We know what we are against, but what are we for?

Marching towards what solution?

Steve Freeman gives a Menshevik twist to the old PLO demand for a single capitalist Palestinian state by making the case for a single capitalist federal republic. The perspective of working class rule and socialism is denounced as ultra-leftism

The February 29 debate held by the Labour Left Alliance and reported in the Weekly Worker identified four proposals for peace in Israel-Palestine (‘Thinking beyond ceasefires’, March 21).1 Carl Stevens reported on the arguments for ‘one democratic Palestine’ (ODP), as proposed by Tony Greenstein; Adam Keller’s case for two states (TS); Moshé Machover proposing a Middle East socialist solution (MES); and the Republican Labour Education Forum’s position paper for a federal republic of Israel-Palestine (FR).

Then on May 2 Moshé Machover restated his case and explained it further.2 In the first part of this article I will review the issues from the original debate before taking up the arguments in his article.

The present war in Gaza and the West Bank seems to have two possible outcomes. The first is more massacres, ethnic cleansing and genocide to complete the Zionist plan for one Israeli state ‘from the river to the sea’. The second is a US-led two-state ‘solution’ supported by the UK, the EU and the United Nations. These are not necessarily opposed. Politics may deliver some combination.

At the LLA meeting Adam Keller (TS) made a left case for a two-state solution based on ‘realism’ - accepting the existing balance of power between the military might of the US and Israel, the neighbouring Arab states and the Palestinian resistance. The other three positions for ‘one Palestine’, ‘Middle East socialism’ and a ‘federal republic’ all seem unrealistic or unlikely. However, this conclusion is drawn from a simple extrapolation from the present.

Moshé rightly criticises Tony Greenstein’s attitude to the Israeli working class as restricted to present-day consciousness. He says: “Tony’s dismissal of the Israeli working class … is derived from rigid (non-dialectical) thinking that assumes that what is is permanent and unchangeable”. Science is not simply extrapolation from the present; it has to uncover contradictions that open up possibilities for a different future.

The present war in Gaza and the West Bank is a deep existential crisis for the Palestinian and Israeli people. We cannot rule out sharp turns, unexpected events and evolution in new directions - or even revolutions. The armed uprising on October 7 was an unexpected, even if predictable, turn of events. The current crisis is so deep that it may yet throw up other seemingly unlikely or more ‘unrealistic’ options. This is why all approaches should be considered on their merits and not just the illusion of two states.


The case for a secular federal republic (one state, two nations) is based on the politics of working class republicanism. This supports the struggle of the working class for democracy, unity and a democratic secular republic. It is an internationalist, not nationalist, ideology. It addresses the interests of working people within the national question of all nations. It opposes all nationalist ideologies, whilst making a distinction between reactionary-conservative and revolutionary-democratic nationalism.

Working class republicanism opposes Zionism and the Jewish republic of Israel as a reactionary form of nationalism, which depends on the oppression of the Palestinian people. In recognising the Palestinian people as an oppressed nation, it supports their fight for freedom, democracy and justice. However, working class republicanism does not support the ideology or programme of Palestinian nationalism and makes the central democratic demand for the unity of the Israeli-Palestinian working class.

Working class republicanism recognises that the struggle for freedom and democracy in Israel-Palestine is not confined to the territory ‘from the river to the sea’. It directly or indirectly involves working class and popular struggles for freedom and democracy in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, etc, and in the US, EU and the United Kingdom. The emphasis placed on the fight for democracy and working class unity in Israel-Palestine does not reduce the importance of wider regional and international struggles (emphasised, for example, by the MES position).

The proposals, ‘Two states’ and ‘One democratic Palestine’, are based on nationalism. Zionist nationalism justified the partition of British Palestine and the continuation and extension of the Zionist state. Left Zionism supports a Zionist state through the TS ‘solution’. Adam said he is not a Zionist, yet he supports two states. According to Carl in his Weekly Worker article,

Joe Biden is taking up a two-state solution, Adam stated, but he did not know if the US president can be trusted on this. In his view the only practical solution is two states: any other solution might be nicer or more just or beautiful, but it is not possible to implement it.

Palestinian nationalism demands one state for Palestine. Both the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas sought to restore one Palestine until the historic compromise made by the PLO to accept two states. A strand of Palestinian secular nationalism has continued to demand the dissolution of the Israeli nation into one Palestinian state. This is not based on the interests of the unity of Israeli-Palestinian working class and the struggle for a democratic republic, yet many socialists in England support Palestinian nationalism.

Moshé’s case for ‘Middle East socialism’ (MES) expresses the idea of an international socialism. He rejects the national programme of Zionism (two states), Palestinian nationalism and working class republicanism. He says the answer cannot be “confined to the box of Israel-Palestine” any more than the working class fits into a national box. However, this truth does not negate the idea that the working class within both nations must become the leader of the struggle for republican democracy. A republican (national minimum) programme is needed to unite the working class imprisoned in this box and serve their common democratic interests.

The international working class - in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, the rest of the Middle East, the UK and the US, etc - supports the struggle for democracy in Israel-Palestine. Across the world the working class has been taking to the streets in mass popular protests. This struggle is not confined to the box of the Middle East, not least because of the role of the US. The fact that Biden is facing an election with a pro-Palestinian movement and Arab voters in key US states is making a difference.

The MES case provides an international perspective and is therefore a useful reminder or corrective. A democratic revolution that overturns the Egyptian military or the Jordanian monarchy would transform the balance of forces in the struggle between democracy and fascism. A democratic revolution in the US would be a fatal blow to Zionism. Therefore an international perspective should not be confined to the Middle East region, where US imperialism - diplomatic, financial and military - is the dominant force.

The difference between working class republicanism and MES is not about the role of the international working class - or even that a democratic revolution in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon or the US would be a game-changer (there is no doubt that democratic revolutions would radically shift the balance of forces). Moshé goes further than the overthrow of Middle Eastern autocracy. He makes the abolition of capitalism in the Middle East a condition for the Hebrew working class to reject Zionism. It is a very high bar indeed.

It is not internationalism that makes the MES position so restrictive. It veers into ultra-leftism, because it has no political programme for the Israeli-Palestinian working class. It sets international socialism against the national democratic struggle and lumbers the Hebrew working class with a passive ‘wait and see’ politics. A national programme makes the ambition of fighting for the unity of Israeli and Palestinian workers central. It is not that Moshé simply ignores the national dimension: rather he adopts a limited programme of minimum conditions, not a minimum programme.


Working class republicanism makes the democratic secular republic the central plank of a programme of achievable reforms. This was called the minimum programme in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. In the case of Israel-Palestine, a minimum programme would recognise two nations ‘between the river and the sea’ in the demand for a federal republic (one state and two nations). The debate between TS, ODP and the federal republic is in essence a debate over the republican minimum programme. ‘Two states’ and ‘One Palestine’ both avoid the demand for a ‘democratic secular republic’ for nationalist-political, not linguistic, reasons.

Moshé appears to have rejected the minimum republican programme for Israel-Palestine and substituted for it a Middle Eastern socialist programme. Instead of a minimum republican programme he sets out minimum conditions, which are almost the same thing. It is as if the minimum programme was expelled from the front door only to sneak in again via the back door. He asks: “What are the minimum conditions that a benign and equitable solution must satisfy?” We ask: ‘What is the minimum programme for working class democracy?’

Moshé identifies these minimum conditions as “equal rights for all and national rights” and adds: “The right of return is a minimum requirement recognised under international law.” He dismisses the minimum programme as a “blueprint”, when in fact it is merely a more extensive set of minimum conditions that rise to the level of a democratic secular republic. For Israel this means and can only mean a deZionised republic. This must be a minimum condition, regardless of whether a ‘democratic secular Israel’ can form a federal republic with the Palestinian people.

Adam identifies one minimum condition for Israel - ending the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Tony (DP) says: “It is a question of equality, not national rights. They (Israelis) do have certain national attributes such as a language and this could be accommodated in a ‘constitutional settlement’.”3 This is the first time that Tony mentions the importance of a ‘constitution’ (ie, law). Normally he scorns all ‘constitutionalism’, because political laws would be unnecessary under socialism and a waste of time under capitalism.

One of the central questions in this republican minimum programme is about nations. Should the programme identify one nation or two? Three of the four positions (TS, MES and FR) recognise two nations - one described as Israeli or Hebrew and the other as Palestinian. The terms, ‘Hebrew’ and ‘Israeli’, are not the same, but are different ways of describing one of the contending nations - I will examine the differences between them later.

Adam (TS) defended the idea that Israel is a nation. He argued, states Carl, that:

Nations created by conquest - like America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada - are still nations. Adam says that nobody denies that America is a nation and Israel is a nation in a same way. There are seven million people in Israel and they have as much right to exist as a nation as those in any other settler-colonial state.

Moshé recognises there are two nations that he identifies as Hebrew and Palestinian. He adds that Zionist colonisation is based on the displacement of the indigenous population (like Australia, the US and Canada). Hence he says there is a Hebrew nation established through colonisation.

Tony’s ODP is the only position that rejects the idea of an Israeli or Hebrew nation. Hence he says: “It is a question of equality, not national rights. [Israelis] do have certain national attributes, such as a common language”. This is why he is forced to conjure up a “constitutional settlement” as something to pacify or placate Israelis concerned about the implications of losing their national identity and being remade as Palestinians.

Working class republicanism (FR) makes equality between the two nations a political demand to end the relationship between oppressor and oppressed nations. Neither ‘two states’ nor ‘one democratic Palestine’ accepts equality between nations. TS proposes a different relationship between nations, but not equality. ODP does not support equality, because it denies the Israeli nation equal status.

Moshé (MES) makes equality between nations one of his minimum conditions. The case for a federal republic is based on equality between nations, backed by the constitutional law of one federal state, which includes the right to self-determination. It is the only position that meets Moshé’s minimum conditions, as he recognised in his comment on the federal republic.

Moshé draws out the logic from Tony’s denial of the existence of an Israeli-Hebrew nation. He says: “No nation will accept an unequal status that leads to a state of permanent conflict and war. Underdogs will not accept their role.” Two nations will exist in a permanent state of war if one denies the other the right to exist - and oppresses it and creates national resistance. Moshé rightly says that Tony’s Palestinian ‘one state for one nation’ is a “dangerous illusion”, because “it has to be done by brute force against the Israeli people”. He concludes, “This will end very badly. If one state was possible, it could only be kept in existence by constant repression. The Hebrew nation would not accept a subordinate position and the removal of national rights.”

A major difference between the four positions concerns the role of the working class as the driving force for democratic change. Working class republicanism identifies the international working class as the agency for change. Here we are dealing with the crisis facing the two nations of Israel and Palestine. The case for a federal republic is based on the struggle to unite the ‘Israeli-Palestinian’ working class as the only class able to act as the vanguard of the struggle for democracy.

Working class

The case for ODP is not based on the Israeli-Palestinian working class. Tony says: “… the working class is a revolutionary class in some circumstances and not in the case of a settler-colonial state like Israel. Then the working class becomes the most reactionary.” Here he is a speaking only about the Hebrew part of Israeli-Palestinian workers. He compares the situation with the white working class in South Africa or the southern working class in the USA. He argues that believing the working class can play a revolutionary role in social change is failing to understand the distinction between the working class ‘in itself’ and ‘for itself’. But this gap in class-consciousness reveals a gap in Tony’s thinking. He has not understood that the struggle of the working class for democracy is about the self-transformation from a class ‘in itself’ and ‘for itself’.

The TS solution does not identify the working class as the agency of change, but looks to US imperialism to force the Zionist state to concede two states. By contrast the MES case looks to the working class in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, etc as the driving force for revolution against their own regimes. This Arab revolution should inspire the Hebrew part of the Israeli working class to abandon Zionism.

Moshé summarises the contradiction over the role of the working class. He says: “The overthrow of Zionism is only possible with the participation of the Israeli working class.” (The Israeli-Palestinian working class must be seen not simply as a participant, but the leader of all classes.) However, he says the Israeli working class has “no interest in overthrowing Zionism” - here he equates ‘Israeli’ with ‘Hebrew’ and this is surely Zionism?

He asks: “What would the Israeli working class have to gain if they lost their privileged position?” The question is, what would the Israeli working class gain if the Hebrew section lost its privileges over Arab-Israeli workers. The answer is that a united Israeli working class (Hebrew and Palestinian Israelis) would be stronger and extract more ‘privileges’ from the capitalist class. These would be greater and more universal than divisive racial ‘advantages’, which are the false promise of Zionism. The Hebrew working class is exploited, but has national privileges - which are insecure because of capitalist exploitation. The class struggle in Israel-Palestine does not wait for a socialist Middle East to convince the Hebrew working class to ditch Zionism.

The case for a federal republic is the only position based on the leadership of the Israeli-Palestinian working class. Those who have written off the Hebrew section of this working class ‘inside the box’ do so on the grounds that the settler-colonial state has bought off the Hebrew working class. But 20% of Israeli workers are Arab-Palestinians. This can be seen as a version of the theory of the aristocracy of labour, in which surplus wealth ‘buys off’ a section of the class and renders it conservative. (This difference requires further discussion.)

Two nations

In his article, ‘One-state, two-state illusions’, Moshé explains again the fundamental pillars of his case and in doing so helps us to clarify the federal republican case. First the argument over states (one or two) is an attempt to put the cart before the horse. The ‘states’ are framed as ‘one Zionist state’, ‘one Palestinian state’ or a Zionist-Palestinian ‘two states’. Working class republicanism rejects all three options on principle. We start from nations, not states. Trying to decide, in the first instance, the number of states is like trying to build a house without foundations.

In recognising two nations, we include the right of nations to self-determination, which means two nations cannot be forced into one state. Hence the federal republic is not the imposition of one state on two nations, but the democratic agreement between citizen-voters for one state, with the constitutional right to leave. Working class republicanism is focused on the existence of two nations and the unity of the working class of both of them.

Zionism created two nations in the territory of Israel-Palestine (ie, formerly British Palestine). Over the decades since 1948 two nations - an oppressor and a resistance nation - have been forged in struggle. This was the consequence of a Zionist settler-colonial project supported by imperialism. Moshé’s analysis of Zionist settler-colonisation draws out unique aspects of Israel-Palestine, “where both settlers and the indigenous people formed new nations”. He says this is “the only case in which not only the settlers form a new settler nation (as in Australia, North America and so on), but where the indigenous people also constitute a single nation”.

In addition, unlike early primitive colonisation (Australia, United States, South Africa, etc), this Zionist colonisation is taking place in a world of advanced or late capitalism. This is not a fight over land between farmers with Gatling guns and nomads with spears or bows and arrows. Zionists expropriated indigenous land by ethnic cleansing and mass murder. The unintended consequence of this has been to expand the capital-wage labour economy. In this, Zionism is building up its own gravedigger in the Israeli-Palestinian working class and its proletarian allies in the rest of the Middle East and the imperialist centres like the US and UK.

In a capitalist world, whether the border between the two nations divides the land 50:50 or even 80:20 is less significant for the working class than whether the border is ‘open’ for capital, and labour can move freely across it. In a single market the economic border is dissolved or becomes irrelevant, whether there are two states or one. Farmers need land and access to markets, but workers need access to jobs in the whole Israel-Palestinian territory.

The minimum conditions must include the recognition of two nations, full equality between nations, their right to self-determination, the free movement of workers between territories, the right of return, the freeing of all political prisoners and compensation for victims of Zionism. These are best achieved within an overarching political-constitutional peace treaty of a democratic, secular, federal republic. This is the best solution for the working class, which does not put the abolition of international capitalism as a precondition.

One issue is how we understand the Israeli nation. This is not something fixed, but evolving through the class struggle. The Zionists have defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jews. This implies that American Jews are not really Americans, but Israelis in disguise. Yet the invention of Israel has changed this and made a distinction between Hebrews and Jews. An American Jew may identify as Jewish, but she is not a Hebrew.

At the same time we must make a distinction between Hebrews and Israelis. Twenty percent of Israelis are Arab Palestinians - imagine if we defined the English as white Protestants, so that black and ethnic minority citizens living in England were excluded from being identified as English by culture and law.

As republicans, we recognise that an Israeli nation has come into being over decades and that there must be complete equality between all citizens - between the Hebrew majority and the Palestinian minority. Hence the official ideology of Israel as a Zionist state of all Jews has to be overthrown and replaced by a democratic secular republic. It implies a democratic cultural revolution in the laws and values of Israeli society. These values are found in the history of the Jewish people fighting for freedom and democracy.

When we claim the Israeli working class is capable of leading the struggle for democracy inside Israel, we are speaking of Israelis as both Hebrew and Palestinian workers. The 20% of the Israeli working class are Arab-Palestinians - oppressed, not privileged - and cannot be relied upon by the Zionists. We cannot write off the Israeli working class by the simple expedient of equating it with Hebrews. In any case many Hebrew workers are not materially privileged, even if Zionism ideologically convinces them otherwise.

In some ways the Palestinian nation is a mirror of the Israeli nation - containing, as its does, a Palestinian-Arab majority and a Hebrew settler minority. At present these settlers are privileged in relation to Palestinian Arabs, because they have rights guaranteed by the Israeli Defence Forces and the Israeli courts. In any constitutional-peace treaty, Hebrews living in Palestine (ie, West Bank/Gaza/East Jerusalem) will have equal rights, not superior rights.

No doubt some Hebrews would return to Israel, but some would remain, provided they felt safe and secure. The issue of occupied land would have to be resolved by restoring land rights to Palestinian Arabs and in some cases providing generous compensation.

The issue of equal rights applies between the two nations of Israel and Palestine - and within both nations. A federal republic provides the most obvious means of securing democracy, peace and security for all its citizens.

  1. ‘Thinking beyond ceasefires’ Weekly Worker March 21: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1483/thinking-beyond-ceasefires.↩︎

  2. ‘One-state, two-state illusions’ Weekly Worker May 2: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1489/one-state-two-state-illusions.↩︎

  3. ‘Thinking beyond ceasefires’ Weekly Worker March 21: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1483/thinking-beyond-ceasefires.↩︎