What Solution for Palestine?


13th March 2024

Formulating an Anarchist Approach to the So-Called “Israeli-Palestinian” Conflict

It’s called the “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” as if it is a clash between rival ethnic groups over religion, territory, or some combination thereof. Even if the media has wanted to paint it this way, that is not what the so-called conflict really is. In 1948 the state of Israel was formed after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homes and villages and to this day have not been permitted to return. In the decades since that event the state of Israel has grown only by conquering more and more of historic Palestine. Now the vast majority of that region is part of Israel, under de facto, or de jure Israeli occupation, or the site of internationally illegal Israeli settlements.

The so-called “conflict” is really the colonial expulsion of Palestinians from land on which they already lived to pave the way for an exclusively Jewish state, with the vast majority of rights and privileges in this state enjoyed by Ashkenazi (European) Jews, and Jewish settlements on that land. The zionist movement was undoubtedly born in the 19th century out of the need for European jews to find safe haven from violent antisemitism on the continent, a need that only grew stronger with the perpetration by the Nazis of the holocaust in which European Jewry was nearly wiped out. Jewish people undoubtedly have a connection to historic Palestine as a result of their religious traditions. None of this, however, changes the fact that the state of Israel only exists via the removal of the Palestinian people from historic Palestine.

The very reason 1,200 Israeli civilians were killed and over 200 of them taken hostage, is because not only does Israel exist because of the expulsion of Palestinians from their ancestral homes, but Israel for the last 12 years has enforced a blockade on the Gaza strip that has destroyed it’s industry and severely limited access to food, water, and medicine for the Palestinian residents of one of the most densely populated regions of the world. The zionist narrative that has found wide hearing in the media since the attack is that Hamas, the Islamic political party and armed group that has controlled Gaza since 2007, primarily exists to eradicate the Jews. It is not much different, according to this narrative, from ISIS, or even the Nazis. The massacre that took place on October 7th indeed makes this narrative look plausible to many uninformed individuals watching the headlines.

This narrative is in fact wrong. Hamas my be antisemitic, Hamas may have also made the twisted calculation that targeting Israeli civilians is a legitimate political tactic, but it is not ISIS. It has secular political goals that have nothing to do with the establishment of world-wide Islamic rule to occasion the rapture. It is also not comparable to the Nazis. Despite its violent tactics and extreme rhetoric Hamas has never been bent on annihilating the Jews. Hamas is an organization that came about in its modern form as a resistance organization, specifically to resist the Israeli settler colonial project. In fact, its goal no longer even appears to be the eradication of Israel as its 2017 charter, while still stressing the need to liberate all of historic Palestine, capitulates to a two-state solution.

The October 7th attack was Hamas’ attempt to break the military status quo ante in which Israel continued to blockade Gaza prompting Hamas to respond with attacks, serving to justify Israel in launching retaliatory operations in which many more Palestinian civilians were killed. This strategy allowed Israel to refuse to sit at the negotiating table and continue to pursue a purely military solution to the “conflict”, i.e. further repression, murder, and expulsion of Palestinians. Scholars have coined a term for what Hamas carried out on October 7; “subaltern genocide”. This refers to uprisings of an oppressed population that include massacres of the civilians among the dominant group. Other examples are slave rebellions in which women and children were killed. Often the idea that what Hamas did was an act of resistance is scoffed at by pointing out how the targets were festival going civilians, but in no other context do we expect resistance to be mutually exclusive with targeting civilians. Disqualifying slave revolts that targeted white civilians as acts of resistance in virtue of the fact that civilians were targeted is obviously confused. So is the presupposition that resistance needs to be morally virtuous and discriminating. The phenomenon of subaltern genocide shows that conditions of oppression have the ability to drive their victims to do morally condemnable things in order to put an end to their morally condemnable condition.

The above considerations give us reason to think that not only is Israel’s settler colonial project the primary cause of the displacement, poverty, and massacre the Palestinians have been experiencing since 1948, but it was also the impetus for attacks carried out by groups like Hamas, including the carnage of October 7 2023. So the question becomes what to do about it. Ever since the Arab-Israeli conflict and Pan-Arabism faded from the geopolitical scene the Palestinians have reasserted their right to self-determination through the formation of Fatah and it’s take over of the Palestinian Liberation Organization as well as, perhaps more significantly, two large-scale Palestinian uprisings referred to as the first and second “intifadas” respectively. This led to the so-called “peace process”, primarily through the Oslo Accords, in which in exchange for territorial concessions on both sides and Palestinian recognition of Israel, Palestinians were promised an eventual state of their own on their historic territory (that is not already part of Israel). This is the so-called “two state solution”.

The idea behind the two-state approach is that neither the right of the Israelis, nor that of the Palestinians to self-determination is denied. Both are granted the right to be citizens of a sovereign state of their own. Today this solution is usually assumed to be one that returns Israel to the borders it had before the 1967 war that allowed it to take control of Gaza and the Westbank, so that these territories can integrate into the future Palestinian state. The two-state solution is the one preferred by many western countries, including the United States which remains Israel’s greatest world ally. However, there are serious problems with this proposal.

Firstly, the current Israeli government certainly has no political will for the creation of a Palestinian state, never mind going back to pre-67 borders. It is a government dominated by far-right neo-Kahanist elements, many of whom are interested in the project of colonial conquest of Gaza. But this is actually the smallest issue facing two-states. Since 1967 Israeli settlers backed by the Israeli state have illegally pilfered the land of the Westbank, such that there is barely any land for a Sovereign Palestinian state to exist on if said settlements aren’t rolled back. The more fundamental issue is an issue that Palestinians have always had with this solution in that it requires them to recognize that an entity premised for it’s very existence on making them into refugees be allowed to exist in perpetuity.

Some have thought a more attractive option is the so-called “one-state solution”. Putting aside the extremist zionist version of this solution that essentially just amounts to the total eradication of the Palestinians in historic Palestine, the one-state solution as preferred by some Palestinians and leftists calls for the end of Israel as a distinct Jewish state in favor of a binational sovereign political entity in which Jews and Palestinians have equal rights and access to democratic participation. The advantage of this approach over the two-state solution is it sees the abolition of Israel as a settler colonial project while in theory preserving the rights of Jewish people living in the region. The problem that most one-state proponents seem not to appreciate is the irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of its approach.

Modern states are nation-states, including Israel and any future, or hypothesized Palestinian state. Nationalism is an exclusivist ideology. One and one group only is defined as made up of citizens of the nation to be politically represented and guaranteed rights. Anyone else who wishes to receive this representation, or rights must complete the process of becoming a citizen, or else they are denied rights and representation. This has historically allowed for all kinds of discrimination, including outright racism against those who are non-citizens. This exclusionary element of nationalism is indeed what allows Israel to cast itself as a state for the Jews and nobody else, indeed how included non-European Jews should be is questionable within its self-conception. This means that the one-state solution requires a “bi-national” state, despite the fact that nationalism is inherently exclusionary, defining some as outside the bounds of representation through and rights under the rule of the state. Even the Soviet Union’s claim to “multinational” statehood was a farce, not least because it was controlled from the Kremlin.

Here we should come to the question of why we should even think in statist terms at all. Palestinians have historically wanted a state, but not for its own sake. They wanted a state because they believed it to be the only way they could finally achieve self-determination. Indeed there is a historical tradition of national liberation movements aiming to and successfully replacing colonies with independent nation-states. While these movements did end formal colonialism throughout much of the world, it’s hard to say that those living under the “new nations” have “self-determination”. Just look at African politics. It’s hardly self-determination to live impoverished under clientelist regimes that frequently cannibalize themselves in coups.

There is just no escaping the absolute inadequacy of statism and nationalism for resolving questions of social justice. Here the Anarchist tradition has an old proposal that looks much more promising. The Anarchists thought that nation-states should be replaced by federations of regional assemblies. These are not bureaucratic, hierarchical, coercive bodies, but freely associated regional assemblies that network together through elected delegates that, rather than making decisions on the assemblies’ behalf, carry out the decisions the assemblies make themselves. Such an institutional structure would entail voluntary relations between the people that form them and would thus have no need of any type of exclusivist ideology. It would also entail that all involved in these institutions get a full and equal say over all decisions of social organization.

If Anarchist federalism is combined with the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their ancestral homes and settlement rollbacks, we have a structure that accommodates both Palestinian self-determination in their ancestral homeland as well as the continued presence of Jewish residence in the region. So we get the democratic equality of the one-state solution and the recognition of the needs of both groups in the two-state solution, without the contradictory nationalism, concession to colonialism, and reliance on bankrupt statist approaches that weigh them down. This approach also gives us the dissolution of Hamas, who in addition to targeting civilians is an Islamist group that before the war maintained authoritarian control over the strip, and the unelected, largely conciliatory, autocratic rule of the Palestinian Authority in the Westbank, for free.

However, this approach, like any solution to the ‘conflict’, has its own unique challenges. Since this is an anti-state solution nobody with any political power, obviously not the Israeli government, not Fatah, not Hamas, not the UN, or US will have any interest or involvement in implementing it (thus also bypassing issues of the political will of largely indifferent, or ineffectual political elites). It is also not a purely political solution unlike the others. This kind of anti-state federalism entails social control over the region’s production so that the self-organized regional bodies can make decisions about the region’s productive activity. Thus it can only be brought about via social revolution, not only in historic Palestine, but across the world. Thus it will take much struggle in the intermediate term to achieve. It will probably entail a third palestinian uprising as nobody that claims to “represent” the Palestinians and thus make decisions on their behalf can be substituted in the Anarchist framework for the Palestinians themselves.

Such an uprising likely won’t be in the immediate future as Gazans are being murdered by the thousands in Israel’s colonial war on the strip. Key to Palestinians even having the ability to fight back will be the efforts of an international movement outside historic Palestine for boycott, divestment, and sanctions on Israel. There will be no prospect of resistance if Israel’s already terrifying military capability is further developed by international support. The Anarchist movement in the United States in particular, is tasked with sabotaging the United States’ recalcitrant material and political support for Israel. This international pressure against support of Israel by foreign governments is something we should all already be working to mount. We need more pro-Palestinian protests to make it as politically expensive as possible for our governments to continue to support Israel and not pressure it for a ceasefire to end it’s colonial war on the strip. The lives of Palestinian men, women, and children are at stake. ■

Piper Tompkins

Originally posted via the Anarchist Union Journal here.

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