WHAT WILL THE NEW PALESTINE BE?
by John Spritzler
December 1, 2003
Among those sincerely seeking a peaceful resolution to the Palestine/Israel conflict, there has lately been a marked shift from advocacy of a two-state solution to advocacy of a one-state solution. This changed outlook has been driven primarily by a recognition of "facts on the ground." The material basis for a genuine independent state of Palestine is now a thing of the past, due to Israel's successful policy of using settlers and Jews-only highways and military force to drive the Palestinian population into isolated "bantustans" within the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There is no contiguous area of Palestinian-occupied land that could constitute a real Palestinian state.
The problem with the two-state solution, however, is not simply that it is no longer possible by reason of "facts on the ground." More importantly, the two-state solution is a conceptual and political trap that prevents Arab and Jewish working people from uniting around their common interests and values. The situation in the Middle East cannot be solved within a two-state framework; it leads nowhere except to more destruction and hate in a situation manipulated by Arab, Israeli, and U.S. elites. In contrast, there is every reason to be optimistic about a framework calling for replacing Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip with a single democratic Palestine in which all persons -- no matter what their religion or ethnicity -- are equals and live together in peace. That is why the growing consensus on a one-state solution is a development of historic proportions with new and inspiring possibilities.
Decades of conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East have caused many to despair that there could ever be a just resolution that would end the violence. But a solution is not inherently impossible, as claimed by those who characterize the problem as "two peoples for one land." A solution is possible, and the apparently hopeless situation can be seen to be full of hope. For this transformation to occur, however, it will be first necessary for popular movements in Israel/Palestine to perceive the situation in a new way. Namely they must rethink who are their friends and who are their enemies.
The Key Obstacle To A One-State Solution
The key obstacle to achieving a one-state solution is the fact that the rulers of the United States and the Arab and Jewish rulers in the Middle East do not want ordinary Jews and Arabs to live together peacefully. The control of oil in the Middle East by foreign corporations depends upon preventing popular democratic movements from taking control of the region's resources and using them to meet the needs and aspirations of the working class. The key elite strategy to prevent such popular democratic movements from succeeding has been to foment conflict between Jews and Arabs. The more Jews and Arabs are pre-occupied with fighting and fearing each other, the easier it is for their respective rulers to control them, to strengthen their undemocratic regimes and preserve a status quo in which the few enrich themselves at the expense of the many. Class solidarity between working class Jews and Arabs threatens elite control. From the elite's perspective, peaceful and friendly relations between ordinary Jews and Arabs must be prevented at all costs.
This is why American Presidents, Israeli Prime Ministers and Yasser Arafat over the decades have never negotiated a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. It is not that they tried and failed. It is that they have only pretended to try. The tacit agreement among all of these leaders is to keep the conflict going. This is why the United States gives Israel money and weapons and diplomatic backing no matter how flagrantly Israel violates UN resolutions and Geneva Agreements in carrying out its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. The elite's social control strategy requires Israel to behave this way. The strategy requires Israel to provoke Arab hatred. For the plan to work long term, Israel needs to be armed to the teeth so that, on the one hand, the Arab governments can pretend to champion their people's anger at the Jews while, on the other hand, they can point to Israel's military might as a credible excuse for not actually "driving the Jews into the sea."
Those who envision a one-state solution as the result of a negotiated settlement between the PLO and Israel brokered by the United States are totally unrealistic. They are ignoring the most important "fact on the ground" -- the elite's strategy of social control in the Middle East. In this unrealistic vision the PLO and the Israeli government will agree to set up a new state of Palestine (or some other name) with some kind of representative democracy with elections and so forth and with some kind of guarantee of equal rights under the law for Jews and Arabs. The new Palestine would be a capitalist society with class inequality, just like the United States and most other countries, but this would be, supposedly, a tremendous improvement over the present horrible state of affairs.
The problem with this scenario is that it will never happen. It will never happen for exactly the same reason that the elites could never afford to permit any solution -- two state, one state or anything else -- which entailed peaceful relations between ordinary Jews and Arabs. We need an entirely new way of thinking about how to achieve our goals.
How Can A One-State Solution Be Achieved?
How then can a viable one-state solution be achieved? It can only happen in spite of, not because of, the actions of American, Israeli, PLO and other regional leaders. A viable one-state solution can only happen if ordinary Arabs and Jews build a movement that sweeps the elites aside and makes society conform to their desire for a just peace. Such a movement can only succeed by mobilizing masses of people to challenge elite rule. In other words, only a revolutionary movement can succeed. It must make its goal a new Palestine where all forms of elite rule are abolished. This means replacing capitalist relations which benefit a small class of "owners" at the expense of a large class of "employees" with relations of equality and mutual aid where people work and live. In such a society ordinary people -- not mullahs, priests or rabbis and not corporate CEOs or politicians beholden to them -- would decide what kinds of behavior are proper and what kinds are not. Most importantly, in such a society matters of social importance would be decided by regular people who want to live together in peace, not by elites whose real aim is to control people with fear and lies.
The role of the United States in arming and funding Israel to make it a regional super-power, and more recently invading Iraq and establishing a long term U.S. military garrison of at least 100,000 troops there, shows that the American ruling class is committed to having its way in the Middle East. Any popular movement seriously aiming to win a viable one-state solution in Israel/Palestine will need to defeat the American rulers over an issue of strategic importance to them. This can only happen if the American public sides with ordinary Jews and Arabs in the Middle East against the entire American corporate elite (switching a Democrat for a Republican will not suffice.) To make this happen we need a radical break from old ways of trying to make change. We need to think about how to build a revolutionary movement, and about why this requires rejecting nationalism in all its forms -- American nationalism, Jewish nationalism and even Palestinian nationalism.
A revolutionary movement based on class solidarity can only succeed by defining "we" and "they" -- friend versus foe -- in terms of the kind of society people want. "We" are the millions who want a society based on equality and solidarity and democracy. "They" are the few who want a society based on top-down control, inequality, exploitation and pitting people against each other. For every fanatical Zionist settler there are hundreds of Israeli Jews who, if they had any hope it were possible, would gladly trade their Zionist leaders' ethnic cleansing and the endless cycle of violence for a society where Jews and Arabs lived peacefully as equals. For every suicide bomber attempting to kill innocent civilian Jews there are hundreds of Palestinians who want to live peaceably as equals with Jews.
Nationalism is the enemy of any movement based on class solidarity. By nationalism I mean any ideology which defines "we" and "they" in terms of nationality or race or ethnicity or religion. Nationalism is the chief weapon elites use to control people by keeping them in fear of others like themselves who want the same thing. Jewish nationalism is Zionism waving the Star of David and telling Jews they need a "homeland of their own" because non-Jews and especially Arabs are all anti-Semites. Hamas and the PLO are two sides of the same coin of Arab nationalism, each leading Palestinians into an elite trap by different means which reinforce each other. Hamas does the bidding of Zionist rulers by waving the Palestinian flag and telling Palestinians to kill ordinary Jews standing at bus stops. This keeps Jews frightened enough to look to the Zionist elite as their protectors. The PLO fronts for the U.S. and Zionist elite by waving the Palestinian flag and lying to Palestinians that Zionist and American leaders will give them a better life in a "state of their own" as soon as Yasser Arafat charms them with his great negotiating skills. A revolutionary movement can only succeed by explicitly denouncing nationalism in all of its forms.
President George W. Bush advocates a "two state solution" not because he wants a peaceful resolution of the conflict but because framing the solution as "two states" reinforces the ideology of nationalism. It cements the notion that "we" and "they" are Jews versus Arabs, with each group needing "its own" state ruled by "its own" rulers. The two-state solution is dangled in front of the various opposition peace groups by Bush and Arafat and Israeli leaders as a means of preventing the notion of working class solidarity among Jews and Arabs from even being articulated within these groups. It's a way of nipping in the bud any chance that a revolutionary movement with any realistic chance of solving the conflict might develop.
A Revolutionary Movement Based on Class Solidarity
By breaking free from the shackles of nationalism in all of its forms, a revolutionary movement in the Middle East based on class solidarity can reach out to ordinary people across all national borders -- including the borders of the United States!
The Middle East is a powder keg of class conflict. The oil producing nations import cheap labor from all over the world and exploit these laborers ferociously. Unemployment for Saudi-citizen workers in Saudi Arabia is 27%. Aljazeera interviewed Dr Saad al-Faqih, a London-based dissident, and reported on November 3, 2003:
"Homelessness is part of poverty and when we say poverty we mean real poverty," he said. "People estimate at least 30% are living below the poverty line," added the head of the Movement for Islamic Reform. Saudis are lining up at the royal palaces pleading for help, he said, adding the royal family is consuming 60-80% of the country's revenues. "Their dignity prevents them from begging," he said. More and more Saudis are unable to meet their basic essentials. "They are unable to pay water bills. They are unable to pay electricity bills. Meals are hard to come by," said al-Faqih. "We're talking about major areas in the big cities," he said. While there are no official figures, more than 12,000 beggars were arrested in Saudi Arabia in 1998 of which 9000 were foreign and expelled. [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/004D25AC-86AF-4C51-9575-E98564967AF4.htm]
Huge strikes in Israel are frequent. The latest one occurred November 3, 2003 when "a nationwide strike against plans to overhaul Israel's welfare state shut down government services, banks and train service." [Peter Enav, Canadian Press, November 03, 2003 ] One of the largest occurred from December 3rd through 7th, 1997, when 700,000 Israeli workers mounted a general strike against the government. The country was paralyzed, with airports, seaports, banks, government offices, state-owned industries and the national stock exchange effectively shut down. After the first day of the strike, the nation's teachers joined in the walk-out and the national journalists' association declared their support for the strike. The strike was a response to indications that the Treasury was attempting to violate wage and pension agreements signed in 1995 and 1996. Israeli workers were also protesting government privatization plans which would entail large-scale lay-offs.
Workers in Egypt confront the very same kinds of attacks from the Egyptian elite. Despite a no-strike law, public sector workers in Cairo and Alexandria staged over ten strikes in the single month of April 1999. Egyptian laws punish strikers with two-year jail sentences and more for "inciting a strike." Nonetheless, in just the months from June to December 1999, there were four sit-down strikes and nine hunger strikes by government workers in Egypt. During the entire year there were a total of 52 work strikes and 32 sit-down strikes.
The PLO talks about freeing Palestine. Its actions, however, are not only about making a few Palestinians rich at the expense of the rest but, even worse, providing a fig leaf to cover up the fact that the Israeli government, not Palestinians, rules the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Frank Kortmann, MD, PhD, a mental health consultant on trauma and trauma counseling in Palestine, wrote in a report dated October 14-26 , 2002, that the corruption of the Palestinian National Authority was so bad that "people in the street notice it everyday." Kortmann noted that some of his informants in Gaza "even said that they were better off during the occupation by the Israelis." And he reported on data presented at the Palestinian conference on poverty held that year:
The number of millionaires grew in the last nine years from zero to 500, whereas 50% of the Palestinian population has to live on less than 2 US $ per day, with prices comparable to those in the Netherlands. According to an informant, at that conference the poor did not ask for more money, but for land to cultivate and to live on, and for equal opportunities for jobs for their children, as the children of high governmental officials have. [Report: Identification mission to Palestine, Prevention of trauma and trauma counselling interventions, 14-26 October 2002 by Frank Kortmann, MD, PhD Mental Health Consultant ]
The PLO's role reinforcing Israeli occupation was expressed very well by Gordon Levy who wrote of the leaders of the Palestinian Authority in Haaretz November 9, 2003:
If they were more concerned about the subjects they are supposed to be in charge of - the well-being of their nation - they would have resigned and thereby torn the mask from the false impression of the supposed government and the "state in the making." They would have ceased to be the fig leaf that serves and perpetuates the Israeli occupation. Instead, they cling to the few honors and benefits that Israel continues to confer on a few of them, and they go on lending a hand to the great deception that a sovereign Palestinian Authority and a government with powers exist.
Nationalism has been the key factor sustaining elite rule in the Middle East. The idea that, no matter how bad they may be, rulers of one's own nationality give protection from "the real enemy" -- Israel or Arabs or Christians or Muslims, as the case may be -- is pure poison. It subverts the efforts of ordinary people to make a better world without elite domination. And all top nationalist leaders without exception spread this poison and understand very clearly the role it plays. Thus far nationalism has enabled the ruling elites to prevail. The PLO and Hamas and the Zionists as well as the peace groups embracing a "two state solution" have all worked to promote nationalism and thus strengthen the grip of all the elite rulers. This nationalism has gone virtually unchallenged. But a class-based revolutionary movement that attacked the nationalist leaders -- all of them without distinction -- could turn the tables and solve the Middle East conflict for real by releasing the pent-up energy of millions of ordinary working people all across the region and even the world.
Such a movement would give Americans an entirely different way of thinking about their own government's role in the Middle East. Defining the conflict in terms of the conflicting values of ordinary Jews and Arabs versus the Jewish, Arab and American elites would resonate with Americans who, like working people all over the world, are coming under sharper and sharper attacks from their leaders in the form of joblessness, cuts in schools and other social services (to pay for military aggression abroad), vanishing health care availability, and increasing inequality in all walks of life. What formerly seemed to be a regional conflict between "terrorist Arabs" and "democracy-loving Jews" would be seen by ordinary Americans as a struggle of people like themselves who want the same things they do, against the same corporate elite who are attacking Americans as well. In this new context it is quite realistic to hope for defeating the American ruling class on its own territory.
The hopelessness produced by unmitigated failure to achieve peace in the Middle East has benefited the rulers of the world by demoralizing and demobilizing millions of ordinary people who want a different way. Certainly the persistence of the violence has contributed to making people all over the world more cynical about the possibility of a world without ethnic conflict or the possibility of changing the world with class solidarity. No doubt the rulers intend for the Middle East to have exactly this depressing effect on people everywhere. In the United States the media play up all the Arab-Jewish violence in the Middle East and hardly mention the huge general strikes and other forms of class solidarity that take place around the world from Italy to Bolivia.
In this sense, the elite's success in controlling people in the Middle East by whipping up hatred between Jews and Arabs has been one of their great global victories. But it is also their Achilles heel if only we recognize it as such and turn it to our advantage. We should expose the real enemy in the Middle East -- all of the nationalist leaders who wave their flags to lead "their people" into attacks on other working class people.
We need to do whatever it takes to make sure that ordinary Jews and Arabs come to fully understand the role of nationalism as an elite weapon against them. We need to do whatever it takes to develop a revolutionary movement that breaks out of the trap of nationalism and champions the values and aspirations shared by ordinary people of all nationalities. And what does it take? Nothing that we can't start doing immediately: Speaking out clearly about who are our friends and who are our enemies. Describing the conflict in terms that reveal rather than mask the truth. Articulating working class values and aspirations shared by ordinary Jews and Arabs. Exposing and attacking the elite values, lies and aims of all the nationalist leaders.
The few could never impose all of the terrible "facts on the ground" on the many if they only had guns and tanks. They dominate the people of the Middle East because they have relied on unchallenged nationalism to confuse and muddle the thinking of everybody who is trying to make a better world. We must break out of the nationalism trap that has enslaved the people of the world for so long. This is the only way to achieve the one-state solution. It is the only way to give renewed hope to millions of people in the Middle East. It will constitute one of the greatest global victories of working people in history. It will resonate across the planet and mark the beginning of the end of elite rule altogether. Let us work to make it so.
[The author wishes to thank and acknowledge David Stratman, the editor-in-chief of New Democracy at www.newdemocracyworld.org, for assistance in developing this article.]
John Spritzler is the author of
The People As Enemy: The
Leaders' Hidden Agenda In World War II, and a Research Scientist at the
Harvard School of Public Health.
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