Labour conference motion on Israel-Palestine: both unachievable and reactionary

Above: Jews celebrate the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948

Labour Party conference passed a motion on Israel-Palestine, but shoehorned into the same session as Brexit, with no debate, and even less understanding of the issues.

The motion supports a majority-Palestinian state within the territory of Israel-Palestine, but in a fashion suffused with political dishonesty, written to hide rather than explain the issues.

The motion is premised on an “internationalist Labour Party” having particular responsibility “because of the role Britain played as a colonial power during the 1948 Nabka when Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes.”

That is nonsense. From the end of World War 2, Britain refused entry for Jewish refugees into Palestine, already heavily restricted during the war and the Holocaust. An increasingly violent Jewish insurgency in Palestine fought the British.

In 1947 Britain handed the problem to the UN, which proposed the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish controlled states. Britain, unwilling to implement this plan, started withdrawing from Palestine in November 1947. Arab guerrillas, with their command mainly based in Syria, started war against the Jewish population. The Jews fought back. The British forces tried to avoid conflict, and from time to time “managed” the removal of Arab or Jewish communities fleeing from areas conquered by the “other” side.

Britain’s “mandate” expired in May 1948. The Jewish Agency declared the state of Israel. Four Arab states, with smaller contingents from other states and military support from Britain, invaded to try to crush the nascent Israel and impose an Arab state. Israel won the war. Jews were expelled more completely from the Arab-held areas, but more Arabs were expelled from Jewish-held areas.

The Arab-held areas did not become a Palestinian state, but were taken over by Jordan (the West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza). It was indeed a disaster (“Nakba”) for the Palestinians, but the motion’s grasp of history is poor.

Its politics are worse. It opposes any settlement that is “not based on international law and UN resolutions recognising [the Palestinians’] rights to self-determination and to return to their homes.” In her speech (though not in the text of the motion) the mover ruled out a two-states solution.

Reliance on the UN is not the habit of a healthy socialist movement. The UN and international law are the result of agreements between the political leaderships of the states of the world and as such represent the agglomerated interests of the ruling classes of those states.

Within this, the most powerful states have the loudest voice. This is obvious with the UN. Its General Assembly comprises representatives of most states, but its motions are not binding on its members.

The real power is with the Security Council, a faded sepia photograph of the world powers in 1945. Its permanent members remain the victors of the Second World War: the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France. Those five alone can veto any proposal.

Some UN bodies such as UNESCO or UNICEF might represent some form of liberal internationalism, at but the top level it is nothing more than a forum for reconciling the interests of powerful national and regional factions within the ruling classes of the world.

In any case UN policy is not what the motion claims. The UN General Assembly resolution most commonly cited in support of the Palestine cause is 194, passed as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War was ending. It contains the provision that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so.”

This statement, one that has been regularly reaffirmed by the General Assembly, is not a plan for merging two populations onto a single territory, far less an unrealistic attempt to return the seven million descendants of those original refugees to where their forebears once lived and thus, on the pretext of “refugee rights”, to suppress Israeli-Jewish self-determination. Legalistically, it probably only applies to the original 1948 refugees, not to their descendants. The “living in peace” implies acceptance of the Israeli state.

It operates in the context of the UN’s support for a Palestine divided into two states for the two peoples. Ever since the UN partition plan of 1947 as agreed in Resolution 181, some variant of a two-states solution has been a constant feature of UN policy. The UN supports Palestinian self-determination — in the context of a two-states solution.

The treaties and customs recognised by the UN’s International Court of Justice have clear implications for the right of colonies to independence, but in other ways the UN charter does not promote the right of nations to self-determination as socialists might understand it (the right of subject peoples within existing states – Scots, Catalans, Kurds – to have their own state).

Rather it seeks to protect (in the words of the Charter) the “territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.
It is often stated that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is illegal under international law, but that is because these territories were previously claimed by Jordan and Egypt, not on any principle of Palestinian self-determination.

The tragedy of this motion is that it represents genuine concern in the Labour Party about the plight of the Palestinians. But the framers of the motion have concocted superficially reasonable appeals which disguise a programme that is both unachievable and reactionary.

This motion should have been (at very least) remitted for a period of serious debate in the party.

Labour should campaigning urgently and vigorously for “two states” and in support of democratic movements in Israel-Palestine like Standing Together. This motion will set back that solidarity campaigning, rather than advance it.

11 thoughts on “Labour conference motion on Israel-Palestine: both unachievable and reactionary

  1. Its quite obvious now that the Two State solution is deader than a dead parrot. Indeed it was never a viable option.

    The only viable progressive option now is to demand political rights for all Arabs trapped inside the Israeli state and its occupied territories that have essentially been annexed to it.

    Marxists should oppose all confessional states, and argue for secular states. A secular state providing full democratic rights for both Jews and Arabs can only be created on the basis of a high degree of autonomy, which requires a federal structure, guaranteeing the maximum democratic rights for the minority communities in each area.

    But, a more lasting progressive solution can only come from the establishment of a federal United States of The Middle east and North Africa, in much the same way as Trotsky and Marxists at the start of the last century argued was required in the Balkans.


      1. Its the principled socialist and only practical long-term solution. Unlike Two States, which was neither socialist, nor practical either in the short, medium or long-term, and has now been shown to be so.


      2. Yeah the United Arab Republic was a great success. Bringing together a bunch of hostile dictatorships will be a breeze.


      3. “Bringing together a bunch of hostile dictatorships will be a breeze.”

        And achieving Socialism, via workers solidarity is even harder. Just because something is hard or harder than superficial simplistic solutions does not mean that it is not the right course of action to take, or the only course that can provide a real solution. I do not propose bringing together a bunch of hostile dictatorships in the Middle East, any more than in Europe my goal is to bring together a bunch of bourgeois states. My goal is to bring together the workers that live in those states, and for them to create a solution in the process.


  2. “…It is often stated that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is illegal under international law, but that is because these territories were previously claimed by Jordan and Egypt, not on any principle of Palestinian self-determination….”

    Israel’s occupation of Judea and Samaria (which you choose to call the West Bank, a designation given to the territory by the Jordanians after they conquered it in 1949) and Gaza (an occupation that ended in 2006 but that for some unfathomable reason you insist still exists) is and was perfectly legal. It is legal just as the occupations of Germany and Japan after WW2 were legal. It was a result of illegal aggression by criminal Arab states that resulted in their defeat. And it can continue until Israel achieves secure and recognized borders, as specified in Security Council resolution 242, through direct negotiations between the parties directly involved.

    The adoption by the Labour Party’s leaders of extreme anti-Israeli policies and the takeover of that party by communists and other far-left anti-Zionist factions will not prevent Israel from defending itself successfully against its enemies.


    1. Commenst which I think demonstrate the reactionary, nationalist and colonialist ideology of Zionism upon which the Israeli state was founded, and which still motivates the proponents of Zionism, including their supporters inside the Labour party today. It is a manifestation of precisely why a Two State solution was never possible – other than possibly as a result of a Palestinian vassal state under the total domination of and subordination of the US and Israel, which would have simply prompted increasing hostility and violent resistance from the Palestinian people – and why the only principled socialist solution always has been, and continues to be a solution created by the Jewish and Palestinian workers themselves, independent from their ruling classes, and from imperialist intervention.

      Such joint activity cannot be achieved easily because of the antagonism that has been built up over decades, as a result of the creation of the Israeli state over the bones of Palestinians, and the privileges that Jews in the state of Israel have been given over Arabs. The starting point is made easier, if Palestinians give up the reactionary idea of creating yet another new bourgeois state, a state which if ever it were to be created, would, in reality, from Day One find itself in conflict with the existing Israeli State. Once Jewish workers can then be assured that the Israeli state is not threatened with violent destruction, it makes t possible for Palestinian and Arab workers to make simple demands for basic bourgeois political rights and freedoms within that state, such as a right for all of them to vote, and so on, for measures of self-government, and defence of minority rights, the removal of the current preferential treatment for Jews within that state, as a confessional state. A model even within the bounds of bourgeois democracy could be Switzerland.

      The Palestinians have a rights as with any other nationality to demand self-determination, and to create a new state. But, it is the job of Marxists to point out to them that as part of the process of creating nation states in the 19th century, they are not alone in being one of the “Non-Historic peoples” as Engels calls them. Literally hundreds of nationalities never reached the level of becoming a nation that could organise itself into a nation state. Around 300 nationalities in France alone were subsumed in the current French nation state. Every nationality has a right to demand such self-determination, but it is the job of Marxists to point out that such a demand is today reactionary, and probably unachievable. That is what Marxists indeed pointed out in relation to the creation of the state of Israel itself, and the correctness of that position has been demonstrated in the reactionary consequences of its construction ever since. But, you do not correct one historical mistake by simply making an identical mistake from the other direction.

      It would not have been sensible, for example, to remedy the creation of the Northern Ireland statelet, by then creating further Catholic dominated statelets within Northern Ireland, wherever Catholics were in a majority. At best if a unitary state was not possible, some form of extensive autonomy for each community, and protection of minority rights would have been appropriated. As economic development, and its corollary in the development of the EU has shown in the last 30 years, much of he material basis for division in Northern Ireland has been removed, and so has those divisions that made reunification with the republic more difficult. It makes possible a United Ireland, which has become more pressing as a result of Brexit, which threatess to reverse that progress.

      But, if that is possible in ireland it is also possible in Israel/Palestine, and just as the EU has developed, and the new African Economic Community comprising 1.3 billion people has been created in the image of the EU, so too socialists should promote a United States of The Middle East and North Africa.


      1. Israelis are nationalists, yes, but not reactionary and certainly not colonialist. Your use of the term colonialist indicates a profound ignorance of the nature of colonialism, or of the political situation of the Jewish people, or of both. It calls into question not only your analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict but of most other international conflicts.

        Colonialism has four components: a mother country that sends out its nationals to settle and take over foreign lands by force of arms; settlers who exploit the wealth of the colonized land primarily for the benefit of the mother country; the oppression and forcible dispossession of the colonized people; and the support of the mother country for the colonizers. None of these apply to Israel, despite the lying propaganda of the anti-Zionists and antisemites.

        To say that Israel was founded on the bones of the Palestinian people is a travesty of the truth. The Palestinian leaders planned together with the Germans to apply the Final Solution to the Jews of Palestine during WW2. Immediately after the war they instigated and launched a war that would bring about a massacre [of the Jews] “such as the world has not seen since the time of the Mongols”, in the words of the Secretary General of the Arab League. All that followed their defeat was a consequence of their own criminal plans and actions.


      2. “Israel’s occupation of Judea and Samaria (which you choose to call the West Bank, a designation given to the territory by the Jordanians after they conquered it in 1949) and Gaza (an occupation that ended in 2006 but that for some unfathomable reason you insist still exists) is and was perfectly legal.”

        Occupation and annexation sounds pretty colonialist to me.


      3. “the oppression and forcible dispossession of the colonized people; and the support of the mother country for the colonizers. None of these apply to Israel, despite the lying propaganda of the anti-Zionists and antisemites.”

        Really, so Netanyahu’s statement saying he would annex parts of the West bank, on top of all of the illegal settlements on the West Bank supported by the force of arms of the Israeli State is what, then, just fake news? Or we could refer to the proposals the Golan Heights, and so on. Or we could refer to basic elements of Zionism in the creation of the state of Israel that talks about expanding it to the territory of the whole of the historic territory and so on.


  3. The Labour Party is just a name and no longer exists in reality. It has been taken over by extremists who have no interest in the working classes.


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