Two nations, Two secular states

It is not enough to demand an end to the Israeli assault on Lebanon and a vague 'justice for the Palestinians', says Peter Manson. The left and anti-war movement as a whole must be won to a fully democratic solution

It is difficult to find words strong enough to condemn the latest acts of state barbarism conducted by Israel, as it deliberately aims to terrorise an entire population into submission.

Our revulsion at such destruction and mass murder can only be matched by our contempt for the hypocrisy of Blair and Bush, Israel's accomplices and partners in crime. Blair, in his July 18 address to parliament, claimed that Israel was merely responding to the "terrorists", who had been "deliberately targeting civilians". Hezbollah, he said, had fired 1,600 rockets into Israel.

While we have no illusions in such organisations as Hezbollah and Hamas, they are a reaction to Zionist oppression, not the cause of it. Furthermore their actions have the effect of pin pricks, compared to the devastation of Israeli air strikes, which, as I write, have already accounted for almost 300 deaths since the assault on Lebanon began.

For all the talk of Hezbollah's "sophisticated" missile systems, the small number of Israeli casualties speaks for itself. While we have no wish to minimise the individual tragedy that accompanies each fatality, a couple of dozen deaths does not provide evidence of an efficient military return for so many rockets fired. Most of them have exploded harmlessly and their accuracy is clearly questionable. It is doubtful whether Hezbollah can be said to be "deliberately targeting" anything except in the vague sense of a particular Israeli urban centre.

While Hezbollah missiles have been able to hit Haifa and Nazareth, some 30 kilometres south of the border, the Israelis are able to strike anywhere in Lebanon with virtual impunity. Neither Hezbollah nor the Lebanese armed forces have any effective defence against air raids. Within a few short days all main roads and airports had been taken out, ports blockaded, power stations disabled and oil supplies blown up. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have tried to escape the onslaught.

The Israeli strategy can be accurately described as terroristic, in that it aims not only to destroy infrastructure and wipe out Hezbollah, but to cow - terrorise - the entire Lebanese population. Before and after many of the air attacks leaflets are dropped warning of more to come. One released over southern Lebanon implicitly threatened residents with the consequences of mere toleration of, let alone support for, Hezbollah: "Let it be known that continued terrorism against Israel will not allow you to be in peace."

On July 13 a leaflet warned all residents of the Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik, a Hezbollah stronghold, to leave immediately. Soon after, the attack on the party's TV station, al-Manar, devastated three blocks and much of Haret Hreik has been flattened. On July 15 inhabitants of the village of Marwaheen, near the Syrian border, were ordered by Israeli forces to leave their homes. But their convoy was attacked by bombers and at least 34 were killed.

As Anton La Guardia, pro-Israel diplomatic editor of The Daily Telegraph, put it, the strikes are "supposed to make the general population 'pay the price' for giving free rein to the gunmen in their midst and convince local governments to take action" (July 14). Evidently, if we are to take it at face value, this is not only futile, but counterproductive. Futile, because the Lebanese 'government' is in no position to control Hezbollah, which, of course has two cabinet members following last year's elections, when the party won 23 out of 128 seats. Counterproductive, because for every Lebanese who blames Hezbollah for the death and destruction, there are 10 who point the finger at Israel.

It is true Hezbollah has some kind of network of control towers and monitoring stations in south Lebanon and was able to launch an audacious raid across the border, during which it took two Israeli soldiers prisoner. It may also be true that it still has more than 8,000 unfired missiles aimed at Israel.

Several newspapers quoted US intelligence agencies as claiming to believe that Iran may have supplied some of its "most feared and up-to-date weapons" to Hezbollah and Israel alleges the existence of "specialist teams" from Iran supervising the missile attacks.

This is where the particular common ground lies between, on the one hand, Israel and, on the other, US imperialism. There is a 'war on terror' to be fought and this excuses hitting out in all directions. Israel now has the chance to 'deal once and for all' with Hezbollah, while the 'international community' (read the US) can turn the screws on Syria and especially Iran. US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said it was a "worrying time", but "also a time when we have the opportunity to lay a foundation "¦ for a permanent cessation of violence" by "[draining] the regional swamp of extremism".

That is why, in the words of La Guardia again, "For the moment, president George W Bush has given the Israeli government plenty of slack to act as it wishes - as long as it does not commit too many foul acts against Lebanese civilians" (my emphasis, July 15). So for Bush "Israel has the right to defend herself", although hopefully it will not do anything that might unseat the Lebanese government of Fuad Siniora (presumably wrecking his country and slaughtering his fellow citizens is considered harmless enough in this regard).

Meanwhile the UK media devoted enormous time and space to the plight of British nationals trapped in Lebanon and played up the government's efforts to secure their safety. Of course, the best way to do that (and help protect the Lebanese into the bargain) would be to demand that Israel halted its war of destruction, but this is something neither Bush nor Blair is prepared to do right now. In the context of Israel's relationship with the US-UK, talk of Hezbollah acting as the "proxy" of Syria and Iran is perhaps the biggest hypocrisy of all.

The G8, meeting in Moscow, talked about the "possibility" of an "international security/monitoring presence" in Lebanon and Blair commented: "The only way we are going to get a cessation of hostilities is if we have the deployment of an international force into that area that can stop the bombardment over Israel and therefore give Israel a reason to stop its attacks on Hezbollah". In other words, Hezbollah must be destroyed/tamed - either by Israel or by some other pro-imperialist force.

All this is common knowledge on the left, which is, with a few shameful exceptions, united in its condemnation of Israel and US-UK imperialism. The Stop the War Coalition has been quick to organise demonstrations in 10 towns and cities across Britain around the slogans, 'Hands off Lebanon', 'Freedom for Palestine', 'Don't attack Syria' and 'Don't attack Iran'.

But what exactly does 'Freedom for Palestine' mean? Similarly on July 15 the STWC agreed to circulate a briefing penned by Socialist Workers Party leader and Respect national secretary John Rees, which concluded: "We demand the cessation of attacks on Lebanon, an end to the occupation of Iraq and justice for the Palestinians."

Even Blair and Bush could agree to "justice for the Palestinians" - yet more vague again than 'freedom for Palestine', which at least implies some kind of state. So why doesn't the SWP state more concretely what it is for as well as what it is against? The answer is that, in following its popular frontist logic, it considers what it is against to be the most important - and that means abandoning criticism, along with one principle after another.

This extends also to forces like Hezbollah and Hamas, which the SWP is now portraying as sharing a huge amount of common ground with socialists. Thus in the latest Socialist Worker Bassem Chit (described as a "democracy activist based in Beirut") paints Hezbollah in entirely positive colours.

He writes: "But a new power was emerging to fill the void created by the defeat of the left - a movement that drew inspiration from the 1979 Iranian revolution and took root among Lebanon's marginalised and poor shia muslims. Its name was Hezbollah and it vowed there would be no compromise with imperialism "¦

"Hezbollah was transformed by its role in the resistance to Israel. The movement launched health and welfare programmes, opened schools and began to look beyond narrow islamist politics to appeal to a national movement. Its young leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, built a reputation for honesty and deft strategic planning. Slowly Hezbollah guerrillas ground down the Israeli army while its popularity grew among ordinary people" (July 22).

It almost makes you wonder why we should worry about "the defeat of the left" in the first place when Hezbollah has 'filled the void' so admirably. The truth is, Hezbollah, like Hamas, is in the last analysis a reactionary body. Its programme is based on a loathing of democracy, an inhuman disregard for the rights of all but its own religious group and a deep hatred of working class power.

Yes, Hezbollah is for a "national movement", just as the Hamas programme in part reflects Palestinian national aspirations. But, just as Ehud Olmert's Kadima party, along with Likud and Labour, are for the continued denial of national rights for Palestinian Arabs, so Hezbollah and Hamas want to abolish the national rights of Israeli Jews.

Programmes based on either the current oppression of Palestinian Arabs or the future oppression of Israeli Jews are reactionary. The left's call for the abolition of the state of Israel and its replacement by a "democratic, secular Palestine" falls into the latter category. The SWP, in order to accommodate its islamist allies, has recently gone one step further and effectively dropped the word 'secular' - a theocratic state like Iran wouldn't be too bad, would it? Disgraceful.

By contrast, we demand a genuinely democratic solution, whereby both Israeli Jew and Palestinian Arab can enjoy full national rights. In other words a programme based on the establishment of a democratic, secular Palestine alongside a democratic, secular Israel. There can be no democracy without secularism - the complete equality of believer with non-believer.

Far from such a two-state solution being based on 'ethnic cleansing', as our critics ludicrously suggest, it would incorporate the free movement of people, including the right of return of all Palestinians previously driven out of their country by Zionism. The Palestinians must be allowed to set up a viable state in areas where they form the majority - there are, after all, 1.4 million of them in Israel proper. Furthermore there must be full minority rights in both entities.

Our idea of a two-state solution is far removed from the version still, occasionally and half-heartedly, propounded by Blair, who clearly believes that a helpless bantustan, over which Israel would have the right of veto in virtually every aspect of policy, would suffice. It would not. Not only should a Palestinian state extend beyond the West Bank and Gaza into what is now Israeli territory: it must have full access to water and other essential resources diverted by Israel. There must be a huge programme of reparations to compensate Palestinians for the decades of deprivation.

But is this not a rather one-sided solution? Not at all. The Israeli people - and in particular the Israeli working class (the only hope for a genuine democracy in the country) - must be won to see that Israeli national rights can only be permanently secured under such a settlement. Similarly, Palestinian national aspirations can only be attained through the recognition by the Palestinian masses that the Israeli nation too has a right to exist.

Only on the basis of such mutual recognition can there be unity between the two peoples - a unity based on a democratic programme to be fought for by the working class using working class methods. A unity that, paradoxically, will bring nearer the day when Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jew can live side by side as comrades.