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Vol. 75/No. 37      October 17, 2011

The fight for a democratic
secular Palestine
(feature article)

On September 23, Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestine Liberation Organization, sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon submitting the “application of the State of Palestine for admission to membership in the United Nations.” He added that he is for “resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replied that “the Palestinians should first make peace with Israel and then get their state.” President Barack Obama has said that Washington will veto the proposal if it makes it to the UN Security Council.

There can be no lasting peace on any basis of continued oppression and denial of rights to the Palestinian people in its myriad forms. The ceaseless debates and negotiations among bourgeois forces and nations takes place in the framework of their competing priorities and class interests. Counterposed to this, communists put forward a course of revolutionary struggle by the toiling masses for a democratic secular Palestine.

Key aspects of this perspective are outlined in “The World Crisis of Imperialism and the Contradictory Dynamics of the Labor Vanguard,” excerpted below. This document was adopted by the June 2006 national convention of the Socialist Workers Party based on a political report by SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes.

Since that time developments in the region make it a little easier to see the road forward. The toppling of regimes in North Africa from Tunisia to Egypt, ongoing struggles from Syria to Bahrain, mass protests inside Israel involving Jews and Arabs have opened space for working people to organize and fight for their interests. What is being prepared in the region is not “peace,” but sharpening class struggle.


The prospect of a “Greater Israel,” stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, has ended for a decisive majority of the ruling class there. The United States, not Israel, has turned out to be the “promised land” for the Jews. This is reflected even in gross statistics. Of the world’s 13 to 14 million Jews, 6.2 million make their home in the United States, while 5.3 million live in Israel. As of a few months ago, the number of Israelis leaving the country since 2003 outpaced immigration by some 70,000 people.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian population in the territories under Tel Aviv’s control has grown to 5 million. That’s just shy of a majority.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declared, as Ariel Sharon and other leaders of the state and army in Israel had done previously, that Tel Aviv’s goal, above all, must be to “ensure a Jewish majority in the country.” Last year when Olmert, then deputy prime minister, spoke to some 250 new immigrants from the United States who were opposed to the Israeli government’s withdrawal from Gaza, he told them: “Maybe if you or a few million of you had come earlier, we wouldn’t have had to leave Gaza.” But that never happened and was never going to. Now it’s clear it never will.

Withdrawing from Gaza and from much of the occupied territory on the West Bank is reaching near consensus status within the ruling class of Israel.  
Not the ‘promised land’
Of course, the imperialist United States will not be “the promised land” for Jews forever. The next great social crisis will settle that for those who live on hope rather than proletarian politics. But for several generations it has and continues to seem that way. The big majority of Jews who emigrated from Europe to the United States in the last half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth became workers in this country, many of them considering themselves socialists or communists of some variety. But the class composition of the Jewish population has changed dramatically over the past half century, with a majority of the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of these immigrants moving into better-off layers of “rent” collectors among the middle classes and professionals.1

So long as the imperialist system prevails, however, neither the United States nor anywhere else will be a “promised land” for the Jews for a long period in history. For Jews in this country, the consequences of the long hot winter world capitalism has entered will bring more—and much worse—than the mounting economic instability and insecurity that will hit widening layers of the middle classes. It will bring in its wake a new rise of fascist organizations that will target not just the labor movement, Blacks, women, and others among the oppressed and exploited, but will also lace their radical anticapitalist demagogy and conspiracy mania with Jew-hating filth and carry out physical assaults on Jews.

The U.S. bourgeoisie and their petty-bourgeois spokespersons—including many who are Jewish—promote comfortable assurances that “it can’t happen here.” But such delusions offer no greater protection to Jews in the imperialist United States (or Europe) than it did to those convinced in the 1920s and 1930s that they had fully “assimilated” into capitalist society in enlightened Germany.  
Not a ‘peace process’
What the Israeli rulers are seeking to impose in order to consolidate Israel within borders of their own choosing is not a “peace process,” as it’s dubbed by liberals in the big-business media. It’s the consolidation of an Israel still based on the forcible expulsion of the Palestinian majority, together with the “right of return” of those of Jewish parentage—and only those of such parentage. Its newly imposed borders will roughly correspond to the 400-mile-long wall the Israeli rulers are building inside the occupied West Bank, which lops off up to 10 percent of that occupied territory for Israel. What’s more, Tel Aviv intends to hold onto East Jerusalem and selected large suburban Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as well as strategic military locations along the Jordanian border.

There can and will be no long-term peace with the dispossessed Palestinian people on that basis. Or on any other basis that forcibly seeks to guarantee a permanent, large Jewish majority in Palestine. The Israeli rulers aren’t pulling back from their “right” to demolish the family homes of Palestinians accused of bombings or other attacks, let alone their “obligation” to “execute” members and leaders of Palestinian organizations they hold responsible for “terrorism.”

Nor will this be a smooth process within the Israeli ruling class itself. Factionalism is on the rise in bourgeois politics there, too… .

Whatever party or coalition of parties comes out on top, this overall direction in bourgeois politics in Israel is irreversible.

As all this unfolds, the stakes continue to mount for the Palestinian people in forging a leadership adequate to the tasks before them, which remains the fight for a democratic secular Palestine. The bourgeoisification and political retreat of the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, described in “The Opening Guns of World War III” [in New International magazine No. 6] some fifteen years ago, has proceeded apace. The PLO long ago exhausted its capacity to lead forward the Palestinian toilers in fighting for national liberation.

The bourgeois-nationalist opposition, Hamas, with its origins in the Muslim Brotherhood, neither has any alternative program or strategy to advance the struggle, nor offers more space to the proletariat to organize and act in the interests of the toiling majority of the Palestinian people.  
A road forward
A road forward out of this political morass can only—and will—come out of the response of new generations of working people and youth as the struggle continues on many fronts: fights for land; for water rights; for freedom of movement, freedom to travel; for jobs, decent wages, and union protection; for the release of political prisoners; for women’s equality; against the brutal operations of Tel Aviv’s cops, troops, and commandos; against war threats and mounting prospects for devastating military blows against sections of Israel itself; and many others. Neither we nor anyone else has a script or a timetable of how the forging of such a leadership, a communist leadership, will unfold in Palestine, or anywhere else in the world.

As for Israel itself, a revolutionary leadership that is proletarian internationalist to its core must be built there too—a secular, multinational leadership, with a substantial Jewish component in its makeup. This is a difficult task under the social, political, and military conditions prevailing in Israel. It won’t happen rapidly. And the Palestinian people will not wait, and cannot be asked to wait, for class divisions and conflicts to deepen enough inside Israel for such a process to take place.

Once again, no timetables. A communist leadership of Jewish and Arab workers and farmers—dedicated to the fight for a democratic secular Palestine, and for socialist revolution—can and will be built, however. It will be built as growing numbers of toilers come to understand that if this task is not achieved in time, there will be little left of that part of the world.

1.The high incomes of those in better-off middle class and professional layers are accounted for by the fact that on top of any payment they may receive for the sale of their labor power (comparable to workers’ wages), their relatively privileged position in bourgeois society allows them to skim off a portion of the surplus value extracted by the capitalist class from the exploitation of workers. These excess sources of income, substantial for the individuals concerned, are called “rents.”

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