IDF soldier praying: hardly part of the Palestinian nation

Not a zero-sum game

Capitalist solutions are no solution. Moshé Machover argues that only a regional socialist ferment can win Jewish-Israeli workers away from Zionism and the politics of national privilege

This is a response to articles by two comrades: Steve Freeman’s ‘Marching towards what solution?’ and Tony Greenstein’s ‘They are all Palestinians’.1 These two articles, in turn, responded to my recent article ‘One-state, two-state illusions’.2

Their proposed solutions to the conflict caused by the Zionist colonisation of Palestine are quite different, but they have one important thing in common: they could be - and indeed have been - supported by people who are not socialists and to whom the class struggle is an alien concept.


Steve’s blueprint, a “federal republic of Israel-Palestine”, is ideologically bourgeois-liberal. This, in itself, is not a sufficient argument against it: it clearly ticks some of the boxes essential for a benign resolution of the conflict, which I listed in my recent article: equal rights for all, including equal personal rights, and - secondly and importantly - equal national rights for both groups involved: namely Palestinian Arabs and Hebrews (aka Israeli Jews).

An additional condition, which Steve fails to mention (due to an oversight?), is the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. With this necessary addition, the blueprint could, if implemented, go a long way to resolving the conflict. If implemented. What makes Steve’s bourgeois-liberal position politically utopian is his insistence that his blueprint does not require a regional socialist transformation, but can be implemented under capitalism.

I have written at length explaining why an equitable resolution of the conflict would only become possible in the context of a regional socialist transformation.3 Here I shall summarise the argument. It starts from the observation that an equitable resolution of this colonial conflict requires decolonisation of Israel-Palestine, which means, concretely, deZionisation of Israel - the overthrow of its Zionist regime. I have argued in detail that this cannot be achieved purely by external forces, though external factors may create conditions favourable to it. Internal action is essential.

An indispensable condition for the overthrow of Zionism is the support and participation of the Hebrew working class. But under present conditions, under capitalism, this support cannot be achieved, because it would demand that the Hebrew working class exchange its present position of an exploited class with national privileges for a position of a class still subject to capitalist exploitation, but stripped of its national privileges. This is a losing deal.

However, given a socialist ferment in the region, in countries such as Egypt and Iraq, class instincts may well lead Hebrew workers to solidarity with the working classes of these countries. There were clear expressions of such feelings of solidarity during the Arab Spring of 2011 and the concurrent mass demonstrations in Israel. In this context, an internationalist socialist, working class movement in the region could offer the Hebrew working class an attractive deal: give up your national privileges in exchange for sharing as an equal partner in a regional rule of the working class.

I am not saying that this kind of scenario is certain; there is no such certainty. But it is a possibility; and there is no alternative situation that can be predicted with any greater probability for winning over the Hebrew working class. Steve’s bourgeois-liberal blueprint is politically utopian, because it is packaged with acceptance of a capitalist context that makes it unfeasible.


Tony likewise rejects the idea of a socialist resolution of the conflict. Indeed he seems to have no use for any project that cannot be implemented under capitalism, because capitalism will go on forever: “The fact is that capitalism has not been abolished anywhere in the world. Are we saying that the liberation of the Palestinians has to wait until the end of time?”

His blueprint for Palestinian liberation is, in all essential elements, identical with that of Fatah circa 1969, when it advocated a “secular, democratic Palestine”.4 Fatah, the dominant faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, was then a militant, petty-bourgeois, nationalist resistance movement committed to armed struggle. From 1974, following a series of defeats, the PLO/Fatah began to shift its position and by the 1980s succumbed to the ‘two-state’ illusion. But Tony has stuck to the old “secular, democratic state” blueprint, which he has been advocating for decades.

It is quite common for nationalists to deny the very nationhood of their rival nation; the latter does not really exist, it is a fake. This was indeed the position held by Fatah: it is what the word, ‘secular’, was intended to signal in the formula, “secular, democratic state”. On the face of it, this word seems otiose: a democratic state cannot possibly be theocratic - it must be secular. But in the full text of the old Fatah programme it is made clear that ‘secular’ is intended to negate ‘binational’. The Israeli Jews do not constitute a nation, but a faith community. Following the liberation of Palestine, this community would be granted equal religious and cultural freedoms with other religious communities. The state itself will be secular. Only one nation does and will exist in Palestine: a Palestinian nation, which is an Arab nation.

Tony has long been advocating basically the same position. Flying in the face of reality, he denies the very existence of a Hebrew nation - a settler nation formed by Zionist colonisation, as in other colonised countries whose political economy did not depend on indigenous labour. According to Tony, it is not a nation, but an inherently reactionary formation with a super-reactionary working class. And, he confidently asserts, it will forever remain so, irrespective of circumstances. As such it will not deserve any national rights following the overthrow of Zionism. Liberation of Palestine will subject it to national subordination.

Clearly, this kind of thinking has nothing in common with socialism, let alone Marxism or the dialectic.

Equality of national rights is not just a sacrosanct socialist principle: it is also a political imperative. Contrary to the caricature drawn by Tony, the Israeli Jews are not a reactionary Zionist monolith; nor are the Hebrew workers uniformly extreme-right racists. In addition to a small minority of committed Hebrew genuine socialists (and ipso facto anti-Zionists), there is quite a sizable floating minority whose commitment to Zionist colonialism is far from firm - they can be won over to internationalism, given the right circumstances.

Also, not all Hebrew workers support the racist ultra-right; there are many manifestations of cross-national class solidarity and mutual support, particularly in workplaces where Palestinian and Hebrew workers rub shoulders. Class consciousness and common interests can sometimes surmount colonial-national, supremacist ideology.5

The size of these political minorities is fluctuating, depending on circumstances and, importantly, on the ideas they encounter. It is self-defeating for socialists to tell them that following the overthrow of Zionism they will be denied equal national rights and will have to endure national subordination. Preaching such a position is a recruiting call, inviting the hesitating minority to fight tooth and nail for the Zionist state.


I will not follow Tony in speculating about possible adverse conditions for Zionism that may arise regionally, or internally within Israeli society. Let me just make a couple of points. First, contrary to a widespread impression, which Tony apparently endorses, Israel is not losing the war on Gaza. A war’s success or failure can only be measured in comparison with its aim. Measured by the war’s official aims - eradication of Hamas and freeing of the Israeli hostages - the war is going quite badly for Israel. But, as I have pointed out on several occasions, Israel’s real aim in this war is ethnic cleansing,6 and it is evidently making steady progress towards achieving this.

Second, in the coming period the Middle East may well face major turbulence that will be extremely damaging to Israel. Also, Israeli society is likely to enter a deep internal conflict between the pseudo-liberal bourgeoisie and the rising messianic populists. But it is facile to assume that any detriment to the Zionist regime is necessarily good for Palestinian liberation.

This is not a zero-sum game. An Israeli explosion or implosion can be a destructive lose-lose for both colonisers and colonised - and the latter are far more vulnerable. Only a socialist resolution would be a working class win.

  1. Weekly Worker May 16 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1491/marching-towards-what-solution) and May 23 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1492/they-are-all-palestinians).↩︎

  2. Weekly Worker May 2 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1489/one-state-two-state-illusions).↩︎

  3. See ‘Belling the cat’ Weekly Worker December 12 2013 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/990/palestineisrael-belling-the-cat); also ‘The decolonisation of Palestine’ Weekly Worker June 23 2016 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1112/the-decolonisation-of-palestine).↩︎

  4. See ‘Towards the democratic Palestine’ in Fatah (Lebanon, January 1970); Mohammad Rasheed Towards a democratic state in Palestine PLO Research Centre, Beirut 1970. I have criticised this programme on several occasions - see my book Israelis and Palestinians: conflict and resolution Chicago 2012, chapter 17.↩︎

  5. Important achievements in this regard are due to the internationalist trade union organisation, Koach LaOvdim (‘Power to the workers’); see workers.org.il/?lang=en.↩︎

  6. See ‘Zionist drives and divisions’ Weekly Worker December 7 2023 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1470/zionist-drives-and-divisions).↩︎