Workers' Liberty #2/2


One way forward: one state

I agree with and have learned much from the analysis of Zionism and anti-Semitism in the WL pamphlet Two Nations, Two States. However I do not think that the two state 'solution' (or even interim solution) is the necessary political consequence of the analysis. I would make the following points in the spirit of contributing to a debate.

By Steve Cohen

You are right in arguing that the exceptionalism with which most of the left treats the Israeli state is anti-Semitic. The grossest example of this are the pickets of Marks and Spencer on account of its assumed Jewish ownership. However, Zionism, the ideology which justifies the state, is genuinely exceptional.

I know of no other ideology which possesses an internal contradiction of such magnitude whereby it encompasses its own polar opposites. Zionism is both racist and anti-racist. Hence the reason it understandably provokes such extreme reactions on both sides.

It is, at least in its triumphant form, undoubtedly racist towards the Palestinians. Even within the pre 1967 borders Palestinians are manifestly second class citizens. At the same time Zionism is anti-racist in that it presents itself as an answer, the answer, to centuries of pogroms culminating in the holocaust. As Marxists we would have wished all this otherwise and (as a few did) fought accordingly. We would have wished and fought to try and ensure that the European labour movement had smashed Nazism and prevented the holocaust. We would have wished and fought in Palestine for combined action by Palestinian and Jewish workers against their own reactionary leaderships and the British mandate authority. However though we can learn from history we cannot roll it back or pretend it never happened. The result today is the Zionism of contradiction.

In my view the creation of two states - formed not through workers' solidarity but through the coming together of Bush, Blair, Sharon and Arafat - would in all likelihood simply increase, if that were possible, this contradiction. Far from being a bridgehead for workers unity it would cement the existing divisions between Jew and Palestinian. It would be a recipe for perpetual war (the analogy with Pakistan and India is apposite). This would not only fail to roll back history. It would repeat it with a vengeance.

I think WL is absolutely correct in supporting in retrospect the right of Jews fleeing the impending holocaust to have had right of entry into the then Palestine ('the law of return'). Any other position would have meant siding not only with the reactionary Arab leadership and the British mandated forces - it would in effect have meant siding with the Nazis.

To argue, as is sometimes argued today against Zionism and Zionism alone, that it is somehow an absolute principle of socialism that the oppressed should remain and fight in their place of oppression - even after defeat - would in fact result in the denial of support for all asylum seekers whatever their origin and whatever their country of destination. To use such an argument against Jews fleeing Nazism amounts not so much to immigration control as a bizarre form of emigration control. It is exceptionalism. It is anti-Semitism.

However, once it is acknowledged that Jews had and have a right to enter Palestine/Israel, then it seems to me politically and morally obvious that Palestinians should have exactly the same right. Such a Palestinian law of return is already denied by the present state of Israel. This denial would be consolidated and enshrined by the creation of two states.

Workers Liberty's denial of this Palestinian right is completely illogical. You state that '...the proposal for the Arab 'right of return' is a proposal for people who have never lived there to 'repossess' Israel from people born there'. However the original Zionists had far less connection (in fact they had no connection) with Palestine/Israel than the majority of today's Palestinians many of whom, and most of whose families, were indeed born there.

I guess WL would argue that the situation of Jews fleeing Nazism would not be the same as that for Palestinians once an independent Palestinian state exists - as the Palestinians would not be refugees fleeing persecution. However this raises a far broader question - that of immigration controls. WL is opposed to all immigration controls. I agree. However opposition to all controls means refusing to accept any distinction between refugees and other migrants or immigrants. No controls means freedom of movement for all. Otherwise you end up accepting the reactionary distinction between 'genuine' and 'bogus' entrants.

Actually within the context of the proposed two states WL substitutes another equally invalid and parallel contradiction - namely that between the right of 'individual' Palestinian immigration into Israel, which you support, and the right of 'collective' immigration - which you oppose on the grounds this would undermine the Jewish Israeli 'common identity'. Leave aside for now the highly problematic notion of what is meant, if anything, by a 'Jewish nation' with a 'common identity'. The point here is that this allegation about the undermining of identity is exactly the same as that used by racists in this country to oppose all immigration.

If WL genuinely believed immigration controls against a 'collective' Palestinian right of return to be progressive in the context of the new partitioned Israel then the logic would be for your comrades and supporters to help police the borders of the two states and act as immigration officers (or more realistically as army officers). Count me out - I'd go AWOL.

The logic of your emphasis on a 'common identity' for Israelis and thus your support for two states has some pretty horrific consequences. First, it would presumably require forced population movement - which would make the present involuntary dispersal scheme under British asylum law seem benign by comparison. I was shocked to read in your pamphlet that the Israeli left is prepared for a 'negotiated' number of Palestinians to be 'resettled' in Israel. You say 'such measures are surely desirable'.

In my view they are absolutely undesirable. What about the Palestinians whom the left in its wisdom and arrogance decides not to 'negotiate' for resettlement? It seems to me what you are supporting here is a Middle Eastern equivalent of 'fair' immigration controls - which is hardly fair to those remaining subject to controls.

Second, any 'settlement' based on demographics is both reactionary and doomed. What in your view would happen to the two state solution (and the Israeli 'common identity') if the Palestinian birth rate in Israel itself lead to a Palestinian majority? I guess the Israeli right would propose expulsion or forced sterilisation.

There are many other arguments against the creation of two exclusivist states. Not the least of such arguments is the physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank - look what happened to the attempt to form a similarly exclusivist entity out of West and East Pakistan.

I do not underestimate the huge problems in forging the political alliances necessary to create a single state which would allow for a socialist alternative to the present impasse. However there is something quite bizarre about the whole two state notion as far as the Palestinians are concerned. It is like a person being deliberately blinded in one eye (1948) then in the other eye (1967) and now being offered blurred vision as a compromise.

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