Posted December 28, 2023
Gilbert Achcar’s December 6 blog post Al-Aqsa Flood and Miscalculation, quoted at length by David Finkel in his December 9 Solidarity Webzine article Atrocity, Delusion and the Apocalypse: What the Gaza Disaster Reveals, ends with the following sentence:
The sad truth is that we have reached a situation in which our best hope now is for armed resistance and international pressure to succeed in stopping the aggression and genocide, and in preventing the Zionist state from seizing all of the Gaza Strip, as a prelude to seizing the rest of the Palestinian territory.
In this article, I’ll briefly explore the sad truth Achcar identifies, how we reached this situation, and the way out.
The sad truth…
The sad truth includes the following:
- Israel is engaged in a genocidal war against the Palestinians of Gaza.
- The object of this war is to seize Gaza, as a prelude to seizing the West Bank and achieving the Zionist goal of colonizing Palestine “from the River to the Sea.”
- Armed resistance, led by Hamas and backed by the Palestinian people and their supporters around the world, is one part of our best hope for stopping the aggression and genocide.
- International pressure is the other part of our best hope — not in the first instance pressure from the governments of Israel’s imperialist backers, particularly the U.S., or even from the governments of the Arab, Iranian, Turkish, and other pro-Palestinian countries of the Global South, but from people in those countries, whose pressure may force the governments to act.
- While the armed resistance and international pressure are our best hope, they may not be enough to stop the killing and dispossession.
This is a sad truth on many levels:
- The hundreds of civilian deaths from the October 7 raid on Israel;
- The tens of thousands of civilian deaths from Israel’s war on Gaza;
- The likelihood that Israel will seize all of Gaza and the West Bank and expel the Arab population, unless the armed resistance and international pressure stop it;
- The suffering of millions of Palestinian refugees driven from their land by successive Israeli pogroms from the 1948 Nakba to the current one;
- The restoration of Hamas, despite its reactionary character, to leadership of Palestinian resistance;
- The reinforcement of antisemitism in response to the Israeli pogroms;
- The inability of the international workers’ and socialist movements to prevent this new Nakba.
Expanding the point on Hamas, the organization is reactionary in its patriarchal ideology, its tyrannical rule of Gaza, its view of political struggle as martyrdom, and its killing of noncombatants. It leads the Palestinian resistance despite all this, because it seems to be the only leadership willing to fight.
How we reached this situation
U.S. and European imperialism have two primary interests in the Middle East: its strategic position at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa, and its oil and gas. For more than a century, they have dominated the region through a combination of violence and divide and rule.
Britain, France, and then the U.S. sponsored monarchs and military dictatorships from Morocco to Iran and found ways to incorporate nationalist governments, such as those of Algeria, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, into their neocolonial order.
Israel proved highly useful in maintaining this order, especially after it defeated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The U.S. has sent tens of billions of dollars in aid and arms to build up Israel as a gendarme in the center of the Arab world.
The imperialist powers also rely on the comprador governments of the Arab states to control their people. This can be complicated, as the Arab people passionately support their Palestinian sisters and brothers, which limits the maneuvering room of the Arab governments.
In an added symbiotic twist, Israel’s existence helps the U.S. to mask its military operations and helps the reactionary Arab governments to divert attention from their own misrule.
Zionism has been a settler-colonial project from its inception. Its goal is to clear space for Jewish settlers by expelling the indigenous population. A Zionist colony in Palestine seemed far-fetched until the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 and the Holocaust, which murdered six million European Jews and left many of the other three million desperately seeking a refuge. Antisemitism barred most Jews from emigrating to the U.S. and Western Europe. Many emigrated to Palestine.
In the 1948 Nakba, Zionists seized 78 percent of Mandatory Palestine and declared it Israel. Zionist militias and the Israeli army expelled 750,000 Palestinians, and many thousands more fled. The Nakba reduced the Arab population in the territory claimed by Israel from 1,324,000 in 1947 to 156,000 in 1948.
In the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel occupied the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, giving it control of Palestine from the River to the Sea.
To convert control into settlement would require expelling the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. For the Israeli right, the task has become more urgent, as the Arab population in Palestine — 3.2 million in the West Bank, 2.2 million in Gaza, and 2.1 million in Israel — already outnumbers the 7.2 million Jews and is growing more rapidly. Allowing the equal number of Palestinians in exile to return is out of the question.
Israel has been shifting to the right for many years, as the settler-colonial mentality of the country has soured. Liberal Israelis and supporters of Israel, particularly in the U.S., have consoled themselves with the fiction that Israel is a democracy. The political need to maintain this fiction has constrained Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
Israel has tried to squeeze the Palestinians out, rather than drive them out. Palestinians are permanent second-class citizens in Israel. 450,000 Israeli settlers have moved into the West Bank apart from East Jerusalem, 220,000 into East Jerusalem, and 25,000 into the Golan Heights. Backed by the Israeli army, the settlers terrorize their Arab neighbors and steal their land.
Israel “disengaged” from Gaza after the Second Intifada of 2000-2005, but it has tried to make life there unbearable. Israel controls the territory’s airspace, its seacoast, six of its seven land crossings, and its water supply, electricity, and telecommunications. The Israeli military maintains a no-go zone inside Gaza and enters the territory at will.
Until October 7, it seemed that Israel could squeeze with impunity.
The Arab and MENA states
The states of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), including the Arab states, took their current form with the dismantling of the Ottoman, British, and French empires after the first and second world wars. The decolonization movement, supported by the Soviet Union, made direct colonial rule impossible. Assuming the role of imperial hegemon, the U.S. imposed a neocolonial order.
The states of that order ranged from conservative monarchies, as in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, its Gulf state neighbors, and Iran under the Shah, to leftwing nationalist governments, the result of anti-colonial struggles in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq.
The nationalist governments fought Israel in 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982, but after 1956 avoided direct conflict with the imperialist powers. The 1979 Iranian revolution overthrew the Shah, but the Khomeini counterrevolution kept Iran capitalist. The 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, the 1990-1991 Gulf War, and the 2003 Iraq War showed the extent and limits of U.S. military intervention.
All the MENA governments except Iran, Syria, and Yemen were bribed or coerced into a position of neocolonial subordination to the U.S., including coexistence with Israel. The Iranian and Syrian governments can defy the Western powers to the extent they do only because they are backed by Russia, now an imperialist rival to the U.S.
To minimize conflict, the U.S. sought to normalize relations between the Arab states and Israel. Egypt was the model. In the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Egypt and Syria fought Israel to a standstill. By the 1978 Camp David Accords, Egypt regained Sinai and, in 1979, recognized Israel.
Since 1979, a pattern has emerged: Israel, backed by the U.S. and its European allies, occupies Palestine and increases its pressure on the Palestinian people; the Arab states protest but do nothing; and the Palestinian people periodically rise up to contest their marginalization.
The First Intifada of 1987-1993 led to the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to administer the West Bank and Gaza. The PNA absorbed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and, by its collaboration with Israel, discredited its main party, Fatah.
The Second Intifada of 2000-2005 forced Israel to withdraw its troops from Gaza and dismantle its settlements there. Hamas, based in Gaza, won a plurality in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, which led Fatah to split the PNA. Following a brief civil war, Fatah consolidated its position in the West Bank, and Hamas in Gaza.
As Israel squeezed the three sectors of Palestine, the U.S. tried to get the governments of the Arab states to normalize their relations with Israel, with some success. In 2020, the US brokered agreements that normalized Israel’s relations with Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia began talks to do the same.
The October 7 attack halted the normalization process and put Palestine back on the world’s agenda, as Israel shifted from ethnocidal squeezing to genocidal war. Whether or not Israel succeeds in expelling the Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, the resistance will continue.
The way out
Socialists should participate in solidarity actions wherever we can, calling for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, the withdrawal of troops and settlers from the West Bank, full equality for Arabs in Israel, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. We should also think through what would be required to make this possible — to make possible a just peace.
A just peace would require a democratic, secular Palestine from the River to the Sea. That’s impossible, as long as Israel exists as a Zionist state, backed by U.S. imperialism. Israel won’t give up its stolen land or Jewish supremacy, which makes a two-state or one-state solution equally impossible. The real alternatives are the continued slaughter and dispossession of the Palestinians, or working-class intervention into history.
Workers in Israel could bring Israeli society to a halt, split the military, and prevent it from using its nuclear weapons. But for now, the great majority of Israeli workers are committed to Zionism, seeing exploitation with Jewish supremacy as better than exploitation without Jewish supremacy, an old story in settler-colonial states. Only the prospect of a democratic, secular, socialist Palestine could give them a reason to break with their masters.
Workers in the U.S. and Europe could deprive Israel of the economic and military backing it needs to pursue its ethnic cleansing and genocidal war. Sympathy for Palestinians is growing, as they resist as well as suffer — and as hundreds of thousands of workers, including unionists and anti-Zionist Jews, speak, demonstrate, and block military shipments in solidarity with them. This sentiment may make supporting Israel impossible. It may also help workers to think about their own interests.
Workers in the Arab countries could overthrow their collaborator governments and unite the Arab nation, 350 million strong. They could further unite with the 250 million Turks, Iranians, Kurds, Berbers, and other non-Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa to pursue their common interests. They could force the U.S. to abandon Israel and offer the Israeli working class the prospect of a democratic, secular future free from capitalist rule and endless war. The Arab Spring showed the potential.
Freeing Palestine is like ending imperialist war, preventing environmental catastrophe, doing away with poverty, famine, and preventable diseases, achieving economic and social equality, and other big questions. It can’t be done within the capitalist system. Socialists need to say this and to fight not only for amelioration, but also for the only real way out: working-class power, socialism.