Debate: Israel-Palestine - what should the left say?

Submitted by vickim on 13 July, 2010 - 5:42 Author: Camila Bassi and Marcus Halaby

Speeches from "Israel-Palestine: what should the left say? Two states and workers' unity or one state and right of return?", a debate with Workers Power at Ideas for Freedom 2010 (11 July)

The session was chaired by Tom Unterrainer of the AWL National Committee.

Camila Bassi (Workers’ Liberty)

The history of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is one of competing narratives. What do I mean by that? Narratives that differ in their selection, their emphasis, and their interpretation of particular events and which, in turn, suggest quite different responses to the conflict’s present-day conditions. In academia where I work there is a predominant cross-Atlantic left narrative which draws on scholars like Perry Anderson and Edward Said and which very much echoes the socialist left generally including the position which we will hear today from Marcus, from Workers Power.

Now this cross-Atlantic left narrative reads the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in a two-fold way: it describes it in terms of ethnic cleansing and it also frames the conflict as a two camp struggle, so you have on the one hand a US imperialist backed, exploitative, racist, nationalist, colonialist state and you have a resisting, anti-colonial, anti- imperialist original population.

Let’s just unpack this a little bit more. Derek Gregory, a Canadian geographer, says the key date for many on the Israeli left is problematically not 1948, like for the majority of the Palestinians, it’s 1967. And he said this is problematic because this latter war merely reflects further military advance by Israel. In other words, what he’s arguing is that 1948, the Nakba, was and remains colonial occupation of Palestine. We need to understand the conclusion of that point.

Ilan Pappe calls for a paradigm of ethnic cleansing to replace the paradigm of war in scholarly and public debate on the question of 1948. Ilan Pappe rejects the notion which I would suggest, which is that the exile of three quarters of a million Palestinians was the outcome of the war itself. He rejects that and says instead it was the result of “longer, meticulous planning by the Zionists to ethnically cleanse”.

Norman Finkelstein, another US academic, picks up this argument and he said that the 1948 war was exploited by the Zionists in a similar way to the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing in Kosovo during the 1999 NATO attack. Finkelstein purports that Israelis continue to desire the expulsion of Palestinians, but they can no longer get away with ethnic cleansing. It’s no longer a politically viable option, he says, so instead apartheid takes its place.

As stressed by Edward Said and countless other academics that claim to be on the left, Israel’s legal foundations are seen as a quest for national and racial purity that is akin and akin only to apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany. The basic conclusion of this narrative is that because Israel is structurally hinged on a principle of return and non-return for Jews and Arabs respectively, then if it disappeared then so would and so should the Zionist nation state of Israel.

What I want to do is briefly sketch an alternative but distinctly Marxist narrative of the key events and conditions of existence that led to the formation of the nation state of Israel in 1948. This is a narrative that is critically lost from the academic left, and it’s a narrative that is lost to the socialist left. It's a position that makes Workers’ Liberty fairly unique on the far left.

The point here is that how one reads history informs and is informed by the present-day Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This narrative that I draw upon draws also in part on the French independent Marxist scholar and Orientalist Maxime Rodinson who has passed away now.

Maxime Rodinson was an Orientalist, it’s worth noting, that was singled out for praise in Edward Said’s famous book Orientalism. Maxime Rodinson dismissed Said’s book, however, as a polemic against Orientalism that was written in a style that was a bit Stalinist, ie, in its delineation of allies and adversaries.

Let’s begin then at the turn of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the Jewish question was exemplified by a trend towards segregation in Russia and Eastern Europe and assimilation in Western Europe.

The spirit of third camp Marxism at this time was to aid an independent, internationalist, democratic and proletarian form of the latter, assimilation, developing, as Lenin put it, the great world progressive features of Jewish culture as against the trend towards local, cultural nationalism which came to be adopted by the Bund and the more equivocal, bourgeois nationalism of political Zionism.

The most popular location considered by early Zionist leaders was Palestine, then an Arab province of the Ottoman empire. It was commonly regarded then as a southern region of Syria. Significantly, concurrent to the emergence of a Jewish national aspiration for Palestine was the emergence and development of Palestinian-Arab nationalism. Palestinian nationalism came both as an indirect result of British and French colonial expansion in the Ottoman empire, which prompted the very idea of a nation state, and was also a response to early, discreet Jewish settlement.

It must be accepted, I think, in this debate that the nature of the Jewish question changed radically with the unprecedented persecution of the Jews in fascist Germany, in the 1930s and 40s. This swung the balance of forces towards the historical inevitability of a Jewish nation.

I’m going to quote Trotsky at length on this point. He said:

“During my youth I rather leaned toward the prognosis that the Jews of different countries would be assimilated and that the Jewish question would thus disappear in a quasi-automatic fashion. The historical development of the last quarter of a century has not confirmed this perspective. Decaying capitalism has everywhere swung over to an exacerbated nationalism, one part of which is anti-semitism. ...

“On the other hand the Jews of different countries have created their press and developed the Yiddish language as an instrument adapted to modern-culture. One must therefore reckon with the fact that the Jewish nation will maintain itself for an entire epoch to come.”

Maxime Rodinson notes that between 1924 and 1931 29 out of every 100 Jews that emigrated to Palestine left after a short stay. In 1927 you had more departures than arrivals; what’s more, during this period, most Jews considered a purely Jewish state unrealistic. So what changed? What changed was Hitler’s persecution of the Jews in Europe, which unleashed a new flood of immigrants to Palestine. Put simply again, in Rodinson’s words, it was anti-semitism that played a capital role in gathering together an entire group that was otherwise on the road to disintegration.

Zionism played no significant role before 1939. And the significant grassroots appeal that there was for the minority binational tendencies within Zionism deceased in favour of its nationalist and exclusivist wing as a consequence of the Holocaust, but also as a consequence of the contradictory and unpopular role played by the British imperialists in Palestine.

Let us consider briefly the question of Zionism’s colonial character. Those on the ground that were most attracted to the promise of a Jewish homeland were the persecuted poor of Eastern Europe. These people were not imperialist or colonialist in their motivation. In fact, Rodinson pointed out that the colonial character of Zionism came instead from one small detail that seemed to be of no importance: Palestine was inhabited by another people.

But Rodinson also pointed out that one ought not to be indignant or shocked about this fact. Why? Because the approach of Zionist leaders was endemic to 19th- and early 20th-century European imperialist thinking, that territory outside Europe was empty, a cultural vacuum, and that colonial occupation can thus serve as progressive poles of development in these otherwise backward lands. Furthermore, he notes that it was not abnormal for early Zionist leaders to seek an alliance with imperialist powers in exchange for particular favours. He widens out the parameters of enquiry and and he says that the activities of Theodor Herzl in this respect were not at all dissimilar to the activities of the father of Muslim nationalism, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. The difference, an important difference, is that the aspiration of the Zionists was realised in the 1917 British Balfour Declaration, regardless, I think, of the u-turn thereafter.

The point to stress here is that the prevailing colonial philosophy in Europe explains and is responsible for the fact that the actual population of Palestine was generally ignored by some of the early Zionist leaders.

The decision in 1947 of the British imperialists to withdraw from Palestine set the ground for an inevitable bloody confrontation. For sure the colonial conditions could have ended after British withdrawal with the acceptance of the 1947 UN partition plan by the Arab leaders. On the 14th May 1948 the British troops began their withdrawal, and David Ben-Gurion declared the nation state of Israel and in the words of the socialist Hal Draper at the time: “A new state has been set up. A people have declared that they want to live under their own government and determine their own national destiny. They have taken a blank check made out to the Right of Self-Determination and have signed their name to it: Israel. And they have sought to cash it in.”

How do we understand the question of 1948? A basic wrong has been done, the Palestinians’ right to national self-determination has been banished as a consequence of the claim by another group to the same right on the same territory. There’s no straightforward correction to this wrong, and this is no straightforward wrong. Any settlement today must concede a maximum to democracy and a minimum to national chauvinism. That must mean upholding the rights of all groups of workers to national self-determination. The colonial situation can end when the situations of domination, occupation and exploitation end, including Israel’s post-67 mini colonial war in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This means neither that the inhabitants of Israel must return to their so-called place of origin nor that they be subjected to rule by the original inhabitants of Palestine. Israeli Jewish workers have a duty to ally with Arab workers. We need unity between Israeli Jewish, Israeli Arab and Palestinian Arab workers in a social class war against their ruling classes and wider imperialist and regional imperialist interference and for the democratic right of the Palestinian Arabs to their own independent nation state on continuous territory alongside Israel.

I want to turn, finally, to the crux of the Workers’ Power position, I want to pose some responses for debate.
On the nature of Israel, Workers Power states: Israel is a racist, settler state, that is expelled the Palestinians from their land. It must be destroyed.

I want to ask Workers Power:

Is there any other nation state that Workers’ Power advocates or would advocate the destruction of?

Are there any nation states free of racism, or is it that Workers’ Power consider Israel the most racist state in the entire world ever?

On the nature of imperialism and anti-imperialism, Workers’ Power state Israel is the principal regional instrument of the US for dividing and exploiting the Arab world. I ask, is Israel a puppet state of the US or does it only follow the US’s instructions when it is in its own interests to do so? Are not the relations between Israel and the Arabs more that of domination and exploitation with the economic potential of Israel’s technical superiority, limited by the smallness of its territory, its economic dependence on euro-American powers and the precarious relations it has with the neighbouring states?

Workers Power state, we fight imperialism and support resistance, we demand an end to the Zionist occupation of Palestine. We unconditionally support the armed resistance. We are for an active defeatist position to the Zionist state in any conflict with an Arab bourgeoisie.

Opposition to imperialism is a given. But let’s run through some of the ABCs. War is a continuation of politics by other, forceful means. The decision to support resistance to imperialism or an imperialist power must be based consistently on what politics any given war is a continuation of. For this reason, during war socialists do not, should not offer political solidarity to an organisation, movement or government merely on the basis that it’s an enemy of our enemy, merely on the basis that it has widespread support, or is in power or likely to be in power, or formally adopt a political programme that is ostensibly unobjectionable or is successful at winning over progressively politically elements, more progressively political elements than the leadership convey. What is the decision based on?

The decision to offer political solidarity must be based on what we analyse as the real political character and the real political programme of its formation. Workers Power fail to understand the meaning of politics. For them, they opt for Hamas because of its crude positioning as an anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist force, and they limit their so-called political critique of Hamas to this: it can reach its objectives only through negotiation and compromise, after a heroic period of bloody self-sacrifice.

We base ourselves in a conscious political sense on the working class, the labour movement and other progressively democratic elements, feminists, LGBT activists, in opposition to both imperialism and reactionary anti-imperialism.

Finally, on the solution to the conflict, Workers Power say, some on the left argue for a two states solution under capitalism, this is reactionary and utopian.

Amongst the reasons they offer they said it denies over five million Palestinian refugees in camps across the Middle East their right to return to the land from which they were ethnically cleansed.

The full enactment of the right of return would inevitably lead to the dissolution of the Israeli nation state. And, as I previously stated on the question of 1948, the Palestinians’ right to national self-determination was banished as a consequence of the claim of another group to the same right on the same territory. There is no straightforward correction to this wrong, and this is not a straightforward wrong, especially over six decades later.

I want to quote Maxime Rodinson on this point. He says, if the consequences of pressing a just claim are liable to be calamitous and unjust and too fraught with practical difficulties, there may be grounds for suggesting that it be renounced. The wrong done to the Arabs by the Israelis is very real. However, it is only too common throughout history. We may therefore plead with the Arabs to accept a fait accompli.

Workers Power state, the only progressive way forward for the Palestinian and Israeli people is a bi-national state, even then, such a solution under capitalism is utopian. The answer is to recreate a workers’ state, an integral part of the Socialist United States of the Middle East, which would allow for separate states or autonomous regions for every nationality.

I’m going to end with two points. One, as I’ve already said, I think as socialists we have a duty to concede a maximum to democracy and a minimum to national chauvinism. What do I mean by that? Why? Because we are interested in creating the conditions necessary for long-term Arab-Jewish workers’ unity and socialism.

Conceding a maximum to democracy and a minimum to national chauvinism leads us to a two nations, two states settlement which is one way, the only way, that we can get there.

The final point I want to make about Workers Power’s so-called Socialist Unite States of the Middle East – it’s worth spelling out – that it’s dishonest, because in its own words it says that it allows for separate states for every nationality; however, this Socialist United States of the Middle East is premised on destroying Israel. It’s premised on undoing and denying the right to national self-determination for the Jewish working class.

And it’s premised on denying the right to national self-determination to the Jewish working class alone.

Marcus Halaby, Workers Power

The [mutually agreed] title of this debate, as I understand it, is two states and workers’ unity or one state and the right of return. I’m going to try to stick to that subject although I should start by saying that I don’t think that’s actually the real nature of our differences.

That it’s become a sort of shorthand for more general, fundamental differences of approach. I’m certainly not a rigid one-stater. I think, like all slogans stated on their own and as an end in themselves, a slogan of one state has limitations, one of which is that it has nothing to say about the sphere of social relations, about which alliance of classes will be necessary to bring it about and what sort of state they would build on the basis of that. That it doesn’t say anything about the context of the regional struggle, the social and democratic struggles of the other peoples of the region, and, finally, that it doesn’t say anything specific on its own about the position of the Jewish-Israeli nation.

I’m actually not opposed in principle to the idea that the Jewish Israelis should have a state, given that I recognise that they are a nation: I just don’t recognise the actually existing Israeli state as a legitimate expression of that right.

For that reason, I would always have to add that a one state solution would have to be a binational workers’ state that would have to be brought about in the context of a regional workers’ revolution that would lead to a federation with equality of rights and autonomy for all, including the Israeli Jewish nation. I purposely say autonomy in this context because I purposely don’t advocate separate statehood because there isn’t any way to neatly divide the country without having large minorities in one or the other or both entities, and that I therefore think the Jewish Israelis themselves would be better off in a single entity with full freedom of movement than trying to construct a non-Zionist, non-expansionist, non-colonising state in the small part of historic Palestine around metropolitan Tel Aviv where they form a solid majority of 98% and where slightly more than half of them actually live.

I also happen to think that two states is a legitimate position to hold in the movement, it’s not one that I agree with, but lots of people hold it, including people like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein who still find it possible to support the right of people of Lebanon and Gaza to defend themselves against Israeli aggression regardless of who is leading the military aspect of that defence at a given point in time, who still recognise the specific dynamics of Zionism and don’t conflate it with national chauvinism in general, who still support the call for a boycott, and who still find it possible to condemn in advance an Israeli aggression on Iran without hedging it with bizarre equivocations.

What makes the AWL unique, in my view, isn’t that it advocates two states, but that it does it in the context of an overall politics that confuses, disorganises the movement including that part of it that also advocates two states.

Two states is also the position of George Bush and Tony Blair, most of their recent predecessors, and most of their likely successors, hypocritically, you might say, but it is the commonsense position of imperialist diplomacy, and bourgeois journalism. It is not a position that is unique to those who are opposed to Israel’s occupation of the 1967 territories. Nevertheless, I think it is a legitimate position to hold within the movement for Palestinian solidarity, I don’t agree with it partly because I don’t think that this conflict is a conflict about territory that can be solved by a division of territory, if it ever was.

It’s about demography. Today there are 5.6 million Jews and 5.1 million Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. That’s 3.8 million Palestinians under occupation in Gaza and the West Bank and 1.2 million Palestinians living as a minority in Israel where they are about a fifth of the country’s citizens. Within our lifetimes, within the next 15 to 20 years, that is projected to change to 6 million Jews and 9.3 million Palestinians. Even without the return of a single refugee, the Palestinians are going to form something like three fifths of the population in their historic homeland within the near future. This is the problem for Israel’s rulers. This is the subject that they debate, not the question of what territory can they afford to concede, what security arrangements would be appropriate after its concession. No one expressed this more clearly, by the way, than Ehud Olmert did, the last Prime Minister, when he was defending the disengagement from Gaza and its extension to parts of the West Bank. When he said that the issue was one of making sure that there were maximum Jews and minimum Arabs in a particular piece of land. As he expressed it, it’s a problem because they know that when the Palestinians realise that all that is ever going to be on offer to them is a joke Swiss cheese prison state they’ll abandon their demand for a separate state and they’ll say, all we want is the right to vote.

And, as Olmert himself put it, the day that Israel faces a South Africa style struggle for voting rights the state of Israel is finished.

You should ask yourselves, what will you do when that situation arises, what will you do when the only people left advocating two states are open Israeli racists like Avigdor Lieberman and Fatah bureaucrats who want a state that they can loot? All of the Israeli parties thinks about this demographic problem obsessively, they all have their own particular solutions to it. Kadima’s solution when they were in power was that they had to crush Hamas, boost Mahmood Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, persuade them to sign an agreement that allows them to keep most of the settlements on their side of the wall that they’re building, and in that way maintain an artificial Jewish majority within an expanded territory. The current Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman he advocates solving the same problem in a different way, by expelling Arabs in Israel, by redrawing the border, by handing over the little triangle, one of the major concentrations of Israel’s Palestinian minority to the Palestinian Authority and stripping its inhabitants of their citizenship, requiring an oath of loyalty as a condition of citizenship for the Palestinian minority in the rest of Israel, and putting off an agreement with the Palestinian Authority for a state for as long as possible. His argument in favour of that is, we have to do that because otherwise two states means one and a half states for the Arabs and half a state for the Jews where the Arabs are a large minority.

This isn’t an aberration. Israeli society has moved to the right, and surveys show that something like half of Israel school children 40.5% of them religious, 59.5% of them secular, advocate that Israel’s Palestinian minority shouldn’t have equal rights, that 56% of them believe that Israeli Arabs shouldn’t be allowed to run for Parliament, and 48% of them say that they would disobey orders to evacuate the settlements. Or, to put it another way, two fifths of Israel’s population within its 67 borders wants to remove one fifth of the same population and/or strip it of its rights. Benny Morris, an Israeli historian who’s been associated with left-wing parties like Shinui and Meretz, has actually said that in the context of a major regional war, the expulsion of Israel’s Arab minority as well as of the Palestinians under occupation could be a legitimate act.

You’d have to ask yourselves, in what sort of state would simple demographic changes that take place in all countries pose such a threat to the national character of the state that such catastrophic solutions have to be thought of.
To do that you’d have to look back at history, and I agree with you that there’s an issue about narratives, you’d have to look back at Israel’s origins and its present day dynamics and draw the conclusion that the problem isn’t just the occupation alone but the occupation is the most visible feature in the present day of Israel’s character as a settler colony.

I know that some people are squeamish at certain words like ‘colonial’ and ‘settler’, but I don’t see why they should be given that the Zionists themselves aren’t except when they’re talking to western liberals, but states like that have existed before in history. In Canada, in the United States, in Argentina, in Australia. Israel does have all of their usual features, like having a higher standard of living for its privileged colonist citizens than the countries that they originally came from, which you’d expect because otherwise it would be difficult to persuade them to live there. They often have higher standards of bourgeois democracy for their privileged settler citizens than in the countries that they originally came from, going alongside a national myth that describes the country as a refuge from persecution and as a land of opportunity.

And Israel with its cult of the Holocaust and its tendentious historiography of European anti-semitism certainly has that. They generally have a hierarchy of racial oppression, one based not just on the common oppression of the natives but on which particular group of immigrants arrived first. Israel does have that. In general, they are dependent on an imperialist power and part of its grand designs. That doesn’t mean that they are a puppet, Argentina wasn’t a puppet of British imperialism in the wars that it fought in the 19th century, but they do have a strategic dependence on it which is conditioned by common strategic interests.

The one defining characteristic that they all have is one of constant expansion, and constant colonisation , one that allows them to solve their social problems and maintain an internal class peace at the expense of the natives until it reaches the objective limits of geography and military superiority.

That’s what happened in Australia, that’s what happened in the United States and Argentina and so forth. States like that become normal nation states by annihilating the natives, and by absorbing their shattered remnants as a sort of racially oppressed caste.

I think it’s obvious that no socialist should want Israel to become a normal nation state in that way. It hasn’t been able to so far, not because they’ve been any more or less civilised than previous groups of colonists, who, by the way, have never had subjectively bad intentions, ever – they’ve always in their own minds been fleeing from persecution or from economic catastrophe or something.

Not because of that, but because they’ve had the bad luck to be the last colonial project in history, they can’t adopt the methods of their predecessors without provoking an outcry that their predecessors didn’t have to deal with. Because they’ve had the bad luck that the natives that they’ve confronted weren’t a scattered assortment of tribes that never experienced anything like capitalism before, and who had barely come into contact with each other, by the time the colonists came into contact with them, but the first colonised people to actually confront their colonisers with something like a nationalist form of resistance, right from its inception.

You for your part you want Israel to normalise itself by drawing a border, by saying that expansion across that border is now done with, that’s the end of that process, and by giving the Palestinians a state on the other side of it, that’s fine, I’d actually agree with you if it wasn’t for the fact that Israel’s expansion and its colonisation is not just a bad policy that’s oppressive to the Palestinians and counter-productive for Israelis, and it’s not just a matter of ideology, it’s the material foundation of the state. They can’t stop doing it, not because they’re bad people, a bad nation, but because if they stopped doing it all of the class and ethnic and religious tensions that lie at the heart of their society now and which are kept within reasonable limits would suddenly come to the fore.

In order to be the Jewish State, in order to maintain its Jewish majority, and achieve its ambition of ingathering the world’s Jews onto its territory, Israel has to settle Jewish immigrants from across the world, it has to do it at the expense of Palestinians because we live in a capitalist society where property is private, and therefore it has to expand its territory. It’s a state that’s only capable of having a dynamic stability in that sense.

That’s why every Israeli government has expanded the settlements, even and especially when they’ve been in negotiations, it’s why Israel from its current position of strength, as Workers’ Liberty often puts it, can’t and doesn’t and won’t grant the Palestinians anything like a meaningful state in the West Bank. It’s why working class Israelis are more likely to vote for right-wing pro-settler parties, and more likely to actually be in the settlements than their middle class counterparts, it’s why most West Bank settlers are what you and I would recognise as relatively ordinary Israelis, not the stereotypical religious zealots who form the vanguard of that settlement. It’s why the peace movement is so weak and isolated, why it doesn’t have a political party of its own and why it has been unable to find any material force whose interests it can link its struggle to. And it’s also one of the reasons why a boycott is necessary.

I know that Workers’ Liberty has observed that most Israeli activists oppose it, and I don’t doubt it, but the call for a boycott enjoys support from a broad range of Palestinian organisations and I think we should be taking our cue from them. Because, unfortunately, regretfully, I think it will take a series of defeats for Israel to shake the belief of Israel’s working class in Zionism’s ability to provide them with security, with prosperity, with continued democratic rights, and with peace and normality.

Even if you restrict your demands to two states, we might be lucky, they could learn from their defeats quickly enough that they avoid a complete catastrophe for themselves. They could learn quickly enough that a section of them provide useful allies to the struggle, but one thing I’m not willing to do is to advise the Palestinians to make their struggle strategically dependent on winning over the Israeli working class. Israel’s colonising character is also another reason why it’s necessary to defend the right of return. This isn’t a matter of collective repossession, it’s the only possible guarantee of the Palestinians’ current and future rights because for the Palestinians their Nakba, the catastrophe of their expulsion, wasn’t a single event in the past that they could choose to forgive and forget if the conditions were right for it. It’s something that’s still happening, it’s something that happens every day with each Jerusalem resident who’s denied the right to return to their country after working or studying abroad, with each villager who’s cut off from their lands by a new settlement, with each new war that Israel threatens to exploit to push more Palestinians out. And it is a collective, national right, a component of their right to national self-determination precisely because their expulsion has been the chief mechanism by which that right has been denied.

Do the Palestinians require strategic allies? Yes, they certainly do. But I don’t believe that they should look for them in isolation, in the colonial era boundaries of British Mandate Palestine. They should link themselves with the social and democratic and national struggles of the masses of the surrounding countries and of countries also like Turkey and Iran, precisely where Israel’s character as an agent of imperialism in the region is most pronounced, and where for the most part the mass of Israeli people support their government’s adventures. That’s a struggle that will necessarily have to be directed in the first instance against the Arab regimes, but it’s one that will inevitably come into conflict with imperialism and with Israeli and Arab other agents and which will therefore require all sorts of temporary alliances with bourgeois forces. It also won’t be a struggle in which Israel is the only entity that will cease to exist in its current form. States like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf statelets and the Hashemite regime in Jordan – I can’t see them having much of a future in a Middle East where there is a regional revolutionary struggle for democracy and for socialism.

This requires a strategy of actually trying to bring the working class to the head of the struggles for democratic rights and for national rights and so forth, and in order to compete with the existing leaderships of those struggles, with the nationalists and the Islamists and others, you have to take part in those struggles, to displace those leaderships.

The Islamists, just like their close cousins, the nationalists, they are just as likely to be on the opposite side of the barricades at any point in time, as they are to be on the same side, but when they are on the same side it’s necessary to expose them by pointing up the necessity of an alliance between the workers’ movement and all those who are fighting for the defence of their country against military aggression and so forth. Where they refuse it, which, 9 times out of 10, in the absence of any mass pressure from their own mass base, where they refuse it, use that to expose them.

By reducing the complex history of Islamism to “clerical fascism” I think what you’re actually saying is that you don’t want to compete with them for the leadership of the nationalist and democratic movements; you’d prefer to disavow movements that they have the leadership of, because they can’t necessarily be that progressive if they have the leadership of them.

But then I don’t think the intention of Workers’ Liberty’s overall position, not two states, specifically, but its general rejection of the idea of the anti-imperialist united front, I don’t think its intention is to provide an operative programme for militants in the Middle East and for the region. I think it’s primarily a programme for Britain, that’s what I think the problem is, and that’s why I say that for me the problem with your position isn’t two states but the disorganisation and the confusion that it brings to the movement of those who want to show solidarity with the Palestinians and with other forces in the region that are fighting imperialism, including those who also advocate two states.

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