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Recent articles by Yisrael Puterman
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The Israeli–Palestinian Conflict and the Zionist Solution
mashriq / arabia / iraq | miscellaneous | feature Tuesday January 08, 2013 00:23 by Yisrael Puterman
It is becoming increasingly evident that governance of the Occupied Territories is assuming permanent form. Israel’s regime is becoming established as apartheid.One legal system for Israeli citizens, based on the ‘Jewish and democratic’ version of Knesset legislation (incorporating discriminatory laws applied to Arab citizens, land expropriation, dispossession, restrictive measures such as delays in approving construction plans, deprivation in resource allocation, etc.); and another legal system – military rule – for the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories, without any pretence of democratic rule.
The Israeli–Palestinian Conflict and the Zionist Solution (i)
It is becoming increasingly evident that governance of the Occupied Territories is assuming permanent form. Israel’s regime is becoming established as apartheid: one legal system for Israeli citizens, based on the ‘Jewish and democratic’ version of Knesset legislation (incorporating discriminatory laws applied to Arab citizens, land expropriation, dispossession, restrictive measures such as delays in approving construction plans, deprivation in resource allocation, etc.); and another legal system –military rule – for the Palestinian population in the OTs, without any pretence of democratic rule.
For a little while after the occupation of 1967 it could have been thought that the Israeli occupation was indeed temporary, and the settlements were a sort of whim, an impulse of groups of the old 'pioneering' Zionist left and the new nationalist-religious right, trying to fulfil an outdated dream. But the subsequent intensive construction in the OTs, building of roads and other infrastructure, transfer of large Israeli-Jewish population into these territories, which required enormous multi-billion government expenditure – all this indicates clearly that Israel aims at permanent colonization of the OTs and creating there an irreversible state of affairs that will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and will preclude any solution other than continued Israeli rule.
The colonial essence of ZionismThe terms 'colonialism' and 'ethnic cleansing' are not deemed to be politically correct in the Israeli-Zionist discourse. There is a weighty reason for this: the need to repress and ignore the fact that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is essentially one between colonizing settlers and an indigenous people, that the Zionist project is fundamentally colonial, implemented via dispossession and ethnic cleansing. One of the thinkers who spoke about this openly and bluntly was Israel Zangwill, a Zionist leader admired by Benzion Netanyahu, the prime minister's father, who quotes him approvingly in his Hebrew book The Road to Independence. This is how Zangwill put it:
"There is, however, a difficulty from which the Zionist dares not avert his eyes, though he rarely likes to face it. Palestine proper has already its inhabitants.... So we must be prepared either to drive out by the sword the tribes in possession as our forefathers did, or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population, mostly Mohammedan and accustomed for centuries to despise us."(ii)
Zangwill was by no means the only Zionist leader to see that the implementation of Zionism must involve ethnic cleansing. Most of the Zionist leadership, from Herzl to Ben-Gurion, supported population transfer; but for the most part they understood that openly advocating it would be politically harmful to the Zionist project and tarnish its image, so they took care to speak and write about it off the public record. Quotations from their speeches and writings on the subject, as well as a wealth of information about the implementation of transfer in various places and the war crimes that it involved, can be found in the literature.(iii)
It should be pointed out that the aim of Zionist colonization was not to exploit the cheap labour power of the natives but to displace them, as was done by the settlers in North America and Australia, and replace them by Jewish immigrants.
Most of the leading circles of Palestine's Arabs had no illusions about what the Zionist project meant for them. As far as they were concerned the danger became especially real following the Balfour Declaration, which meant that the British empire – the country's new ruling power – supported the Zionist plan. As was to be expected, the Arabs' reaction was implacable opposition.
As in the aforementioned colonies, the settlers in this country formed a new, Israeli-Jewish, nation. But unlike what happened in those countries, where the indigenous people were exterminated or overpowered and marginalized, the indigenous population here, part of the Arab nation, became a people possessing Palestinian national consciousness, whose specific identity was formed in the struggle against the Israeli-Jewish settler nation. This is why the Israeli–Palestinian conflict has the appearance of a national conflict over a piece of territory, to be resolved by territorial compromise.
The following two excerpts, taken from a Matzpen editorial of 10 December 1966, describe the essence of Israel's regime; they are as topical today as they were then:
"The policy of Israel's regime is a consistent extension of that of the Zionist movement since its beginnings: it consists in creating new facts and entrenching them by all available means, while planning and seeking to create new facts."
"Since the existing Zionist regime of Israel cannot impose itself on the Arab World by persuasion, it needs to resort to violence. But as its own force falls short of subjugating the Arab World, it must seek the support of the power or powers that it regards as dominating this region."
The ultimate solution: ethnic cleansingThe dispossession of Arab tenant fellaheen started right from the early days of Zionist activity in Palestine: land was bought from absentee landowners residing in Beirut or Damascus, and the tenants, whose families had worked the land for generations, were evicted by the British police. This is what happened in the Valley of Jezreel (Marj Ibn 'Amer), in Hefer Valley (Wadi Hawarith), and wherever land inhabited by tenant fellaheen was purchased. The accumulated Arab indignation, caused by British-supported Zionist activity, resulted in the 1936–39 Arab uprising against the British authorities and the Jewish immigrants. The uprising was suppressed by the British forces, using tanks and aircraft. As a result, the Palestinians' military, organizational and political backbone was broken and demoralization spread in their ranks. The leader of the Palestinian uprising, Hajj Amin al-Huseini, fled the country. (As is well known, he later collaborated with the Nazis against the British and the Jews.)
The momentous ethnic cleansing, the Palestinian nakba, took place during the 1948 war. Sporadic terrorist actions by both sides turned into a war following the November 1947 UN partition resolution, and subsequently escalated. It must be emphasised that for the most part the Palestinian population had little interest or involvement in the clash, and wished only to be left alone. Nevertheless, although the Zionist leadership was aware of the Palestinians' powerlessness, it spread fear in the Jewish yishuv, as though it was in danger of extermination. This made it possible to expel the Palestinians from villages and mixed-population towns, which were conquered more or less rapidly, without the slightest protest even on the part of those Zionists who had supported a bi-national solution and were supposedly against ethnic cleansing.
The Zionist leadership was indeed surprised by the feebleness of Palestinian resistance and the hasty escape of the population, but it knew how to exploit the situation in two ways. On the one hand it claimed that the the flight was ordered by the Palestinian leadership, wishing to prepare a clear operational arena for the Arab armies; on the other hand it intensified expulsions, especially from the areas conquered in the south following the Egyptian invasion. About 400,000 Arabs were expelled before the invasion of the Arab states' armies, and about another 350,000 after it.
It is important to understand that process of flight and expulsion in order to infer what may happen in future. Spokespersons of the Israeli authorities and establishment historians claim, first, that the Arabs fled and were not expelled; and, second (in support of the first claim), that there had not existed a plan for expulsion, so that the flight of the Arabs must have been spontaneous or a response to an instruction/recommendation of the Arab leadership.
As for the first point: indeed the Arabs generally fled, because they realized right from the start of the hostilities that Palestinian resistance was weak and unable to withstand the Zionist military organizations and their attacks on centres of defenceless civilian population. In those few places where there was resistance, or where the Zionist forces wished to accelerate the flight, massacres were perpetrated.
The second point is of special importance for our present consideration: a detailed and comprehensive plan for expelling the Arabs and destroying their villages did not exist, nor was it needed. Transfer was an integral part inherent in Zionist ideology and practice. Every commander understood what was required of him; and if he was not sure, a small gesture of the hand was sufficient to make matters clear to him.
The same pattern was repeated in the 1967 war: immediately following the conquest of the West Bank and the Golan Heights, a 'spontaneous' process of transfer and destruction of villages was put in motion. By the time this move was stopped under American pressure, about 250,000 inhabitants had been expelled ('fled') from the West Bank and about 100,000 from the Golan Heights.
The facts that have been established on the ground and the political deadlock designed to allow continued settlement construction in the OTs have created a void into which may be drawn the classical ultimate Zionist solution – ethnic cleansing. Groups of settlers, motivated by an open ideology of transfer, are already creating provocations in the OTs, designed to ignite a major flare-up that would allow transfer to take place. The fact that the 'security forces' refrain from stopping them is a pointer to where this is leading. The Netanyahu government is aware that a confrontation, however great, confined to the OTs might attract international and internal opposition capable of preventing the implementation of the scheme. For this purpose what is needed is a regional large-scale conflagration lasting sufficiently long.
The scenario of the nakba may be repeated: a rocket attack may panic the Israeli public into supporting, or at least accepting, any action justified by 'security needs'. It must be noted that the Zionist left and right do not differ regarding the Zionist aim: a 'Jewish and democratic' state over the largest possible territory with as few Palestinians as possible. The Zionist left supports territorial compromise when conditions do not allow this aim to be implemented in the entire area; but if that would become possible, some of them would give it their blessing, and others would perhaps accept it with regretful 'understanding', shedding crocodile tears. Of course, this scenario depends on the occurrence of a suitable international conjuncture, and on the acquiescence of the 'international community' (the states obedient to the US). In such circumstances the Palestinians would not stand a chance.
Israel's role in the service of imperialism, and the international situationThe idea of establishing a state for Jews in Palestine was mooted in the British government as early as the mid-19th century,(iv) in the heyday of British colonialism, decades before Herzl and the Zionist movement. At that time Britain had no foothold in the Arab east. The idea was that a Jewish state, alien to the Arab peoples, would be totally dependent on it British sponsor and serve its interests. This idea, proposed to Moses Montefiore, found little support among Jews at that time.
When favourable conditions materialized and the idea started to be implemented in Palestine, it didn't quite work out as planned: support for Zionism created difficulties for relations between the British empire (and later the US) and the Palestinians, as well as the Arab states that coveted the territory and wished to annex it. (These states themselves were created through the division of the region according to the imperialist interests of Britain and France, following their conquest of the Ottoman empire.) Also, the prospective creation of an alien Zionist state and the dispossession of the indigenous Arabs caused internal unrest within the Arab countries, which destabilized their regimes and unsettled their relations with the British empire.
This ambiguous situation continued after the British domination of the region was replaced by that of the US and lasted until the June 1967 war. Since that war, the clear preference of the US was to support Israel as the principal and most stable mainstay of American hegemony in the region. The turning point was Israel's decisive victory over Nasser's Egypt, Syria and Jordan. This crushing victory also led to the downfall of Nasserism, which had posed the most significant threat to US domination of the region, and eventually to the collapse of Soviet influence in the Arab east. Thus the US achieved almost effortlessly an unprecedented gain during the cold war. Since then, the alliance with Israel has been a firm and unassailable feature of US policy in the region, granting the Israeli regime virtually absolute military, economic and political support. For its part, dependence on the US has become for Israel an existential necessity, so that continued US domination of the region is a vital Israeli interest.
At the same time it must be noted that, notwithstanding all the fine talk of shared values, democracy etc., and the influence of the Jewish lobby, US support for Israel is conditional on the latter's role as watchdog of the imperialist order as well as on its meshing with US regional policy. This premise is now being put to the test, which threatens Israel's strategic regional position.
The global crisis of capitalism has created shock waves around the world. Among the first to be hit were the corrupt regimes of the Arab world. The Arab Spring, the popular uprising that has spread almost everywhere in the region is undermining 'stability', that is to say the regional imperialist order and US hegemony.
We cannot go here into an analysis of the various events in the countries in which the Arab Spring manifested itself, so far with diverse outcomes. What is clear is that the opposition, generally led by the parties of political Islam, that has managed to achieve power, has no solution for the social problems of the masses, which had mainly caused the unrest in the first place. Therefore the insurgency has not had its last say, and stability has not been restored. It is also clear that the US has no intention of endangering the huge profits of the oil corporations, which depend on its strategic domination of the region.
Obama's re-election, the ebbing of internal American support for the strong-arm policy initiated by G W Bush in Afghanistan and Iran, as well as the capitalist crisis and the Arab spring, have created a new situation, inviting reassessment of US policy in the region. Unlike his predecessor, Obama is reluctant to apply American military force directly (although he has not hesitated to do so by proxy: using NATO in Libya, Saudi Arabia in Yemen and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Syria). He is attempting to apply softer force and more conciliatory policy wherever possible, so long as this does not threaten basic US interests, particularly in relation to the biggest and most important countries of the region, Egypt and Iran. In Egypt the change in the style of US policy was illustrated by its acquiescence in the overthrow of Mubarak and acceptance of the Muslim Brethren opposition. Regarding Iran, it is illustrated by readiness to negotiate with the regime and accept some accommodation with the latter's interests.
These changes in the policy of the Obama administration's policy may reduce to some extent Israel's strategic importance, and increase the importance of Palestinian demands, as part of the new stability that Obama is attempting to promote in the region.
The Netanyahu government, alarmed by these prospects, took unprecedented steps in an attempt to reshuffle the cards and lead back to the old strong-arm policy: it announced its intention to attack Iran without a US green light (an idea that was blocked at the eleventh hour), and made a hare-brained attempt at intervening in the US presidential election campaign, based on the assumption that a Republican administration would oppose Obama's conciliatory policy and revert to the old policy that secures the position of Israel.
Obama's policy has no better than even chance of working out. He has been revealed as a weak president, whose hesitancy may lead him to draw back from his plan. On the other hand, the uprising in the Arab world may continue, because the peoples' hardship cannot be truly resolved by this or that imperialist settlement. In this situation, the entire region may be plunged into chaos and war. In such a scenario, in which Israel is supposed to play a major role, it could be rewarded by its pound of flesh: a large-scale expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank and possibly also from Israel. This would spell calamity for both peoples.
ConclusionsThe realization of Zionism depends on three main elements, which have been addressed in the present article: first, colonialism; second, ethnic cleansing; third, association with a foreign power that dominates the region. Without any one of these, Zionism is but an insubstantial idea. Therefore, irrespective of which ideological current is leading a Zionist Israel, these three elements will perennially determine the reality created by Zionism and its consequences. This is the essence of the problem; but Israeli politics, the Zionist parties and the media, do not address it but are engaged in debates about sorting out its symptoms.
This forecast of the outcome of the process just described is not a prophecy; it is inferred from the whole history of Zionist practice in Palestine. The fact that Israel prefers political deadlock and continued colonization to any solution, albeit partial, that would dampen the flames of the conflict; the extremely asymmetric balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians as well as between imperialism and the 'international community' and the peoples of the Arab east – all these suggest a process that may lead to an apocalypse. True, this is not the only possible outcome, and unforeseen circumstances may well arise, forcing all forecasts to be altered. But it would be wrong to bury one's head in the sand and ignore the dangers.
In any case, it is clear that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict will not be resolved within the narrow framework of Israel-Palestine: it is inseparably bound up with the geopolitical situation in the entire region. Neither the existing imperialist order, nor nationalist or theocratic regimes, can genuinely solve the problems of the peoples of the region, which are basically social.
The Arab Spring – a popular uprising that will re-emerge so long as the problems that engendered it have not been resolved – is a struggle against all the ills of imperialism and its partners, the reactionary Arab regimes and Zionism; it renews the relevance of internationalist socialism as the solution to the region's social problems and conflicts. Far off as it may seem to be, it has no real substitute.
Socialism (not modelled on the discredited Soviet regime) can also attract the impoverished Israeli working class, as well as the white-collar workers who are forced down into the ranks of the proletariat together with other disadvantaged strata, all those who came out in the social protest of 2011, to renounce Zionism, capitalism and dependence on imperialism, which shackle the Israeli people to endless wars, isolate it from the peoples of the region, and endanger its existence in confrontation with the Arab world.
i. Hebrew text posted 27 December 2012 on Hagada Hasmalit (http://www.hagada.org.il/eng/). This translation by Moshé Machover.