Gaza: slaughter of the innocents

Thinking beyond ceasefires

Zionism is predicated on ethnic cleansing, oppression and ultimately genocide. Carl Stevens of the Republican Labour Education Forum gives his take on different possible progressive solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict

The Labour Left Alliance meeting on February 29, entitled ‘What is the solution? One state, two states or something altogether different’, featured a debate between advocates of four positions on the future direction and possible solutions to the national question in Israel and Palestine. These were:

1. One democratic, secular state - Tony Greenstein;

2. Two states - Adam Keller (Gush Shalom);

3. Middle East regional socialism - Moshé Machover;

4. Federal republic - one state for two nations - Steve Freeman (Republican Labour Education Forum).

(It should be noted that positions 1 and 4 are different versions of one state.)

In the first round of the debate the speakers concentrated on presenting their cases. In the second round they emphasised their criticisms of each other’s views.

One state

In presenting his case for one democratic, secular state, Tony Greenstein began with the current massacres in Gaza, which is now a death camp - the beginning of the end of Zionism, he thought. He said this is not a national conflict, but a conflict with a Zionist settler-colonial movement. He explored the history of Zionism as a “land without a people for a people without a land”. Zionism was and remains a settler-colonial movement founded on ethnic cleansing.

Comrade Greenstein argued that the solution is the same as in South Africa - a unitary, democratic, secular state. There are, of course, differences in demography, but to accept a two-state solution, which Zionism will never concede anyway, is to accept Israel as it is. He disagrees with the idea that Israeli Jews constitute a nation, but, even if they do, it is a settler nation without rights to oppress the indigenous people. What binds the Israeli Jews is antagonism to Palestinians, so it is a question of equality, not national rights. They do have certain national attributes, such as a common language, and these could be accommodated in a ‘constitutional settlement’.

How to obtain this is a difficult question, he admitted. Israel is supported by the US and the west and that will continue, whatever abuses it commits. The solution must be a region-wide one - and this is where he agrees with Moshé Machover. But where he differs is that we cannot set the pre-condition of socialism. Let us be realistic, he argues, socialism has not been achieved in any country in the world, despite the existence of anti-imperialist states, such a Cuba. Can a resolution be achieved before socialism? Tony says yes, but it may need a national revolution in the Arab east.

He notes that the Arab ruling classes are bound to the US, which means that the overthrow of the Arab regimes is a precondition for the overthrow of Zionism. This would enable the possibility of a single, democratic state - not two states, which would enable Zionism to reassert itself. After all, Israel is already weaponising anti-Semitism and the holocaust like never before. Tony ended with an observation from Gideon Levy that no Israeli children visiting Auschwitz came back saying ‘Never again should this happen to any people’. The Zionist lesson is that the destruction of Gaza is permitted because of the holocaust.

Two states

Adam Keller (Gush Shalom) stated he is not a Zionist and agreed with Tony on the history of Zionism as a settler-colonial state - Israel was an extension of European (imperial) expansionism. But he disagreed with Tony’s claim that the current conflict is not a national dispute and that Israel is not a nation. 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. There is no way to achieve a single state, he continued, because Israelis will not give up their nation. There is no force more powerful than Israel, when it comes to imposing a single state.

Adam referred to the comparison with South Africa, but it had settled, recognised borders. True, Israel’s borders of 1949-67 are internationally recognised by the United Nations, which accepted the division of British Mandate Palestine into two states. Also, whereas black South African workers could take strike action - eg, in gold and diamond mines - and this gave them leverage in the struggle, Palestinians have no strategic hold on the Israel economy. Palestinians need to work in Israel, but Zionist Israel does not need them. It is looking to India to replace Palestinians and this leaves Palestinians in a weak negotiating position.

Palestinians were happy to get their own state, with a maximum of 22% of the disputed land. They may deserve more, but this is the best they can get. Since October 7 the world has been forced to recognise a problem that cannot be ignored. 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.

Adam referred to a demonstration in Tel Aviv of about 2,000-3,000, protesting about events in Gaza. He hoped that a temporary ceasefire and exchange of prisoners would become permanent and end of war, so that reconstruction can begin. Two states is not a perfect solution, but better than the present situation.

He then spoke about the mood in Israel of immediate anger and revenge, with genocidal speeches, etc - the peace movement there is isolated by war frenzy. Many Israelis are happy to see Gaza destroyed and say they brought it on themselves. But in the last month there has been a gradual shift in public opinion. Now protestors are coming out who previously had been repressed by the police. Public opposition to war is growing (slowly at first). But more and more are coming onto the streets who regard the official war aim as futile and recognise that Hamas cannot be totally liquidated. After all, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) are suffering losses in the guerrilla war.


Moshé Machover said he has no blueprint - there is no solution possible soon. He compared the whole question with the climate crisis. Which also has no solution under capitalism. It will be a socialist and regional answer and not confined to the box of Israel-Palestine.

Moshé said that we should start from principles, not blueprints. To this end, he asked: (1) What are the minimum conditions that a benign and equitable solution must satisfy? (2) What is the nature of the conflict in order to find a solution? And (3) how can a proper resolution be achieved, when it becomes possible?

The minimum conditions are equal rights for all and national rights. There are two nations. He agrees Zionist colonisation is based on displacement of the indigenous population (as in Australia, the US and Canada). There is a Hebrew nation established through colonisation. No nation will accept an unequal status that leads to a state of permanent conflict and war. Underdogs will not accept their role. The right of return is a minimum requirement recognised under international law.

The conflict is rooted in colonisation and the Zionist regime will continue this, he continued. There has to be de-colonisation or de-Zionisation. What is happening is a colonial conflict, not a war between two states. Colonisation created Israel and Israel is set up to continue this project.

Moshé said that, when a solution becomes possible, it may be one state, two state, a federal state or a binational state - we cannot prejudge this. However, he addressed the problems posed by Adam’s two-state and Tony’s one-state solutions. He rejected the idea of two states because that would be a US-imposed ‘solution’. But the US will not impose a two-state solution on a Zionist Israel (or in the unlikely event that there will be something less than equality, where Israel, with all its military power existed alongside an inferior, demilitarised sub-state. Either way, a US two-state solution would be a disaster.

Moshé also rejected a one-state solution - he recognising that there were several versions of this, some of which satisfy the minimum conditions of equal rights. But can it be achieved? There is currently no social force that can overthrow Zionism and that is the difference between Israel and apartheid South Africa, with its black working class. The overthrow of Zionism would only be possible with the participation of the Israeli working class, which has no interest in doing that. What would the Israeli working class have to gain if they lost their privileged position? True, the Hebrew working class is exploited, but it enjoys national privileges. However, in a socialist Middle East the Hebrew working class would have an incentive to ditch Zionism. There is no solution under capitalism.

Federal republic

Steve Freeman of the Republican Labour Education Forum put forward the case for a democratic, secular, federal republic of Israel-Palestine. He said the RLEF was orientated to promoting democratic republican ideas for the labour movement in England and the rest of the UK, but after October 7 we were forced to turn our attention to Palestine. The US government, the British government, the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Labour Party all supported the ‘two-state solution’, while the TUC and all the major unions do the same. However, in opposing two-states ideology, the question was posed about a democratic republican alternative.

We are not trying to make a blueprint or write a programme for Israel-Palestine, Steve argued. All we are trying to do is think out the most democratic solution to this terrible situation. Our answer is for a democratic, secular, federal republic of Israel and Palestine, which we identify as “one state with two nations”. At first, this seemed like a new idea, but, the more we researched, we found it can be traced back to Judah Mangus and Noam Chomsky and their versions of a binational state. Not all versions of a binational state are supportable, but ours is the most democratic.

We can start by identifying three problems: (1) partition; (2) the crisis of democracy; and (3) the role of Anglo-US and EU imperialism and the various authoritarian states in the Middle East (but we are not going to concentrate here on the third one).

The partition of British Mandate Palestine in 1948 (the Nakba) and the repartition in 1967 was a disaster for the people, Steve continued. This is symbolised by the partition wall, known as the Wall of Apartheid, that is 440 miles long and came out of the Second Intifada (September 2000 to February 2005). This partition was an economic and social disaster for the people suffering poverty and underdevelopment on the Palestinian side, as well as those suffering considerable poverty among sections of the Israeli working class. There is considerable economic waste with bureaucracy and arms production and the army needed to maintain this. This partition state is a massively expensive system, not least in the exclusion of five-six million refugees. The partition state must be ended and replaced by a single state with the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour, including the freedom for returning refugees.

Second, there is a ‘crisis of democracy’ on either side of the partition wall. On the Israeli side there is Netanyahu’s government and creeping fascism, plus the unwritten constitution and the dispute with the supreme court that brought massive demonstrations before the war. There exists ‘Jewish nation-state law’ and the 20% of Palestinian Israelis are second-class citizens facing discrimination. But if you cross the wall is democracy doing well there? Obviously not. There is an absence of civil rights and instead a military dictatorship and the daily oppression of occupation. There are no elections and no accountability for the Palestinian Authority. There are a large number of political prisoners. Now there is fascism in Gaza imposed by the IDF. We have a very serious problem, in that ‘democracy’ is either on the way out or does not exist (in this connection Steve noted Adam’s reference to the emergence of street protest in Tel Aviv).

The solution flows from these two problems. First, end partition and occupation, with one state as an integrated, economic, single market. Second, one democratic secular republic with full equality between all citizens. It has to be a federal republic of two nations, Israel and Palestine, and a federal constitution would enable much greater unity between the Israeli and Palestinian working class.

This is a rather more radical solution than some people think. We are not talking about a Zionist Israel continuing to exist. We are arguing for a democratic, secular Israel without Zionism. For this to happen there has to be a democratic movement inside Israel - we may be pessimistic about this, but we should not be totally pessimistic, given the mass movement we saw before the war began.

Now if we come to one state, there are two versions that we must reject. First is ‘Greater Israel’ that implies the liquidation of the Palestinian nation, ethnic cleansing and all the rest of it. But the idea of a ‘Greater Palestine’ means the liquidation of the Israeli nation and would lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide. The democratic solution has to recognise an Israel in which 20% are Arab-Palestinian Israelis. These are Israelis and we need to keep reminding ourselves and not equating Israelis with Jews or Hebrews. So a federal republic of two nations is about democracy and the unity of the working class.

Steve said that he would not discuss the question of the Anglo-US imperialism, except to say that this has to involve the working class in the US, UK and Europe. The role of imperialism cannot be stopped by anything happening in Israel-Palestine as such. There is a struggle here and in the US already going on - now we hear that the ‘mob’ has invaded the streets. We have our own crisis of democracy growing because of the crisis in Palestine.

He concluded that the RLEF’s was the most democratic, compared to all other proposals for a democratic, secular republic - a fully functioning democracy based on the sovereignty of the people of Israel and Palestine, and equal rights for all citizens and their right to self-determination. Second, it is radical, because it goes to the root of the problem - the partition of 1948 - and demands the replacement of the Zionist Jewish republic by a democratic, secular republic. This does not mean a ‘reverse partition’ by going back to pre-1948 Palestine, but aims to transcend partition with a new unity. Third, it is a revolutionary proposal, because it requires the mobilisation of the democratic forces in Israel and Palestine - a democratic revolution ‘from below’.

There has to be a new constitutional settlement. Israel does not have a proper constitution, because it could not agree how to define the state in 1948. They called it “Jewish and democratic”, but, as Tony has said, you cannot have a Jewish state that is democratic. That is a contradiction in terms.

Round two

In the second round the speakers responded to each other’s positions as follows:

One democratic, secular state: Tony Greenstein said he agreed with much of Moshé’s exposition, but he singled out the federal republican position for criticism as a “dog’s dinner that will appeal to no-one” on two grounds:

Tony questions the self-determination of nations. He thinks this does not apply to settler-colonial nations, because they are not oppressed. He agrees that where settlers have destroyed or marginalised the indigenous people they do form a nation of sorts. But even in the USA and Australia the question of the rights of indigenous people remains. There is no Israeli nation, but Zionism claims there is a Jewish nation cemented by the Jewish nation-state law. Arab Israelis are not even second-class citizens, because they have a degraded form of citizenship. Bedouins have even fewer rights.

He agrees with Moshé that it is hard to have a crystal ball. There may be an Arab uprising in the Middle East that will overthrow those regimes. That may come quickly, but we cannot predict when that will be. He agrees with Moshé that there is no solution within the ‘box’ of Palestine. There has to be a region-wide solution, but Tony thinks that a national uprising of the Arab people that overthrows their regimes would endanger Zionism. Whether this leads to socialism cannot be known, but hopefully it will.

Tony says there is no solution within Israel among the Jewish people. There is no reason to have a Jewish state - even within a confederation or anything else - because this would allow Jewish supremacism to come back. There has to be a state where all are equal and politics are not decided by ethnicity. There would be cultural rights and religious freedoms. He says that Zionism has to go in all its forms and no tinkering around with constitutional settlements will achieve this.

Two states: Adam Keller agreed with Tony that there is no possibility of radical anti-Zionist politics within Israeli Jews. They will not give up on Zionism (although they may be compelled to make a concession to the Palestinians if there is sufficient international pressure - Jewish Israelis might agree to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza and allow a Palestinian state).

Adam said that Zionism is a state where the majority of the citizens and of MPs are Jewish and the government has a majority of Jewish ministers (with token Arab ministers), and an army composed of Jewish officers. This structure cannot really be broken up. Only a stronger army could defeat Israel and this would lead to nuclear war. The only possibility is that the IDF might be forced to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza.

A Palestinian state could exist as a sovereign state in the United Nations, but would be much weaker and not have its own army or airforce. He compared Israel-Palestine with US-Mexico. This would be a big improvement if Palestine were more like Mexico - a weaker, but independent neighbour. He believes that Zionism could give up on a Palestinian state but would not abandon its claim to be the state of the world’s Jewish people. In this context Adam discussed the history of Zionism, which aimed to create a “normal state” somewhere. But Zionism created a disaster for Jews and many others - but now we have to deal with today’s reality.

Middle East regional socialism: Moshé Machover referred to the republican answer (one state, two nations) as a blueprint. It meets the minimum (democratic) conditions, he said, but it is not feasible in present circumstances: it cannot be achieved without the consent or compliance of the Israeli working class. This will not be forthcoming at present.

He concluded that the republican case is an illusion, agreeing with Tony that the Israeli working class will not support deZionisation. It has nothing to gain from deZionisation under capitalism (or anything short of socialist transformation). However, he disagreed with Tony’s dismissal of the Israeli working class, which he said is derived from rigid (non-dialectical) thinking that assumes that what exists now is permanent and unchangeable. Moshé does not rule out deZionisation.

He pointed to the assumptions that underlie Tony’s one-state proposal, but he believes this is a dangerous illusion because Tony’s ‘one state’ would have to be imposed by brute force against the Israeli people. This would 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.

Moshé pointed out Adam’s hopes and illusions in US imperialism - either they will not happen or will not work. In the highly unlikely situation of two states being imposed by the USA it would require the suppression of Palestinian democracy by the colonial-settler state. Two states would be a continuation of the present oppression in a new way - be careful what you wish for, he added. Adam’s definition of Zionism is deficient, because it has never given up its claim to the whole of Palestine. Israel claims to be the nation-state of the Jewish people of the whole world - hence its right of colonisation and no right of return for Palestinians. He described 1970s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s support for a Palestine state as an “Indian reservation”.

Moshé concluded that both two states and the federal republican one-state position are an “illusion”, while that of a one-state, ‘democratic Palestine’ is a “dangerous illusion”. However, he does not abandon democratic demands. He says we should advocate “equal rights for all” - meaning equal individual and national rights for both existing nations. He ended with an optimistic note by pointing to solidarity between Hebrew and Palestinian workers in the same workplaces and the unity in the 2011 demonstrations in Israel.

Federal republic: Steve Freeman responded to all this by stating that the most important thing is the working class - the Israel-Palestine working class has to be the force for change.

This does not mean that we ignore the working class in the region or across the world: we are all connected together. We have to have a perspective or thought for the Israeli-Palestinian working class. He does not define the Israeli working class as the Hebrew working class, since 20% of the Israeli working class is Palestinian Arab and we have to look to unite the Israeli working class that Moshé had just spoken about. The working class is the only democratic force in the world.

The two-states ideology does not produce a democratic answer, he continued, because it depends on the US. We may get a two-state ‘solution’, but it will be the US and Zionist Israel in control. It will be something quite reactionary despite some people’s illusions that there will be two democratic states. No, there will not.

The force for democracy has to come from the Palestinian and Israeli people and from the working class of both nations uniting. It may be that in the middle of this dark night we cannot see the dawn, but there will come a time when the working class in the current crisis - and we have never seen a crisis like this - will be forced by circumstances to come together and unite. Steve said he was optimistic despite the fact that everything looks dire. He believed that what Adam said about going onto the streets in Tel Aviv was the most optimistic thing we heard at the meeting.

The final point he made concerned what Tony said about the democratic movement in Israel and about the constitutional (supreme) court before the war. Of course, the first stage of such a movement is bound to bring all its prejudices to one spot and probably keep all the Arab people out of it. But if that movement is going to evolve it will involve the Arab people of Israel and the Arab working class. And it will evolve and not remain in that primitive first stage. That movement is going to come back again, because the crisis will come back much more severely after this war than was the case when people were opposing Netanyahu’s constitutional changes.

Democracy has to be central to the answer, Steve concluded, because that is what the masses want. The Palestinian people want democracy, as do ordinary Israelis - or at least a better one than they have now, and that it is a big motivator.

This does not contradict socialism, as Lenin explained so well. The only way to socialism is through democracy and the democratic revolution. The fight for democracy is the fight for socialism in reality.