Sunday, June 8, 2008

To Utopia and Back

From the desk of Reuven Kaminer June 7, 2008

To Utopia and Back

Prof. Gilbert Achcar of the School of Oriental and Asian Studies in London has made a unique contribution to the ongoing “one-state or two-states” debate in a recent wide ranging interview to Mesele, a progressive periodical in Turkey. (
Achcar’s input is especially important coming from a Lebanese affiliated with the Trotskyist Fourth International and a prominent analyst regarding our region.

Achcar on the ongoing “two states versus one state” debate:

“To be frank, I consider this debate to be largely a waste of time. I mean this is a debate on utopias in both cases and yet, some are conducting it as if the stakes were at hand. Each side accuses the other of being utopian, and they are both right, because both `solutions` are utopian. Of course, an `independent Palestinian state` that would be limited to the West Bank and Gaza is totally utopian. But I would also say that a single state with ten million Palestinians and six million Jews is much more of a utopia, since it requires the destruction of the Zionist state if one wants to look at the issue seriously. Otherwise it cannot work. That is why I think that these are utopias and too much energy is focused on this debate, such that it becomes a waste of time.” Instead of diverting our energy into a growingly sterile debate, Achcar calls for concentrating efforts to end the occupation and support for Palestinian sovereignty over their territories.

In my view there are two levels to be considered when facing the Palestinian issue. On the one hand are the immediate and urgent interests or needs of the Palestinian people. What are the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank fighting for? They are fighting to get rid of the occupation, of course -- not for the right of voting in Israel. They want sovereignty over their territories. Their fight should obviously be supported. Even if you are a one-state solution proponent, can you say: I oppose the Palestinian fight against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza because it doesn`t correspond to my maximalist view of the correct solution? That would be completely absurd from a political standpoint. Hence, if we put it in concrete terms, one has to support the actual struggle of the Palestinians for their immediate relief from the occupation.”
Achcar goes on to suggest that if we need to have a long-term utopian program it should be an attractive one, a socialist and regional solution of the conflict.

Three Utopias

Achcar and along with him, Michel Warshavski of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem, both with sterling left-wing credentials, have made it clear that the one-state solution does not, as many new to the controversy might have mistakenly assumed, enjoy automatic support from the left. Both clarify that the image of a simple left-right dividing line on this issue is incorrect. It is simply wrong to assume that the liberals tend to be “two-staters,” while consistent leftists support what appears to be the more radical the one-state solution. If it is true that many on the left have come out in support of a one-state solution, this seems to stem more from a desire to express the greatest possible solidarity with the Palestinian people, than any serious programmatic analysis.

Many of those who support the one-state solution seem to labor under the misapprehension that a new and better society can grow out of the present circumstances in some sort of evolutionary process. Achcar rightly stresses that the one state perspective involves the destruction of Israel before any possible agreement on a single unified state is possible. Thus, the one state solution for Israelis and Arabs, which, at any event, enjoys slim Palestinian support, is more a recipe for the continuation of the conflict than its solution.

What is to be Done Today and Tomorrow

Achcar’s input is also important in that it is informed by a realistic evaluation of the urgent strategic implications of “what has to be done.” It would be a terrible mistake for friends of the Palestinian cause to allow themselves to get bogged down in the final-outcome debate. The concrete aim of all those supporting Palestinian rights should be the fullest possible unity in the militant fight against the occupation and for all measures that can alleviate Palestinian suffering.

Unity between all concerned, including those with different positions on the sources and the resolution of the conflict, must be forged in a relentless attack on Israeli policy and the joint responsibility of Israel and its U.S. patron for the continued suffering of millions of innocent people.

Some Utopias are Less Utopian than Others

Achcar is right in the sense that at this point arguments about the final status solution are utopian and have almost no connection to events on the ground. This said, Achcar feels justified in reintroducing the preferred solution of the radical anti-imperialist left.

“Beyond that I would say that no long term, final, lasting and just solution can be conceived other than at a regional level and under socialist conditions -- through a socialist federation of the Middle East and beyond. Of course, this is a utopia, but this is an inspiring utopia.”
However, it should be noted that there are many who support the two- state solution, who also share with others a vision of a socialist regional solution of the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflict. Being realistic about short term possibilities and dangers does not involve the forfeit of an internationalist vision based on social justice in the region. It does however demand a sense of the historical agenda, its present and future stages.

Any peace-loving observer of the cynical and disgusting perversion of the two-state concept by Israel and its allies can understand the disgust and the despair that leads to the conclusion that this solution is no longer possible. The name of peace via two-states has been sullied and besmirched. But even so, as a matter of fact, it is incorrect to describe the two-state solution as utopian. This misunderstanding stems from the undeniable fact that the probability of a two state option is in pronounced retreat. But even with this admittedly diminished probability of a two-state solution, one can make a case for an immanent set of circumstances that would increase the motion towards the completion of a viable two state solution in a time frame that might be termed as the “foreseeable future.”

This is so because the existing stalemate is based on US hegemony in the region as a permanent and unchanging factor. Without illusions and knowing that changes in US imperialist policies are no simple matter, one can at the least, point out strong and important trends in the US political establishment and in the international arena which express, to say the least, dissatisfaction with the present strategic and political configuration of US policy in the region. Without exaggerating the potential of a new administration and more realistic voices such as the Iraq Study Group in Washington, it would be unwise to ignore possible shifts in US policy.

It is incumbent on the peace forces to define and encourage voices in the political establishment everywhere who may be willing to “reinvent” their diplomacy away from the hide-bound alliance with Israeli expansion and aggression. This is far from an easy task but it is an additional vital element in exposing the responsibility of the US and of Israel for rising tensions in the region and the tremendous suffering of the Palestinian people under a cruel and brutal occupation.

[Gilbert Achcar is Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. His books include Perilous Power with Noam Chomsky (2007), The 33-Day War (2007), The Clash of Barbarisms (2nd edn, 2006), The Israeli Dilemma (2006), and Eastern Cauldron (2004).]