By Moshé-Machover, Israeli Occupation Archive – 8 Oct 2013
Following are some thoughts about the strategy of resolving the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. They continue the line of thinking outlined in my article “Israeli Socialism and anti-Zionism: Historical Tasks and Balance Sheet”, which is reproduced as the last chapter of my book Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution, Haymarket Books, 2012.
My point of departure is the proposition I asserted in that article:
“As [the conflict] is caused by colonization, resolution requires decolonization. In this specific case, as the cause is Zionist colonization, what is required is deZionisation, overthrow of the Zionist project and its state.”
(I am of course referring to benign resolution, as opposed to one amounting of the total victory of the colonizers, as for example in North America and Australia.)
The question I wish to discuss here is: how, and in what circumstances can Zionism be overthrown.
The ending of apartheid in South Africa
I have argued on numerous occasions that Israel and apartheid South Africa are instances of two different types of settler state, with fundamentally different political economies. Analogies between them are extremely misleading. Still, for the sake of comparison and contrast, it will be instructive to consider how the apartheid regime was ended (overthrown?).
It is quite clear that what brought the apartheid regime down was mainly internal struggle within SA. External political and economic pressure made some contribution, but played no more than a secondary role. Moreover, in the internal struggle armed resistance did not play a major role. It too was secondary. In fact, the internal struggle that led to the demise of the apartheid regime was essentially a class struggle. Not a pure form – there are hardly any pure forms in reality – but a form of class struggle.
By the early 1990s, the leaders of the settler ruling class realized that they would be unable to maintain the apartheid regime for much longer against the growing opposition of the vast majority of the population, which largely consisted of the African working class. On the other hand, the economy of SA depended on exploiting the labour power of the predominantly African workforce. The option of expelling the indigenous people or shutting them off away from the SA economy did not exist.
At that point the leaders of the SA ruling class accepted an offer they could hardly refuse. They made a deal, which was the best one they could realistically expect. They gave up exclusive political power, while maintaining their wealth and economic power virtually intact. The African majority achieved political gains: formal legal equality and civil rights, but hardly any socio-economic gains. In other words, it was a bourgeois deal, not a socialist overthrow of apartheid.
Whether a socialist overthrow of apartheid was possible is a matter of opinion, which I need not discuss here. But it is clear that a bourgeois deal was feasible because it gave both sides some advantages, although by no means all that they could ideally wish for.
How can Zionism be overthrown?
Now let me address the question I raised at the outset. There is one thing the two cases – that of the Zionist regime and SA apartheid – do have in common: both cannot be brought down from the outside, but only by (mainly) internal struggle. However, because of the fundamental structural differences between their political economies, the meaning of “internal” is different as between the two cases. To say Zionism cannot be brought down from the outside, by external forces, means that it cannot be overthrown without the participation – or, at the very least, consent – of the majority of the settler nation, the Israeli population, the Hebrew working class. There does not exist a realistic combination of external forces that can defeat the Zionist regime on their own. Moreover, even in the unlikely scenario that such a combination of forces will exist in future, if the Zionist regime will be defeated from the outside against the wishes of the majority of the Israeli population, then this will not deliver a benign resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, but its transmutation into a bitter, tooth-and-nail resistance of the Hebrew nation. Anyone who disputes this must outline how and by what means a resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict can be imposed without the consent of a majority of the Hebrew masses.
Note that in this respect the majority of the Palestinian Arab people (all except those within the Green Line) are external to Zionist Israel. They are not vital for the Israeli economy as a source of surplus value. (The main economic value of the Occupied Territories to Israel is as a trial ground for Israeli arms and repressive hardware and software, an important part of Israel’s exports.) As far as Zionism is concerned, the Palestinians living in Palestine outside the Green Line can be shut off and sealed away in enclaves similar to Indian Reservations; and if the opportunity (she‘at hakkosher) presents itself, they could be ethnically cleansed.
The only hope of overthrowing Zionism is by internal struggle of the majority of the Israeli people – and this means predominantly the Hebrew (aka Israeli-Jewish) working class.
This does not mean that external forces will play no role in overthrowing Zionism. On the contrary, they must play a vital role in creating the regional and global circumstances in which the majority of Israelis, predominantly the Hebrew working class, can be won over to opposing the Zionist regime.
What these masses will struggle for, and what they will consent to, will of course depend on circumstances: on the regional balance of power and on what is offered to them as an alternative to their support for Zionism.
It seems to me quite clear that the prospect of living as a national minority in a capitalist Palestine or a capitalist Arab East dominated by Islam or by secular Arab nationalism would be highly unlikely to attract the Hebrew masses away from Zionism. A bourgeois deal for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have little to offer to the Hebrew working class. In this crucial respect its situation is different from that of the Palestinian Arab masses who (like the SA masses in the 1990s) could at least gain political rights from a bourgeois deal.
The only strategy for attracting the Hebrew working class away from Zionism is on a class basis. And the only external force that would be able to exercise such attraction is an ascendant working class in a revolutionary Arab East. It is the only force that could possibly offer the Hebrew masses a class alliance, with national rights.
An eventual resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict will have to be acceptable to the majority of the Hebrew masses as well as to the majority of the Palestinian Arab masses. The only way in which this can come about is in a regional context and on a socialist working-class basis.
Moshé Machover is an Israeli socialist anti-Zionist activist and co-founder of the Socialist Organization in Israel (Matzpen). He is currently living in London, England. He is emeritus professor of philosophy, King’s College, London University. His most recent book is Israelis and Palestinians: Conflict and Resolution.
All IOA commentaries by Moshé Machover