As soon as Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced his intention of appealing to the United Nations to recognize the PA as the government of a Palestinian state and accept it as a UN member, the Israeli government and the Obama Administration both denounced the move. The U.S. government went so far as to promise to veto any proposed UN resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood and threatened to end its funding of the PA.
We condemn these racist, imperialist governments, which are most directly responsible for the historic and day-to-day oppression of the Palestinian people, and which today are not even willing to grant Palestinians the minimal concession of a mini-state in the West Bank and Gaza. However, it would be a mistake for Palestinians and their supporters to conclude from this that the PA’s UN bid deserves support. In fact, the PA’s move is an attempt to disarm the Palestinian struggle and force Palestinians to renounce their rights, just when the Arab masses’ revolutionary uprisings are renewing hope that the Palestinians’ liberation from Zionist oppression is possible.
The PA’s statehood bid at the UN is the bitter fruit of years of negotiations between Fatah and Israel. In the 1993 Oslo Accords, Abbas’s predecessor Yasser Arafat renounced the Palestinians’ rightful claim to almost 80% of historic Mandatory Palestine and abandoned the fight for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, in exchange for a promised state alongside Israel. Since then, Fatah has sought to prove itself a worthy partner to the Zionists and imperialism by repressing Palestinian militants, only to have the Zionists predictably break one promise after another. As Al Jazeera exposed when it released secret documents from the negotiations, Palestinian negotiators admitted that “We have invested time and effort and even killed our own people to maintain order and the rule of law,” only to see Israel expand settlements in the Occupied Territories, build the apartheid wall dividing and surrounding Palestinian communities, attack the PA in the West Bank and starve and bomb Gaza.
As a result of these betrayals, Fatah is so widely despised by the Palestinian masses that it has not dared call elections to the PA for years because it knows it would be thrown out of office. Its bid in the UN to receive paper recognition of the surviving Palestinian territories as a state is a pathetic attempt to show the Palestinian people something for their trouble. Few will be fooled.
The spirit of the PA’s statehood bid is best captured in the words of its supporters themselves. The PA has launched a campaign to appeal to Israeli Jews, encouraging them to support Palestinian statehood. The PA’s propaganda radio carried a message in Russian, addressed to the large Russian-speaking minority in Israel, which tends to belong to the right and extreme right, promising them that a Palestinian state will ensure regional security. Another message in Hebrew called upon Israelis to “support the two-state solution so that we can live side by side, Israel and Palestine.”
There is nothing wrong in principle with attempts to appeal to the Israeli masses. In all our statements on Palestine we emphasize the importance of trying to split the social basis of the Zionist state by appealing to Israeli Jews to support the Palestinian struggle. However, there is a great difference between appeals for Israeli Jews to give up their roles as privileged oppressors and those that ensure them the continuation of this status. The PA’s promise to live “side by side” with Israel and ensure its “regional security” can only mean a promise to violently repress the Palestinian masses who, unlike their bourgeois leaders, will never surrender their struggle against Zionist injustice.
Israel was founded as a result of the theft of Palestinian land and the expulsion of nearly a million Palestinians. All Israel is occupied territory! Living side by side with Israel means allowing the Zionists to maintain their occupation of the vast majority of Palestine, continuing its policy of racist discrimination against Palestinians living within its borders, and finalizing the Nakba – the expropriation and ethnic cleansing which have made most Palestinians impoverished and oppressed refugees – because Israel can only exist by denying the right of all Palestinian refugees to return to their land.
Some groups on the left claim that the recognition of Palestinian statehood in any form would be a step forward for the Palestinian resistance and should be supported. Palestinians have heard such claims before from their leaders when they were excusing their capitulation to Israel and adoption of the two-state solution. They are as false now as they have always been. As Joseph Massad has explained, the idea that any new legal powers won by UN recognition would open new avenues for Palestinian liberation is a sad illusion:
This logic is faulty, though, because the Palestinians have not historically lacked legal instruments to challenge Israel... On the contrary, international instruments have been activated against Israel since 1948 by the UN’s numerous resolutions in the General Assembly as well as in the Security Council, not to mention the more recent use of the International Court of Justice in the case of the Apartheid Wall. The problem has never been the Palestinians’ ability or inability to marshal international law or legal instruments to their side. Instead, the problem is that the US ... blocks international law’s jurisdiction from being applied to Israel through its veto power. The US uses threats and protective measures to shield the recalcitrant pariah state from being brought to justice. It has already used its veto power in the UN Security Council 41 times in defense of Israel and against Palestinian rights.
Of course, the problem is not with the U.S. alone. Europe’s imperialist states have shown that they are ultimately loyal to Israel and will always support Israel’s “security” – in reality, its occupation of Palestine and existence as an imperialist outpost – over the rights of Palestinians. Consisting of representatives of the ruling classes of the world, and dominated by a Security Council of great powers, the UN is fundamentally an imperialist institution, which the imperialist states use to enforce their policies on the oppressed countries. It is completely useless for the defense of the oppressed. In fact, Palestinian participation in the UN will only help legitimize the occupation of Palestine. As Massad summed up:
This presumed addition of power the Palestinians will gain to bring Israel to justice will actually be carried out at enormous cost to the Palestinian people... It will politically weaken Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes and be compensated, as stipulated in UN resolutions ... Indeed, some international legal experts fear it could even abrogate the Palestinians’ right of return altogether. It will also forfeit the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel who face institutional and legal racism in the Israeli state, as it presents them with a fait accompli of the existence of a Palestinian state (its phantasmatic nature notwithstanding) ...
Another danger mentioned by Massad is that the U.S. and Israel will make the recognition of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank conditioned on Palestinian and international recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Thus, the price of accepting UN recognition is colossal compared to the very small advantage it offers Palestinians.
While revolutionaries and all champions of Palestinian liberation should not support the PA’s resolution, we do oppose the imperialists’ right to veto and will participate in protests to that end because they can begin to mobilize the Palestinian masses in a renewed struggle for all their rights. The PA knows this and is preparing to repress the masses in such a case. In fact, as Haaretz reported, Israel just approved the PA’s purchase of new armor and weaponry from Israeli companies for the purpose of putting down renewed Palestinian protests.
The rabid opposition by Israel and the U.S. to the bid might cause supporters of the Palestinians to be suspicious towards groups claiming to be pro-Palestinian who are opposed to the bid. Thus, it is important to examine some of the organizations and individuals supporting the UN bid.
The PLO and Fatah in particular used to be the main force in the Palestinian resistance. Today, after decades of betrayals and the corruption which has spread throughout the organization, thanks to its leaders’ acceptance of U.S. and Zionist payments to the PA, Fatah represents no one but itself. Abbas himself is the favored agent of the U.S. and Israel in Palestine. Another Fatah leader, Mohammed Dahlan, was responsible in 2007 for an attempted U.S.- and Israeli-backed coup against the elected Hamas government in Gaza.
There is no consensus among the opposition parties in Israel on the Palestinian state. Tzipi Livni, leader of the main opposition party Kadima, has not taken a clear position, saying instead that the vote will not bring peace, and even “blaming” the bid on the government’s refusal to hold negotiations. In the Labor Party, some like former General Matan Vilnai are opposed to the bid, while others like Isaac Herzog support it. With the elections for party chairperson about to take place on Monday, candidates Sheli Yechimovitch and Amir Peretz maintain their silence on this question.
Opposition to the bid is hardly limited to the governments of Israel and the US and their supporters. Also opposing the bid are the Hamas government in Gaza, as well as pro-Palestinian left-wingers like Massad, As’ad AbuKhalil and Ali Abunimah. Abunimah correctly notes that
It is not “The Palestinians” making this move but the unelected, unaccountable PA leaders who have no mandate whatsoever from the vast majority of living Palestinians ... the price of admission of an imaginary Palestinian “state” to the UN, may be the real rights and futures of Palestinians to actual self-determination ... The effort to seek diplomatic recognition for an imaginary Palestinian state on a fraction of historic Palestine is a strategy of desperation from a Palestinian leadership that has run out of options, lost its legitimacy, and become a serious obstacle in the way of Palestinians regaining their rights.
Abunimah cites extensively a statement by Boycott National Committee (BNC), “the steering group of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign” on the Palestinian UN bid. The BNC opposes the bid for many good reasons, but it exposes its own main weakness in one of the arguments it makes:
The right to self-determination ... in the case of Palestinians is represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) ... Until the Palestinian people exercises its right to self determination, the PLO remains the sole legitimate representative that represents all Palestinians in the UN and in other international, regional and multinational forums. No alternative will be accepted by the great majority of the Palestinian people.
It is true that the PLO was the main organization of the Palestinian resistance up until a couple of decades ago. But then, its leaders betrayed the Palestinians in their agreements with the Zionists for a supposed two-state solution, and the masses have been abandoning them ever since. In fact, the great majority of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank – the most oppressed of all Palestinians – have already shown that they do not see the PLO as their representative, let alone their sole representative, when they elected the Hamas government in 2006. The PLO, and especially Fatah, have been irreversibly corrupted by their collaboration with Israel and the US since the beginning of the negotiations that led eventually to the Oslo Accords. The BNC nevertheless fantasizes that the PLO can somehow be reconstituted as a democratic, popular organization:
Diplomatic recognition must result in protection of the inalienable right to self-determination of the entire Palestinian people represented by a democratized and inclusive PLO that represents not just Palestinians under occupation, but also the exiled refugees, the majority of the Palestinian people, as well as the discriminated citizens of Israel.
However, the political evolution of even the most militant tendencies of the PLO, as well as Hamas, show that all organizations taking a nationalist approach to the Palestinian struggle will eventually find themselves at the negotiating table, haggling over the terms of surrender to Zionism. Since the Zionist state is backed by imperialism, the Palestinians need the support of revolutionary uprisings of the Arab masses in neighboring states if they are to win. A perspective of united revolutionary struggles of working-class and poor people across the borders of the region means a complete break from nationalism and to a working-class internationalist strategy.
The hopeless attempt to reconstitute the PLO is characteristic of the strategic bankruptcy of the BDS movement. BDS campaigners have courageously refused to surrender the fight for Palestinians’ basic rights, but at the same time have admitted that they have no answer to how those goals can be achieved and so they have promoted their “not solutions-based” movement. But as we have said, the unfolding revolutionary struggles of the exploited and oppressed Arab masses are just beginning to show the possibility of the full and complete liberation of the Palestinian people from the nightmare of Zionist oppression.
Recognizing that the Palestinian masses are not strong enough on their own to defeat Zionist oppression, we have all along said that the revolutions by the Arab workers of the region would come to the support of the Palestinians and aid their coming to power. The revolutionary uprisings that toppled the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, and continue to challenge the region’s other strongmen, are just the beginning. Imperialist capitalism cannot support democracy in these countries. To secure the democratic freedoms that the masses demand, the working class will have to lead the urban poor and peasants in overthrowing capitalism and building workers’ states on the road to socialism. This is the Trotskyist strategy of permanent revolution.
In the long run, Israel will become a death trap for its Jewish citizens as well. Imperialism’s support for Israel stems from the fact that its wars and oppression have served the imperialists’ need to keep the Arab masses down and its oil wealth safe for exploitation. Thus, Arab revolutionaries can and should appeal to Israeli Jews – but only on the basis that they break with Zionism and join the Palestinian revolution, not on the basis of promises to the Zionists that they can retain their privileged position in any part of Palestine.
The workers’ state that would be formed out of the regional revolution would allow the return of the refugees who were driven off their lands by Israel. With the return of the refugees, the workers’ state would become Palestinian in its national character. However, Jews who join with the Palestinians in a revolutionary struggle will also become a part of the ruling class – the workers and the poor, Palestinians and Jews alike.
For all this to become a reality, the exploited and oppressed masses must find an international revolutionary working-class political party capable of leading the struggle to victory. The internationalist strategy outlined in this statement aims to unite the working class based on an uncompromising struggle for the interests of the people most exploited and oppressed by capitalism. It expresses the perspective of authentic working-class Trotskyism, the anti-Stalinist Marxism of our times. We believe the vanguard revolutionary party that workers need must aim to re-create the Fourth International, the Trotskyist World Party of Socialist Revolution.
2. Simon Hardy, “Will the UN General Assembly recognize Palestinian statehood,” www.workerspower.co.uk/2011/08/will-the-un-general-assembly-recognise-palestinian-statehood/
3. Joseph Massad, “State of recognition,” Al Jazeera English, September 15, 2011, http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/09/20119158427939481.html.
4. Amos Harel, “Israel okays PA’s acquisition of anti-riot gear ahead of UN vote,” Haaretz, September 15, 2011, www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/israel-okays-pa-s-acquisition-of-anti-riot-gear-ahead-of-un-vote-1.384530.
5. ISL founding members were among the very few socialists in the world to take a principled stand in defense of the elected Hamas government against this imperialist-backed coup attempt while at the same time correctly refusing to give any political support to Hamas. For more, see the Internationalist Socialist League, “The ISL’s break with the IMT,” www.the-isleague.com/the-isls-break-with-imt-english.php.
8. As’ad AbuKhalil, “Palestinian statehood as UN theater,” July 27, 2011, angryarab.blogspot.com/2011/07/palestinian-statehood-as-un-theater.html.
9. Ali Abunimah, “Recognizing Palestine?” english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/04/2011413152522296883.html, and “How Palestinian Authority’s UN ‘statehood’ bid endangers Palestinian rights,” electronicintifada.net/blog/ali-abunimah/how-palestinian-authoritys-un-statehood-bid-endangers-palestinian-rights.
10. Omar Barghouti, “The South Africa Moment in Palestine,” www.bdsmovement.net/2009/the-south-africa-moment-in-palestine-382.