PA with bantustan-like areas surrounded by the Israeli army and the rabidly racist, usually armed settlers and their connecting roads.
Israel maintained the right to “hot pursuit” against protesters inside the PA’s “autonomous” areas. The PA was responsible now for civil administration, freeing Israel from any further responsibility to provide basic infrastructure, services or schools.
The refusenik Yigal Bronner, who served time in Israel’s jails for his public refusal to serve in the occupied territories, later concluded: “the Oslo years were the worst decade of Israeli occupation – until the 2000s, that is”.
And yet almost the whole of the Israeli establishment saw Oslo as too conciliatory. So CIA-influenced institutions and strategists came up with a secret plan, “Operation Field of Thorns”, which was the basis for the policies which have driven the Palestinians into ever more desperate straits since 2000.
Massive increases in military assaults including bombings and helicopter strikes to punish Palestinian protesters. Search and seize raids into the West Bank and Gaza to break up any resistance organisations. Capture and killing of Palestinian leaders. Israeli control of water, power and communications and regulation of media. Restrictions on movements, food and fuel, culminating in the blockade of Gaza since June 2007, turning it into the world’s largest and most overcrowded jail.
A huge propaganda campaign worldwide to intimidate any critics of Israel and to brand them as “anti-Semitic”, has legitimised these complete denials of Palestinian human rights and silenced many critics.
Today, millions have witnessed in horror the brutal massacre in Gaza, the deliberate desecration not of military targets, but homes, mosques, and cultural centres; the deliberate use of white phosphorus in civilian areas; the bombing of schools and UN depots full of food and other aid.
Since the war we’ve seen Israeli soldiers, with the approval of their officers, flaunting T-shirts bearing a picture of a target over a pregnant Palestinian woman and the words “one bullet, two kills”.
Consequently the reality that Israel is a racist, genocidal state is increasingly recognised.
Opponents of these brutal attempts to destroy Palestinian culture and identity now recognise that two states are not possible because there is no Palestinian area with the necessary integrity to form a state with any hope of a viable future.
You might think that this is the unfortunate consequence of the wrong politicians gaining power, or Palestinian “intransigence”. But it was all perfectly predictable if you understood the nature of Israel.
After all this disaster and defeat, the same arguments remain vital because the arguments for two states have not been finally condemned to the irrelevancy they deserve.
Diane Fieldes’s arguments are eerily prophetic – distressingly so for those of us who have seen these twenty wasted years. But it shows that our analysis remains a guide to the way forward to Palestinian liberation.
Fieldes pointed out in 1988 that “ultra-right settler movements such as Gush Emunin have made it clear that they are setting up their own towns in the West Bank precisely to forestall any move to give it back to the Palestinians.”
So it’s no accident that the settlements have increased by another 85 per cent since 2000. She foresaw the miserable result of the Oslo Accords outlined above. Any “independent” state under Palestinian rule “would be under constant threat of Israeli incursions to ‘protect’ Israeli settlers…or to pursue ‘terrorists’.”
And she reminded readers that “in its forty year history Israel has invaded every one of its neighbours at least once. Given Shamir’s response…the existence of a separate state would be extremely precarious.” The incursions and ultimately the massacre of Gaza were horribly predictable.
John Minns, another Marxist writing in the same publication at the time, argued that Israel, even if forced to cede the occupied territories,
“will certainly not allow a truly independent Palestinian state to be formed on the West Bank. It would keep control of everything that was important to it – foreign policy, immigration etc.”
He pointed out that the Israeli government refused to talk to the PLO, so they were hardly likely to accept a government run by them. Substitute Hamas for PLO and you have that situation replicated today.
And both Fieldes and Minns compared the enclaves they expected the Palestinians to be condemned to with the black “homelands” set up by the apartheid state of South Africa – a comparison widely made today.
They predicted these “bantustans” would be economically unviable and under constant military threat, to say nothing of having no means to establish a coordinated infrastructure to integrate them all into a state entity.
This unstable situation would result in any Palestinian government having to repress its own population, who would be likely to want to defend themselves and resist Israel’s constant aggression.
Anyone who knows anything about the brutality, corruption and authoritarianism that has become associated with the PA knows the truth of this prediction.
One problem with the two-state “solution” has changed since Fieldes alluded to it, but the change does not invalidate her argument so much as emphasise its correctness.
A separate Palestinian state would not be economically viable, she argued, in large part because a third of workers from the West Bank and Gaza made their living inside Israel. According to Fieldes, the percentage of Gaza’s income earned inside Israel had grown from 2 per cent in 1968 to 45 per cent and to 30 per cent for the whole of the occupied territories by 1988.
But by 2000, only 25 per cent of the workforce in the West Bank and 20 per cent overall could rely on work in Israel. As the settlements grew, along with criss-crossing Jewish-only roads and checkpoints, getting to and from work became a nightmare, and obtaining a permit for work became increasingly difficult.
Since April 2006, Gazans are no longer able to receive work permits for employment inside Israel or its West Bank settlements at all. Permits available to West Bank Palestinians are only valid for three months.
The outcome has been rampant unemployment and underemployment in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, leaving 33 per cent and 80 per cent of the population respectively dependent on international food assistance.
The dire economic situation means more Palestinians are forced to seek work in Israel’s illegal settlements, where they are extremely vulnerable to appalling conditions.
The idea that this is the basis for an economically viable state would be laughable if it were not so tragically misleading to those struggling for a solution to end Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.
In the 1980s we were not just inventing scenarios to back up our ideological position, as our critics sneered. We drew on the history of Israel and its leaders – a history that proponents of two states ignore.
As late as the 1970s, Israel’s Prime Minister, Golda Meir, insisted that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people.
And Ariel Sharon, the infamous war criminal who oversaw the massacre of at least 3,000 Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, repeatedly said that if the Palestinians want a state they should find it in Jordan.
When the far right politician Avigdor Lieberman entered the government this year, many were shocked. But while the far right, fascistic and religious parties have seemed to exist on the margins of Israeli society, some of their key policies concerning the Palestinians’ rights have widespread support.
In 1988 Fieldes quoted a survey which found that almost 50 per cent of Israelis favoured “transferring” the Palestinians out of the occupied territories, the preferred euphemism for the complete ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the extermination of their national identity and culture.
Because when it comes down to it, their policies are the logic of the very nature of the state of Israel. It is racist by its very nature.
It is fitting to end with the words of Yigal Bronner. They vindicate our stance, but they also sum up a growing understanding today:
“The fruits of … ‘an acre here and an acre there’ are finally within sight. The Arab population of historical Palestine has become sufficiently disintegrated and dispossessed. The tenuously related, landless enclaves of the West Bank are being terminally fixed – they have nowhere to go…
“The machine of displacement never tires… Let me be clear: no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible so long as it continues its work.
“But dismantle it, and everything is possible.”
This article, by Sandra Bloodworth, first appeared in this month’s Socialist Alternative.
Students for Palestine at the ANU has organised a talk at 5 pm on Wednesday 13 May called Al-Nakbah – the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. It is in room G 053 of the Haydon Allen Building at the University. (Al Nakbah is Arabic for the great disaster and May 15 is the founding day of Israel.)