Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Ignatieff Interview in Socialism Magazine

Arab rulers have always used Israel as a diversion from problems at home. Despite the immense oil wealth of a number of Arab states, the majority of Arab workers and peasants live in dire poverty. They mostly live under dictatorships or semi-dictatorships with few, if any, democratic rights. In the name of fighting Israel, the Arab regimes have kept Palestinian refugees in camps, refusing either to assimilate them into society or provide them with decent conditions in the camps. Socialists can support neither the state of Israel in its present form nor the Arab states.

No viable capitalist solution

What is the policy of imperialism now? Despite its victory in Afghanistan and its over-arching global power, the US has not even been capable of imposing a cease-fire. Powell’s visit was a humiliating failure. Having released the dog of war, the US was unable to rein Sharon in. Instead, he bit Bush’s ankles. Bush is now speaking of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but evidently has no concrete proposals and no idea of how a new ‘settlement’ might be achieved. Leaders of the European states, however, are now arguing more forcefully for a so-called ‘two-state solution’. The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, claims "There is now a near-universal acceptance that the destination has to be the existence of two states, a state of Israel and a viable Palestinian state". (Tribune, 19 April)

"This ‘two-state solution’ means what it says: two viable, secure, territorially sovereign and democratic states of Israel and Palestine, mutually recognised, committed to peaceful coexistence within agreed borders".

"The ‘international community’, he urges will have ‘a role… in providing financial support to restore the wrecked infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority and, if necessary, to provide monitors and observers’." He concedes, "such a settlement seems a long way off at present". The way forward is through negotiation and compromise: "Only compromise can deliver a secure state of Israel, alongside a viable state of Palestine, whose citizens enjoy the same freedom of movement, of life, and of safety as those of other states".

But what does Straw mean by ‘viable’? This is currently a buzzword among Western diplomats. But they are extremely reluctant to spell out what they mean. At the very least, however, it is clear that any ‘viable’ Palestinian state must have control of its own territory, that is the West Bank and Gaza, without encroachment of Jewish settlements and their military guards. This is spelled out by Michael Ignatieff of Harvard University, writing in The Guardian (19 April): "It is time to say that all but those settlements right on the 1967 Green Line [which divides the pre-1967 state of Israel from the occupied West Bank] must go…" But how would Israel be persuaded to abandon the settlements? Even if a future government agreed to such a policy, powerful political forces within Israel would not accept it, and a section might well be prepared to fight against it.

Unlike Straw and other EU leaders, Ignatieff grasps the nettle: "The US must… commit its own troops and those of willing allies, not to police a ceasefire, but to enforce a solution that provides security for both populations". His headline is ‘Why Bush must send in his troops’. "The only way to seize the opportunity [of implementing the Saudi regime’s latest ‘land for peace’ proposal] is to impose a two-state solution now, before the extremists succeed in removing it from the realm of possibility forever". In other words, the only ‘viable’ way of establishing a ‘viable’
Palestinian state is the military intervention of US imperialism.

Initially, there could be support for US involvement in the creation of a state with a greater semblance of statehood than the Palestinian Authority. But the US will not support a ‘viable’ Palestine that threatens the Israeli regime. On the other hand, US intervention to set up another Palestinian Bantustan could lead to violent conflict between US forces and the Palestinians and some Arab regimes.

Ignatieff spells out another condition. Israel’s security, he writes, requires the "recreation of a viable Palestinian state, with a monopoly on the means of violence". In other words, the state must be capable, unlike Arafat’s PA, of effectively policing the Palestinians, confining them within the boundaries of a state sponsored by US imperialism and accepted by the Israeli regime. But like the PA, it would face massive opposition from below.

To survive, Ignatieff says, a Palestinian state must have "the capacity to genuinely provide jobs and services for its people". Could that be possible on the basis of capitalism? "The UN, with funding from Europe [not the US?] will [should?] establish a transitional administration to help the Palestinian state back on its feet". The dismal record of the UN, EU and the US on aid for other poor, fledgling states (Bosnia, East Timor,
Afghanistan) does not offer much encouragement. Under capitalism, the majority of workers and peasants of even the oil-rich Arab states live in abysmal poverty.

On one of the most sensitive issues of all, Ignatieff proposes that the US should make it clear "the right of return is incompatible with peace and security in the region and the right must be extinguished with a cash settlement". ‘Extinguishing’ the right of return of over four million exiles in exchange for a token state and compensation would provoke outrage among Palestinians and wider Arab masses. In reality, within the rotten framework of capitalism and imperialism, a two-state policy is totally ‘unviable’.

How can national aspirations be realised?

How could the Palestinian demand for national self-determination be fulfilled in the form of a Palestinian state? It would be futile to rely on the Western powers to implement any solution. Imperialism bears primary responsibility for the perpetual Middle East crisis, through divide-and-rule policies, manipulating client regimes, and economic exploitation.

The present capitalist state of Israel, with its Zionist-capitalist foundations, is incompatible with a viable Palestinian state. For their part, the Arab states also fear an independent Palestine, which would have a radicalising effect on the Arab masses and pose a threat to their rotten regimes. We stand for the overthrow of both the existing Israeli state and of the Arab capitalist regimes. This perspective cannot be separated from the struggle for a Palestinian state. Some on the left argue for a ‘democratic secular Palestinian state’, sometimes adding ‘socialist’ to the formula, with democratic rights for Jews in such a state. Effectively, this would mean the abolition of a Jewish state in favour of a Palestinian state. This approach, in our view, cannot provide a way forward.

Given Jewish-Israeli national consciousness, the majority of Israeli Jews, including the majority of the working class, will not accept the displacement of their national homeland. Arab regimes, moreover, have a long history of reactionary, nationalistic opposition to Israel, frequently with a strong anti-Semitic element (reinforced, no doubt, by right-wing Zionist hostility to the Arab peoples). Jewish fears will not be assuaged by the promise of a ‘democratic’ or ‘secular’ or even ‘socialist’ Palestinian state. After all, nationalist leaders like Nasser, who carried out some progressive measures against landlords and imperialism in Egypt, advocated ‘Arab socialism’ while adopting a thoroughly nationalistic approach.

We have to squarely recognise the actual consciousness of the overwhelming majority of the Jewish working class and poor strata. This means calling for a Socialist Israel, an entirely new form of state which would provide a secure national home for Israeli Jews on the basis of workers’ democracy and democratic economic planning that would ensure prosperity for the population. A socialist Israel, moreover, would fully recognise the democratic rights of Palestinians living within its boundaries.

It is absolutely vital to drive a political wedge between the Jewish working class and the Israeli capitalist class, which has entirely different interests from the workers, but is able to mobilise support on the basis of whipping up fear of the extinction of a Jewish state, or even of the annihilation of the Jewish population. This has to be answered with the call for a Jewish state on a socialist basis. Without breaking its social base among the Jewish working class, it will not be possible to defeat the heavily armed Israeli ruling class. In the recent period, there have been many expressions of class polarisation within Israel on economic and social issues. This divide could be opened up and extended to the national question if the leadership of the Palestinian and Arab working class adopted an internationalist approach, appealing to Jewish workers on a socialist programme that would satisfy the demand of both peoples for self-determination, democracy, economic security and peace.

Lynn Walsh, 20 April 2002 This article was written for publication as an editorial in the May edition of Socialism