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Re: One or Two States PDF Print E-mail
May 07, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Dear Friends:

The Avnery-Pappe debate will take place on Wednesday, May 8th, according to the notice. See also:

English

Hebrew

My comments follow:

The public debate between Uri Avnery and Ilan Pappe is a welcome event. Uri Avnery, who was “a machine-gunner in the Samson's Foxes commando unit,” participated as a young man from Europe in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, which Ilan Pappe has described so well in his recent book. Uri Avnery became an intrepid and tireless campaigner for a peace agreement between the State of Israel and the Palestinian leadership. Ilan Pappe is a spokesperson for the Right of Return of the Palestine refugees. The very fact that this public debate is being held is a sign of the dissatisfaction of peace activists with the old strategies and the old slogans, and an openness to new ideas, previously thought to be “beyond the pale”.

Unlike Avnery and Pappe, I am not today on the front lines of the struggle in Israeli-occupied Palestine. Nevertheless, I am as interested as anyone that the political debate not get bogged down in false dichotomies or in secondary issues.

Briefly put, in my view, the important issue is not the number of states, but rather the quantity and the quality of the rights enjoyed by the people. So, there needs to be a discussion about goals. There is a no less important discussion about the slogans, the immediate demands, and the transitional demands, that form part of the strategic bridge to get from here to there.

Partition and Nakba

It should be recognized that the “one state-2 states” debate revisits the debates of the 30s and 40s. Moreover, with the benefit of hindsight, we can ask: From the point of view of securing peace and security in Palestine, was the Partition resolution of November 29th, 1947 correct? Further, was the war of 47-48 a just war, on the Israeli side, a war for national independence and national defense? Or was it an unjust war of conquest, occupation, and ethnic cleansing?

Israeli supporters of the so-called “2 state solution”, while purporting to be “realistic and pragmatic”, tend to support the Israeli side in the Nakba. They should admit this historic position openly or, rather, abandon it.

The Partition resolution needs be reconsidered, and analyzed, and denounced explicitly, and in detail. There is good reason to re-visit the positions taken by those democrats, worker-activists, and socialists who opposed Partition in the 1940s. The consequences of Partition – a Zionist state that prevents Palestinian self-determination, threatens the region, and serves as a death-trap for the Israelis – must be exposed in detail.

This is not a matter only of historical narrative and perspective. In October 2000, Arik Sharon noted that the 1948 war was still being fought. In fact, the “1948 file” was re-opened in Israel on Land Day 1976. The Partition resolution and the ethnic cleansing of 1947-48 must be re-evaluated in order to find the path to a peaceful modus vivendi in the Holy Land.

End the Occupation

One of the arguments of those peace activists who support the so-called “2 state solution” is that the oppression and suffering caused by the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is so acute that ending this occupation, and this oppression, and this suffering, is and must be an urgent priority. This is a powerful argument for a mass movement, in Israel and the occupied territories, to demand the unconditional end to the occupation. It is not an argument in favor of the so-called “2 state solution”, either as understood by Bush-Olmert, or by the Geneva Initiative, or by Gush Shalom.

The organized struggle to end the occupation need not be submerged in either “2 state” diplomacy, or in “one state” pie-in-the-sky. The strength of the anti-Zionists organized in Matzpen immediately after the June 67 was expressed in the demand: “Down with the occupation!” No ifs, ands, or buts.

This is also the slogan and the goal that mobilizes most people for struggle in the occupied territories. The Palestinian activists who risk their lives to end the Israeli occupation do not thereby endorse Partition or the so-called “2 state solution”. They merely want to be free. For them, a future “independent state of Palestine” need not be one that accommodates the Zionist entity.

In Israel, the fight to end the occupation is key to demonstrating solidarity with the oppressed. A commitment to removing the yoke of occupation and oppression from the Palestinian people, and thus open the way for them to freely determine their destiny, is the litmus test for any honest Israeli peace activist. Demanding a“2 state solution” (or “a Palestinian state alongside Israel”), rather than an unconditional end to the occupation, is evidence of liberal illusions in diplomacy and a betrayal of solidarity with the oppressed. Demanding a “one state solution” without demanding the unconditional removal of the yoke of oppression is a form of institutionalizing that oppression.

For Israeli peace activists and pro-democracy activists, who are truly motivated by solidarity with the oppressed, the demand to end the occupation unconditionally is a central plank of their political strategy, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Let the refugees return

Too many Israeli "left-wing" opponents of the right of return warn ominously of a "tsunami" of returning refugees. Thus, these "left-wingers" contribute their share to generating and proliferating Israeli attitudes of hostility, vilification, and contempt against Palestinians. Israeli peace-activists and democrats have a duty to fight these racist attitudes and to cultivate feelings of solidarity with the oppressed. Advocacy for the right of return is a central component of democratic activism and solidarity.

Of course, Palestinian peace activists and pro-democracy activists can help undermine Israeli racism by emphasizing that returning refugees are not a threat to peace-loving Israelis. Palestinian activists can proclaim and demonstrate that they seek the return of the oppressed people, so that they may rebuild their lives in their homeland, live at peace with their neighbors, and build together a new society.

Upholding the rights of the refugees is key to exposing the undemocratic ethnic-nationalist character of the Israeli state and the need for regime change to open the road to reconciliation. Without reconciliation with the Palestine refugees, there can be no realistic peace plan. And, there is no “just resolution to the refugee problem” that excludes the right of return. Israelis who demonstrate their solidarity with the oppressed are necessarily in opposition to a regime based on ethnic cleansing. The demand to let refugees return must be front and center. I have suggested the slogan: “The refugees are our partner for peace. Let them come home!”

Release the political prisoners

The political superstructure of any state immediately calls to mind the need for political freedom. The cream of Palestinian political activists are denied political freedom because they are in Israeli prisons and detention centres. No political freedom for the Palestinian people is possible without political freedom for the Palestinian political prisoners, Intifada activists, and administrative detainees. The fight for Palestinian political freedom, and the exercise of the right to self-determination require that the plight of the political prisoners be front and centre. This is not a matter for 10th place on an agenda for diplomatic negotiations. Release of the Palestinian prisoners must be presented as a pre-requisite to negotiation and reconciliation.

After the capture of Gilad Shavit at Kerem Shalom, and before the start of the conflict with the Lebanese resistance, Israeli public opinion presented a conjunctural opportunity to demand the release of Palestinian prisoners “in exchange” for corporal Shavit. Israeli peace activists missed this relatively rare opportunity, even while there were large-scale demonstrations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip demanding the release of prisoners. An opportunity for solidarity was missed (just as, previously, Israeli peace activists had abstained from the struggle over the removal of the settler-colonies from Gaza), instead raising the sterile slogan "negotiations now".

Regime change

The real issue is not one state or 2, but a realistic assessment of the nature of the Israeli state, as projected by the Partition resolution, as established in the ethnic cleansing operations of 47-48, and as expanded in June 67. The dominant features of the Israeli ethnic nationalist regime are:

a. settler colonialism;

b ethnic cleansing; and

c. racist discrimination

It can be patiently explained that such a regime is the main obstacle to peace.

Peace requires regime change. Nothing less.

Unfortunately, the main forces in the Israeli “peace camp” -- Gush Shalom, Maki (ICP), Hadash (DFPE), and many other Israeli leftists who claim to adhere to “Marxism” and “socialism” -- are nevertheless deeply opposed to regime change. They have not learned the lessons of the 20th century, a century of wars, revolutions, and counter-revolutions, or of the upheavals of the present young century. Rather than learn how to mobilize the people for regime change, they seek to create a diplomatic patch-up promoting a diplomatic solution involving only the Israeli elite and the Palestinian elite under the auspices of the imperialist “international consensus”. Once agitating tirelessly for an “international conference,” now calling for “negotiations now” and for the “2 state solution”, they reinforce the imperialist-imposed divisions among the people. It must be said that, with Bush and Rice, who are committed to the “political horizon” of the “2 state solution” that leaves intact imperialist assets in the Middle East, the only prospect is endless suffering for the people.

Objectively speaking, there is no alternative to regime change, which must be prepared systematically. This must be explained patiently, and demonstrated consistently with organized action. Those honest peace activists, who do not yet appreciate the need for regime change, can still recognize that the milestones on the road to peace include the demands to: a) end the occupation, b) release the Palestinian prisoners, and c) let the refugees return. Acceptance of the need for regime change will follow.

A democratic constitution that upholds human rights

I belong to those Israeli leftists who, in the early 1970s, welcomed the Palestinian proposal for a “secular, democratic Palestine”. The strength of this slogan, and this perspective, was its focus on the oppressive Zionist regime that needed to be removed (defeated, overthrown), while all peace-loving people, of whatever origin, could look forward to the benefits of coexistence. Ultimately, a joint struggle for liberation is the only strategy for coexistence. Then, as now, without “liberation”, coexistence is impossible, and “peace” is a codeword for the oppressive status quo. This is the true dichotomy now, as it was then.

The question today is how to enhance solidarity and advance today the struggle for peace.

A clear Palestinian statement, supported by mass action -- demanding an end to the occupation, release of political prisoners, return of the refugees, AND coexistence under a democratic constitution that upholds human rights -- would severely undermine the hold of Zionism on the Israeli population. It would re-establish the Palestinian liberation struggle as a movement of democratic reconciliation deserving the support of all decent people. Such a statement, and such a movement, would deliver a fatal blow to Israeli oppression, discrimination, and apartheid, and would strengthen its opponents everywhere.

In his recent book, Ali Abunimah has shown that the Palestinian fight against the occupation, for the return of the refugees, and to release political prisoners is part of a fight for coexistence and reconciliation. Abunimah demonstrates how the Palestinians can recapture the moral high ground by focusing on equality and human rights. He shows that the goal is not revenge or domination, but shared democracy.

When Palestinian activists make this goal front and center, they can obtain a hearing inside Israel that nothing else has achieved. They will pierce the armor of Zionist claims to provide security for the Israeli people. They will reach out directly to the oppressed inside Israel with the prospects of a new society.

One cannot be oblivious to the amazing capacity for social struggle exhibited recently by university students, by Histadrut workers, and by IDF soldiers. A political strategy must be developed that reaches into the class conflict that exists in Israeli society, informs it with the anti-Zionist program, and creates conditions for the future overthrow of the oppressive Zionist regime. Any cynicism on this count – relying on the imperialist “international consensus”, all in the name of “realism” – will only postpone the day when the people of Palestine rise up, take responsibility for their own freedom and their own democracy, and create the political conditions for peace.

So, not one state or 2, and not illusions in diplomacy, and not passing the buck to the “international community” – but building a movement in Israel and the Occupied Territories, supported from abroad – is the way forward.

International solidarity

Unlike some popular misconceptions, the Apartheid regime in South Africa was not brought down by international sanctions. The struggle of the oppressed people of South African AND international solidarity are what ended the Apartheid regime. Similarly, decent people internationally must support the oppressed people of Palestine and those Israelis who recognize Palestinian rights. International solidarity with Palestine can use boycott, and other pressure tactics, thoughtfully and effectively to help the oppressed Palestinians and to help those Israelis who support Palestinian rights. It would be a shame if, in the name of "boycotting Israeli apartheid", solidarity activists were to boycott oppressed Palestinians and their allies in Israel. The most important goal of any solidarity campaign must be the clarity of the political message that is conveyed and reinforced.

In places like Canada, boycott has already been used effectively against wines produced in the settler-colonies and sold in Quebec Government stores. A campaign should be mounted to oppose the Canadian Government’s blockade of the Palestinian Authority. A campaign has long been contemplated to remove the tax-exempt status from the Jewish National Fund, one of the main agencies of ethnic cleansing. The anti-Caterpillar campaign can be a means to take the message of Palestine solidarity to the farmers who buy Caterpillar tractors, and to the autoworkers who produce them. I have suggested the theme: “Oppressed Palestinians need our help! Israelis who support Palestinian rights need our help!” Much is yet to be learned, and improved, in this regard.

The Pappe-Avnery debate will present an opportunity to think about the fundamental issues, and to go beyond the false dichotomy of “one state vs. 2 states”. In any event, the resolution of this debate, in practice, is premature. When the people of Palestine are free of Zionist oppression, they will exercise their right to freely determine the political structures that they deem necessary. Now is the time to look for practical and realistic struggles and slogans to build a movement that can overcome Zionist oppression. Many Israelis and Palestinians want to break with the Oslo-era illusions in imperialist-led diplomacy, and mobilize to build a new society. Hopefully, they will find ways to strengthen their ranks for the challenges ahead.

Regards,

Henry Lowi

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