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Free Palestine?

Bennett Muraskin
August 15, 2017

by Bennett Muraskin

At the convention of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in Chicago this month, a resolution was adopted calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. Its passage was accompanied by chants of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The resolution declares its “solidarity with Palestinian civil society’s non-violent struggle against apartheid, colonialism, military occupation and for equality, human rights and self-determination.” There is no mention of the right of Israeli Jews to self-determination.

By failing to endorse a two-state solution in this resolution, DSA is now essentially calling for the elimination of Israel and its replacement by a single state in which Palestinians and Israeli Jews are supposed to live together, after a century or more of mutual violence.

Given that socialists are by definition internationalists, is this the appropriate position on the Israel/Palestine conflict?

Back in November 1947, the UN issued a plan that partitioned the British Mandate in Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state. The Zionist side accepted it; the Arab side rejected it and launched a war to prevent its realization. The entire social democratic and Stalinist left supported the partition plan and continued to support Israel in its subsequent war with invading Arab nations. As far as I can tell, on the left only the Trotskyists took a neutral stance.

Although partition may have not been the ideal solution, there were simply no viable alternatives, considering the enmity between Jews and Arabs. It was not a matter of how the partition borders were drawn, because the Arab side rejected partition in principle. During the British Mandate, a few Zionists did call for a bi-national state, but this proposal was also unacceptable to the Arabs. From their standpoint, Jews were a religious group with no national rights. They could live as a minority in an Arab state. Period. Why this option was rejected by the UN, the Zionists, and the international left should be obvious.

THIS ARAB REFUSAL to recognize Jewish national rights in Israel/Palestine in 1947 is echoed in the DSA resolution seventy years later. Why not at least affirm a bi-national state? Not only is a single state without Jewish national rights unprincipled, but it is fantastical. There are over six million Jews living in Israel. To the extent that the concept of one state gets a hearing, it is among rightwing Zionists who would like to see the West Bank absorbed into Israel without granting its Palestinian residents Israeli citizenship. The kind of one state envisioned by DSA could only be imposed by force against the will of six million Israelis. How is this to be accomplished? Merely asking the question exposes the folly of this “solution.”

Since 1993, the Palestine Liberation Organization has officially recognized the existence of Israel. This reflected an emerging international consensus in favor of a two-state solution based on Israel’s pre-June 1967 borders. Since Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs constitute two relatively distinct national groups who have been unable to live together without one side dominating the other, two states living side by side appears to be the only reasonable solution. The fact that Israel has been the major obstacle to the achievement of this goal does not make a one-state solution more attractive. It makes it more ridiculous.

As Uri Avnery has pointed out many times, BDS will not work. It will only harden rightwing attitudes among Israelis and it will not weaken the Israeli economy, which is far stronger than that of South Africa before the end of apartheid.

Speaking of apartheid -- another loaded term -- it may apply to Israeli rule in the West Bank, but certainly not to Israel, where Palestinians are citizens who vote, serve in government and have freedom of movement. No doubt they suffer from grave discrimination, but of a different degree and nature than South African blacks under apartheid.

The “right to return” is another poison pill. Close to a million Palestinians were either expelled or fled Israel in the 1948 or 1967 wars. No Israeli government will ever agree to a peace deal that allows this many Palestinians to return to Israel -- and it is likely that the Palestinian side would insist on more, taking into account the descendants of these million people. The best that can be hoped for is the return of a modest number of Palestinian refugees and compensation for the rest. After that, Arab regimes should compensate Jews for the losses they suffered when they were booted out of Arab lands during the two decades after the establishment of Israel.

“Two states for two peoples” is the only objective consistent with internationalist socialist values. With that end in mind, BDS should be limited to the West Bank. Better yet would be a campaign to reduce U.S. aid to Israel until it agrees to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. That would hit the Israeli government where it hurts.

Bennett Muraskin, a contributing writer for Jewish Currents, is author of The Association of Jewish Libraries Guide to Yiddish Short Stories, Let Justice Well Up Like Water: Progressive Jews from Hillel to Helen Suzman, and Humanist Readings in Jewish Folklore, among other books.

Bennett Muraskin, a contributing writer for Jewish Currents, is author of The Association of Jewish Libraries Guide to Yiddish Short Stories, Let Justice Well Up Like Water: Progressive Jews from Hillel to Helen Suzman,and Humanist Readings in Jewish Folklore, among other books.