For two states

Israeli right prepares for final solution

Unfurling the bloodied banner of 'war against terrorism', Ariel Sharon addressed the Israeli nation on March 31 and told it what it already knew. Israel, or at least its government, is at war - not with the "terrorist infrastructure" cited by Sharon as the enemy, but with the entire Palestinian people. The hideously misnamed Operation Defence Wall has seen Israeli tanks return to the streets of Palestinian towns. Having been 'absent' for barely a month, the Israeli Defence Force has returned to the streets of Ramallah and moved into four other West Bank cities: Qalqilyah, Tulkarm, Bethlehem and Jenin. And the Israeli offensive is just beginning. According to IDF sources, all cities of the West Bank will gradually be "taken care of" and military activity is also expected in the Gaza Strip as well. We need not be under any illusion about exactly how the IDF intends to 'take care' of the West Bank cities it brings under its control. They will be paralysed, as people are forced to remain in their homes for fear of being shot or beaten in the street. In some places electricity and water supplies have been cut off. The entire Palestinian adult male population will be arrested and interrogated under the guise of rounding up terrorists. Hardly 'defensive' measures. No wonder whole areas of operation have been declared exclusive zones and the press kept out. However, despite its undoubted military superiority, the IDF 'incursions' have demonstrably failed to prevent suicide bombings, used routinely by the Israeli government to justify its offensives. Ariel Sharon's government has not delivered the increased security promised in order to get elected in February 2001 - and there is no indication that Operation Defence Wall will yield any radically different results. Within Israel discontent with Sharon's ruling coalition is rising. However, Israeli opinion is polarised. On the one hand, the rebellion by IDF reservists against serving in Israel's "war of occupation" is growing, along with a support movement. On the other, the right, both inside and outside Likud, is seeking to push through its ultimate programme of expelling Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza - with or without Ariel Sharon. The number of signatories attached to the IDF refuseniks' letter is currently 389. Courage to Refuse - to give the refuseniks their semi-official moniker - are one strand amongst various IDF ranks who will not be part of the brutal occupation. Yesh Gvul ('There is a limit') is a more established group. It was founded in response to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. On that occasion 168 servicemen were jailed, some repeatedly, for refusing to serve in the campaign, though the actual number who rebelled was far greater. The onset of the first Palestinian intifada in 1987 prompted many to refuse service, with the numbers imprisoned coming close to 200 - though the army retreated from its threat to imprison others. Both Yesh Gvul and Courage to Refuse have been treated with outright hostility by most of the 'official' Israeli left, the Labour Party and the centre-left Meretz. Some individual members of Meretz eventually telephoned support through to Courage to Refuse, but only after their party's reticence had been embarrassingly exposed in Ha'aretz, a liberal daily. The refuseniks' rebellion has also been treated with circumspection by most of the peace movement, with some echoing the right's allegations of 'treachery'. The antagonism is mutual. The rebels are, rightly, contemptuous of both the 'militaristic' left and Labour, which is of course a partner in the coalition government. The refusenik movement is, like the wider peace movement, politically diffuse. Many refuseniks recognise that it is not in the interests of the Israeli people to oppress the Palestinians and as such are in the process of breaking from Israeli chauvinism. In its latest leaflet addressed to IDF soldiers, Yesh Gvul argues correctly that Israeli repression, far from preventing suicide bombings, produces the exact opposite effect: "Every 'liquidation' (killing) prompts a bombing. The child you wounded today is tomorrow's terrorist." And the leaflet points out: "As long as we hold on to the occupied Palestinian territories, we will continue to shed our own blood and that of the Palestinians." Maavak Sozialisti, the Israeli section of Peter Taaffe's Committee for a Workers' International, points out that the refusenik leadership "suffers from serious political and organisational deficiencies similar to those of the liberal peace movement", their objections being "overwhelmingly moral and conscientious" (March 8). Nevertheless, despite these limitations the growth of the refusenik movement is a significant and overwhelmingly positive development within Israeli politics. There is a democratic and anti-chauvinist content to its rebellion, which, given expression through the fight for a programme of extreme democracy, could be a potent force within Israeli politics. As Maavak Sozialisti states, the refusenik movement has the "potential of becoming a strong catalyst in the opposition to the continued and intensified occupation" (March 8). Observers of left politics in Britain will not be surprised to learn that the politics of Maavak Sozialisti bear all the hallmarks of the CWI's economism. While calling for a "socialist Israel and socialist Palestine" at least has the merit of recognising the right of Israel to exist, it ultimately remains a maximalist abstraction - the equivalent of giving a traveller directions by repeatedly telling them details of their destination but not how to get there. One of the most serious handicaps for the refusenik movement, apart from organisational fragmentation and a certain tendency to try and maintain an 'apolitical' stance, is what it shares with the peace movement in general - the lack of a positive programme. An advert paid for by the Gush Shalom peace group in Ha'aretz illustrated this weakness perfectly, arguing that "first, the solution has to be agreed upon; second, the way to implement it must be discussed" (March 22). Which left the reader none the wiser as to what the "solution" is. Yesh Gvul's position is more coherent. While stating that its "immediate aim is to put an end to the misuse of the IDF for unworthy ends, and terminate the occupation", it goes further: it is "united on the 'two-state' solution, as the key to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict", although it does add that it is "not bound to any specific peace programme" (all quotes from Yesh Gvul's website). Whether the "two-state solution" is to be negotiated between representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian ruling classes or fought for by a mass movement of both peoples is an open question. While the peace movement and refuseniks have garnered a certain degree of support, there is no doubting the hardening of attitudes produced by the murderous suicide attacks on civilians. As Ha'aretz commented, "even the most vehement critics of the Sharon government and its policies find it difficult to call for absolutely no military response" (April 2). In this climate it is the right, whose figurehead is currently former premier Benjamin Netanyahu, that is in the ascendancy. Netanyahu's solution to the current crisis is simple and therefore has the virtue of coherency - reoccupation of the Palestinian territories, and the dismantling of what remains of the Palestinian Authority, along with the expulsion of Arafat. 'Transference' - a euphemism for the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and Gaza - would no doubt be considered legitimate by Netanyahu. Sharon himself agrees with at least part of this policy. The expulsion of Arafat and destruction of the PA has now entered the lexicon of his stated war aims. However, he is constrained by the coalition with Labour, who would be vehemently opposed to such a move. He is also constrained by a wider sense of realpolitik. He has already dismissed the idea of reoccupation as unworkable. And despite his bluster he has stopped short of removing Arafat by force, knowing full well that if he did, Israel would reap a whirlwind of reprisals and international condemnation. Not to mention what would follow a full reoccupation. Yasser Arafat himself has declined Sharon's kind invitation to leave Palestine on a one-way ticket. He is confined to a cellar at his burnt out HQ and is at Israel's mercy. Other than the continued resistance of the Palestinian masses his loudly proclaimed willingness to suffer martyrdom is perhaps the strongest weapon remaining in his armoury. At the same time his aids have been busy agitating for an imperialist intervention from either the US or EU. In the meantime secular nationalists are now participating in suicide attacks alongside islamist reactionaries, which points to the desperation felt by Palestinian society as a whole. The suicide bombers attacking Israel enjoy widespread support and Hamas, chillingly, promises a "series of big operations" (March 27). While recognising the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to resist Israeli occupation, revolutionary socialists and communists insist that suicide bombings and indiscriminate attacks on civilians - no matter who carries them out - will not successfully advance the struggle for Palestinian national rights. What is more, islamist reaction is just as much a threat to democratic and working class forces as is the Israeli right. The heroic resistance of the Palestinian people to Israeli occupation has rightly inspired activists in the anti-war movement. Witness the proliferation of Palestinian flags on the March 30 CND demonstration in London. Indeed, some have gone farther than flag-waving and have put themselves in the line of fire in Palestine, where the IDF shot at a peace demonstration attended by international supporters. However, offering whole-hearted backing for the Palestinians' legitimate struggle for their national rights is not enough. For that struggle to succeed it needs to be armed with a programme to win Israeli workers, as well as those sections of Israeli society like the refuseniks that are beginning to break from national chauvinism. Unfortunately much of the left has a blind spot, when it comes to the Israeli working class, as has often been observed in these pages. Socialist Worker recently provided us with an example of how not to approach the question. It ruled out a two-state solution on the grounds that it "would mean an economically and militarily powerful Israel continuing to dominate a weak Palestine" (March 23). This is a reflection of current realities: Israel is strong and Palestine is virtually defenceless. However, using the present to argue against the future is hardly a recipe for determining the best method of advance. Is Israel destined to be dominated forever by chauvinism and Zionism or can it become a force for progress under the hegemony of the working class? Revolutionary socialists and communists demand a democratic settlement that recognises the right of the Palestinians to their own state in areas where they form the majority. We demand the right to return for all exiled Palestinians. They and the whole Palestinian nation must receive compensation for the historic injustice perpetrated against them by decades of Israeli oppression. However, we also demand recognition of the rights of the historically constituted Israeli nation. Concretely, this means a democratic, secular Palestine existing side by side with a democratic, secular Israel. However, we do not envisage this being imposed on the Palestinian and Israeli people from the top. We want it to be fought for from below by a movement embracing millions. While the Israeli working class must be won to champion Palestinian self-determination, the Palestinians must be won to a programme which includes respect for Israeli national rights. Ironically, if such a democratic programme gained mass support from both peoples, the demand for two separate states might well be made redundant by the movement it brought into existence - bringing nearer the day when the voluntary unity of Palestinian and Israeli within a single state becomes a reality. James Mallory * http://www.yesh-gvul.org/english.html * http://www.seruv.org.il/defaultEng.asp