The solution is clear: a democratic, secular Palestine for all its peoples

December 16, 2017
Protesters in Ramallah, West Bank, denounce Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

As Israeli troops violently suppress Palestinian protests, the road forward for the Palestinian struggle is again being seriously discussed.

An article in the December 8 New York Times with a headline “Two State Option, a Mideast Keystone, Is Sent Askew,” begins: “President Trump, in formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Wednesday, declared that the United States still supported a two-state solution to settle the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, provided it was ‘agreed to by both sides.’

“For the first time in his 26 years as a peacemaker, the chief negotiator for the Palestinians did not agree.

“Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] and a steadfast advocate for a Palestinian state, said in an interview on Thursday that Mr. Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel ‘have managed to destroy that hope.’ He embraced a radical shift in the PLO’s goals – to a single state, but with Palestinians enjoying the same civil rights as Israelis, including the vote.”

“‘They’ve left us with no option,’ he said. ‘This is the reality. We live here. Our struggle should focus on one thing: equal rights.’ “

To understand how we got here, it is useful to review the historical development, starting with the different approaches to the fight against the physical and cultural oppression of Jews in Europe, especially Eastern Europe. Zionism was always a generally right-wing force within the European Jewish movement in the first half of the 20th century, explicitly counterposed to the socialist movement, including to Jewish socialists who outnumbered the Zionists.

At times, the most reactionary Zionists even sought alliances with anti-Semites, since both sought the removal of Jews from Europe, although with opposing arguments. (There is an echo of this today, as the right wing of the Christian Evangelicals, who think all Jews, including in Israel, should go to Hell unless they convert to the Evangelical version of Christianity, yet they support Israel. Anti-Semites in the Alt-Right also support Israel.) 

After World War II, in the wake of the Holocaust, the Zionist movement gained strength. The British, French and US imperialists threw their support behind the creation of a Zionist state in British-controlled Palestine.

Without this imperialist backing, Israel would not and could not have been created. (Stalin backed the West in this endeavour but that’s another story.)


The creation of Israel meant the dispossession by terrorist violence of an estimated 500,000–700,000 Arab peoples, mainly Muslims and a large Christian minority, that had lived for more than a millennium in what became Palestine. This created the Palestinian diaspora, in what the Palestinians refer to as the Nabka (catastrophe) — a historic crime.

Ever since, imperialist political and material support with money, arms and imperialist threats against resisting groups and Arab states have kept Israel alive. One example: without the huge emergency airlift of heavy weapons by the US to Israel in the 1973 Israeli-Arab war, Israel would have been defeated.

(Then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir later admitted that Israel, when it looked like it was losing the war, was ready to use nuclear weapons, which would likely have triggered Soviet intervention and World War III.)

The objective of the Arab states involved in the 1973 war was to take back the areas Israel conquered in 1967 (specifically the West Bank and Gaza Strip), not to destroy Israel. That the Israeli leaders were ready to use nuclear weapons to keep its conquered territories is relevant to the discussion about the Israeli reality today.

Today, Israel has occupied all of Palestine in the 1967 war, as well as the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. Later, the Sinai was returned to Egypt when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat capitulated to Israel, but the West Bank remained under Israeli control to the present day. Gaza, a heavily populated urban strip of land, is brutally suppressed, its borders on land and sea patrolled by Israeli forces.  

For 50 years, the actual borders of Israel have not been the pre-1967 “Green Line”, but the borders the Israeli armed forces defend, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, from Egypt to Syria. Within these, its real borders, there is one currency, the shekel. There is one foreign policy, one army and navy and one government.

The Palestinian Authority is not the governmental power in the West Bank. It is allowed to police the area, is responsible for some services, etc., but the real state power is the Israeli government. The same is basically true in Gaza, and Israel every few years “mows the lawn” (launches a war) in Gaza to show who’s the boss.

One state

In short, there is already one state, between Egypt and Syria in one direction, and the Mediterranean and the Jordan in the other. The “occupation” is not temporary or subject to negotiation — i.e. the West Bank and Gaza are not occupied territories but conquered zones incorporated into Israel.

Within this single state there are Arabs, Druze and others who are citizens of Israel within the “Green Line”. They are severely oppressed as second-class citizens — more accurately as oppressed nationalities — like Blacks in the US.

But Arabs and others in the West Bank and Gaza, who are under Israeli state control, are not citizens of Israel and have no rights. This is what makes Israel an apartheid state.

Israel’s policy is not only to preserve the present apartheid state, but to reinforce it by continuing to build new settlements that are legally part of Israel and defended by the permanent presence of Israeli forces in the West Bank. The settlements are connected by roads to Green Line Israel, roads which Palestinians are not allowed to use.

“No two-state solution” while he is Prime Minister, Netanyahu boasted.

We should note that there never was a real “two state” solution. Both Israel and the US have always insisted that any Palestinian “state” could not have its own armed forces, could not control its own borders, nor have its own foreign policy — these would be under Israeli jurisdiction. That is not a state.

The “really existing” Israel is already a single state. The only question now is what kind of state — the present semi-theocratic Jewish supremacist, apartheid state or a democratic and secular one with equal rights for all its people?

The later position recognises that Israeli Jews have become part of Palestine, and have been so for many generations. As opposed to any conceptions of driving the Jewish people out, a democratic state would encompass them as equal citizens.

As opposed to a Jewish, Muslim or Christian state, a secular state would guarantee religious freedom for all and strict separation of religious institutions and the state.

This is not a new discussion for me. In 1968, as a young leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, I accompanied the SWP presidential candidate, Fred Halstead, in a trip around the world.

Fred was a leader of the anti-war movement, and our main objective was to go to south Vietnam to talk to US solders about the war. Among other objectives of our trip, one was to go to Cairo to interview people from a new Palestinian fighting organisation, named Fatah.

While sitting down in my Cairo hotel room with two young leaders of the group who spoke English, I first heard of the proposal for a democratic, secular Palestine.

Palestine for all

They explained that the leaders of Arab nations had sought to “drive the Jews into the sea”, and that this was wrong. The Jews were there to stay. Fatah’s solution was equal rights for all, in a democratic, secular Palestine. They were against Zionism, not Jews, they said.

A photo of a Fatah slogan painted on a wall read: “We fight Israel because it oppresses our people.”

This was discussed in the SWP. In the preparation of our 1971 convention, I and Gus Horowitz (who knew a lot more about Jewish and Israeli history than I did) drafted a resolution on Israel that included support for a democratic, secular Palestine. This resolution was adopted by the SWP at the convention.

How the situation on the ground has evolved in the decades since, with Israel becoming a fully-fledged apartheid state, has not only made the arguments for a democratic single state more glaringly obvious, but a burning necessity.

The only realistic solution, as Erekat said, is a single state with equal rights for all. This position is gaining ground among Palestinians, as the two-state option fades into oblivion.

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