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Palestinian Self-Determination and the Fight for Socialism

In this article, we discuss four different strategies for fighting for Palestinian Self-Determination and why we must fight for a workers’ and socialist Palestine.

Josefina L. Martínez

November 24, 2023
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More than 40 days after the start of Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, the ongoing genocide continues unabated. Millions of people have protested throughout the world in recent weeks to demand an end to the massacre and express their solidarity with the Palestinian people. These protests have been especially massive in the Arab world and in imperialist countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and other European countries.

As previously discussed, Left Voice and the Trotskyist Fraction are participating in the movement, seeking to expand it and develop self-organization, with a program to confront the imperialist governments who are key allies of the Zionist State of Israel. We want to put forward a combative and anti-imperialist perspective toward the student movement, and for the working class to intervene with its own methods of struggle, through strikes and blockades, against arms shipments, and imperialist enterprises. As internationalist socialists, we consider that the struggle for the liberation of Palestine against Zionist colonialism and imperialism a fundamental battle. At the same time, we maintain that it will not be possible to achieve full Palestinian self-determination without fighting for a socialist perspective.

In the struggle of the Palestinian people oppressed by Zionist colonialism and imperialism, we place ourselves unconditionally with the resistance of the oppressed people. We do so on the basis of a program of political independence with respect to all the bourgeois sectors in the region, since we consider that this is the only way to win the struggle for self-determination. Unlike the populist currents, which conflate the just defense of an oppressed people with its circumstantial leadership, we polemicize with the different political strategies that historically have had weight within the Palestinian resistance. In this article we discuss some of them, seeking to answer the question: how do we wage a victorious struggle for a free Palestine after 75 years of Zionist occupation? Why do we fight for a working class and socialist Palestine?

We then address four dominant strategies, which we define as the two-state solution, the armed struggle for a bourgeois Islamist-nationalist Palestine, the illusion of democratic revolution, and the struggle for a workers’ and socialist Palestine.

The Failure of the Two-State Solution

First, we will discuss the two-state solution. Institutions such as the UN support this strategy, as well as imperialist states that pay lip service to supporting this “solution.” It is associated with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and advocated by reformist and social-democratic currents in much of the world.

The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993 between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin under the auspices of U.S. President Bill Clinton, recently marked its 30th anniversary. The great promise of Oslo was the two-state solution: a Palestinian state (in a minority part of its historic territories) living peacefully side by side with the State of Israel. Was it possible?

At the time, Palestinian intellectual Edward Said defined the Oslo accords as “an instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles.” The PLO for the first time recognized the state of Israel, renouncing its historical program of a secular democratic state throughout the historic territory of Palestine. While Israel recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the creation of the PNA meant legitimizing the occupation in exchange for a limited pseudo-administration of Israeli-controlled, geographically separated swathes of territory in Gaza and the West Bank, with no free access to basic resources such as water, electricity, or international humanitarian aid. 

In other words, the illusion of Palestians having a state of their own, while settlers continue to advance on territories legally allotted to Palestine. As Historian Rashid Khalidi put it: “Oslo has been a great success if you believe in colonization, ethnic cleansing and land grabbing.” The failure of the Oslo Accords paved the way for the Second Intifada in 2000, when a new combative generation, which had experienced the great frustration of the two-state solution, entered the stage. Then, in 2006, Hamas, which opposed the Oslo Accords, won the elections in Gaza.

Why was the negotiated two-state solution impossible? First of all, it can be explained by the character of the State of Israel itself. Ilan Pappé and other historians have pointed out the specificity of its establishment as a colonial state. The old European colonial states had their main center of gravity in the metropolises, while colonial armies subdued large populations and nations abroad. In the case of Israel, it was founded as a settler colonial state, whose existence depends on an ongoing occupation. In other modern settler colonial states, such as South Africa during apartheid, the native Black population was brutally subjugated for use as semi-slave labor (and constituted the main battalions of the South African working class). In Israel, on the other hand, the Zionists carried out massive ethnic cleansing, expelling most of the native population from their own territory, with the aim of constituting an ethnically and religiously “pure” state. In fact, more than four million Palestinians currently live outside Palestine, about one million less than the total Palestinian population living in Gaza and the West Bank.

At the end of World War II, the reactionary “solution” that imperialism found for dealing with Jewish oppression after the barbarity of the Holocaust was the creation of Israel, for which it had the invaluable support of the Stalinist USSR. Since then, the Zionist state became the main imperialist enclave in the region. As an artificially created state in the heart of a region with a vast Arab population sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, the Zionist state was built as a militarized fortress, financed by the United States and its NATO allies.

Pappé has also pointed out that settler colonialism involves the dehumanization of the colonized peoples. For the State of Israel, every Palestinian must be perceived as a “savage” or a “potential terrorist,” every Palestinian territory as a theater of war. The expansionist and warlike logic of Israel is part of its DNA and is therefore incompatible with the self-determination of the Palestinian people, as has been demonstrated over the last 75 years.

Hamas’s Strategy and the Role of the Arab Bourgeoisies

Secondly, let’s consider the strategy of Hamas and other groups in the region, which deploy different methods of armed struggle in the service of a bourgeois Islamist-nationalist strategy.

The historic betrayal of Fatah and the PLO in signing the Oslo accords gave way to Hamas’s victory in the 2006 legislative elections. Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip was met with Israel’s total blockade of a population of over 2 million people, transforming it into the world’s largest open-air prison.

Hamas is a populist Islamist organization that since its founding in 1987 has gone through different political moments. Its founding charter includes the goal of an Islamic state — which it has not abandoned — although for the 2006 elections it presented itself with a more pragmatic program that could be evaluated as “reformist from the social and bourgeois nationalist point of view regarding the Palestinian conflict.”

This bourgeois Islamist-nationalist strategy has developed through various tactics of armed struggle over the years. This ranges from suicide bombings in the 1990s and 2000s, to the confrontation of its militias with the Israeli army, missile launches, and the recent incursion (together with other Palestinian resistance groups) into Israeli territory on October 7. The October 7 resistance action against the colonial occupation was partially directed against military targets, or those directly linked to the occupation forces. However, the other part of it, such as attacks on the music festival in Reim or on the non-combatant civilian population in Kibbutzim, is part of a strategy that we do not share.

We have discussed previously that unconditionally defending the resistance of the Palestinian people against Israel, beyond its circumstantial leaderships, is not in contradiction to questioning the methods, program and strategy of Hamas. Their strategy is one that focuses on seeking the unity and support of sectors of the Arab bourgeoisies, which is the opposite of fighting to develop class struggle in the Arab world. This is expressed, for example, in its affinity with the Hezbollah militias (and thus with the Iranian theocracy) and with the reactionary monarchy of Qatar.

However, in addition to being the hegemonic current of the Palestinian resistance, Hamas acts as the political administration of the Gaza Strip. Within Gaza Hamas has developed an extensive network of social assistance, schools, and hospitals that have given it an important social base among the Gazan population. In the last 15 years, it has imposed an increasing Islamization of Gaza (although Christians and secular sectors also live there) and a repressive regime against political and social dissidence, violently suppressing demonstrations or protests against poverty. In recent times, this has given rise to the emergence of youth sectors critical of Hamas.

By its methods, program and strategy, Hamas does not seek to develop the self-organization of the Palestinian people. Nor does it seek developing unity between the Palestinians and Arab workers and peasants, nor with anti-Zionist Jewish sectors. Instead, it seeks to tie the Palestinians’ destiny to agreements with the reactionary bourgeoisies and theocratic monarchies of the region.

Democratic Revolution or the Struggle for a Secular, Free, Workers’ and Socialist Palestine?

Finally, let us consider what we can call a “stageist” or democratic revolutionary path, as opposed to the struggle for a free, secular, workers’ and socialist Palestine.

After the resounding failure of the two-state solution, among several Palestinian, Arab, and Israeli anti-Zionist intellectuals, the idea is growing that it is necessary to fight for a single, non-Zionist state, where Arabs and Jews coexist peacefully, a secular and democratic Palestine. The proposal would be to press internationally for a “de-Zionization” of the State of Israel. Even sectors that claim to be socialists maintain that this could be a “first stage” in the democratization of Palestine, and then fighting for socialism later on. However, as we have explained above, the racist and colonialist character of the state of Israel, which acts as the main enclave of imperialism in the region, makes this idea a totally illusory goal in the framework of present-day capitalism.

Fighting against Zionism and Israel’s colonialism means not only confronting one of the most heavily armed militaries in the world, but also fighting against imperialism in the region. Fighting for a free Palestine means not only guaranteeing the right of return of more than four million Palestinians of the diaspora. It also includes the return of their lands, where today there are settlements and Israeli cities, large real estate and tourist conglomerates, and the return or rebuilding of their homes, which were taken away or destroyed. A free and democratic Palestine also means ending the apartheid regime for Palestinian and Arab-Israeli workers, who are used as “second-class” labor, guaranteeing full civil, social and labor rights for all, regardless of their national origin, ethnicity or religion. This implies questioning an important source of profits for Israel’s large economic and financial groups. In other words, to put an end to the Zionist state and the oppression of the Palestinian people, it is necessary to destroy its material bases. Neither the Israeli colonialist bourgeoisie, nor imperialism will allow peaceful progress along this road. Then, what social forces can fight for that perspective?

In an article in Palestine: A Socialist Introduction, Daphna Thier polemicizes with the idea of a socialist Palestine, pointing out that there is no possibility of fighting for such a perspective given the Zionist character of the Israeli working class. This argument is put forward by different authors, who point out that, since the constitution of the Jewish working class in Israel was based on the colonial character of the State, it will never be an ally for the Palestinian people. Indeed, the Israeli working class adheres overwhelmingly to zionism, going back to the founding of the State of Israel. This changed the dynamic that had opened up in the 1930s, when for example, the Trotskyists developed some experiences of joint organization of Jewish and Arab workers.

The Histadrut workers’ center, founded in 1920 to defend the interests of Jewish workers, became in the following decades a bastion of the defense of colonial and Zionist interests, refusing to organize Arab-Israeli workers, upholding the racist ideology of the occupying state. This can even be seen recently in the workers’ demonstrations and strikes that developed against Netanyahu and his judicial reform. They had the enormous political limit of not questioning Zionism and rejecting any questioning of the occupation of Palestine by Israel, as was critically pointed out by anti-Zionist Jewish intellectuals. However, this does not mean that it is impossible for some sectors of the working class to break with Zionism in conditions of radicalization of the class struggle in the region. This is a political struggle to be fought, since right now they act as a reactionary pole in the face of the struggle for Palestinian liberation. An indicator that this may change is that pacifist anti-Zionist sectors are beginning to emerge among the Israeli and Jewish population and intelligentsia in the world.

For the aforementioned author, however, the Zionism of the Israeli working class seems to be fixed and unchangeable. Thus, from her point of view, this means that it is only possible to seek allies for the Palestinian people among “democratic” sectors in Arab countries. That is to say, bourgeois and petty bourgeois sectors, workers and popular sectors, who would be willing to advance democratic reforms. However, this approach omits the deep class contradictions in Arab societies, with bourgeoisies that have enriched themselves through enormous business deals with imperialism and other regional powers, imposing reactionary regimes and theocratic monarchies. As we saw during the Arab Spring, the Arab bourgeoisies allied with imperialism chose time and again to bloodily crush workers’ and popular protests, blocking any kind of real “democratization” of those societies, before workers’ and popular self-organization and mobilization could develop.

The Fight Against Imperialism

The State of Israel is the United States’ most important strategic partner in the Middle East. Trump and Biden are to some extent competing to assure the American Zionist organizations that they will defend their interests unconditionally. The crisis of hegemony of the United States, especially in light of the humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan only two years ago, makes it all the more important to maintain its strategic ally in a region that has gone through revolts, civil wars, reactionary wars and multiple instabilities in the last decade. Even more so in the face of Iran and the challenges to its hegemony from Russia and China.

In turn, imperialism and its multinationals are key to guaranteeing profits for the Arab bourgeoisies, who enrich themselves with the resources and natural goods of the region such as oil, gas pipelines, mining, fishing, and agribusiness, through the plundering of the peasantry and the brutal exploitation of a large native and migrant working class from Asia and Africa. The interests of the Arab bourgeoisies are intertwined with those of the imperialist powers — the United States and Europe — since the beginning of capitalist development in the region. Hence they are a social force incapable of truly confronting imperialism and Zionism, with which they have coexisted, beyond some occasional confrontations, throughout the past 75 years. In fact, they have been advancing in the “normalization” of relations with Israel, following the course of the Abraham Accords promoted by Trump, even against the majority of people across the Arab world who are in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Therefore, the struggle against Zionism cannot be separated from the struggle against imperialism. More generally, as the Arab Spring demonstrated, it is not possible to win lasting democratic change against dictatorships, reactionary monarchies, and Bonapartist regimes without uniting this struggle with the fight for structural democratic demands (such as land and housing) as well as profound social and national demands.

Returning to the question of which social forces can fight alongside the Palestinian people for their full self-determination, we cannot look to the Arab bourgeoisies. We must look to the millions of workers, peasants and popular sectors of the Middle East and North Africa, who in recent years have seen their living conditions further deteriorate, as a result of the structural adjustment plans of imperialism and the IMF, applied by increasingly authoritarian regimes.

Across the Arab world, a large part of the population sees the Palestinian cause as their own, which is why millions have mobilized in recent days. Palestine remains the “open wound” of the Arab nationalist consciousness and a focus for expressing the anger against colonial and imperialist grievances in the region. For this reason, as is commonly said, the road to Palestinian self-determination passes through Beirut and Cairo. This is not because of the support of the reactionary bourgeoisies, but because of the potential strength of the working class and peasants in the region.

In turn, millions of workers from populations oppressed by imperialism are part of the working and even middle classes in imperialist countries. The great empathy with the Palestinian struggle is also fueled by the rejection of Islamophobia and racism in these countries, which have increased in the last period. This plurinational, multiethnic, and diverse composition of the working class and popular sectors in imperialist countries is fueling the huge movement in solidarity with Palestine internationally, with massive demonstrations in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Spanish State and elsewhere in recent weeks. Smaller actions have been taken up such as dock workers’ and transport unions in Barcelona and Belgium refusing to ship arms to Israel and healthcare workers in many countries showing solidarity. These actions, although still small and symbolic, together with thousands of students and anti-Zionist Jewish organizations mobilizing, pave the way to grow and amplify the movement.

To advance the struggle for true self-determination of Palestine requires the unity of a strong international anti-imperialist movement and the revolutionary struggle of the working class in the Arab countries, together with the Palestinian people and those Jewish workers who break with Zionism. The consistent development of this struggle poses, as we have been pointing out, the construction of a workers’ and socialist Palestine, where Arabs and Jews can coexist democratically and peacefully, as part of a federation of socialist republics of the Middle East.

Originally Published in Spanish on November 18 in La Izquierda Diario.

Translation by Molly Rosenzweig

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Josefina L. Martínez

Josefina is a historian from Madrid and an editor of our sister site in the Spanish State, IzquierdaDiario.es.

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