this month, Israeli vice-premier Haim Ramon, one of several high-profile Labour
MKs to defect to the newly-formed Kadima party, outlined plans to "cede control
of the Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem to the Palestinians and establish joint
sovereignty over the city’s holy sites" ("Ramon: Give parts of Jerusalem to
Palestinians", YNet news, 18/09/2007). Predictably, this met with immediate
hostility from members of Israel’s
right-wing governing coalition:
government does not have a majority (to support) Haim Ramon’s opinions on
anything to do with Jerusalem,"
Pensioners Party Chairman Rafi Eitan said.
strongly oppose Minister Ramon’s initiative. Jerusalem is the city that has been bringing
together the Jewish people for thousands of years, and is not a bargaining chip
or piece of real estate. Jerusalem
is the Jewish people’s right of existence and there is no one who is able to
give up that right," complained Deputy Prime Minister and (Sephardi
ultra-orthodox party) Shas Chairman Eli Yishai.
(Ramon’s) plan is completely identical to Meretz’s platform which is based on
plan. I did hear of any decision of Kadima to join Meretz," said MK Otniel
Schneller, also of Kadima.
isn’t the first time the division of Jerusalem
has been discussed by the Israeli political elite. The Israeli foreign
ministry’s website carries an academic paper entitled Jerusalem and the Peace Process (1994), which contains the following interesting paragraphs:
and the Palestinian Authority] should try to avoid discussions about
sovereignty. Sovereignty is an abstract notion with a strong emotional appeal.
People get carried away by this concept and are reluctant to compromise about
it. Therefore it may be advisable to leave this notion aside, perhaps to agree
on suspending sovereignty for a considerable period, or to replace unqualified
sovereignty by a more subtle concept, such as functional, differential or
associate sovereignty. One could also envisage different kinds of sovereignty
for particular locations, including shared sovereignty. It may be helpful if in
the negotiations, instead of bickering about sovereignty, the parties would
emphasize the division or sharing of powers among the various neighbourhoods or
us remember that the concept of sovereignty has undergone great changes in the
last century. The interdependence of States in the economic sphere, the free
movement of people across borders, the availability of world-wide systems of
communications and the development of the international protection of human
rights have drastically reduced the importance of sovereignty and changed its
character. In the sphere of the law of the sea the notion of functional
sovereignty, i.e., sovereign rights for a specific function only, has
developed. Renouncing negotiations on sovereignty would therefore seem to be in
line with new trends in the international political arena."
it seems that at least sections of the Israeli bourgeoisie recognise that some
compromise on Jerusalem
(at least in terms of rhetoric) will be necessary in future. Why might this be?
Well, it can be argued that some territorial concessions (dishonestly termed
‘peace plans’ by the imperialists) will serve the interests of the Israeli
ruling class and US imperialists. The more far-sighted strategists of
imperialism realise that even their loyal puppet, Abu Mazen (Mahmood Abbas)
will be unable to sell any deal to the Palestinian people which doesn’t include
some concessions regarding Jerusalem.
The US has
organised a ‘Middle-East peace summit’ for November. So why would the Israeli
and US ruling classes be looking for a settlement? The following reasons stand
For Israel, the
occupation carries significant economic costs; the high level of military
spending, whilst benefiting the politically powerful military elite (one of the
major reasons for the continuation of Israel’s aggressive foreign policy) costs
the ruling class as a whole; in addition, the high political cost of suicide
bombings means Israel is forced to bar Palestinians from working in Israel,
denying Israeli capitalism a reliable source of slave-labour (Israeli manpower
agencies, whose mostly Palestinian workers were denied trade union rights,
played an important role in the undermining of the Israeli labour movement).
Of major concern
to Israel is the so-called ‘demographic bomb’: already, the total Arab
population of Israel and Palestine is almost equal to the Jewish population,
and with the Arab birth-rate more than twice the Jewish birth-rate, without
serious territorial concessions, Jews will become a minority, rendering the concept
of a ‘Jewish state’ completely meaningless.
For the United States, Israel’s
barbaric behaviour is considerably undermining imperialism’s friendly
governments throughout the region (the most obvious example of this is
in Lebanon, but the effects are felt also in Saudi Arabia, Egypt
the appearance of a solution to the Palestinian question may take
these regimes (temporarily at least).
So will the Palestinian question be
solved by the imperialists?
November ‘peace summit’ will produce no meaningful offer to the Palestinians. Left
to themselves, the US and Israel will never grant meaningful concessions
to the Palestinians, on Jerusalem
or anything else. This is obvious: why would Israel
give up natural resources (including the oil deposits off the Gaza coast), land and above all water
voluntarily? As outlined above, Israel does have an interest in disengaging
from the Palestinian population, but this can be achieved by the creation of a
Palestinian ‘state’ consisting of isolated Bantustans with no economic autonomy
(these would also be an ideal source of cheap Labour for Israeli capitalism,
which would not have to bear the social costs of employing these Palestinians).
Israel’s rapid building in the ‘E-1 area’, between West-Bank
settlement Ma’aleh Adumim and East
Jerusalem, which will effectively cut the West-Bank in two, should
make their plans obvious to anyone. According to a report in Haaretz ("Israel takes land to ease way to build in E-1
area", 10/10/2007), Israel’s ‘answer’ is to build roads
to connect up these Palestinian areas! (Obviously, the Israeli military would
still have de facto control over
whether these roads would be open or closed.)
Israel may be prepared to hand over certain Arab
neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem (as proposed by Ehud Barak in 2000), but the
chance of a united Palestinian East Jerusalem is gone, destroyed by forty years
of rampant settlement-building. Any sensible concessions on the Old City are
also unlikely – Israel will
never agree to place Jewish holy sites under any joint sovereignty, and the
prospect of physically dividing the Old
City should be repulsive
to anyone who’s actually been there.
with this reality, many progressives and trade-unionists around the world (including
have rallied to the call of certain otherwise-insignificant left-wing sects to
boycott all things Israeli, from chocolate bars to academics. For example, a
number of British trade unions, including my own (the University and Colleges
Union) have passed motions calling for various boycotts of Israel. (Note
that, although the UCU boycott has been effectively shelved due to legal advice
given to the union’s executive that it would contravene anti-discrimination
laws, the same left-wing sects will doubtless present it again next year in a
slightly modified form.)
can such boycotts work? The answer is plainly no. To begin with, no sort of
international pressure, either economic or political, will have the slightest moderating
impact on Israel’s behaviour whilst it has the backing of US imperialism (the
Israeli state will not magically ‘collapse inwards’, as some of these sects
claim). International big business continued to co-operate with South African
Apartheid despite an international boycott campaign, and the Apartheid regime
survived 34 years of boycotts.
the contrary, all these boycotts have achieved has been to push ordinary
Israelis into the arms of their reactionary leaders. Because the boycott
singles out Israel and targets all Israelis regardless of class or political
belief, Israel’s leaders and apologists can wield the charge of ant-Semitism,
painting a picture of a hostile world determined to undermine Israel, and a
need for a ‘national consensus’ to combat this.
still, boycotts of Israeli workers (of the kind passed in the UCU) undermine
the work of the Palestinian Trade Union Federation to forge links with the
Histadrut (Israeli trade-union federation). These links are admittedly
bureaucratic (and the Histadrut leadership has a long history of treacherously
opposing genuine class unity between Jewish and Palestinian workers), but these
links nonetheless represent a step forward, in the same way that a bureaucratic
trade union is better than no union at all. A public debate in Palestine about whether Israeli workers
should be boycotted is not helpful to Palestinian trade unionists, who don’t
want to appear pro-Israeli, but want to promote links with their Israeli
A democratic, secular state?
left-wing sects call for the replacement of Israel
with a single (presumably Arab) ‘democratic, secular state’. The slogan
‘one-state solution’ is counter-posed to the imperialists’ slogan, ‘two-state
solution’. But several immediate problems are raised:
How will such a
state come about? Israel
isn’t going to simply disappear. Does this mean socialists should call for an
Arab invasion and subjugation of Israel?
guarantee that such a state would indeed be democratic and secular? By law,
Israeli-Palestinians have the same rights as Israeli-Jews, but everyone knows
of the discrimination that actually goes on.
What about the
national question? Israel
has existed for sixty years, a fact which cannot be ignored. Despite the
horrific circumstance under which it was set up (including the ethnic cleansing
of 750,000 Palestinians), Israelis still have a right to a national identity,
which would be violated by simply removing their state from the outside.
myriad of arguments in the blogosphere, university campuses and trade union
fringe meetings about ‘one state vs. two states’ are asking completely the
wrong question. The number of states is a political detail – what’s important
is the economic basis of that state/those states. What we should be asking is
whether a solution is possible under imperialism/capitalism at all, or whether
the sheer human misery on both sides can only be alleviated by a socialist
transformation of society.
Can capitalism solve the problem?
otherwise specified, it is safe to assume that proponents of either ‘one state’
or ‘two states’ are proposing bourgeois, capitalist states. But under
capitalism, there can be no lasting solution. Whether in one state or two, the
poorer Palestinians and (somewhat) wealthier Jews will always be played off
against each other in an eternal quest to drive down wages and conditions, and
increase profits. Capitalism doesn’t wipe out wealth inequality, it accentuates
it. The examples of Israel
using Palestinian agency-labourers to weaken the trade unions should make this
obvious. And believe it or not, racism, repression and terrorism also exist
outside of Israel and Palestine, encouraged by
the need of capitalism to divide people.
What can be done?
only solution to the misery of the region is socialism. But how can this be
achieved? What is needed is the building of a revolutionary organisation that
will attract the most advanced sections of the Israeli and Palestinian workers.
Such an organisation, armed with clear perspectives, could intervene in the
Israeli mass workers’ organisations (the Histadrut, and at some possibly the
Labour Party), and more progressive sections of the Palestinian resistance (the
Tanzim, the group supporting jailed leader Marwan Barghouti, may attract
Palestinians who are open to progressive ideas). Such interventions would
influence the mass of workers and poor in both nations, and encourage them to
take ever more militant action in their labour disputes. Despite the
reactionary nature of its leadership, the Israeli working class does have a
history of class struggle; and despite its reactionary, nationalistic bent
(including calls to destroy Israel)
and the supine nature of its current leadership, socialist traditions still
exist within sections of the PLO and its supporters. The struggles of the
Israeli and Palestinian workers for workers’ rights and the struggle for peace
cannot be separated. We understand how difficult this is – sixty years of
hatred and bitterness are not easily swept away. But there really is no other
option. All bourgeois forces, whether imperialist, Zionist, or Islamist, will
inevitably betray those who trust in them.
concessions in the form of a peace settlement are not impossible along the way,
but will only come about (beyond the ‘Bantustans’ I described earlier) as a
result of the mass movement of the Israeli and Palestinian masses, lead by the
working class. This was what happened in South Africa – the movement of the
(black and white) workers frightened the regime into granting concessions. What
concessions there have been (e.g. Oslo)
came about on the back of the first Intifada, which had some success in
bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. But we must be careful: such
settlements are not inevitable (Israel
has shown in the past that it is quite capable of launching a war to distract
the masses from the class question), and are not a necessary stage before we
can fight for socialism. Also, the question remains: what should be done if a
settlement is reached? In South Africa,
the leadership of the ANC completely sold out to South
Africa’s ruling class, accepting the rotten compromise
that left most of South
Africa’s wealth in the hands of its white
capitalists. The fight doesn’t end if some deal is reached, but goes on until
the entire region has been ridden of imperialism and capitalism forever.